While Red Dress functions as a unit, vocalist/front man Gary Minkler is its presence, its performer, its center. Gary’s gigantic voice and theatrics belie his small stature. His sheer power envelopes Red Dress, and–by extension–the audience. Red Dress’ players have come to realize that, especially in recent years. “[We] make sure that Gary’s stuff is getting through,” says guitarist Pete Pendras. “’Cause it’s important. If he’s singing it, it’s important. He’s telling the story, so let’s not get out in front of him with some guitar figure or something. They’ll be time for that.”
Gary’s quiet off-stage demeanor provides no indication of what he does in front of an audience. He doesn’t just tell stories during performances. He physically creates characters and lives those stories. “He’ll take on these characters,” says Pendras. “[We’ve] got one song called ‘Bumland Anthem’ where [Gary] actually [wears] a smashed, wrinkled old overcoat [with] a really terrible, grungy, awful hat. And he becomes this guy–this bum in this song. He talks about rolling around on the ground and sleeping under the freeway. And he’ll physically do that. That’s it. He’s in there. He’s become that person.
“One of the biggest things about playing with Red Dress,” Pendras continues, “is the transformation between [Gary] the person and [Gary] the performer. I don’t think there’s a bigger transition that I’ve encountered in working with other people.”
Back in 1994, Popllama’s Conrad Uno put out a Red Dress retrospective called The Collection. It contains two disks–the first is a studio recording, while the second captures a live performance. Uno, who did live sound for shows around Seattle in the ’70s, became enamored with Red Dress after his then girlfriend recommended the band to him. “I just loved the–Gary, his whole trip is just very engaging for me,” says Uno. “I love his lyrics and his persona and his body–his person. He’s just amazing. And, really, the freakin’ guitar playing just drives me crazy.”
Last October, I emailed Uno specifically to talk about Red Dress. He is of course a Seattle legend, having produced and/or put out records by the Young Fresh Fellows, the Fastbacks, Mudhoney, Love Battery, the Squirrels, the Presidents of The United States of America, and many others. Of them all, Uno is inspired most by Red Dress.
“Feel free to call me about Red Dress,” Uno stated in his email response. “They are why I’m doing this.”
Red Dress Links
The Collection double CD: http://eggstudios.net/popllama.htm#red_dress
Seattle Channel TV special: http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=6011016