In the annals of Low Cut Connie, the loud and louche Philadelphia rock-and-roll band fronted by piano-pounding showman Adam Weiner, there are many tales to tell.
There is, of course, the Barack Obama story. How the then-president of the United States put "Boozophilia," from the band's 2012 album Call Me Sylvia, on his 2015 summer playlist. That led Weiner and his wife, Adrianna, to a lunch date at the White House. "I like what you do," the erstwhile POTUS told the Cherry Hill-reared Jewish Jerry Lee Lewis. "I like your style. Keep it up."
Then there's the time they got thrown in a Texas jail: In June, the five-piece band — who are to headline a show Friday at Union Transfer — were on their way to a gig in Fort Worth in support of their rugged and soulful album Dirty Pictures (Part 1). They got pulled over in the west Texas town of Sierra Blanca. And just like Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, and Fiona Apple before them, who were busted at the infamous Sierra Blanca inspection station, Weiner and road manager Dillon Minacci spent the night in jail there, in this case for carrying THC-laced gummy candies purchased legally in Colorado.
The next month brought considerably better luck: In July, another celebrity endorsement upped the band's profile. Elton John kicked off his Rocket Hour radio show with Dirty Pictures' "Dirty Water." Next thing Weiner knew, he was at a Super 8 motel in Western Pennsylvania being interviewed by Sir Elton, who was calling from the south of France. The pair bonded over naming their pianos — the battered old upright Low Cut Connie hauls around is called Shondra — and John vowed to come on stage in December, when the band is to tour the U.K.
So, do these brushes with fame — and infamy — amount to hitting the big time?
It's not quite that simple. On a recent summer afternoon, Weiner, 37, hung out and talked at one of his favorite Philly old-school spots, Center City's Midtown Diner III. The hammy showman and soft-spoken raconteur ate a cheese omelet and talked about what it has taken to get Low Cut Connie where it is today.
In the early 2000s, after graduating from New York University, he played piano in Greenwich, Conn., at a ballet class for kids — many of whose fathers were killed in the World Trade Center attack of Sept. 11, 2001 — and entertained two nights a week at a gay bar called Pegasus ("there was a lifetime of craziness in that bar") in midtown Manhattan.
"That was the only time in my life I had steady income from being a musician," he says. Including now? "I wouldn't call it steady," he says.
Not that Low Cut Connie isn't a growing concern, playing bigger rooms and more prestigious gigs: In August, the band played outdoors at Lincoln Center at an Americana Festival gig with Bonnie Raitt and Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, among others.
These days, Weiner is the boss of the band and his own scrappy indie label, Contender Records, which he runs out of his South Philly home.
"We don't have label backing. We don't have management," he says. "We have to fight for every scrap we get. When a guy in Minnesota goes to one of our shows and tells his friends we were the best live band he saw in five years, we need to be back there again in six months. That's all we got."
Weiner formed the band at the start of the decade with Dan Finnemore, a simpatico guitarist and drummer from Birmingham, England, who is a formidable garage-rock songwriter. Their first album, 2011's Get Out the Lotion, drew an immediate rave from influential critic Robert Christgau, who praised "scuzzballing Adam Weiner."
After three albums, the geographical divide proved too much, and Finnemore, who was shuttling himself between Philly and England, returned home full time, where he's a film-studies professor and leads the Swampmeat Family Band. Weiner praises his former bandmate but also believes Low Cut Connie benefits from a single vision. "Divorce is hard," he says.
He rose to the challenge of leading L.C.C. alone on Dirty Pictures (Part 1), which was recorded at Memphis' Ardent Studios. It includes a nicely turned cover of Prince's "Controversy" that espouses a live-and-let-live philosophy that Weiner heartily endorses: "People call me rude, I wish we all were nude / I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules."
Low Cut Connie has gone through 13 band members since its inception, but the lineup has been stable for the last year and a half, anchored by bass player Lucas Rinz and drummer Larry Scotton. "These are the guys," Weiner says. And he's particularly stoked that Saundra Williams, the former backup singer for Sharon Jones (who died this year), will join L.C.C. for the U.S. tour.
Dirty Pictures (Part 2) is done and due in the spring. Weiner calls it "more mature" and says that, although it doesn't entirely leave scuzzbucket sleazeball salaciousness behind, "it's in the service of something deeper." It includes a cover of Alex Chilton's 1979 "Hey! Little Child," also recorded at Ardent.
Low Cut Connie has gathered momentum even though — and partly because — their raucous, old-fashioned approach is anything but trendy.
"Doing rock and roll with full-body conviction is not in fashion," Weiner says. "People think we're not cool. Let's just be honest. We've been up against that our whole careers. There are a small number of people who believe and who have been extremely effusive about it. The rest don't take it seriously. We don't have a lot of casual fans."
What he has come to value, though, is the passion of the fans they do have, and the connection with them.
"I used to care," he says. "Because when you're young, you want to be cool. But now I don't care. The window for us to be cool has closed. But the window for us to reach people? That's getting wider every day."