Edition: 2 STAR
The ultimate inside joke / Beans
Barton and the Bi-Peds have developed a cult following over the past 20
By EILEEN MCCLELLAND
Picture this: A man in a bulky larva
costume leads a rock band. He's singing - hollering, he'd say - swaying
back and forth onstage while dancers undulate beneath a tarp (i.e.,
Between songs, another guy in a floral
dress reads a psychotic sci-fi narrative conjuring conjoined quintuplets
who become one-hit wonders.
A little later, the ex-larva - having
gradually shed layers and assumed a mélange of characters during the
metamorphosis - begins to paint on a canvas.
The violin player embarks on a Hula-Hoop
It's all in a night's work for local rock
band Beans Barton & the Bi-Peds, which recently celebrated 20 years.
"I need an outlet to get the goofy out,"
says Dale "Beans" Barton, 57, whose band puts on a satirical,
mixed-media extravaganza once a month at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar in the
Heights. "It keeps me young."
And the outfit?
"I find it best to layer in the Houston
"It's just fun and satire," he says,
sitting at his kitchen table in his Heights home, no costume in sight,
although it's hard to stop staring at his sleeves, which are different
colors. When he's not a layered-look larva, he's a Mr. Mom, waiting for
his kids to get home from school and painting in his studio out back
supervised by Tiger, an orange cat.
Barton is a veteran of other local bands,
including Bruiser Barton and the Dry Heaves, which Rolling Stone once
called the worst band in Texas. He is as amused as anyone that the
Bipeds have lasted 20 years and developed a cult following whose off
spring have become fans, too.
If it seems like the ultimate inside joke,
it is. But anyone who gets the joke is welcome to join the inner circle.
"You either get it or you don't," fan
Chris White says. "It's a niche, that's for sure."
Over the years, fans have become so caught
up in the experience that the line between musician and audience blurs.
Band member Susan Wolfford-Jackson has watched it happen.
"Once audience members figure out that
what is going on is not what they usually see, they assume - and
rightfully - that they don't have to be the regular audience," Wolfford-Jackson
says. "The band feeds off the audience, and if they're having an
exciting time, it helps the band have fun, too."
After hanging around for years, fans
become an integral part of the band.
Originally, Barton had wanted a
distinctive lighting effect, and suggested a friend follow him around
with a "little, bitty spotlight." Instead, his friend returned with a
helmet, a backpack and some very large lights. And the Bi-Bulb was born.
Fan Noah Ramon volunteered to become the
second Bi-Bulb as soon as the job became open.
"Noah just came and danced and jumped
around," Barton says. "He was a high-school kid. The original Bi-Bulb
got sick, so we tapped Noah for the job. But we made him get his GED
Rich Davidson is another audience-spawned
star. After landing roles in three Bi-Peds operettas, the middle-school
theater teacher moved into the spotlight last year as the narrator. He
continues to play many of the women's roles, too.
"I've been with the band nine years, but
now I do a lot of the gibber-jabber instead of just coming on as a goofy
character," Davidson says. "It's a thrill. The idea I can be onstage
with these monster musicians and be accepted as a peer, it's still just
mind-boggling to me."
Although he's been wearing dresses -
including a trademark little black number - for awhile, he has no idea
of his size. "I hold it up and figure if I can stretch into it, it
works," he says.
Wolfford-Jackson believes Davidson does an
amazing job of tying the whole thing together. "I could not fathom
having to keep all those stories straight," she says. "I've been in the
band 20 years and I still get the characters mixed up."
Chris and Lynda White got hooked 15 years
ago, and composed an online encyclopedia about the band's first 10 years
Encyclopedia Bartonicus aka The Bipedia". Sample entry: "Egg-Bearing
Alien Secretaries: This is the term Bud Pupkin used to describe the
Karankawa who kidnapped him and his family."
Now there's a new generation of Bi-Peds
fans, including Chris and Lynda's son, Ben, 3. "You'll see him on the
dance floor with Wednesday's daughter," White says.
Wednesday Clemens, husband Mitchell and
daughter Kallisti, 3, are there for every show.
"She's only missed two shows in her entire
life since she was conceived," Clemens says of Kallisti. "She was
conceived after a Beans show, and I went into labor after a Beans show."
Clemens was mesmerized from the first
"I thought someone had dosed me with some
acid," she says. "Every time I looked at the stage the guy looked
different and he kept getting thinner. He wasn't the same guy."
Clemens plays Sallyanna Mocking Bird, a
bad-tempered, platinum-blond girlfriend of Barton's character Gig
Barley. She replaces Clamydia Flemingway (played by Rich Davidson) in
Kallisti plays miniature bongo drums,
seated on the dance floor, and owns her own larvalike lizard suit.
"There's nothing else out there like
them," Clemens says. "It's Frank Zappa meets Walt Disney."
Barton fired himself as a musician years
ago. "I used to play bass and guitar, but these people are all so much
better, I had to let myself go. I give them words and they write the
music. I just supply the good looks up front."
Behind all the hoopla is a group of solid
musicians with a sense of adventure strong enough to work with the
ludicrous lyrics and enough energy to pull off a three-hour set. Band
members have backgrounds in local bands Herschel Berry and the Natives,
the Dishes and Dr. Rockit.
Wolfford-Jackson has special skills. She
plays keyboard, violin, theremin - an odd electronic instrument - and
accordion, and navigates the stage and the dance floor on stilts or a
"I can Hula-Hoop and play violin at the
same time," she says. "I can probably roller skate and play violin and I
might be able to Hula-Hoop and play violin and roller skate - if I
practiced. I cooked onstage once, and we served breakfast. I had a
microwave and a wok, and we served 40 or 50 breakfast tacos during the
course of three songs."
Barton also paints onstage, auctioning the
finished product for as much as $500, and donating the proceeds to the
Houston Food Bank.
Still, potential art buyers should know
that Barton's vision during these shows is severely and intentionally
impaired: "I mostly keep my eyes closed or rolled up in my head, and I
wear sunglasses as well," he says. "I don't want to see the audience
The 20th-anniversary show in March was
"We can't do it if no one shows up,"
Barton says. "And I can't do it around the house. My wife won't let me."
Wolfford-Jackson is amazed the Bi-Peds
have persisted for 20 years.
"My thought is if we do it for another 20
years, it may keep us out of the senior home," she says.
BEANS BARTON & THE BI-PEDS
SUSAN WOLFFORD-JACKSON (KEYBOARDS, VIOLIN,
ACCORDION, VOCALS, AND THEREMIN)
WILEY HUDGINS (DRUMS AND PERCUSSION)
JIMMY RAYCRAFT (BASS AND GUITAR)
JIMB JACKSON (GUITAR AND BASS)
DANNY MCVEY (NOCTURNAL SOUND EMISSIONS)
RICH DAVIDSON (SIDEKICK)
NOAH RAMON (AS THE BI-BULB)
BEANS BARTON (HOLLERING)
SPAWN LAKE TRILOGY: EPISODE 2
An excerpt from the story that narrates
Meet Betty Ferlinghetti, proprietor of
Betty's bait camp, boat ramp, tee-pee motor court, tanning parlor, meat
museum and mystic mud day spa, on the shores of Spawn Lake just outside
of Anahuac. Betty has given birth to quintuplets - from five different
fathers - all conjoined at the head. One of the fathers takes the
magical Dark Guitar and cleaves the quints apart. Each son becomes a
- BEANS BARTON