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Now Hear This: Raging Slab | Sisterslab & the Boogie Coalition: Vol. 1

The southern rockers' long-overdue return is a bittersweet, powerful affair.

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Raging Slab. What a fucking great band name. And what a fucking great band — assuming, of course, that you like your southern-fried rock upgraded and updated with twisted, sharp-witted lyrics and doses of stoner-rock, punk and metal. I sure do — and did from the very first time I heard them way back in the ’80s, when the buckskin-clad rock ’n’ roll outlaws unleashed their debut full-length Assmaster on the unsuspecting and unprepared masses.

Fronted and anchored by the dynamic duo of rusty-piped singer-guitarist (and Buffalo Bill lookalike) Greg Strzempka and badass slide guitarist Elyse Steinman (who played guitars shaped like the continental U.S.), the mighty Slab served up a raucous, rollicking brand of gritty, greasy groove-rawk that served as a much-needed antidote to the antiseptic sounds of the day. Despite (or more likely, because of) that, they never really garnered the fame and glory they so richly deserved, despite putting out a handful of killer albums and a shit-ton of great songs with titles like Alpha Jerk, King Pompadour, Shrivel and Get Off My Jollies. Not that it mattered to me. I still prize my original vinyl copy of Assmaster (complete with comic book), and cherish the memory of that time in the ’90s when I was lucky enough to catch them live at some Lower East Side shithole during a music conference in their then-stomping grounds of New York.

Of course, that was a long time ago. As the years went by and the Slab slowly faded from view — their last album was 2002’s (pronounced ēat-shït) — I assumed they were retired and forgot about them. The other day, however, I came across their name while re-reading a bio of their old pal and drinking buddy Joey Ramone, and I decided to look them up online. To my joy and surprise, I discovered they just released their first album in 18 years, with Melvins drummer Dale Crover behind the kit to boot. To my shock and sadness, I learned the album — Sisterslab and the Boogie Coalition: Vol. 1, a collection of covers by the likes of everyone from Nils Lofgren to Devo to Flaming Groovies, among more — collects some of the final recordings of Steinman, who passed away in 2017 after a battle with cancer. Needless to say, it’s a bittersweet, emotionally charged return. Still, despite (or more likely, because of) the circumstances, it rocks like a mother. I’ll shut up now and let her musical and life partner Strzempka tell the whole story below. I’ll just say RIP Elyse. Thanks for all the incredible albums. Including this one.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “It was on an August afternoon when my wife Elyse Steinman learned she had stage 3B lung cancer. She had been experiencing intense upper back pain for months that couldn’t be explained by any physical stress or activity, and after several months of her doctor treating it as a back/spine issue, it was suggested that she get a CAT scan which revealed a golfball-sized tumor in her right lung that was pressing on her aorta and another smaller mass in her left lung, A subsequent biopsy showed the growth as malignant and, with that news, so began a daily series of doctors appointments, scans, scans, scans, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, surgical procedures, lung drainings, (scans, scans, scans) and countless other indignities that could only serve to prolong her life as a “cure” was very very unlikely.

The first thing Elyse said to me after learning her diagnosis was; “No more fucking cooking or cleaning!” The second thing she said was; “I want to do some recording.” As bucket lists go, this was relatively easy…we had shared housework duties anyhow, (although I think Elyse preferred her cooking to mine so she tended to cook more often) and our band, Raging Slab had maintained a “home studio” since the early ’90s. And so began our new routine, chemo appointments three days a week and radiation in between, We’d get home, eat and then go in the studio and Elyse would sing until she couldn’t. Elyse was a slide guitarist as well, but because her cancer had spread to her bones, she was unable to play or even hold a guitar without excruciating pain. Singing, however was as she put it, “the only thing that makes the pain stop.”

So I made sure Elyse sang as much as she wanted to. Because she received radiation in her chest, and because the radiation literally burned her esophagus and vocal chords, her voice would change tone and timbre by the day, and because I didn’t know how long she was going to be with us I tended to roll tape and not erase anything, her chemo made her quite ill sometimes and there are vocal takes of her throwing up mid-song, or having a coughing fit so bad I can be heard dialing an ambulance, as well as many MANY takes that end in crying and/or screaming … most sessions ended up with 30 or more full or partial vocal takes. Elyse lived for another 3 1/2 years, beating all expectations, and during which time we were able to record 25 songs in total. Having these songs released on vinyl would would have been a dream come true for a record collector like Elyse, my most sincere thanks to Dale Crover and Joyful Noise for making this LP possible.

All the songs are covers, All of them chosen by Elyse. And ALL of the singing made her pain stop for a little while. Please, sing along. — Gregory Strzempka, Nov 5, 2020.”