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A&E | Vol. 8, No. 19, May 10, 2007
(Pensacola Pelicans)

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Dr. Dirty Fouls Up the Stage

by Beege Welborn

Frat Boy Lyrics Bring Out Audiences' Inner Adolescent 

What: Dr. Dirty
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: New York Nick’s, 9-11 Palafox Place
Cost: $10
Details: 469-1984 or johnvalby.com

There's no denying John Valby’s prodigious musical talent—a classically trained pianist and composer—as well as his consummate showmanship. He's certainly a natty dresser, with his white tuxedo, derby and black bow tie. It's the act itself that causes consternation when casting about for descriptive terms.

Conjure up an image of Mark Russell on the piano, but warbling lyrics by Andrew Dice Clay channeling Lenny Bruce. Now that you've got an idea where we're going with this, I will caveat with: "Only much worse." And his audiences eat It UP.

"Dr. Dirty" is the master of the dirty ditty, lurid lyric and raunchy retort, and he's been honing his craft for 30 years. While pursuing a philosophy major in college, he composed the earliest of his dirty numbers to entertain his fraternity brothers. Determined to perform, but realizing that career opportunities as a concert pianist were limited, he had turned to playing pop songs and ragtime numbers on the bar circuit for a living. A directional epiphany occurred one night in 1975.

"I did three dirty songs one night and pretty soon the power of 'dirt' pushed most everything else out," he recalls. "I became a mirror for the audience and the audience turned out to be 20 times dirtier than me," he writes on his website.

Once audiences knew what lurked behind the Barry Manilow music and stage patter, they started to take matters into their own hands, shouting, "Sing more dirt!" His manager laughingly dubbed him Dr. Dirty and a sooty star was born.

Dying for a chance to ask the man himself, "You kiss your granny with that mouth?" I gave him a call and was not prepared for the warm, personable voice on the answering machine. Unfortunately, his road schedule is brutal, but Valby's manager of 25 years, Paul Lamamma, offers a glimpse of life on the troubadour road.  

He says they used to have to haul an upright grand piano with them to gigs, but now they've got a hollowed out one filled with state-of-the-art keyboards. It makes the production so much easier.

"He’s been doing this so long, he's almost not underground anymore," Lamamma says. "He's been successful at what he's been doing for a long, long time, because he's just so good, no one can copy him. It's too bad he never got that big break, because I think he coulda been whatever he wanted to be.”

Be prepared for all seven dirty words to be used often and with alacrity, not to mention a fair amount of audience shellacking, when Dr. Dirty takes the stage at New York Nick's Friday night. No ethnic group is safe, no sex organ—or act—sacrosanct, no old standard secure and no natural disaster or national shame left unscathed in Dr. Dirty's hands.

All are targets for his keyboard and R-to X-rated wit. His ribald routines run the gamut from mildly rude to outright obscene and are accompanied by his barking the odd cussword out at the audience, who cheerfully respond in kind. Valby has recorded more than 30 CDs and amassed a rabid, loyal following who revel in the unrestrained give-and-take of his performances.

I would love to share some of the titles with you, but I'd run out of asterisks and exclamation points trying to make them suitable for publishing.

Suffice to say, I was gobsmacked when I played one of his MP3's about Osama bin Laden for my 25-year-old son. Although my schoolmarm eyes widened at the lyrics, it was only a few words into it when R.C. says, "Oh, I know that! Is that the guy that does it? I think I even have it on my computer. That's some hysterical shit."

Apparently, Dr. Dirty's reach and fan base is even larger than he may imagine.

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