Pine Box Boys drip bloodgrass 

The man popularly known as Lester T. Raww may have a respectable job as a Bay Area high school dean under his real name. But he offers a few clues to his secret identity as leader of the gothic bluegrass ensemble the Pine Box Boys: Edward Gorey-ish neckties, needlenose cowboy boots and subtly placed, Posada-grim concert posters in his office.

"On my desk, there's a little rubber skeleton and I've got his arms twisted so he can hold all my pens," says the singer, who also anchors a spinoff group, the Graveside Quartet.

On hot days, Raww, 45 — who is celebrating the Pine Box Boys' 10th anniversary with a new EP, "Worms," the digital re-issuing of the band's catalog and a local show this weekend — often rolls up his dress-shirt sleeves to reveal some sinister tats.

"I don't hide my ink, and I don't have to curb who I am that much while I'm there," he says. "You're not getting any additional respect from a student because you decided to show up dressed like a banker — kids just don't respond to that."

But the ex-schoolteacher loves his new disciplinary position.

"I'm the guy who comes by and takes your knife away if you're bringing a knife to class, and the one who tracks you down if you're not showing up to school," he says.

Some students have figured out his Pine Box alias.

"They'll come up and whisper, 'I've downloaded some of your music,' and I always ask, 'Where did you download it from? And did I get my 89 cents?'" he says. "And in most cases? I have not."

Back in Arkansas, Raww's mother raised him on horror films and Appalachian murder ballads such as "Pretty Polly" and "Knoxville Girl."

"The songs might be scary, but your mom's singing them to you while she's rocking you to sleep, so you still feel secure," he says. "So to me, those old songs are like wrapping up in a blanket on a cold winter night."

That may account for the self-dubbed bloodgrass style he adopted for Pine Box Boys efforts "Stab," "Arkansas Killing Time" and the recent concept album, "Tales From the Emancipated Head."

Occasionally, Raww's personas overlap. Usually, he makes detention classes squirm through dissonant oddities by the Shaggs, the Residents or Captain Beefheart for 30 minutes.

But since he was recording new Pine Box Boys dirges that night, one recent afternoon he had truant teens grade his work instead. "They were all particularly fond of a song called 'Teddy Bear Has Teeth,'" he says. "So I think that one will be my big hit!"


Pine Box Boys

Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $13 to $15

Contact: (415) 771-1421,

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Tom Lanham

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