music: Sweat Once Again 

A regular in Richmond clubs in the '70s, Larry Raspberry brings his Highsteppers back to town for some soul singing and fancy dancin'.

The sheer energy, bravado and the good-time vibe of the proceedings at The Highsteeppers' concerts got to fans, to say nothing of the tasty playing, soulful singing and lyrically sharp songs.

Raspberry, singer/pianist/guitarist/writer, emerged from the same Southern wellspring of musical mysticism that earlier gave us Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, to name but two. The band's motto, intoned by him at various junctures in live flight, became "We have not yet begun to sweat." They earned a reputation for giving audiences the full measure of rock 'n' soul brilliance at every show. The harp player, Greg "Fingers" Taylor, went on to play with Jimmy Buffett. Buffet, in fact, recorded Larry's "Dixie Diner," the swinging instrumental from the initial Highsteppers record.

Larry and the band haven't played Richmond since the late '80s but have always worked a crowd with the same sweat 'n' chops that endeared bar bands such as NRBQ and Skip Castro to many in this town. Luckily, although the band will be in town to play a private event, while they're here they have set up an early show at Alley Katz on Friday, Sept. 20.

The first LP released under the moniker Larry Raspberry and The Highsteppers, "High Steppin' and Fancy Dancin'," was released in the early '70s, on the legendary soul label Stax. The four or five tunes that got spins around here propelled that first LP to "local classic" status. Consider that such acclaim also adheres to first LPs by Raitt, Prine and Browne. The full first record, plus several songs from later Highsteppers' recordings, finally came out on CD in 1996.

Perhaps the song that got the most airplay here was "Jive Ass," which seems uncannily topical today. In the song, one of the band's funkiest, and most scathingly pointed, Raspberry pokes fun at a dude trying to get to the top in the music biz by any means necessary. Raspberry displays some of his best verbal legerdemain ("if the price was right you'd burn out both your eyes/so much to teach but nothin' to learn/with your ethics in the bank"). The song is a staple in The Highsteppers' live show.

Larry Raspberry changed his base of operations from the East Coast to the West in 1983 in order to be able to network his songs and to follow an urge to do some acting. He was fortunate enough to have his song "Always Drive a Cadillac" recorded by those other sons of the South, The Everly Brothers, and Carly Simon recorded "Tired of Being Blonde."

When it comes to favorites from the early days of uninhibited radio, Richmond has a long memory. Just check Bonnie Raitt's CD sales. Welcome back Larry Raspberry and The Highsteppers. Alley Katz should be a homecoming of sorts for these much-missed troopers. S

Larry Raspberry and The Highsteppers play Alley Katz on Sept. 20 from 7 - 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $8-$10 and can be purchased at Plan 9, musictoday.com, or by calling Ticketmaster 262-8100.

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