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Double Team

For John R. Fields and Hank Haney of New Orleans' Blackfire Revelation, touring is a way of life.



Excuse me while I go to the bar.'

John R. Fields gets up from his table beside a local coffee shop, goes to his van at the curb, and pulls out a beer. 'I've had enough coffee today. If I had any more, I'd be 'bzzzzzzzz,'' he says, jittering his hands.

He and Hank Haney are home for a few days between tours. As Blackfire Revelation, the duo has spent much of the last year on the road. They're back for a short breather, long enough to pay some bills and remember what their own beds look like. This afternoon they're reviewing notes from the band's booking agent about their schedule and the places they will be playing. Looking at his comments on their upcoming New York City date makes them laugh.

''You get nothing and everybody is rude,'' he reads. ''Welcome to the prestigious Mercury Lounge.''

He explains that the club also polls the audience each night to see which of the three bands on the bill they came to see. 'They come up to us after the show and say, 'Five people came to see you guys, so here's 15 bucks,'' Haney says.

Warming up to his anti-New York rant, Fields says. 'I get Southern pride every time up there.' The whole experience is so irritating, he says, that 'last time we were there, we drove out of town like this' -- giving the middle finger -- 'and we drove 24 hours straight just to get back Š'

'... and we were happy the whole time,' Haney says.

FOR ALL THE COMPLAINING ABOUT tough times on the road, Fields and Haney have a great time telling their stories, and it's clear they wouldn't have it any other way. 'The kind of band we are, we would be satisfied just playing around town,' Fields says.

Fields and Haney have been together since they met at the University of New Orleans in 2003. Fields was born in Mississippi, but his stepfather is from New Orleans. His parents taught English in Tokyo, so he went through high school in Japan, but he has been based here since 1985. When he started college, a friend introduced him to Haney, who moved here from Virginia.

'It was never our intention to be a two-piece at all,' Fields says. They started writing songs figuring they'd teach them to a bass player later. Once they got used to playing the songs without a bass, though, they had second thoughts. 'It was so easy, not to mention economical, that we said, 'F--k it, let's just do it,'' Fields says, pointing out that traveling as a two-piece often makes it possible for them to sleep in hotels where other independent touring bands frequently need to find a fan's floor to sleep on.

'From a business standpoint, the rock band as a business entity is probably the single worst small business you could ever start Š' Fields says.

'Š start in debt, end in debt, stay in debt in between,' Haney adds, laughing.

They hope the new CD and label deal will change things. They've recorded an independent EP, Gold and Guns on 51, and they start recording their debut for Fat Possum Records in a few weeks. Blackfire Revelation is part of the Oxford, Miss., blues label's reinvention of itself since recordings of older Southern blues musicians -- the label's hallmarks -- are in diminishing supply as those bluesmen are dying.

'[The label's] passion is for music, and what kind of music it is is of no importance,' Fields says. 'They just want to keep putting out good records.' Considering the label, it's tempting to look at the band's two-man lineup -- guitar and drums -- and assume it's a heavier Black Keys or White Stripes, but Fields rejects those comparisons. 'We're a very heavy rock band; we call ourselves soul metal. Don't call us stoner rock, and please, God, don't call us a blues duo. People who call us a blues duo don't listen to us, but they don't listen to the blues, either.'

Though Blackfire Revelation doesn't have a bass player, the front page of the band's Web site features a picture of a bassist -- Cliff Burton, the Metallica bassist who died in 1986. Beside it is the slogan, 'Flying in Missing Man Formation for Cliff Burton since 2003.'

'We figure when we find Cliff Burton reincarnated, he'll be playing bass for us,' Fields says. 'We have no political stance against bassists, but the right person has never presented themselves.'

Fields and Sean Yseult of Rock City Morgue play bass on the EP, and Fields says they'll always have bass on the recordings, but in concert, they fill the bottom end with Haney's double bass drum set-up and sheer volume. 'What we lack in bass, we make up for in volume,' he says.

'We're really not making background music,' he continues. 'It's not something you're going to put on that's going to float in the background so that you can do your homework, or whatever. When we play a show, no one's going to be in the back on a cell phone. We're louder than God for a reason.'

For heavy rock bands, there is no substitute for playing live on the road. 'Being in a metal band is like a math test -- you have to show your work to get credit for anything,' Fields says. Metal fans, he explains, want to feel confident that the band has worked hard and earned its success. 'A lot of these people want to see how you got there. There are people (who say), 'I was at the f--king show when there was four people there Š' he says.

''... and they still ruled!'' Haney adds. Blackfire Revelation has had a number of nights like that, the most memorable being in Des Moines, Iowa. Only two guys showed up -- 'but they came specifically to see us,' Haney says.

'We decided, 'F--k it, we're going to lay it on them,'' Fields continues. ''We're going to kill these dudes.' At the end of the show, we got paid $10 for playing that night, but those two dudes bought $60 worth of merchandise. They bought two T-shirts and CDs for their friends.'

'They kept apologizing for the city being so lame and wanted us to come back,' Haney says.

That sort of enthusiasm has made traveling worthwhile for the band, which is pleased to have that kind of word of mouth and buzz with just one EP out.

In Memphis, Blackfire Revelation played for 30 people at a club -- not bad for a fairly new band -- but after the show, the promoter told them that the first time Mastodon -- last year's breakthrough metal band -- played the club, they played to a similar crowd and now they're selling it out.

''I think the same thing's going to happen for you guys,'' Haney recalls him saying. ''Please keep coming back.''

That kind of encouragement keeps the band positive, but you get the sense they'd keep touring even if people were throwing things at them. "I don't see how some of these (local) bands don't tour," Fields says. "For me, that was one of the reasons we started -- to go spread the gospel."


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