He's the high priest of polyester, the over the top pastor of The First House Of Polyester Worship and Horizontal Throbbing Teenage Desire. Sending subtlety flying through the stained glass windows of his house rockin,' traveling barroom church, the Reverend Billy C. Wirtz delivers a piano pounding, tongue- in-cheek come to Jeezus message that mixes rasslin', gospel, rock, and lust in equal mega-doses.
Wirtz is as funny as a stand-up comedian, but his piano playing is no joke. He lived with and studied under Sunnyland Slim in Chicago before going out as a sideman with Evan Johns and the H Bombs and Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band, eventually going solo in '82 with his debut, Salvation Through Polyester. Between bouts as a rasslin manager with Diamond Dallas Page and The Nasty Boys, Wirtz toured as solo act and taught workshops on blues and gospel.
His latest teams him up with veteran bloozers The Nighthawks, and it's one of Wirtz's career bests. Although he's never had a problem holding an audience's attention with his raucous reverend persona, it's great to hear him backed by a full band instead of just his pumpin' piano.
Wirtz starts out rockin' hard with the Jerry Lee Lewis homage “Too Old” ( “to rock and roll, just right to sing the blues.”)
“I think I've finally figgered out what a mojo is,” Wirtz declares, Mark Wenner's harp blasting holes in the ozone as Paul Bell's guitar shreds the upholstery.
Most of the stuff is Wirtz' original odes to sin, even including “Rocking On Up to Gloryland” from his '82 debut, and his genre-defying mash-up “Mennonite Surf Party,” from '1990's Backslider's Tractor Pull.
But he does throw in a few covers. Brownie McGhee's younger brother Sticks McGhee's '49 wino anthem “Wine-Spo-Dee-O-Dee” comes off more Jerry Lee than Sticks, but it's a great version, Killer country style. Charlie Rich's 1960 version of “Breakup” sounded like a tribute to Elvis's rockabilly days, but Wirtz' is closer to Charlie Rich Jr.'s version included on the recent compilation Feel Like Going Home, The Songs of Charlie Rich.
And for the first time in his career, Wirtz lays down what at first seems to be a straight version of a hymn, “The Hand Of The Almighty.” But we should have known better. “God will fuck you up if you dare to disobey his great command,” Wirtz proclaims on the chorus, going on to tell of a friend who knew his neighbors sheep in teh Biblical sense, and as punishment, ended up married to a Presbyterian.
There's not much hope of seeing the Rev. in the kingdom of heaven later on, so you might as well enjoy his earthly presence. Somebody say amen, and good luck.