When one thinks of great drummers what traits come to mind? Total dependability, subtlety, unflappability, raw power, always on the beat, stylishness, prodigious consumption of drugs and alcohol. By these standards, Scott Jarvis is certainly one of the greatest drummers of our times. And yet he is relatively unknown outside the contained world of alternative rock. This is a sin, for his talents vastly surpass those of the hollow bashers that one usually hears on that scene. For you see, Scott Jarvis can swing. This advanced technique is - to put it into layman's terms - the ability to know exactly where the beat is and then to work not ON that beat, but AROUND it. It is a thinking man's drumming style usually reserved for the rarefied aerie of esoteric jazz. By marrying this loose, comfortable method of drumming to the rambling motor mouthed free associations of bassist RobK the Workdogs were created. And after the cranky rhythm duo conceived of the idea of replacing the third member of the band after each and every show, the Workdogs were off and running - playing hundreds of gigs over the next three decades, recording several cds as well as a slew of albums and singles.
But what of Jarvis' background? Well, he started life as a Southern Cracker, pure and simple - a product of the tobacco growing country of western North Carolina. But there was always something funny about the Jarvis kid. When the crazy '60s rolled in, young Scott was there with the rest - turning on, tuning in and dropping out. But where many of his contemporaries straightened up and got back on society's path, Scott Jarvis chose instead to play drums in North Carolina's very first punk band, the Cigarettes. This legendary band was the sensation of the state - causing riots, opening for the Damned, the Clash, trashing stages, inspiring Redneck brawls . . . The Cigs did it all. They lived in a squalid rock n roll hellhole with a variety of renegade nurses with easy access to pharmaceutical drugs. This sort of environment is likely to turn a young man's head around. It definitely did in the case of Scott Jarvis. Essentially the once polite Southern gentleman had become a stone cold rock n roll animal.
Thus, when the Cigarettes appropriately became addicts and imploded, Jarvis stayed on in New York City where the band had relocated. The next several years found him manning the traps behind a number of amazingly diverse acts. Some day, try to locate the very rare first single by ska sensations the Toasters. That's Scott Jarvis drumming and SINGING (on the B side). Jarvis also drummed for the thrash band, Bloodclot as well as the semenal Hi Sheriffs Of Blue, who are often cited as predecessors to the Workdogs. He worked behind the mixing board as well, producing the Beastie Boys first single, Polly Wog Stew. In fact, he was the road DJ for the Beastie Boys on the tour that broke them big, opening for Madonna.
There was a time when Jarvis was nearly always at work. He road managed an insane Richard Hell and the Voidoids tour of Europe. Vowing to never again take a behind the scenes job, he toured the States drumming for Julee Cruise and Australia with Tav Falco and Panther Burns. At the same time, the Workdogs were quite active, working as a rhythm section for hire behind Mo Tucker, Half Japanese and Purple Geezus, among others. Jarvis appears on recordings by all these bands. Jad Fair, Tav Falco and Mo Tucker all praised Scott highly in interviews.
It appeared Jarvis was really on his way until Fate dealt him a dreadfull blow - he developed an inability to leave New York City. Like an allergy it affected him physically. Within twenty four hours of leaving the Metropolitan area, he began pacing uncontrollably; sweating and shaking - a flu-like reaction that only receded upon his return to NYC. The Workdogs were able to bounce back from this blow by beginning what became a five year residency at MaxFish, the celebrated Ludlow Street watering hole. His work as a touring drummer, however, was over - never to be resumed.
Jarvis' strange "allergy" of course precluded any possibility of his joining RobK when the latter moved to Hawaii in 1998. With the Workdogs on hiatus, Jarvis found himself with his first free time in many years. He undertook the study of piano as well as teaching himself the rudiments of the digital recording studio. The music he is producing - he disparigingly calls it Scott Jarvis' Silly Little Vanity Project - is compelling. It recalls Tom Waits, Astor Piazola and is polyrhythmically perverse.
Meanwhile, after flitting around with a few other New York bands, Jarvis has settled in on the drum throne behind the Dime Store Dance Ensemble, an enigmatic instrumental outfit that features Jack Martin on acoustic guitar and favors the swinging jazz of the '20s and '30s. It is a perfect fit for Jarvis' smooth free flowing style. And of course, you can only see them in New York City.
Jarvis' highest praise still comes from his Workdog partner, RobK, "In all these years of the 'dogs, I've never had to turn around once. Not once! I knew he'd always be there and he always was. He is, to state it simply, the best."