At 11:16 on a November Sunday night, Dexter Romweber, former frontman for the Flat Duo Jets, walks into the 313 Gallery, part of the CBGB's complex in New York City. An hour later, Romweber, accompanied by a drummer and tenor saxophonist, will launch into Miles Davis' “Move” as their opening number. The set was supposed to begin at 11.
Timing, as they say, is everything. And for reasons known only to the rock 'n' roll gods, Dexter Romweber's timing has always been just a bit off.
Some might say Romweber was born too late. He's soft-spoken, insular, unfailingly polite-until he takes up his guitar and is inhabited with such fury that credence is lent to every 1950s preacher who proclaimed that rock 'n' roll was the devil's music.
The guitarist mainlines every element of Sun Studios-era rock 'n' roll-R&B, country and soul-with recondite fervor. He is a musician's musician, appreciated most by those who come closest to comprehending his gift. Jack White is a fan, as are the Cramps, Exene Cervenka and an untold number who have seen him perform.
Some might venture Romweber was born too soon. In the 1986 southern-rock documentary, Athens, Ga. Inside/Out, a teenage Dexter stole the show from local heavyweights R.E.M. and Pylon, despite residing in the Georgia college town for less than six months at the start of filming. “We were doing a lot more drugs back then, ya know,” Romweber laughs. “All the drugs I do now are legal-I don't even drink.”
Good drugs may be partially why it took four more years for the first proper release by the Duo Jets, Romweber's former two-piece ensemble with longtime friend and drummer Crow. In 1998, R.E.M. knobturner Scott Litt offered the Duo Jets his services and a major label deal, but by the time they finished Lucky Eye, the band was on its last legs. Soon after, duos like the White Stripes and Black Keys reaped the rewards at the end of the road that Dexter Romweber had paved.
Does Romweber admit to the gift so many of his peers have witnessed?
“I do,” he says. “But I think that time is flying. I think it's up to me to cultivate it-you know, to play every night, to make something exciting-and if I don't do that, I'm fucking wasting away. That's some of the anger I put in that music, the sheer feeling that I feel like I'm wasting my time if I'm not doing it.”
And you can expect Romweber to be doing it for quite some time: Playing live is “a real spiritual need,” he says. “It's still a way to for me to get my rocks off and express myself.” B
Dexter Romweber plays with Neko Case and The Sadies at Brick by Brick, 8 p.m. on Dec. 5. $15. 619-275-LIVE.
Dryw Keltz contributed to this story.