There is no reasonableexplanation for why Earl Root remains on the airwaves. After all, the host of KFAI's The Root of All Evil once produced a five-hour broadcast entitled "The All-Fuck Show." At the time, Root believed his Sunday morning metal marathon, broadcast from 1:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., was doomed. The previous week, he'd played a tune entitled "Four F Club," by the Mentors. "Find 'em, feel 'em, fuck 'em, forget 'em," Root explains. An unsuspecting listener did not appreciate the sentiment. "Someone just absolutely had a shit fit about it," he says.
KFAI's board of directors did not look kindly on the Mentors' sexual manifesto either. "I thought for sure I was gonna get taken off," Root recalls. "I got so angry at the board at the time, and so I did 'The All-Fuck Show.' Every single song or band had the word fuck in it. So here I'm going, 'That was the Fucking Shit Biscuits with "Take Heroin and Kill Your Mom." That was the Fuckups with "Fuck Shit Up." And that was the Useless Pieces of Shit with "Fuck All Day, Fuck All Night."'"
Despite Root's deliberate act of insubordination, the expected death sentence never arrived. Apparently, the previous week's aggrieved listener had found a new diversion for the post-midnight hours. "I did the Mentors the week before and everybody was all pissed off," Root notes incredulously, "and I do 'The All-Fuck Show' and it just goes by without a blink."
"The All-Fuck Show" was not the only time during the past 16 years that Root of All Evil has run roughshod over Federal Communications Commission decency standards. There was also the in-studio interview with death-metal outfit Vile that descended into a discussion of porn icon Ron Jeremy's purported ability to fellate himself. As well as the "Sure as a Whore" show, which featured the finest in metal misogyny. In recent months, Root has played tracks from veteran black-metal band Scepter's new album: Fucking Metal Motherfuckers. "I try to say it really fast," he notes.
This Sunday, Root's unlikely radio reign will be duly celebrated: First Avenue is hosting the Root of All Evil "Six-Six-Sixteenth Anniversary Party," a 12-hour, 18-band metalfest that will take over both the Mainroom and the 7th St. Entry. The showcase is the brainchild of First Avenue manager Steve McClellan, a longtime Root acquaintance. "He always said, 'Earl, of all the people in the metal community, I dislike you the least,'" Root laughs.
Over the years, Root of All Evil has mushroomed from a humble radio show into a mini-metal empire. Root Cellar Records, a St. Paul emporium that caters equally to fetishists of vinyl and metal, opened on Snelling Avenue in 1993. Five years later, Root launched the Root of All Evil record label, which now distributes the music of roughly a dozen bands. The 41-year-old St. Louis Park native has also helped induce tinnitus in area metal fans with his own guitar work, playing in the late, local metal outfits Deranged and Disturbed, and more recently in God-Awful and Aesma Daeva. In short, without Earl Root, there might not even be a metal scene in the Twin Cities--a fact that makes him either a saint or a scourge, depending on your tolerance for songs celebrating Satan and statutory rape.
Bill Lindsey, frontman of the veteran gore-metal band Impaler, recalls Root showing up at gigs back in the early '80s, when the only outlet for metal bands was Wilebski's, a long-defunct St. Paul watering hole that usually featured blues artists. "I just remember Earl being in the front and banging his head," says Lindsey. More than a decade later, Impaler was the first band signed to the Root of All Evil label. Over the years, Lindsey and his bandmates have been occasional Sunday morning visitors to KFAI. "It's just always a good metal time when you go there," he notes. "Earl's a good host. He makes everyone feel welcome."
And this is the metal impresario's dirty secret: By all accounts, he's basically a sweet-natured guy with a ridiculous pair of muttonchops who just happens to possess an insatiable enthusiasm for metal. Root's been with the same woman for 20 years (married for six), treats his employees like family, and receives accolades from the bands that have signed with Root of All Evil. He's largely given up the drugs and drinking that are often as
integral a part of the metal scene as Karo syrup and leather, confining himself to the occasional post-grass-cutting beer. "It just takes away your desire to do anything and it takes away your ambition," Root says. "There's no possible way I could accomplish what I'm trying to accomplish now if I was loaded."
Even Root's on-air antics have ebbed over the years. "I've calmed down quite a bit," he concedes. "There's no reason to push buttons that hard in this genre. If I'm gonna push buttons, I'd rather do it with the music itself."
On a recent Sunday morning, Root is manning the KFAI studios on Riverside Avenue. He's dressed in his standard uniform of black jeans and black T-shirt, this one emblazoned with the name of the death-metal band Obituary. Root's roughly six feet tall and has a slight middle-aged paunch. His normally pasty skin is flush from a long day in the sun at Ozzfest. Root's most distinguishing physical feature, however, is his muttonchops--which extend all the way to his chin. They are perhaps more accurately described as a reverse goatee.
Root rails about metal at a furious clip, bouncing from the merits of Demonicon's latest album ("It's just good classic technical death metal"); to the excruciating spectacle of The Osbournes television show ("I don't need to see this from the Godfather of Metal!"); to his utter lack of interest in the new Metallica album ("I'm not gonna waste an hour of my life."). It's an infectious spectacle, even for someone like me, whose knowledge of metal is pretty much limited to a Kiss cover band I witnessed a few years back. (Still, I know enough about metal geeks to predict that some will indignantly insist that Kiss don't qualify as metal.)
"It's six, six, six minutes after the big hour of one o'clock," Root greets his radio audience "It doesn't stop until six, six, six a.m." He then cues up the latest from Manowar, "The Dawn of Battle."
Root's God-Awful bandmate, Jim Odegard, arrives midway through the song. "What kind of ridiculous crap is this?" he asks. "Is this Manowar?" Odegard then explains that this kind of barb is actually the sincerest flattery. "If we refer to a band as retarded, stupid, or idiotic that means we like 'em," he says. Root and Odegard are soon performing air-guitar solos.
The calls start pouring in, mostly from drunken revelers who should've long ago called it a night. Lord Nebula phones in to request some Nuclear Assault. Nicole, in the first of five calls, wants to hear the Red Chord. Bubbalicious has a couple of requests: "Anything about vegetable masturbation or Jesus is a cunt" (which is apparently a reference to Cradle of Filth), and Barry White. Root fulfills the former request, but not the latter. The callers frequently emit the F-bomb over the airwaves.
As dawn creeps closer, the music morphs from new metal releases to grind metal to satanic metal to death metal--an evolution that's largely lost on my ears. Root plugs the forthcoming First Avenue show repeatedly. "It will be filmed for DVD so we want you drunk and dumb," he informs the audience. "It will be great."
Odegard departs around 5:00 a.m. and Root begins to tone the music down. He plays some songs that actually have discernible melodies. "People are usually pretty lit up when they're listening to my show," Root reasons. "By 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. they should've been in bed a long time ago, and they'll call up, 'Play some Slayer!' I'm going, 'Dude, it's 5:30, dude. I'm not playing Slayer right now. We're done. We did three-and-a-half hours of just bashing your skull in. Relax.'"
Up next on the KFAI program schedule is Songs of Praise, hosted by Ernestine Gates, whom Root affectionately calls "the Church Lady." "All right, gang, stick around," he finally commands at 6:01 a.m. "Songs of Praise, right here, right now." Somehow I doubt the crossover audience is very large.
Although Root has largely avoided offending KFAI's board of directors in recent years, he's still worried about the show's long-term existence. Earlier this year, the station wanted to push Root of All Evil back an hour in order to accommodate a program aimed at the Somali community. Ultimately, Root's time slot was left unchanged, but the dispute left a bitter taste in his mouth. "The whole thing ended without any ado except having a bunch of angry and pissed off programmers," he says. Root vows to continue hosting the show as long as KFAI will let him. "Over sixteen years, dude. It's been quite a trip. And I'm not planning on quitting anytime soon. Not unless I get booted off."