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BUCKING TRADITION

Clog dancer Rush McAllister takes the unusual step of recording his fancy footwork

Rush McAllister clogs. He clogs to old-time blues; he clogs to hip-hop. He clogs to reggae and country music, to rock and to folk. He stands right next to the stage on his custom-built mahogany board, gets this thousand-mile stare in his eyes and goes at it, stepping to the beat of whatever live music the band is playing. He does it at Riddle's; he does it at the Red Sea, at the Focal Point, Off Broadway and the Sheldon Concert Hall ("That was uncomfortable," he says. "Everyone just stares at you"). He clogs.

What?

"Basically," explains McAllister, "every culture has a step-dancing tradition of some kind. American Indian, West African, Irish, English, French. Each one of them has a tradition where there's a percussive content to the dance; here in the United States, all the different types melding together. In the old days, there was always a competitive thing in town among all the people who danced like this. In Missouri, it was called "jig dancing' or "buck dancing.' "Clogging' is actually an English term that was adopted in the '40s."

It's easier understood as the antecedent to tap dancing, though a small, cloistered community in the city still (and forever will) practice the old-time dancing.

And perhaps they're best left cloistered, except for McAllister, who has strayed far from the classic tradition by dancing to music not usually too hip to the idea of buck dancing. "I can find a dance part for most tunes. The alternative-rock ones have some kind of weird rhythms, but especially the core of American popular music, they all have a central nervous system that I can jump right on."

McAllister's second CD of his footwork has just been released. Called and Rush McAllister ... on the feet!, it features the dancer stepping to the rhythms of some of the city's most accomplished musicians: jazz guitarist Dave Black, Jon Ferber of the Orbits, Alice Spencer, Willie and the Bluecats, Dubtronix Reggae 2000 (yes, McAllister step dances to dub and reggae), the Eldons, Joe Steinman (formerly of Five of These) and others.

The concept is kind of hard to wrap your head around. Here's this man, a contractor by day, who has self-released a CD of music that he's heard dancing along to. A dancer captured live on tape? On slow songs and fast ones, the music runs along, and quietly, to the side, you can hear the sound of soft leather shoes -- Bass Weejuns, "the only shoes that come in all-leather soles and heels anymore," McAllister says. "You can be a lot more subtle with leather than you can with taps." -- plunking on hard mahogany. Spencer sings a slow blues number ("Black & Blue"), and there's McAllister, thumping along. Or Steinman's distorted pop song "Empty": No drums accompany the song, just Rush on the feet.

McAllister is the first to admit that what he does can be perceived as kind of weird. "It's easy for what I do to be caricatured as real goofy," he says, describing a moment while clogging along to the music of pianist Beth Tuttle. "We were outside Brandt's," he says, "and up by the Red Sea comes these three gals, and one of them is the mom of one of my son's preschool buddies. And she glances up the street, makes eye contact with me, takes the whole scene in, gets this look of terror on her face and looks straight ahead and walks right down the sidewalk in front of me, just praying I wouldn't go, "Hey, how you doing?' But I didn't. I was real cool. I didn't want to blow the whole thing. So I have to be careful. I would be fodder for the FM-radio drive-time guys. They'd make mincemeat out of me. It's too goofy."

Beneath the acknowledgment, though, is a passion that drives him to obsess about his art, create a specialized clogging board (called the "Step-A-Tune) and innovate the result: He's attached guitar pickups to the base, wired them into effects pedals for optimum sound control and created something unique.

"To me it's an instrument I can play. It has dynamics; it's got a pickup at one and, so by moving around the board, by leaning a certain way, you create different sounds. Maybe it's just in my head, but I hear a difference. So, yeah, I've got the whole technology thing down."

Rush McAllister can be found buck dancing at Riddle's on the Loop nearly every Tuesday. You can grab his CD there, or at Vintage Vinyl.

QUICKIES: A big shout-out to Nelly, of the city's most popular hip-hop act, the St. Lunatics. His forthcoming CD, Country Grammar arrived on our desk last week, and it's a boomin' Southern-bounce Cash Money-esque party record. It comes out in late March or early April on Universal Records, one of the biggest labels on the planet (they distribute both Cash Money and Interscope Records). More to come.... A few weeks ago in the "no St. Louis labels" rant that prompted a number of fascinating and encouraging phone calls and conversations, we noted that this past year witnessed the dissolution of rock band Radio Iodine. That actually happened in the middle of '98. Time flies when you're having fun.... Friday, Jan. 21, at the tumultuous Cheetah (oh, the stories we've heard!), Josh Wink, one of the most respected house DJs on the planet, will spin. Wink, who hasn't performed here since '95, when somebody flipped over his turntables midset (Wink apparently leaped the table and pounded the guy), is supporting his seamless mix CD from last year, Profound Sounds, Volume 1. Wink is great, and anyone up for some serious dancing would be well advised to attend.

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