The Roots Report: An Interview with Aztec Two-Step

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Okee dokee folks… The duo Aztec Two-Step has been performing for almost 50 years and are one of my biggest musical influences. Aztec Two-Step is Rex Fowler and Neal Schulman but now it is just Rex, Neal has retired. Fowler has a new group of musicians filling the void left by Neal’s retirement. One of these musicians is Rex’s new wife, Dodie Pettit. This version of Aztec has been dubbed “Aztec Two-Step 2.0” by Neal and has been given his complete blessing. I spoke with Rex Fowler the other day about Aztec Two-Step, its future and the upcoming show at the Narrows Center for the Arts on February 16. For more about the Narrows show on Feb 16, “Rabbit In The Moon” to NarrowsCenter.org.

Rex Fowler: Hello, John!
John Fuzek: Hey, Rex, how are you?
RF: I’m fine, say hi to my wife, Dodie!
JF: Hi, Dodie!
RF: Thanks for doing this! How would you like to proceed?
JF: We’ll just talk
RF: Ok, my favorite color is burnt sienna, that famous crayon color
JF: (laughing)
RF:I know you wanted to ask me that!
JF: I did! So, why did Neal decide to retire?
RF: I think the tipping point was when his wife passed away in Nov 2017, and then it was a combination of things, I think the road just caught up to him, he had 47 plus years, he just wanted to try something else in life, not have the grind of being on the road.
JF: Is he retiring completely or will he be doing something else?
RF: I don’t think he is going to do anything that require leaving Manhattan, he may sit in with a friend or two here and there, you know, I think he has already, but I don’t think he is ready to join a band or anything, he is at the age where he can retire, he’s had a full career with Aztec Two-Step, he just didn’t want to be burdened by travel, he had enough of the road, he ran out of road is really what he did! It’s a long grind if you’re not really into it, if it becomes a burden, hotels, travel, it’s not uncommon for an older guy to want to do something else.
JF: How old is Neal?
RF: I think he is 66 now
JF: And you’re 70?
RF: I’m 71.
JF: Do you still have road left in you?
RF: Yeah! I’m just doing it for the glory now! I got married and Dodie and I are just having a lot of fun. I met her in 1979 when she was a studio musician brought in for the Time Of Our Lives album, we kept in touch over the years, she ended up getting a career on Broadway and doing that for 25 years, she as an original cast member of Phantom of the Opera, she spent four years doing Cats prior to that, so, she had a very successful career as a dancer and a singer.
JF: I saw that she was in a band in the ’60s?
RF: Yeah, and she was in an all girls band called The Untouchable and they were recently featured in a magazine called Ugly Things and there’s a record company called Numero Records and they’re a feature band for an unsigned, all girl band of the 60’s, and Dodie was in two of them- The Enchanted Forest and The Untouchable was the other, it’s crazy, Iggy Pop, before they became the Stooges, heard them play and they were very impressed, he mentions them in a documentary, and how they were so much better than his band and it made him really buckle down and get to work, and that was kind of cool, all these years later that this documentary came out, that’s also feature on the Please Kill Me website, he was interviewed for that, they were being wooed by big producers Coppleman and Rubin, and John Boylon, one of the guys from Jimi Hendrix Experience was working with them, she was like 16 or 17 years old and at the same time she was also the principle dancer The American Ballet Company, she was a prima ballerina. doing all this she had quite a rich, full life in the arts.
Dodie chimes in from the background, “I was ready to give it up for my Rock and Roll career but it didn’t happen!!”

RF: Fifty years later the band gets signed but she is a sensational lead guitar player. electric guitar player, she also plays acoustic with us and she plays piano, keyboard, you’ll see her on all three of those instruments if you get to the show at the Narrows!
JF: I was wondering about that because Neal’s lead guitar was a strong part of the duo sound
RF: It’s definitely a challenge, you know, the cult following within the cult following, people were VERY disappointed to learn that he retired and a lot of people are not going to come out unless they can be convinced otherwise, and I think if we can the word out the Dodie brings something, what we are really trying to do is approach our live shows much like we did our recordings, you know they were always fully recorded with everything but the kitchen sink on them, and we are going out featuring quartets and quintets and sometimes as a sextet performing the material much like it was recorded, we are not trying to reproduce Neal, no one can replace him, so rather than get someone to stand up there and do that we went to something totally different, Dodie is now my heart and soul of this band and she’s, I really think she has a chance to create quite a following on her own within our band, you know, she’s a chick singer and guitar player that can rip it! She something else!
JF: Who will be adding the singing?
RF: Everyone sings in the band, you know, we are playing tomorrow night and all five of us sing, I am doing the lead singing, we do a couple of Neal’s songs, and one of the guys sings one of Neal’s songs and I sing one,
JF: Is Fred still playing bass with you?
RF: No, Fred retired, too, he didn’t want to continue on without Neal in the band, it’s a whole new look, a whole new thing.
JF: Who is bass?
RF: A guy that was in my Elvis Band (Rex and the Rockabilly Kings), Steven Roues, he plays upright bass, and blues harmonica, he sings, he is a really good musician.
JF: Have you retired the Elvis band?
RF: We’re still going, we’re playing a bunch of gigs next month. We play pretty regularly at the Courthouse Center in Kingston.
JF: Are you still getting good crowds with that show?
RF: It seems to be a much harder act to book than we thought it would be, I guess people want to see the guy in the jumpsuit and we just focus on the early Sun Records era, but it;s a whole lot of fun, it’s a multi media show.
JF: What will Aztec-Two-Step consist of when you play the Narrows in February 16?
RF: It will be a quartet, we will have a drummer, there is an outside chance of us having a keyboard player, but it’s very outside, our regular guy is not able to make it and we haven’t really worked with the other one yet. There’s another guy that’s been recommended to us, he plays with the Average White Band.
JF: You folks played in Florida last week?
RF: We always play down there in January.
JF: Are you going to spend more time on the road with this band?
RF: That remains to be seen, we are certainly game, we;d love to do it, we’re going to make some videos, we’re not your mother’s Aztec-Two-Step, Neal gave us a little slogan, “Aztec Two-Step 2.0” and with Dodie being the primary lead instrument on guitar, keys and vocals, and with the other members we do a lot of 3 part harmonies whereas Neal and I never did that, it’s a different approach, we’re not trying to be Rex and Neal anymore, we feature my songs and my voice and this cool band that can really kick out the jams and get very textured and nuanced on the ballads
JF: But you are still calling it Aztec Two-Step, and I thought about it, bands like America when they lost  a member and went from a trio to a duo still called it America, Three Dog Night is just one of the three now, there are a lot of bands that it happens to.
RF: It’s a lot easier when you have, well, you know a good example is Steely Dan, they’re out there and they lost Walter Becker, and he didn’t sing so he was sort of disposable, Neal is not disposable and it;s a much more challenging situation now, well, Paul Simon did a great job, he overcame Simon & Garfunkel, but he was in the prime of his life when that happened, most people are retiring at my age, it’s a big challenge for me to get people to want to go out and see us a lot of people were just not interested.
JF: What has been the response from the shows that you’ve done?
RF: Oh, it’s been fantastic, a few people told me that they really didn’t expect to like it and they LOVED it, it’s completely different than what Neal and I did standing up there with a bass player, we’re just not the same sound, and we add drums and keys and occasionally a horn player it’s just a very cool, different thing.
JF: But you will be performing songs from the Aztec-Two-Step catalog, correct?
RF: Oh, yeah! We are really presenting the music much like our recordings sounded, we always had a full ensemble on our records, even our first record, the first one had bass and drums on almost every song, there were all kinds of instruments and rich, full vocals backgrounds and the second and subsequent albums were even more produced, that is what we are going out as.
JF: I am sure it will sound great and I certainly hope that folks will go out and give it a listen and judge for themselves, I mean I always try to plug your shows because as I have said over and over again Aztec Two-Step is one of my biggest musical inspirations and one of my favorite acts of all time.
RF: Aww, thank you!
JF: I appreciate the music and the friendship, and we’ve done shows together, and go way back, I will miss Neal not only musically, he is a friend, too. But it’s good that you are keeping it because I love the music and love hearing the music, and if any other fans are like me I am sure they will appreciate the fact that you are keeping the music going!
RF:People seem to really embrace it, what I have to do is stick around long enough for the people who initially didn’t come out to get curious and come out, or they will see a video of what we are doing, Dodie is quite a musician and she is pretty as a princess still so the front line got a lot better looking since Neal retired (laughs).
JF: Honestly, Rex, I saw Dodie’s photo and I thought you were robbing the cradle!
RF: You know, she is almost my age! She is a just a couple of years younger than me.
JF: Yeah, i couldn’t believe it when I saw that she was in a band in the ’60s! No way! I thought she was maybe 30-40 years old!
(Dodie is laughing in the background)
RF: Up on stage, until the lights, and she still fits into the dress she wore in the Untouchables back in 1967, she is fit as a fiddle and has a ballerina body.
JF: Well, she looks great and like I said I thought you were robbing the cradle, Rex!
RF: I couldn’t be happier, it’s nice to have someone my age.
JF: Congratulations on the marriage, btw, I look forward to meeting her, if she is with you I am sure that I will like her.
RF: Thank you so much, well, I hope that you can make it to the show! You know there are videos of us on Aztec Two-Step’s YouTube channel (youtube.com/watch?v=M_EYjVULmRA). The way it is now it is Aztec Two-Step featuring Rex Fowler and friends but eventually it will be featuring Dodie Pettit with Rex Fowler tagging along!
(Dodie in the background says “Noooooooo!”)
JF: Hey, it’s always good to have a babe in the band, they make bands much better.
RF: Yeah, especially when they can play!
JF: Ok, well, I’ll let you go and look forward to seeing you on February 16 at the Narrows.
RF: That will great, thanks so much, take care!

This is a little about the band:
Originating form a chance meeting at a Boston folk club open mic night in 1971, Aztec Two-Step burst on the scene in ’72 with their self-titled debut album on Elektra Records. This first album and their three subsequent albums for RCA Records made the duo staples of progressive FM and college radio, helping to usher the folk-rock music of the 1960s into the 1970s and beyond. Rex and partner Neal Shulman went on to spend a lifetime of making music together. However, after 47 years of recording and non-stop touring, Neal has retired.

In this new era of Aztec Two-Step, Rex continues on with their captivating songs (including several of Neal’s originals), expanding the band’s musical legacy with his new ensemble. Their shows feature Aztec Two-Step fan favorites and forgotten gems, with Rex’s band banter and stage patter as warm and engaging as ever.

The new band members:

Dodie Pettit – Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Accomplished songwriter and recording artist, Dodie Pettit first met Rex Fowler when she was a session player and singer on ATS’s 1980 “Times of Our Lives” album. Dodie and Rex were recently married and are the heart and soul of the new Aztec Two Step “2.0” ensemble. Going farther back, as part of the first generation of female rock bands of the 1960s, Dodie was a member of the famed The Untouchable and also did a year-long stint with The Enchanted Forest. Dodie is a former Principal Dancerfor the American Repertory Dance Company and had a distinguished 15-year career on Broadway as an original cast member of The Phantom of the Opera, as well as appearing in Tony Award winning musicals CATS and Titanic. http://dodiepettit.com/home/

Steven “Muddy” Roues – Upright Bass, Blues Harmonica, Vocals
Record producer, songwriter, recording artist and touring musician, Roues has had a rich and fulfilling 40-year career. He continues to perform his original music regularly with The Roues Brothers, Finn & The Sharks and The UpSouth Twisters. Muddy has performed live or recorded with luminaries, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Howling Wolf, James Cotton, Sam and Dave, The Chambers Brothers, Wilson Pickett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely and David Bromberg. Muddy was an honored band member in the critically acclaimed documentary film, “The Other Side of Nashville” featuring Carl Perkins. https://www.facebook.com/frothdog/

Peter Hohmeister – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Rex and Dodie met Peter recently at a cabaret in Westport, CT when he was sitting in with an exquisite local jazz quartet.  Being both an accomplished musician and teacher, they knew immediately that Peter’s nuanced and versatile percussive style would be a perfect fit for ATS’s diverse musical canon.

Aztec-Two-Step 2.0 will be at the Narrows Center for the Arts on February 16. For more about the Narrows show, “Rabbit In The Moon” to www.NarrowsCenter.org.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

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