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NEW KIDS IN TOWN

Garage Funk From A Midwest Mob

August 23, 1987|RICHARD CROMELIN and FO

Band: The Royal Crescent Mob.

Personnel: David Ellison, vocals, harmonica; B, guitar; Harold (Happy) Chichester, bass, organ; Carlton Smith, drums.

History: Like many a Midwestern 12-year-old, David Ellison mowed the neighbors' lawns to make a little money. Unlike most Midwestern 12-year-olds, Ellison counted among his customers a dude named Sugar who wore his hair in a huge Afro, drove a purple Lotus and played guitar in the Ohio Players, the Dayton band that laid down the law of funk in the mid-'70s with such No. 1 hits as "Fire" and "Love Rollercoaster." Leroy (Sugar) Bonner's sterling example and his tales of the musical life led the impressionable Ellison on to the rock 'n' roll road. With his old friend B and bassist Chichester, Ellison worked in a band called Ray Fuller & the Blues Rockers. One night in 1985 in Louisville, Ky., Ray disappeared before the third set, so the rest of the band went out and played a 45-minute version of "Louie Louie"--transformed into "Louisville Louisville." That was the beginning of the Royal Crescent Mob (named for the Shriners' Royal Crescent section). The band went through some personnel changes and developed into the hottest garage/funk combo in Columbus, Ohio, touring the Midwest and East in a van they named Emmy Lou, after Emmylou Harris. In 1986 they released a self-financed mini-album, "Land of Sugar" (in honor of Bonner). It included a rendition of the Players' "Love Rollercoaster" whose screams, reportedly, are taken from tapes of inmates undergoing shock therapy at a local institution. "Land of Sugar" got some press and alternative radio attention, and Village Voice critic Robert Christgau named it the best EP of '86. Last spring, the Mob released its first full album, "Omerta" (the Mafia code of silence), on the independent Moving Target/Celluloid label.

Sound: "Omerta" includes versions of the Ohio Players' "Fire" and James Brown's "Payback," and on stage the band will attack material by everyone from Prince to Led Zeppelin to Cheap Trick to AC/DC. The Mob's garage-bred rock 'n' roll brattiness and gritty edge recall such modern-day heartland heroes as Soul Asylum and the Replacements--and genre predecessors like Grand Funk Railroad--while the neck-snapping, get-down R&B grooves put them out there in the Sly Stone Galaxy with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone and the Beasties. The album can get a little monotonous, despite B's heroic psychedelic guitar strangling and the solid beats, but the best originals--"Get on the Bus," "Red Telephone," "Love and Tuna-fish"--are pretty terrific. The word from the East is that the live Mob--fronted by Ellison wielding a staff with the device "OMDC" (One Man Destruction Crew) on it--is better than that.

Show: Friday at Club Lingerie.

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