The 77-inch Reverend Billy C. Wirtz loomed over the piano and preached to the masquerading faithful at Skipper’s Smokehouse’s annual Freaker’s Ball Friday night. The costume-clad crowd of several hundred was thoroughly healed by the Reverend and his smoking rockabilly band, The Polyester Prophets.
Guises competing for a trip to New Orleans included everyone from a sexy, redheaded, whip-wielding dominatrix, to the coke and fries couples’ winner. The grand prize went to an unidentifiable man donning a behemoth mullet head mask. The Reverend, who took a break from preaching and playing to judge the contest, said he was partial to the female flasher.
To those unfamiliar with the Reverend or his First House of Polyester and Horizontal Throbbing Teenage Desire Church, here’s the skinny: About 15 years ago Wirtz armed himself with a piano and decided to take the rockabilly spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis and update the subject matter. What emerged was a Lewis mutate with a dash of Jeff Foxworthy, augmented with a healthy helping of Rick Flair and Jimmy Lee Swaggart.
The results? Wirtz currently maintains close to legendary status in the South, and sells shows out consistently at comedy and music clubs from the Greek Theater in Berkley to the Bottom Line in New York City.
In addition to being an entertainer, Wirtz also moonlights as a journalist. His credits include writing for Keyboard and Musician Magazine, as well as Creative Loafing.
Besides composing redneck sendups such as “Partying Motherf-ker” and “Sleeper Hold on Satan,” Wirtz is also capable of sentimental weepers such as “The Visitor” – a tale involving a dying friend’s last request to meet The King.
After playing, preaching and partying for 3 1/2 hours on stage Friday night, Wirtz answered a few questions.
Q: When and how was the Reverend persona born?
A: It occurred in 1978 in Virginia. Me and a buddy were drunk, this was back in my drinking days, listening to James Brown Live at The Apollo and we sent away for these minister’s licenses from the back of Rolling Stone. Mine came, and his didn’t. I formed the First House of Polyester Worship And Horizontal Throbbing Teenage Desire. I got official a couple years ago and have done some weddings and eulogies.
Q: How did you first get involved in journalism?
I met Bob Doerschuk (then editor of Keyboard Magazine) and he told me I was seriously full of s-t and then asked me to write for him. When he moved to Musician Magazine I followed.
Q: What’s the craziest gig you’ve played?
Plato’s Retreat (1982). It was a swinger’s club in New York City. I spent the whole night before doing coke with this girl in Queens so I had like three hours of sleep prior to the show. I was picturing this army of little Marsha Brady look-a-likes playing Marco polo with me in the Jacuzzi. Instead, it was mostly middle-aged people in leather G-strings. The first guy through the door looked exactly like my eighth-grade science teacher, Mr. Pool.At the end I felt these soft bosoms on my back and it was Mr. Pool coming up behind me asking if he could assist me. I said, “OK,” and he helped take my keyboard out to my car. The fire door shut behind him, so as I’m driving away I see Mr. pool in his leather jock strap running around to the front.
Q: Who was a bigger influence, Jerry Lee Lewis or his cousin Jimmy Lee Swaggart?
A: Jimmy Lee is the best piano player. He plays the meanest, lowdown boogie.You can laugh all you want, but Jimmy Lee could preach a sermon where you knew everything was bulls-t, and he could still work the crowd.There was one he used to do about rock groupies (imitates Swaggart), “The rock groupie, that would come to see the band for Satanism and drug orgy” – kind of like them girls right here (Wirtz points to the young women behind this writer.)I like them both (Jimmy and Jerry Lee) very much.
Q: Where do you get your material?
A: I’m just a reporter, it’s just there. This is Florida man. (Wirtz resides north of Daytona Beach.) I’m not the one who goes around sticking my weenie in pool intake ducts.
Q: What would you be doing if you weren’t a music man?
A: (Wirtz, an ex-special education teacher, looks down before gazing back up, dead serious.) I’d be teaching music therapy to teenage mentally challenged students. (Long pause). Yeah, that’s what I do now (devilish grin), various music therapies, just in, ah (laughs), little bit larger classrooms
- Contact Wade Tatangelo at firstname.lastname@example.org