Miss Derringer takes on ‘Whitey’

Jay N. Miller

If fugitive mobster James ``Whitey'' Bulger ever comes out of hiding, it might be this weekend at the Blondie concerts.

That’s because the opening act, L.A.-based rockers Miss Derringer, is hooking its forthcoming album, a concept CD to be called ``Winter Hill,'' on the gangland conflicts that swirled around Bulger.

``We’d love to have Whitey show up,'' said guitarist Morgan Slade. ``We’d give him a job as roadie.'' 

Miss Derringer opens for Blondie on Friday at the Cape Cod Melody Tent and Saturday at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset.

Headed by Slade and his wife, vocalist  Liz McGrath,  Miss Derringer is a unique band with a pop punk Americana sound.  Think a blend of the Dresden Dolls, Ravonettes and Shangri-Las.

Their latest album, ``Lullabies,'' includes a guest appearance by Blondie drummer Clem Burke, who played on four songs.  Rounding out Miss Derringer are bassist Sylvain de Muizon, drummer Cody James and guitarist Bill Woodcock.

Lyrically,  the band crafts tales of lost souls in desperate times, framed in a country-punk/girl group pop sound, with surf guitar accents and contemporary dance beats filtered in. 

``I think the brighter music with the darker lyrics makes it interesting,'' said Slade. ``It worked for The Smiths.'' 

McGrath said the way she sings reflects what she feels about the material. ``Some of those murder ballads or some of the stories about the woman getting revenge, really puts the guy in his place, so it’s natural to sing it forcefully,'' she said.  

Slade said he writes with McGrath’s voice in mind. 

``The tunes are essentially stories she told me, or stories she heard, that we adjust to her character,'' Slade said.  ``She hasn’t really been involved in many robberies, for instance. But we have fit her right into that story of the Winter Hill gang, as an Irish gun moll. It seems like this girl is always on the wrong side of the law, but hopefully with a heart of gold.''

But how did a tale of Bostonian crime find its way into the songbook of an L.A. rock band?

``I read this book ‘The Brothers Bulger’ and I was fascinated by it,'' said Slade. ``The whole gang war thing, with the brother who was a powerful politician, is just such an interesting story. There was an incident where a girlfriend thing, and taking revenge for it, started the whole war, and that lent itself perfectly to our style. It also happened largely in the 1960s, a period whose music we really like, so it was a natural subject. We’re not writing this as a musical version of that story, or a straight narrative, but more as music that these characters might have listened to.''

Slade said he’s excited to come to Massachusetts, to ``see some of the places where it all happened.''

Miss Derringer opened a few shows for Bad Religion earlier this spring, but these days the band has moved a bit away from punk, and a new remix of the ``Black Tears'' single by the British CC/K production team suggests that at times they might not be that far away from   Debbie Harry and her band’s sound. 

``We’ve made a concentrated effort to integrate all of the various elements into our own, cohesive sound,'' said Woodcock. ``I would agree there is a little more New Wave in there now, but the same integral influences are still what you hear most.''

 And that’s still stories of mystery and lives gone wrong, tales of thwarted desires and twisted misadventures, and even, now, songs about notorious gangland figures – all sung with bubbling energy and infectious passion. 

If Whitey shows up, his head will surely be spinning.

The Patriot Ledger