By Rob van Alstyne
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Over the next few days, Dave Wolfe will be packing up his Kingdom of Kitsch. The Elvis paperweights, Elvis-emblazoned silver bells, and Elvis busts will have to live in dark boxes before being introduced to their new home in Austin, Texas. His collection of Jesus candles and praying wax hands with wicks poking out of their fingertips will have to find ecumenical harmony in a box with plastic Buddhas.
Despite Wolfe's impending move down South, the Vibro Champs singer-guitarist's south Minneapolis home is surprisingly litter-free. Vases of carnations and orange roses are placed Martha Stewart-like throughout a room filled with a zebra-striped rug, a faux red-velvet couch, and perfectly propped tasseled pillows that read, "Stewed, Screwed, and Tattooed." He slides open the dining room door and reveals a pile of towering boxes and two-headed taxidermy projects, creations of his ex-girlfriend. "I sort of hid it all," he says.
Wolfe splits his time between playing with the Vibro Champs, playing upright bass in honky-tonk bands Lazy Ike and Reverse Cowgirl, working on his new label, Sideshow Records, and until recently booking Lee's Liquor Lounge. He's been a fixture on the local music scene since moving here from California in 1986. "I was just a punk rocker," he says. "But here I was a punk rocker from California. So I got a little more respect."
Twenty years later, still sprouting sideburns and a head of thick, oil-black hair, Wolfe still looks every bit the rock 'n' roll dude. After the Champs released their first full-length in 1995, he and his bandmates started packing houses with swing dancers, surf fans, gearheads, hardcore hillbilly-rock lovers, swamp stompers, and anyone looking for a good ol' jamboree. Suddenly, they were all over the place, from Radio K to Mark Rosen's Sports Sunday to A Prairie Home Companion. But after 13 years of working full-time to build the local rockabilly scene through tireless promotion, performing, and booking, Wolfe is off to set up shop in Texas. "I'm not going to make it big in my chosen field of music here," he says. "I will be doing this till the day I die. And I just feel so alone here."
On a recent trip to Austin, he attended an outdoor screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It played next to the house featured in the 1974 movie, and Wolfe got his picture taken with Gunner Hansen, whose portrayal of Leatherface was one of the film's five or six finest performances. He also played a game of "chicken shit bingo," where contestants win the pot if a chicken defecates on their number. "There's so much to do there," he says.
And it's definitely a music town, Wolfe adds. He's moving to the City of Bats and High Humidity in hopes of being part of a larger scene and never again having to sleep in a Ford Econoline the next time he tours. "I went down there, and everyone was asking me to play with them," he says. He's nailing down a number of plans he can't discuss quite yet, but says he'll be playing with Jesse Dayton and the Road Kings and working on his solo project, Dave Wolfe and the Inmates. Local rockabilly fans won't have to cry in their beers just yet: Wolfe promises to keep the Vibro Champs going and, through his Caravan Booking, he'll still put bands on Twin Cities stages. "There's no way I'm going to leave this town high and dry," he says. "I'm going to try to come back at least every two months." He'll still be just a rockabilly guy, but by then he'll be a rockabilly guy from Texas.