Dexter Romweber: Early days and unheard recordings of a Rockabilly Legend

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Unheard Live Recording of Dexter Romweber of The Flat Duo Jets

Dexter Romweber of The Flat Duo Jets singing and playing guitar at a house party in 1985

It's June of 1985 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at a weekend-long house party. Dexter Romweber of The Flat Duo Jets & The VooDoo Mountain Boys are playing sporadically throughout the night and I have brought along my plastic analog camera to document the festivities. Kimbo & friends are drunkenly bashing at a drum kit & howling while Dexter plays guitar & sings and it is one of the purist most beautiful musical experiences of my life....

punk rock girls in 1985 with candy apple red hair punk rock hair styles

How the Recording "Kimbo's Day After" came to be

This cassette recording was made by Kimbo, Kevin & Dexter at Kimbo & Kevin's house in Winstoin-Salem, NC. Monro Smith then made copies he passed out around the time of the Zuberfest party in June of 1985 also in Winston-Salem. It pre-dates Dexter Romweber's band with Crow SMith, The Flat Duo Jets.

"That was recorded on a boom box in a house on Poplar St. on a hill behind the old B&G Pie Co. It had to be '85 because it was about the time he was putting his band together. He was visiting me and my brother (Kevin) and an impromptu jam session occurred. just me and him, my brother joined later. He was playing my 1955 Silvertone counter top model (which I bought for him but he didn't show much interest in it) through my brother's Ampeg Gemini II (he had not brought a guitar). It was one of the funnest times I ever had playing drums. I was never sure if I was auditioning or not, but I wouldn't consider myself a drummer now or then. (I'm an entertainer not a musician) I never kept a beat, I always played along to whom I was playing with...letting them lead. This method tends to work better with a duo. Anywho not long after this he formed the Flat Duo Jets and I think Crow was the right fit for the time."                                                                                        - Kimbo Miller March 17, 2024

Southern Punk Rock Culture in the 1980s

There was no Internet, no cell phones, our TV had four channels. MTV and Cable were around, but that was for fancier people than us. We had no air-conditioning or no power windows in our cars, but we had cassette decks & gas was around $0.80 a gallon and a pack of smokes was $0.60. You could also go to the factory in Winston-Salem (where Camels, Winstons & Salems are manufactured) and get broken smokes free from a barrel. When we all piled into Lori Stoeber’s (now Horne) car to head off to the punk rock sub shop in Raleigh, it was a 2 1/2 hour drive each way and we wouldn’t stay for long. In classic American fashion, the driving was the point. This one night Lori sprayed her mohawk with spray paint & had to drive with her head out of the window, her hair was too tall to fit in the car. Playing music and letting the hot North Carolina air blow on us was the feeling of being alive and having nowhere we needed to be but there right then and it was perfect.

Punk Rock style in 1980s, woman with mohawk, black eyeliner, combat boots with chains in a room with piles of vinyl records

North Carolina Teenage Life in the 1980s


Being one of the weird punk rock kids meant we couldn’t hang out at Sam Goody’s at Hanes Mall with the rest of the time killing teens. That’s what we did in the 80s pre-CDs and downloads, hung out at the record shop flipping through the bins. This Sam Goody’s link still advertises, “It also carries a range of portable listening devices, such as Walkman." Much like the Walkman I travelled the world with recording sounds both majestic and minimal. Which I, of course, still have.

Punk Rock Style in the 1980s woman with black eyelines, sex pistols t-shirt and studded wristband

At the mall we were followed around by security constantly. Out in public spaces, rednecks jumped out of their fuck trucks and yelled “Boy George! Madonna!”. Their confused threats were hollow as they wouldn’t get more than an arm's length from their jacked-up trucks. We weren’t looking for fights, so we found our own places to go. And for the most part that meant the Old Salem graveyard. We would stay up all night playing cassettes, T-bone Burnett being a particular favorite of mine at the time, and laughing, a lot. Plenty of LSD was going around, but my Punk Rock Fairy Globmother, Lee Jenkins (now Bishop) & I were the sober goofy entertainment. Some people might think this was sacrilegious. I always thought how much I would love it if kids came to sing and dance and play around my grave, and feel the joyousness of youth again. 

original Krispy Kreme location in Winston-Salem, NC in the 1950s

Krispy Kreme- the Original Punk Rock All Night Drifter Spot

Many late nights were spent at the original Krispy Kreme on Stratford Rd. It still looked exactly like this picture from the 50s, very Nighthawks at the Diner. They sadly remodeled in the 90s, just as vintage design was becoming fashionable again. The donut with a mound of whipped cream (or is it kreme?) topped with a cherry was my jam. It was even still in the same spot in the display case! Ah, consistency is the key to success. We were the dregs of Winston-Salem society; the punk rockers, the queers, the teenagers who had run away from home and had themselves emancipated, some of us being all three at once. We all gathered together at the Krispy Kreme and watched eagerly through the glass as donuts traveled down that bubbling river of oil and drifted through a sugar waterfall like the best lazy river imaginable and the neon hot fresh donuts sign came on. A hot, fresh donut unites all kinds.

Nighthawks at the Diner

Before Grubhub, The Difficulty of Ordering Delivery by Phone in the 1980s

1980s pizz hut tv ad

Does anyone remember how challenging it was to order a delivery pizza in the 80’s? Lee Bishop and I were hanging out with Opie, who I believe was a hairdresser at the time. We debated who had the most adult-sounding voice to order a pizza. With no GrubHub, you had verbally convince the pizza guy that you really were going to pay them cash money to have pizza dropped off at your house, and if you sounded too young, they wouldn’t take your order. This could be a lengthy discussion before some squeaky-voiced teenager with sweaty palms nervously picked the phone up out of its cradle and gave it a go. 

I don’t remember if Dexter was there that particular evening, I have a vague sense that he was off to the side. Opie was telling me a story about Dexter’s home, but that’s the first time I heard about the real tombstones he had in his house, The Maus- short for mausoluem. Even I was a little shocked. 

punk rock girl 1980s in disco sucks t-shirt

Before Candy-Colored Hair was Mainstream

I watched Eddy Zuber a few years ahead of me at Paisley High School. When she dyed her hair an army green, I thought to myself, I’ll never go that far! Not knowing I would go on to have shades of green hair for around 15 years. Now that candy-colored hair is common, it’s hard to relate how much it made you an outcast.

I recently used the drive-thru at a Walgreens pharmacy in WV to be pleasantly shocked that the baby-faced pharmacist had a spiked mohawk, black painted fingernails, a studded collar, and black lipstick. He was adorable. The times they are achangin’.

The Zuber's had a weekend-long party at their parent's home that we called Zuberfest. A big ramshackle hippie house that has come to epitomize my personal view of the perfect home. It was old, dark and dusty with a hint of decay. 

Sometime into the fest, I plopped myself down on a bench next to Dexter. Those of us who knew Dexter at that time and probably later were well aware that he did not wash, like ever. This sent me back to my childhood in New York City, where I was born & spent summers, back to the great garbage strike of New York City in the summer of ’74. 

1975 NYC garbage strike

The Great Garbage Strike of New York City in the Summer of ’75

I was six years old that hot pre-air conditioning summer. Drifts of trash piled on the sidewalks, blocking cars from view with a narrow pathway for pedestrians to traverse the sidewalks. They reminded me of the snowbanks in New York City in the wintertime. Pushed high off the road with a gap carved in the middle for you to get to the street. The sooty pollution of the 1970s insulated the snow from the sunshine, making their black peaks stand tall weeks after the weather had changed to be more temperate. 

1975 NYC garbage strike

Hot summer winds blowing off the Hudson tunneled between the skyscrapers bringing gusts of humid garbage air whipping past you in waves. Thus a ‘ripe’ smell was a formative memory for me and that brings me back to plopping myself comfortably down next to Dexter Romweber. 

Dexter Romweber of The Flat Duo Jets singing with Kimbo Miller in 1985

Growing up in an Unconnected World was Magical

In June of 1985 I was 16 and carefree as one could be. At Zuberfest friends were scattered throughout the house. Decades before cell phones and social media, most people didn't even have answering machines, the only way to know about a party was to be invited personally. Hard to imagine a time before Evites, isn't it? Not to mention using a paper map book or scrawled directions to find your way there.

I had noticed that people had been steering clear of Dexter all evening and I don’t want anyone to feel excluded, so I took my little teenage self over there, plopped myself down and jibber-jabbered away with him about who knows what. Remember, Dexter at that time did not wash, and was pretty ripe with the fond smell of my formative years.

While I have zero recall about our discussion, I do very clearly remember the welcoming feeling. I felt like Dex was happy to have me come over like a little babbling bee and be a part of my goofy careless night. 

Dexter Romweber was the self he had always been and would always be

Even then Dexter was incalculably cool. I thought Dexter was so much older than me. What’s old to a 16-year-old? 20? 30? I had no idea he was barely a year my senior. In the 80s we would add up how old we would be in 1999 for the turn of the millennium and mourn for the fact that we’d be way too old to have any fun then. I would be 32 at the dawn of the year 2000. This party was in June of '85, so sometime around Dexter's Birthday. At 18-19 he was just so, himself. Like his penultimate self, the self he had always been, and would always be. 

Recently Lee Bishop sent me this about myself at the time:

“And you were like done, like finished. You were like a perfect little flower, innocent and sweet, completely self-confident, bold with your choices, 100% you already!”

Punk Rock girls in the 1980s wearing diy t-shirts and puck rock hair styles with rat tails, Spoon Popkin and Lee Bishop

Just how Awful was Popular Culture in the 1980s?

Every Sunday afternoon I taped the weekly two hour alternative music show from our local radio station, the only time to hear anything other than Air Supply, Kenny Loggins or Huey Lewis and The News on commercial radio. Sure Cyndi LauperMadonnaThe Eurythmics & Pat Benatar were in heavy rotation on MTV, but MOR (Middle of the Road) radio was all crap, all the time. Kids now think the music of the 80s was so cool, but in reality, it was mostly Christopher CrossForeigner and ZZ Top. Wang Chung was a real boundary breaker, not.

These cassettes are a who's who of the times: LIST BANDS HERE. The bands and the tracks titles are carefully transcribed in this amazing little book. My 10th grade art teacher would let me play the tapes in class. Until The Jim Carroll Band's "People who died" came on. Then my music choosing days were done.

Don't worry, I'll get these awesome tapes uploaded to the interwebs one of these days for everyone to enjoy.

Preppy Fashion was big in 1985 and it was not cool despite anything John Hughes movies tell you

The 1985 John Hughes movie The Breakfast Club had teens swooning over how cute Ally Sheedy is after her preppy makeover to win the heart of the jock, but I was revolted by that scene. You took a fantastically weird goth girl & made her into an insipid generic 'girl'. Inoffensive, safe, chaste - a blank page to project his jock boy idea of the perfect girl on. Blech.

blog author Spoon Popkin at a high school dance in 1986 in orange polyester thrift store dress with average teens in background in preppy calf length dresses

This is the real look of 1980s Preppy fashion as worn by actual teenagers of the time. And this is Dressed Up Special. Here I am at a school dance in 1985-86. The gals on the right, behind me, were dressed typically of the time. Basically wearing calf-length sofa covers. The preppy look required SO MUCH FABRIC. A common outfit was a turtleneck under a button down shirt with a sweater draped over the shoulders paired with a calf length skirt covered in pink & green hippos, knee high argyle socks and penny loafers or deck shoes. Their clothing is the visual equivalent of MOR radio at the time: bland, hideous, tasteless, and just plain no fun. Check out my rat tail!

The Glory of Hyper Local Radio Ads

While radio at that time was generally garbage, at least it wasn’t corporately owned. Every station had its own flavor and feeling and best of all, hyper-local commercials. There is a fantastic North Carolina barbecue place over on Peters Creek Parkway, called Mr. Barbecue- vinegar, not sweet. The way BBQ is meant to be. I'll fight any one of you on this. It's still there & hasn’t changed its graphic design! 

Mr. Barbecue had the temerity to record a commercial in the voice of Miss Peggy and Kermit the Frog singing “Eat Mr. Barbecue it’s good for you, eat Mr. Barbecue it’s fun to chew. Hamburgers, bar-b-cue, hot dogs and fries, eat Mr. Barbecue it’s taste tenderized.” If there is a God, let there be a copy of that commercial on one of my Alternative Radio Show cassettes.

How did we share music before the internet?

I have a massive box of cassettes I've taped from around 1981 to the early 2000s all on my trusty handheld Sony Walkman. And, of course, mix tapes from friends. Before Spotify we traded tapes to spread the joy of music discovery and spent hours crafting the perfect mix tape to show friends and lovers how much we cared. Using a double tape deck, you would rewind a cassette by hand to get it at exactly right spot, then hit play and record simultaneously to get a perfect cut.

It's been 40+ years that I have held on to my tapes. I've done this my entire life, recording friends and sounds wherever I travel. The sound of the organ booming bombastically at Notre Dame in 1988, reminding you of the Hell of the Earthly World you are about to re-enter, frogs chirping in Turkey and my friends drunkenly chatting at a bar in Scotland. Sound brings me back to a moment as viscerally as smells do.

Woolworth's Lunch Counter: Glory Days of the 5 & Dime

Even though my preferred cheap cassette tapes came in packages of three for a dollar at the Woolworths, I had no money & would tape a little snippet here and there, and maybe tape over one again, and again, as I felt like. I loved walking the 2 miles down to the Thruway Shopping Center & having a grilled cheese at the Woolworths lunch counter, then poking around the racks of cheap stuff. I had no idea of the giant role Woolworths lunch counters had played in civil rights history just 30 min down the road in Greensboro and now 5 & Dime store lunch counters are a relic of the past. 

Boombox Tapes of Dexter Romweber, Kimbo Miller & Monro

These particular tracks are from a tape labeled "Kimbo's Day After 1986". I misremembered it as partially taped by myself. I can't recall how it came to be in my collection. Word on the virtual street is it was taped at Kimbo's house on a boombox. Then Monro made copies & gave them out to everyone. However it found me, it landed in the safety of my historical horde.

LIVE from the Winston Meat Exchange: The VooDoo Mountain Boys

 1980s North Carolina weird store, The Winston Meat Exchange

The cassette starts in the Old Salem graveyard with Kimbo and Monro, the Voodoo Mountain Boys, joking about their next appearance being at the Winston Meat Exchange. The Meat Exchange was behind the North Carolina School for the Arts (now UNCSA) where I finished high school. I went in this one time and took a bunch of pictures of the faded ancient boxes of Mr. Bubble that had lost all of their color from bleaching in the sun for decades. Was it a store where you would exchange anything for meat? I’ll never know the answer. Does anyone know? If so, please tell me. 

Vintage Mr Bubble washing powder box

On this tape, Kimbo & Monro, The Voodoo Mountain Boys get cut off abruptly and Dexter Romweber of The Flat Duo Jets plays electric guitar & sings as Kimbo bangs on the drums. And then Dexter gets cut off abruptly, then Monro starts singing. And then just as abruptly Dexter & Kimbo are back again. There's one more singer I don't recognize on the tape...

Dex & Crow released their first Flat Duo Jets cassette “In Stereo” in 1985 roughly around the same time as this recording.

Dexter Romweber of The Flat Duo Jets singing and playing guitar at a house party in 1985 North Carolina to a bearded man in a cowboy hat adorned with a skull

One of The Purist Most Beautiful Musical Experiences of My Life

It was that Zuberfest weekend in June of 1985 that I took these photos of Kimbo & Dex. Kimbo was drunkenly bashing at a drum kit howling as Dexter played and sang and it is one of the purist most beautiful musical experiences of my life. 

Eddy Zuber tells me, "When all the drumsticks were broken, they grabbed spoons out of the kitchen drawers and beat the crap out of the drums and the spoons, too. I still have one to prove it!".

Nights like this also ruined me for the coming Rockabilly Revival of the 90s. After experiencing Dexter & Crow as The Flat Duo Jets, they all sounded so schlocky & phoney. Like they had put on a rock’n’roll suit to take out for a spin & show off how cool they were, it felt fake. But Dexter was real rock & roll, this was no act or suit he put on.

Prime Time for Punk Rock of the 1980s

I had gone to plenty of punk rock shows at CBGBs (where I later played accordion in my bands WOD- Womyn of Destruction Estrojet) in my NYC summers and at The Brewery with their Sunday Punk Rock Matinee. The Brewery was 2 1/2 hours away in Raleigh where we could sneak out to see Black Flag, The Circle Jerks or local faves C.O.C / Corrosion of Conformity. We could toss our little reckless bodies happily in the mosh pit and still be home before curfew with no one the wiser. The only time I ever got busted by my Pop for staying out all night & lying about where I was, was New Year's Eve 1985-86. Lee Bishop & I had gone to Raleigh to hang out with Simon Bob Sinister & Woody of C.O.C. in yet another graveyard. I really should've booked shows for W.O.D. with C.O.C. What a natural bill (;

 Spoon Popkin and Andiana Pateris of Womyn of Destruction in front of CBGB's in 1994

I’d grown up in a house full of classical music with my Pop Mark Popkin, playing scales on his bassoon every morning, followed by a bit of Peter and the Wolf or an etude or two. My mom, Elsie Popkin, had taken me to see Pete Seeger play when I was around nine or 10 and there is an infamous family photograph of the resentful, irritated expression on my face as I had to endure that concert. I appreciate his politics now, but that warbly voice has always rubbed me the wrong way. I wanted to stay home and watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island. You know, the classics. So this Zuberfest may have been the first time that I truly truly felt what it meant to be alive with the joy of music. 

Punk Rock kids at a diner in 1985 with dreadlocks

When Diners and Krispy Kreme Were the Only Places Open All Night...

I have a terrible memory for whatever I did just yesterday or last week, but I can see this morning as clearly as if I was back in that summer of 1985.

As usual, we ended up back over at the Coliseum Kitchen or some other diner for a $2.99 breakfast.

I walked into the diner behind Dexter and looked on in awe as he casually strolled between the rows of empty diner booths with their plates of leftover food, picking up half-eaten toast and bacon off of the discarded plates and just eating it like it was his home.

He was himself as he always was, always would be, and always will be.

The last time I hung out with Dexter was in the late 1990s. It was before we knew of The White Stripes, but certainly not before Jack White knew of Dexter. I'd gone to see him play and invited him to stay at my house. We went for brunch in the morning at The Gypsy Cafe. Sitting in the sunshine laughing about old times & sharing silly tour stories (I was in W.O.D. at the time), I thought we'd be doing this every decade or so for a long time to come. I still don't quite believe I'll never have the pure joy of seeing Dexter play again.

The "Kimbo's Day After 1986" cassette has more unheard music of both The Flat Duo Jets as well as The VooDoo Mountain Boys that I will be posting soon.

Quite a few of these photos were shot by me that June of 1985 weekend at Zuberfest!

Spoon Popkin

  • I'm saddened to hear that while I was writing this, Monro too has passed away. I have lots of pictures of Monro from the 80s I'll make a video with a touching song he put on this cassette.