Throughout the month of July we will be celebrating the strides and achievements North Carolinians have made in the world of rock and roll music. This week we look into the one-of-a-kind blend of punk and rockabilly from Dex Romweber and the Flat Duo Jets.
By Sam Gerweck
Dex Romweber, and more notably his band the Flat Duo Jets, are a bit of a rock and roll anomaly. Formed in Carrboro, N.C. the group broke out at the height of the American punk movement with a strange brand of rockabilly, channeling Dex’s early musical loves of Buddy Holly, the Coasters and Eddie Cochran all through a southern-gothic lens. Dubbed “hardcore Americana” by Exene Cervenka of L.A. punk rock band X, the band managed to sound old-fashioned and futuristic at the same time, with song structures echoing their 50s rock and roll idols but played with the veracity of hardcore garage rock. Their image, dark and brooding party animal rock stars, is a stark contrast to their upbeat, old-school tunes. In the documentary Two Headed Cow, Romweber remarks how he is “fascinated what you can do with three chords,” and Flat Duo Jets audiences were as well.
The Flat Duo Jets original line-up consisted of Dex Romweber on guitar and Chris “Crow” Smith on drums. Their early band practices took place in the garage behind the Romweber household, dubbed “The Moz” (short for The Mausoleum and pictured on their eponymous debut album’s cover) due to its decrepit, haunted house appearance. MTV’s Cutting Edge even got an in depth tour of The Mausoleum. Deriving their name from the 1951 Gretsch Duo Jet guitar, made popular by George Harrison and Gene Vincent, the band’s general aesthetic mimicked their namesake – sleek and black, calling back to the old days, but still progressive. Dex chose a black and white Silvertone 1448 as his signature weapon of choice, a cheaply made beginner’s guitar originally sold in Sears-Roebuck catalogs that lent itself beautifully to his messy rockabilly-blues playing.
The simplistic approach of Dex Romweber and the Flat Duo jets, both in songwriting and in style, has been mimicked often since their inception, most notably by Jack White of the White Stripes fame, who calls Dex Romweber, “one of the best kept secrets of the rock and roll underground.” He turned that secret obsession into a worldwide phenomenon, with the White Stripes imitating the Flat Duo Jets monochromatic color schemes, affinity for cheap plastic guitars, and simple, old-school songwriting centered around only a drummer and a guitarist. In the years since the White Stripes formed and split, Jack White has celebrated and collaborated with Dex Romweber, notably recording a 7” record with him and his late sister Sara Romweber at his Nashville studio, Third Man Records.
Though his days in "The Moz" are long behind him, Dex Romweber still calls North Carolina home and you can catch him performing his signature blend of rock and roll frequently around the Research Triangle.
About the Author:
Sam Gerweck works for the North Carolina Arts Council as a Program Administrator for the Come Hear North Carolina campaign. Performing as a solo artist and in garage bands since his pre-teens, he went on to study vocal performance and music theory at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Settling in North Carolina, he has come to love the rich musical culture of the state, and you can likely find him at any number of music venues, record stores, or guitar shops around the region.