Mommy, What’s a Sovine?
The Reverend Wayne Coomers interviews Columbus’ gear-grindin’ Sovines
The Sovines, as befits a band named after the greatest trucker-songwriter in American music, still believe in the power of an 18-wheeler. And shut up with the Americana complaints--they not only play loud guitars, but they got the wailin’ sax! Recently, I caught up with the boys, whose songs gotta make ol’ Red hit the horn, wherever he is.
Why do you play the kind of music you do?
Bob Starker: Roots-punk? I dunno...
Matt Benz: Because it's an accurate reflection of our many influences and musical tastes and because.... aw hell, we play it cos it's still fun to play, it's good drinking-in-a-bar music, not mopey shoe-gazing crap played by crying-with-milk-in-their-mouths babies. But mostly we play it cos we refuse to accept reality, which is that we are much too old to be doing this for no money and that mopey shoe-gazing crap played by crying-with-milk-in- their-mouths babies is what sells.
Ed Mann: We play this music because we HAVE to! If we didn't, who would? And what else have we got to do?
What are your real (day) jobs?
Bob: Graphic Design/Pre-Press in a junk-mail factory.
Matt: I work as a curator at an archival institution. I are highly eddycated. When I'm not "curating", I shuffle around the office with a cup of coffee in one hand, and jingling the keys in my pocket with the other, gladhanding and assgrabbing my co-workers. They love me here.
Ed: I work in the Acquisition department at Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corporation.
Do you like them?
Bob: Long as they pay me.
Matt: Yes. Yes, I do like my job.
Ed: Well, it pays my bills and I have good benefits. The coffee isn't bad.
What do your parents or families think of your music?
Bob: They actually like it... This is the first band I've been in that they seem to get.
Matt: They appear interested. They were impressed to see our picture in the paper, a little too impressed, you ask me. Mostly, my dad just asks me questions about the bass guitar, the operation of which appears to mystify him, or "who was it that sang that song about the rock and roll heaven?" and "remember Air Supply? They were a good band!". But they listened to the cds at least once. They prefer classical music and Andrew Lloyd Weber, tho. Actually, my dad got us a gig that paid "big money" but I don't wanna talk about that.
Ed: I think their feelings run somewhere between indifference and apathy.
Would most people like or hate your music?
Bob: Given the current pop climate, I'd say hate. Most of my favorite stuff has been either reviled or ignored, so I guess that's a compliment.
Matt: "Most" people would probably hate it, I guess. But then, most people really don't care about music all that much. People who appreciate music probably could find something to like about us. We're really that charming. Seriously, the fact that "real" people, people who work for a living, not just johnny scenesters, like our music means something to me. People who don't follow the trends, who only come out for something they truly love, we seem to attract a number of those folks. I like that.
Ed: I think most people would like it. We're a little too "country" for some people, but we also rock harder than a lot of "rock" bands. People have a hard time knowing what to make of us sometimes, I think.
What is your favorite boy band?
Bob: The Ramones
Matt: Dino, Desi & Billy.
Ed: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
Beer or hard liquor?
Ed: Yes, please! Actually, I'd have to say we're more of a beer band, although we enjoy the occasional cocktail or Pepsi One.
Favorite member of the Bush Administration?
Bob: Whoever gave Dubya that bag of Pretzels... Nice try, keep up the good work.
Matt: Ken Lay.
Ed: Dan Quayle. He said the stupidest things, that's why!
Favorite incident involving a groupie?
Bob: We only seem to attract intelligent, sensible women... I think all our "groupies" are sweaty guys.
Matt: Good one! What are we, sports stars?
Ed: Ha....ha ha ha! That's a good one! Have you seen a picture of us?
Which rock star death do admire the most?
Bob: Country Dick Montana. Died on stage, with his boots on.
Matt: Bobby Fuller. Leave em with an unsolved mystery when you go, that's what I say. Or that Eddie & the Cruisers guy..what's his name...Eddie? Is he even dead?
Ed: Jim Morrison. His early death prevented him from recording even more shitty music. Imagine what we may have been subjected to if that guy had made it into his forties! Blech.
What was your worst gig ever?
Bob: Most of the first year.
Matt: I'd say the time we got paid a dollar, but I think we had a good time that night anyway.
Ed: I think it may have been the one where I was too drunk to remember how bad it was. Sorry, fellas!
What was your best gig ever?
Bob: This year's Elvis-Birthday-Marathon... We did "Suspicious Minds" in front of a REALLY packed house, and it was amazing... Strange women are still hugging me on the street 'cause they dug it so much. What the hell is better than that?!
Matt: Twangfest 1, St Louis, Mo, back in 1997. it was the first time we played out of town, and the first time it seemed like we connected with a whole audience. It was a show that I like to think gave us the "Oommphfff!" to keep going back then.
Ed: All of the Twangfests (in St. Louis, MO) that we played have been memorable, but our best one may have been the CD release show for our new CD, 'Comin' in Loaded!', that we played in December. We were really ON that night!
What's been the most embarrassing moment for the band?
Bob: The onset of male-menopause.
Ed: I'd have to say playing a birthday party at a VFW hall in Chatham, OH a few years ago. There was no PA, we didn't want to be there, and they didn't want us to be there. When the crowd started line dancing to Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" after giving us the cold shoulder I knew we'd made a mistake.
What's been the strangest thing to ever happen to the band?
Bob: This interview.
Matt: Our old drummer.
Ed: That we haven't become rich and/or famous doing this. Don't you guys think that's strange?
Do you have any fans? If yes, how many?
Bob: Yeah, we do... We've never done a head count, but I'm pretty sure we've got a couch to sleep on wherever we go...
Matt: We have a few. Some die hard freaks. Surprisingly, a number of women like us, including our wives. So that makes, what, about 10 people. Including our wives. But then, I'm not so sure the wives like the music all that much....Ok make it 6. 6 die hard freaks. Who scare me.
Ed: Yes, I'd say we have at least 30.
What is your favorite sport (and why)?
Bob: Catfights. Do I really need to EXPLAIN that?
Matt: Baseball. Cos it's slow and it isn't football. Other than that, warfare is a pretty cool sport.
Ed: Baseball. Even though a lot of the professional players are overpaid cry-babies, it's still the purest, most beautiful, and most American sport. And would be even better without Astroturf or the DH!
Who's the most annoying figure in modern mainstream pop culture?
Bob: Either Jay Leno or Jerry Springer... If either one of them was HALF as relevant as they think they are, they'd still be insignificant.
Matt: I hate to say Michael Jackson, but the guy's become such a bizarre, uncool, desperate, out of control, misshapen sad little figure. I can't believe someone close to him can't stop him. He's making Elvis' final years look gentle and gracious. I can't wait for the book. Ed: Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler? I don't know which of them is more annoying. Let's have them fight it out!
What are your favorite movies (and why)?
Bob: Currently, "The Lord of the Rings" & "Royal Tenenbaums"; Classically, I'd say "Rock-n-Roll High School", "Caddyshack", and "Wings of Desire".
Matt: There's too many. I'm really no good at this, but if I could watch Ed recreate "Freaks" every week, I'd be happy. He's better than the actual movie. If not that, then.....uh....”Rushmore”.
Ed: “The Unheard Music” (A documentary on the band X! I've probably seen this 30 times...), “Cry Baby” (I don't know how to explain why I love this so much. Maybe it's the magical combination of John Waters, Johnny Depp, Traci Lords and Iggy Pop.), and “The Girl Can't Help It” (Gene Vincent? Little Richard? Jayne Mansfield?!?! Yep!)
What's your desert island record (as of today)?
Bob: “Exile on Main Street.”
Matt: Either a Roger Miller collection, or something by the Flamin' Groovies, ca "Teenage Head".
Ed: The CD-R I made last night combining The Replacements 'Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take out the Trash' and 'Stink'.
What rock and roller would you let your daughter run off with?
Bob: The one who could get us the best distribution.
Matt: Bob Dylan. Cos then maybe I could get one of those "posed with Dylan" photos that Rolling Stone always runs. You know, with the assgrinning minor pop star schlub standing next to a perplexed and plussed Dylan...that would be cool.
Ed: Jerry Lee Lewis! He seems like a lot of fun, and I'd be proud to call him son-in-law.
Take an opportunity now to disspell any nasty rumors surrounding the band or any of its members.
Bob: I'm not the oldest Sovine. I've just been alive the longest.
Matt: I'm not dead.
Ed: None of us have had plastic surgery or hair extensions. None of us have ever made passionate love to Tina Louise, or any of the other cast members of "Gilligan's Island", despite what you may have heard. Matt is not allergic to hats. Bob and I have never dated, though we have shared an intimate conversation over cocktails. Gene is not now, nor has he ever been, over seven feet tall.
What/when is your next tour/release/project?
Bob: We just released a live disc, "Comin' In Loaded", and we should have an all new studio thing out by this summer.
Matt: ...our 4th cd, probably possibly titled "Stupefying Jones."
Ed: It should be out by June.
The Nervebreakers, live on stage
TEXAS PUNK LEGENDS THE NERVEBREAKERS HIJACK THE INTERNET!
Ken Shimamoto Interrogates....
I confess: I never really GOT punk when I was living in New York. In 1975, we SHOULDA been punks, hanging out in front of the deli in my shitty Long Island town having spitting and farting contests and wondering why none of the Really Neat Girls would go out with us. But we were still playing stupid Cream and Allman Bros. songs. Go fig. I usedta look askance at early punk aficionados like John Del Gaizo and Jim LaLumia, whom I knew through the record store whereI worked (where I also used to sell records to Foghat, woo-hoo).
I moved to Dallas in '78 at the urging of my ex-drummer from college, who'd seen the Sex Pistols at the Longhorn Ballroom in January and told me they sucked, but that a local band called the Nervebreakers opened and was great. I wound up working at Peaches Records & Tapes at Cole and Fitzhugh with Mike Haskins, the Nervebreakers' lead guitarist (Will Clay from the Toys and the Telefones worked in the same store for awhile), and saw plenty of Nervebreakers shows over the next coupla years, most notably opening for the Clash and John Cale at the Palladium on Northwest Highway and at some dive with a beer garden on Beach Street in Fort Worth (damned if I can remember the name), where they played with the Fort Worth Cats and got the police called on 'em. They also opened for the Ramones and the Police (other guitarist Barry Kooda remembers Sting and Andy Summers watching in awe as he showed them how to tune their guitars with a strobe tuner for the first time), and backed obscure weirdo Texas punk legend Roky Erickson.
With frontman Thom "Tex" Edwards hanging from the mic stand in a state of bug-eyed mock dementia and Barry in his Army helmet and pistol belt (unlike the snotnoses in NYC's Shrapnel andAustin's D-Day who affected military gear, Barry had actually enlisted out of high school andserved in Korea in the early seventies), the Nervebreakers were never less than fun and exciting to watch, and unlike loads of Texan punk bands that followed in the wake of the Ramones and Pistols, they could actually play their instruments and write songs. The enduring classic, "My Girlfriend Is a Rock," was originally released on their "Politics" EP in 1978 and subsequently re-recorded in 1980 for an abortive album session, but I also remember their single "Hijack the Radio" with some fondness, along with their covers of George Jones' "The Race Is On" and the Troggs' "Strange Movies" (which I thought was an original!).
I recently learned that Bob Childress, the Nervebreakers' bassplayer at all the gigs I
witnessed, is now a network guru at the same CorporateAmerican company where I work, and he recently sent me e-mail in reference to a comment I made about his former band in a review of a DMZ disc on The Rawk. One thing led to another, and the next thing you know, I was meeting Bob at a gig by the Punk Rock Dinosaurs, including his former bandmates Mike and Barry (who was immortalized in the pages of Rolling Stone, the famous pic of him with the fish hanging out of his mouth at the Sex Pistols show).
Today, the three ex-Nervebreakers live within a coupla blocks of each other in Oak Cliff (the south Dallas suburb where they caught Lee Harvey Oswald after he allegedly shot JFK). Mike Haskins kicked around the record business for awhile and moved to North Carolina in the eighties, returning to Dallas as a sales rep for Godin guitars. He's produced a couple of CDs worth of intriguing, mostly-instrumental music as The Big Guns and The Big Gundown, featuring Patti Haskins on vocals, fusing the influences of the Ventures, Ennio Morricone, and the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul." After fronting pop-punk band Yeah Yeah Yeah, Barry Kooda (he earned his nickname for biting a girl on the thigh when she trespassed on his side of the Nervebreakers' stage) has played with Dallas cowpunk pioneers the Cartwrights, done acoustic shows with Al Jourgenson from Ministry, appeared on MTV performing at one of Neil Young's Bridge School benefits, and cut a hard country solo album, "Crossing the Line." He's also a gifted graphic artist. (Check out www.barrykooda.com to cop his music or see his art, and www.nervebreakers.com to learn more about the Nervebreakers' story.) Tex Edwards now lives in Austin and has released the LPs "Pardon Me, I've Got Someone To Kill" (1989) and "Up Against the Floor" (2000).
We talked for two and a half hours over dinner at the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas. (The food and the honey-based wine called tej are outstanding.) The interview tape was somewhat difficult to transcribe due to the ambient restaurant noise... and frequent explosions of laughter from the three former Nervebreakers.
Ken: How'd you guys meet and get started playing?
Barry: Mike and I have always been in bands...he always tries to get people he can fail with, people who are going to be real losers. So he picked me when we were going to high school and stuff.
Ken: You guys grew up in Irving [Dallas suburb where the Cowboys play]?
Barry: We didn't know each other until we got to high school, and there was no musician's clique at that time. So Mike and I and Len Savage would stand out in front of the library and talk about records and music. And then people started standing NEAR us and waving at their friends...
Mike "I'm with you guys!"
Barry: Yeah, it was really weird, and that became like the hippie clique for Irving High School, and they kinda shoved us down the hall. That became a separate unit. So me and Mike and Len and a few other people were hanging around there.
Mike: This is about '68, '69. There weren't that many musicians...the Southern Distributor were based in Irving, and they were the leading sock-hop band.
Barry: They all had matching Nehru jackets. We had a light show...I ran lights for them. We had blob projectors, the whole thing.
Mike: Stevie Ray Vaughan played guitar for them for about a year. Very, very young kid.
Barry: Stevie had a deviated septum and when he blew smoke out his nose, it came out straight on one side. It was real cool. "Steve! Blow smoke out your nose!" His big thing back then was itwas STEVIE Vaughan, it wasn't Ray. But it's like, "I'm Stevie Vaughan, my brother's in Texas." "Yeah, so what? They play BLUES." Jimmie was his claim to fame back then. He was like 16.
Ken: So what were the first bands you guys had?
Mike: In '68, I was playing in garage bands and stuff, we'd play YMCA dances and shit like that, basically British Invasion type stuff. Kinks, Stones, Yardbirds. So my band was going to play at the YMCA. As we were doing our sound check, the drummer decided he was fed up with the situation...I don't know what situation he was fed up with...so at sound check, he takes his drumstick and puts it through both snare drum heads and says, "I'm sick of this! I'm out of here!" So then the other guitarist goes, "I'm with him!" and leaves too. So it's me and the bassplayer (who joined the day before, by the way). That in itself wasn't a big problem, but we're kinda sitting around, and Barry, who's a friend of mine...
Barry: I was the roadie. I was always a nice guy and would haul equipment, but never good enough to be in a band!
Mike: And I knew Barry had talent, especially at that time on drums and vocals, so he walked in and said, "What's going on?" We explained the situation, "It's kinda screwed up, we're supposed to start playing in a coupla hours and our band just kinda fell apart, we don't know what the hell we're doing." He said, "It's no big deal. I can play drums. I can sing." "Yeah? OK, what the heck."
Barry: We were a lot more OPEN at that time.
Mike: "Who cares!" So we literally just huddled real quick and drew up a song list.
Barry: "What songs do you know?"
Mike: "OK, I can fake that one!" Another buddy came along and said "What are you guys doing?" "Well, we're about to play this gig." "Lemme go home and get my guitar!" Gets on his bicycle, goes home and gets his guitar, comes back and plugs in. So we basically faked it through the gig and did really great, it was amazing. People loved us! Go figure. So then after that I said, "This guy Barry is an entertaining kinda guy, can sing real good, and play drums."
Barry: I also looked like Magilla Gorilla. I was a letterman in gymnastics, this big beefy
going-through-puberty...kind of a tough decision.
Mike: I thought it was an interesting blend of personalities, so we just basically became good buddies and best friends through high school, playing in bands...basically just kinda like I said, British Invasion...
Barry: He had a very, very deep personal deal about DECIDING whether or not he wanted me as a best friend. Everybody would look at us and it was like the odd couple anyway, 'cos I was this crazed lunatic-looking guy and Mike was like longhaired, skinny...LOOKED British Invasion, and I was like a football player. I'll never forget walking at like 3 in the morning, on acid, 'cos we were ALWAYS on acid...walking down the street, and I had stolen this statuette of this girl pulling her dress like this from somebody's fountain. So we were walking to Judge Russell's house, 'cos I was dating his daughter Karen at the time, and I was gonna put it in front of the door, ring the doorbell, and leave. Mike goes, "Are you feeling destructive?" And I go, "Not particularly, why?" And he goes, "Just throw the thing off a bridge!" But everybody thinks I'M the horrible one! Forandus came shortly thereafter... Jim Skinner, Mike, me, Rob Thacker, and Bruce Norris...incredible, HUGE drummer. Most fun in the world, I loved that guy.
Mike: About '69, yeah.
Barry: Mike and I are kind of mean anyway, but we hooked up with Jim Skinner, who was learning to play guitar, wasn't bad, but he was just this chubby kind of baby-kid, and we would just DO things. His mom had one of those little Trail 90 Hondas, girl-shaped yellow motorcycles, and it just sat in the garage, and we spent a lot of time convincing him that it would be BEYOND cool if he just rode that thing! "I know it doesn't look cool, and people think it looks really geeky..."
Mike: "That's why it's cool!"
Barry: "Oh, really? Okay!" He rode that thing all over the place.
Ken: How many bands were you guys in?
Mike: ONE, we just changed the names over the years.
Barry: Yeah, the names and members changed! We were doing it forever, until I joined the Army in '71, somewhere in there, and it just kind of melded into different things. Forandus wound up being...we wrote some interesting stuff, but basically were a Black Sabbath cover band.
Mike: First two Sabbath albums came out, we were big on that. But the other guys were REALLY big on it. That's kinda why we came to a parting of the ways eventually. That's what they wanted to do, be heavy metal. We were like, "That's okay, but...we got other things to do."
Barry: [ZZ Top manager] Bill Ham came over, 'cos right across the street, Tony Pappa, another big promoter guy lived...he came over to watch us practice and said, "I'm looking for a band to dress in country-western kind of clothes and play heavy metal to back up ZZ Top. I've got ZZ Top on the road and I need somebody to open for them." We said, "We're a Black Sabbath cover band! We're not doing that crap!" So he went and got Family Dog, Kim Davis' band, and changed their name to Point Blank. So we could have been Point Blank, and thank God we didn't!
Ken: Barry, I was interested to hear that you served in the Army in Korea back in '71. I was there in the Air Force in '82-83. I can still smell the charcoal in winter and rotting vegetables in summer.
Barry: Ah! Korea in the summertime! Millions of rash causing moths; frogs in your boots; the dried rice paddy dust (feces fertilized) that caused your eyes to swell shut and ooze pus...How I miss those days! I still love kimchi, though.
Ken: Kimchi good. Can never have TOO much garlic on anything. A few years ago, I had to take a vendor from Korea out for lunch. I asked the guy what he wanted to eat. He said, "Anything but dog." I couldn't figure out whether he was kidding or not.
Barry: When I was first learning Korean, I made the mistake of ordering kay-gogi instead of pul-gogi. Kinda stringy but not bad with all those onions and garlic. When my Yobo [Korean girlfriend] and I got home and she stopped laughing and saying "Kaygogi mogo da?" I got out my dictionary and found my mistake, every pup I passed on the street looked at me like I ate his brother.
Ken: Mike, what were you doing while Barry was in the Army?
Barry: He had Sagebrush Boogie at least.
Mike: Kept doing bands, basically.
Barry: Grew his hair even longer!
Mike: As far as the Nervebreakers story goes, while he was in the Army, I met Carl Giesecke, the drummer, and hit it off with him and started playing with him and some guys. We were actually doing what later became "progressive country," but we had this vein of doing progressive country, but we were also doing David Bowie, so we sorta had this mixed Stones/David Bowie/country thing going, which was okay for bars.
Mike: Glam-country! There you go. That's what people really wanted at the time. The strange thing was we did all right, but eventually had a parting of the ways because some of the other guys were saying, "Well, we really want to do country and play in bars," and I went, "I don't think that's what I really want to do." I didn't know what I was doing, but what I REALLY wanted to do was have the Nervebreakers...but it took a little while to get there. That's when I met Thom Edwards...Tex...in a record store. We were in the record biz. He worked in a store and I worked for a distributor.
Ken: Bob was telling me he used to go to Peaches and find all these really neat records, and it wound up he was buying your personal stash! "They've got real good records here, but they're not in the racks! They're not even in alphabetical order!"
Mike: I was working for this record distributor when I was in high school, and of course in a record shop, and when I got out of high school, I worked for a distributor for three or four years as my day job. And I met up with Tom, Tex...he worked for Discount Records.
Ken: Just like Iggy in Ann Arbor!
Barry: "Find another loser who's never sung in a band before in his life, but looks cool!"
Mike: Well, I knew he had charisma.
Bob: Kind of the Johnny Rotten story.
Barry: But there's no Malcolm McLaren involved.
Mike: We NEEDED a Malcolm McLaren, probably. That's what it was.
Barry: The thing with Thom Edwards...he's a personality. He can't sing! He can vaguely aim at the notes, but he can't hit one to save his life. It took me years to see what he is. The whole time I was in the Nervebreakers, towards the end, I could kinda see the charisma, but he's going, "Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!" and jumping around. What was up with this guy? Me, I've got a three-octave range, and it's real natural, just God-gift, but I can sing really well, and it IRKS me...he can't sing, but it just works. The whole thing comes down to, I never had STYLE. I could do background vocals GREAT, that's why I did background vocals - because I never had an interesting style. An interesting style is very distracting. That's why I very seldom let Donny Ray Ford sing background. Because it becomes like, "Isn't that Donny Ray Ford?" I can do background vocals for anybody, because it's just the note back there. Thom was all style and very little talent...but style's really, REALLY important. It took me years to realize that.
Mike: So Tex was working there, and I'd actually talked to him a few times, 'cos it was the hangout for record nuts in town. We got to talking this one time, and the Raspberries album had just come out. We were standing there talking, and Tex goes, "What do you think of the Raspberries?" 'Cos their image was this totally bubblegum kind of image. I said, "I think they're pretty cool," and he went, "Yeah, I think they are, too." So I think that was where we sort of recognized that we both had our own taste. And I said, "Tex, Tom...have you ever sung in a band before? You wanna try out for mine?" He said, "Sure." So he came over, and it was me and Carl and a bassplayer, and Tom. At that time, we were doing Mott the Hoople, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, T. Rex, David Bowie. It was '72, I guess...'73. He was familiar with all the material that we were doing, so he could just jump in and start jamming on it. I thought he really had a charisma of some kind, and he was an interesting character.
Barry: And he liked the Raspberries!
Mike: And would admit it! So that was where the Nervebreakers started, when Thom came into the picture. All the stuff we were doing, we needed somebody to front it, and he was the guy.
Barry: And I'm in Korea trying to learn to play guitar! When I got to Korea...at the time I
still played bass, I'd been playing bass for three or four years. Well, Mike writes me a letter in Korea and says, "I've been thinking about guitar playing and stuff, and I think it'd be kinda cool if we both played guitar and it was kinda competitive and built offa that, so why don't you start learning how to play guitar?" "Okay." So I went out and bought five guitars.
Ken: Which you can do in Korea.
Barry: So I'm at the serviceman's center, and they have these GREAT guitars with heavy gauge antenna wires for strings, all these fifties Les Pauls and stuff that've been there for a million years.
Ken: With Black Diamond strings on them.
Barry: And I'm sure they don't have to change 'em except every four or five years. So I'm
sitting an old Gibson amp on a table and going in a practice room and hitting power chords as loud as I possibly can, and it'd just numb my senses enough to where I could go another day. This black guy comes in and goes, "Hey, man, can you play songs?" I'm like, "Yeah." "If we tell them we're a band, they'll give us a band room downstairs and there's like a full load of band equipment down there." So I became the only white guy in a soul band. We were doing like Chi-Lites "Oh Girl," and this guy goes, "We don't have to do all brother songs. We can do songs you want to do, too." So I'm like, "Well, okay, what's simple enough for these guys? How about 'Down By the River'?" "Buddy Miles!" So this is what I'm doing while he's starting a band called the Idiots.
Mike: We had a band called Diamonds Are Forever, from the movie of course, and I had a cat named Diamonds. We were doing the same kind of thing, T. Rex, Alice Cooper, Stones, David Bowie kind of stuff, and we did that for awhile. It was pretty cool. And around that time, the Dolls' first album came out, and we really felt like the Dolls kinda stole our thunder! "That's what WE'RE doing!"
Ken: Did you get to see the Dolls when they played Dallas?
Barry: Yeah. With the Werewolves. I was still in the Army. I showed up with short hair, green eye makeup, earring, no shirt, no shoes, and one of those...you go to the Korean tailors... short-cut suits made up. This one was brown corduroy. You could feel all the people staring at you. And all of a sudden, I felt all the attention shift off of me and somebody punches me in the arm and it's Thom Edwards, and he's got like yellow satin pants, a white satin shirt with musical notes all over it, and a shag weird long haircut. He's taken an Esquire magazine and removed all the ads that he thought were pertinent for whatever reason and written in red Marks-a-Lot "blood" or "dead" on them, and just pinned them all over his clothes. So he's even weirder looking than me and I went, "Oh, GOOD!"
Mike wanted to show me his new band, and we go right over to Cole and Avondale. David Faulkner, the glamour king and bassplayer extraordinaire, great bassplayer, great singer, and makes stripper's costumes for a living. So we jump on my motorcycle and run to all the stripper's barswith his briefcase, get in free, get free drinks, have strippers falling all over us so they could try on his costumes. But the first time I'm seeing Mike's new project, I walk into their practice and here's Thom, slamming himself in the face with a mic while rolling around on the ground in a house, and I'm thinking, "Hmm."
Bob: I never knew that you had to PRACTICE those kinds of things; I thought you just did them onstage.
Barry: Carefully honed 'em for years, yeah. That was when I came in when the Idiots were going.
Ken: That was what, '73?
Mike: It woulda been '73, yeah, right.
Ken: At what point did you start writing original material?
Barry: We always wrote stuff, but nobody liked it.
Mike: We liked it! But we got serious with the Nervebreakers, deciding "We're gonna write." We were gonna do covers, too, 'cos we LIKE to do covers, and if you're gonna play four sets a night, you gotta have something to do. But, we're gonna write our own tunes most of the time.
Barry: To get people to listen to your music, you had to get their attention.
Bob: They did weird things with their covers, too. It was kinda like, someone would say, "Play a Rolling Stones song," and they'd whip out "Citadel." They didn't play "Honky Tonk Women,"
Mike: We had to be troublesome.
Bob: Or when it comes to Troggs songs..."Wild Thing" wasn't one of 'em.
Ken: How did one HEAR the Troggs in Dallas in the early seventies?
Barry: Mike ruined me music-wise for most everything. I remember being in high school and when we started hanging out together pretty much and going to the Plymouth Park Music Center, watching Mike TRY to find Mott the Hoople, and this guy's going "Martha WHO? I guess I can ORDER it for you." Mike just knew and read about all these bands I NEVER woulda stumbled upon on my own. So he pretty much bastardized my musical taste to where, not only did GIRLS not like it...I should have been listening to Top 40 radio and gettin' girls!
Ken: What magazines did you read, Mike?
Mike: Going back to the sixties, as far as magazines, Hit Parader was probably the only decent magazine that had serious rock writing, but Creem came along later. The thing that boggles people's minds is that in the sixties, Top 40 radio was wide open, and in actual fact, the first time I heard the Incredible String Band, Captain Beefheart, the Chocolate Watch Band, these were all on Top 40 radio in Dallas! I don't know what their philosophy was, "We'll play it once or twice, and if people like it, it'll go on the playlist, but if they don't like it, we'll stop playing it."
Ken: In New York, you NEVER heard stuff like that.
Bob: They probably already started the infrastructure of the radio networks and all that kind of stuff up there, but it hadn't reached down here.
Mike: It might have been a combination of that, plus there were some interesting DJs here in town. Ron Chapman, who went on to fame as an easy-listening guru, at that time was real wild in his programming. So whenever the new Yardbirds single came out, the new Kinks single, this guy was ON it, he'd play it a few times, and if it was a hit, great, and if it wasn't, he'd move on to the next thing. So if you're listening to the radio and hear something cool, you head straight to the record store! You don't wait for it to be a hit, if something catches your ear. If I heard the new Who single or the new Yardbirds single...yeah! Where's the record store? Start bugging the guy!
Barry: I remember watching [Chapman's] show "Something Else" mainly because he had these like CHEERLEADER go-go dancers. I loved that! A locally produced dance show, "Hullaballoo" like. And remember watching, on the same show, the Doors and the Seeds, and going "Whoa! What's THIS?" I remember thinking the Doors did "Pushin' Too Hard;" I was a little confused about that!
Mike: Chapman was great! He was a big supporter of the [Thirteenth Floor] Elevators, so anytime the Elevators were in town, they were always on his TV show.
Bob: You need to mention that club in Fort Worth that had the bands playing behind the
Barry: The Cellar. The Cellar was in Dallas AND Fort Worth. It was like the ultimate den of iniquity. I was a regular by the time I was 16.
Mike: Me too.
Barry: My brother was five years older, so he started getting me in there, and then they just didn't card anymore. I used to go in there at 4 o'clock in the morning, drinkin'...16 years old. Calling Mike at home, going "Hey man, Johnny Winter's here!"
Mike: I'm laying in bed, it's about midnight or something, about to doze off asleep, and there's this banging on my window...and I'm on the second floor of my house...going "What the hell?" Open up the window and he goes, "Hey! Johnny Winter's playing down at the Cellar! Come on!" And I'm saying, "Hey, I'm kind of busy." About to go to sleep. In retrospect, I thought, "Why didn't I go?"
Barry: I went back and watched Johnny Winter. Rick Derringer was about 16 and God, he was an incredible, great player. He had just joined Johnny Winter and he was just wailin' on guitar. The strippers had like a 2-foot runway in front of the band, so the chicks were dancing in front of the band.
Mike: "Can you move over? I'm trying to watch the guitar player."
Barry: Really great house equipment. Back then it was like Fenders. They had all this stuff you could just plug into. It was after hours. Johnny showed up after his show, it was like 2 in the morning, with his whole band, and wanted to play. So they played till like 6 AM.
Mike: All the cool bands played there. They played from 9 PM to 6 AM. They had the equipment all set up, so the band would walk on with their guitars, play a set, unplug their guitars, walk off, the next band would walk on with their guitars...five minutes later, the next band's playing!
Ken: No 20-minute set changes!
Mike: Oh, no, no. We're talking five minutes! The club owner would be over there [taps watch]. "Hey guys, it's time to start...it's been five minutes!"
Barry: They had tables, but there was a dance floor, and the dance floor was just full of sofa
cushions, so you'd just pile as many as you wanted to watch the girls.
Mike: And all the waitresses wore panties and bras while they were waitressing, and they took turns dancing on the runway, but also, they would encourage amateurs, which could be a good thing, could be a bad thing. Occasionally you'd say, "Oooh, we've seen enough, okay?"
Barry: "Put it back! Put it back!" Their boyfriends would be going, "That's my girlfriend."
Ken: Talk about the early days of the Nervebreakers.
Barry: I started this band called A-Bomb. I was in VZ, just going to junior college, and I had this great idea for a showband called A-Bomb. I had written all original music, it was going to be pretty much like Kiss was, except AFTER the Holocaust. Kiss meets Geiger, y'know?
Mike: Kiss had just come out with their first album.
Barry: Yeah, so it was gonna be show rock, that's what I wanted to do; I was a theater major. Well, those guys [A-Bomb] were all just wussin' around, couldn't get 'em off their ass, and at that point Mr. Nervous Breakdown - Mike, [keyboardist] Walter Brock, Thom Edwards, [bassist] Jean-Pierre Thompson and Carl [Giesecke] - they had this art-rock band going, real heady, way out there...Velvet Underground-like.
Barry: And when Walter started going on public radio full-time, they wanted a replacement, so we had this big meeting, we went to the Taco Inn at the corner of O'Connor and Pioneer, eating burritos and talking about whether I should join the band. I went, "I just don't know if I can get along with this guy," meaning Thom, "because he's NUTS." And he's going, "Believe me, I feel the same way about you." "Yeah, OK, I understand." We're just being forward and up-front and stuff. I said, "OK, I'll give it a shot." I showed up at practice that night with my '53 Fender Esquire and my Sound City stack 8x12, with these guys who had been really... NOT loud.
Mike: It got louder.
Barry: All of a sudden, things CHANGED in Mr. Nervous Breakdown. Oh, Gawd! Mr. Nervous Breakdown played at the Hot Spot Foosball Parlor.
Mike: Gigs are where you find 'em.
Barry: That's why I can't stand when these kids complain, "We can't find gigs!" Dude, MAKE gigs. We did. But I went up there and Bruce Springsteen "Born To Run" had just come out, and I had a full beard at the time, and they're playing foosball, we start playing "Born To Run," I've got the same guitar Bruce does, so I come in playing rhythm and [does a credible imitation of Springsteen vocalismo]...I did my best Bruce Springsteen for about a verse, and then Thom comes running from the audience with this fuchsia tuxedo-looking thing and a multicolored Afro wig, comes running from the audience with this keychain or something, plays like he's stabbing me in the chest, I'd already put in a blood pack, so I hit this blood pack and it spurts blood on the audience, crawled down on the floor and just lay down for the rest of the set.
Mike: Thom was hijacking the band!
Barry: So that was my first experience...guest appearance.
Mike: I think what Barry brought to the band at that time...
Mike: I think his sensibilities were more...
Barry: Guttural. Street-level. Low-brow.
Mike: But we appreciated it. We were all Stooges fans and stuff like that.
Barry: I was a pet on a leash!
Mike: Left to our own devices, Thom and Carl and I were more pseudo-intellectual kinda guys, off in a cerebral direction of some sort, although we were Stooges and Troggs fans, we understood that, but when Barry came into the band, Tom or I might have had an idea and said, "Here's this idea," and Barry would say, "Oh yeah? Check THIS out!" Make it SIMPLE and DIRECT. "Yeah! It's cool." I think we were a good team because of that.
Bob: It's very much like the Beatles, it balances, only the best stuff came out because they
kept fighting amongst themselves.
Barry: It was so much five guys who are completely different, going in completely different directions, staying together because of who knows why, and it worked really well. They were very much more knowledgeable about a much larger scope of music than I was. And I remember coming in going, "I've got a song I wanna do, it's really cool, a ROCKIN' song," and they're goin' "What?" And I said, "That We Five song, 'You Were On My Mind' - you remember THAT?" And they're like, "Yeah." "Let's do that!" And they're like, "That song is WIMPY, dude," and I said, "NO, man, it ROCKS!" and the way I played it for them, they said, "Well, YEAH, THAT'S rockin'?" And they went "Do you remember the original?" And I said, "YEAH, it sounds just like this!" My rock-out quotient was a lot lower back then, apparently.
Bob: I remember when we started playing that in the Nervebreakers and we went back to the original and kept going, "That must not be the right version!"
Barry: That's when we got into the Barry Kooda Combo stuff, because I was getting real
frustrated with writing songs, bringing 'em in, 'cos I was writing songs like...if it takes more than ten minutes, then you've wasted...ten minutes! I wrote "I Wanna Kill You" and "Wake Me Up" both on the back of a Ritz cracker box that I was eating while I was delivering beauty supplies, on the steering wheel. Words and music. I come in and they're going, "Mmm, it's nice enough, but it's not the Nervebreakers."
Ken: When did you start doing the side project thing?
Barry: I don't remember exactly. It was Mike's idea, 'cos I was getting all bent out of shape and pissed off and there wasn't really any way around it, so he was like, "Why don't you do something separate," so we started the Barry Kooda Combo with me playing bass and Mike playing guitar and Russell Flemming [from the Vomit Pigs] on drums. [This lineup recorded the 1981 7-inch "What Do You Want From Me?"]
Mike: [Bassist] Linda [Shaw, from the Infants] came in too.
Barry: Linda came in later. But we would open for the Nervebreakers, and then Carl and Thom would come up and go, "Why don't WE do that song?" "Because you've already REJECTED that song three times!"
Ken: How did audiences respond to the Nervebreakers initially?
Mike: At first they hated us, but it went downhill from there.
Barry: My favorite was probably opening for the Ramones at the Electric Ballroom. I showed up in my Army helmet, my pistol belt, shredded clothes and it's a "ZOO FREE SUNDAY," KZEW, 99 cent longnecks and this is our first time on a big stage, so we're going, "Hot damn, big stage!" Mike is 400 yards that way, I'm 400 yards this way, can't hear NOTHIN', it was ridiculous, we didn't know where the other ones were. This place fills up and it's all cowboy hats. These people are into progressive country, because they were listening to KZEW, progressive country, for this Ramones show.
Mike: They just came to this show 'cos it was a free show.
Barry: They can't have known who the Ramones were! Man, they HATED us! Now, the first two rows was every punk rocker in Dallas, which was about 20 or 30 people. That's including EVERYBODY. We get out there and the first two rows are just like leather jacket punk rock people from EVERYWHERE. And back then, it was very scary...you could get killed VERY easily. People would kill you for looking that weird. You couldn't pierce NOTHIN' back then. We'd meet each other and it'd be back-to-back, "How you doin'?" just to make sure nobody was going to SHOOT you. They loved us in the front, and then third row back, it just got progressively worse until they'd like to have killed us if they could get close enough to the stage. And I remember Thom going, "Stop it!" Through all the songs you'd hear boos and hisses, just yelling and screaming and throwing bottles. And he goes, "Thank you! I just wanna tell you, no matter how much you hate us, it just can't compare to how much we detest you."
Mike: "That'll win 'em over!" And between songs, Thom says something like, "Hey, is there anyone here who listens to KZEW?" And of course the whole audience goes, "YEEEAAAAHHHHH!!!" And he says, "Well, I think you're a bunch of fucking idiots!" And they're like, "KILL that motherfucker!"
Ken: What'd you guys think of the Ramones? I assume you'd heard 'em.
Mike: Everyone assumed we'd come WITH them. "Oh, these guys came from New York."
Barry: All these punk rockers...I don't even know where these guys came from, are going,
"C'mere, c'mere, C'MERE...give me a guitar pick, PLEASE." They're a quarter, dude. Buy your own! Everybody assumed we were from New York, and at the soundcheck, the RAMONES didn't know where we were from. Johnny and Joey were there going, "Where you guys from? REALLY?" Yeah. We did our sound check, they liked us. Johnny gets all P.O.'d 'cos there's no guitar in the mains. They were talking to [Dallas giveaway] Buddy Magazine and the guy said, "Don't you think your music will be a little incongruous here?" and Johnny said, "Well, man, you've got punk rock bands here. What about the Nervebreakers and the Werewolves?" They knew who we were, too. Definitely.
Mike: They were good, but at the risk of sounding totally arrogant (like I AM, of course), I really thought going into the gig that we were much better. But they were THE RAMONES. They were obviously influential and real strong. I feel like we were a step ahead of them, but they were the Ramones!
Ken: My drummer from college saw you open for the Sex Pistols and wrote me, "I saw the Sex Pistols, and they SUCKED, but this local band called the Nervebreakers opened and they were GREAT!"
Barry: Talent-wise, it was no contest. But away from here, for the history books, we're totally inconsequential.
Ken: How did you get on that show?
Barry: Clarke Blacker.
Mike: KCHU was the local public access radio station...KNON is kinda the inheritor of the KCHU license. KCHU came on the air in 1975. The first time it came on the air on Saturday night, I turned it on and these guys were playing this wild music, "Wow! This is great! What's this?" Out of the blue, there's this great station. So I called up and said, "What are you guys doin'? What's the story?" Turned out this guy Clarke Blacker was the DJ and I started working with him, and then Bob came in later and we all started working on DJ-type stuff together. Carl, our drummer, was a classical music DJ and Walter, our keyboard player, became the program director of the station. As a matter of fact, that's when he left the band, because he got so busy being program director. So our bassplayer at that time, Pierre, had been with us a couple of years, and he got frustrated. We weren't making any money.
Barry: He was gonna be a career man where he was working. He was going to go up the corporate ladder.
Mike: Basically I think he just got frustrated because we weren't hitting the big time, and he'd been struggling with us for a year or two, so it was kind of understandable. So he quit and Clarke, who I was working with at the station...I knew that Clarke would make the ultimate manager of a rock band, 'cos he was real aggressive. When he wanted something, he went and got it, which I thought was kinda cool. So Clarke had a great personality, but he wouldn't manage a band; he wanted to BE in a band. And we needed a bassplayer, so he was it. He also brought along his buddy who became our soundman...Colin "1967" Pringle [http://colinp1.home.mindspring.com/radio.htm], who's a whole story unto himself. Colin was the engineer at the station, a licensed engineer for KCHU, and he was a real talented sound-engineer kinda guy. Clarke was an okay bassplayer, but his main function was that he was an aggressive manager. If we thought something was a good idea, he would just go bug somebody to death until they let him do it.
Barry: He had no shame, he had total tenacity, and everything rolled off his back like water off a duck. You could say, "You're an asshole!" and he would say, "Okay, but do you really think we could do something about this?" He was just great!
Mike: So we heard about the Ramones, and later the Sex Pistols, it was the same situation, we heard they were coming to town, and we just sat down, "This is a show we need to be playing," and Clarke would just find out who to talk to and bug 'em to death.
Barry: He called Stone City Attractions, the local promoter of the show, and said, "Yeah, we've got a band, we want to open for the Sex Pistols," and went, "Uhhh, this is being handled by Stone City out of New York" or whatever and he goes, "Okay, what's their number?" So he called New York, and they went, "Fine. An opening act. Cool." The Sex Pistols got paid 500 bucks for that show; we got paid NOTHIN'. It wasn't like you're opening for Garth or something.
Mike: But we knew they were important gigs, valuable gigs for us, for exposure. And they were. It turned out to be, if most people remember us, they remember the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Police...those are the gigs most people remember that we played. They don't remember the hundreds of club gigs that we played in the meantime! So Clarke was the guy who did that.
Bob: The Sex Pistols gig was the last gig that Clarke played, and there was a little debate
about whether I should step in at that time or not, since he had done all the work and stuff like that. We thought it'd be a pretty rotten trick.
Mike: Clarke had decided that playing in the band was just too much.
Barry: I just never let up on him.
Mike: He said, "Maybe you need to find somebody else on bass and I'll be the manager." "Okay!" And at that time, Bob had been helping us out roadie-ing for awhile and...what happened then, Bob?
Bob: I was in Fannie Ann's when Clarke told the band that he was going to quit, and I said, "Hmmm, I could probably play bass, it wouldn't be too hard." So I started learning all the songs ('cos I was taping them every night anyway) on guitar, and then I kind of approached Mike and said, "If I went and bought a bass," which was a big investment for me, "is there any chance...?" It was kind of out of left field, and you could kind of sense that he was going,
Mike: Good friend, great guy, but I didn't know about your bassplaying!
Bob: But I kept on learning on the guitar and finally I broke down and bought some bass, and at the Manhattan Clearinghouse or something like that, Clarke was late or something, so I just said, "Well, I've learned some of these songs, so I'll go through the rehearsal or the soundcheck stuff." So I played for the soundcheck and Barry went, "We should get this guy!"
Barry: Well, you didn't have a white jacket or a "Bitch Bitch Bitch" shirt.
Ken: Did Clarke wear the same clothes every time he played?
Mike: He had a certain style.
Barry: Two doors down from here [on Lemmon Avenue] is where the Nervebreakers played their first Dallas gig. The Villager Club. There might be a tape.
Mike: Yeah, there's a tape 'cos that's the first time that Clarke and Colin came to the gig and taped it with the 4-track. I just said, "My band's playing at the Villager," and they said, "Can we come and tape it?"
Bob: The infamous Villager tape.
Barry: The picture came out great. You can't tell who anybody is. This black and white
photograph is very blurry and weird. It's pretty cool...you have to know what it is to know what it is.
Bob: So we were at Fannie Ann's, I joined the group, and what happened then...we started to
tour, Tom Ordon comes in the picture somewhere...
Mike: Clarke was our manager, and he was also our bassplayer, and essentially through my record biz connections, we started getting a lot of interest, because record companies were just starting to think...punk rock was just starting to be the thing. This was in '77. So we were starting to get contacted by a lot of record companies that were interested, and Clarke really felt like he was out of his depth as a manager. He said, "I can't DEAL with a record company. Ican handle it on a local level, but we need help." I said, "Okay, let's find help then." We looked around and we hooked up with a management company - Incorsel Management.
Barry: B. Ware!
Mike: Bill Ware and Steve Corey. They were lawyers, entertainment company lawyers.
Bob: [They also represented ex-Mouse & The Traps guitarist] Bugs Henderson.
Mike: They did stuff for the Eagles. They were pretty good on the legal end; we didn't realize that they were incompetent on the management end, but they had a big office, and they were all lawyers and stuff. So we went to them and made an appointment and went to their office, and said, "Here's our deal, we're a punk rock band and we've got record companies calling us, and we need help, someone to represent us." I think their attitude was, "These guys are idiots." So we said, "No, we're really serious." So they started checking around on us, calling up record companies, "You know anything about what is this Nervebreakers thing?" And everyone's saying, "Yeah! The Nervebreakers. We want 'em!" So I think the dollar signs went on in their eyes and they were thinking, "All we have to do is sign these guys up, negotiate a contract, and we'll take our cut, walk away with a bunch of money for doing no work." So for our sins, we signed with 'em, and it really didn't work out - they had no idea, it was probably the biggest career mistake we made. At that time, I think if Clarke and I had just handled it ourselves, we would have done fine, we would have had a major label deal. But Clarke especially felt like he needed help.
Barry: Pretty much those guys [Incorsel] just scared everybody away.
Mike: Because they were such idiots, they just blew the connections that we had, and didn't make any new ones, either. They had no faith in our music and had no respect for us. That's the lesson - don't sign with anyone who has no respect for you! They just thought we were a meal ticket, and since we didn't turn out to be a big IMMEDIATE meal ticket, they wanted us to start playing lots of club gigs, which they started booking us for, because they could take a cut of the money and have a steady flow of income if we were out there playing every night, which is what they wanted. So we started playing a lot of club gigs, which was really kind of destructive, I think, to our art. On the upside, it made us tough and tight, playing four sets a night, but we really blew a lot of our energy playing club gigs.
Barry: It's totally demeaning. At Fannie Ann's, MANY times we'd sit out in the audience, because the entire audience would be onstage singing. There was nobody there, because they knew if they came back next Tuesday, we'd be there.
Mike: So we were getting kind of bored with the whole situation, and kinda losing interest, for
whatever reason. Well, one of the things we would do to liven things up is announce that we were breaking up. And we'd say, "Okay, November 20th is our last gig."
Ken: It's worked really well for the Who for the last 20 years.
Mike: So we were breaking up and we had this gig, and it was our last gig, quote unquote, and wewere playing at Fannie Ann's, and Bob had been with us a short time on bass, and this guy comes up, Tom Ordon, and says, "Hey, you mind if I tape your set?" Sure. "Y'know, I'm thinking about starting a record company, and I'm really sorry you guys are breaking up, 'cos I'd really liketo put out a record." REALLY! "Well, we were gonna break up because we got disheartened, butwe've got such positive support from our fans that we've kinda decided to stick it out, y'know?"
Barry: This "huge fan base" he's talking about is this little GLOWING guy with blonde hair and he's sitting dead center at Fannie Ann's, ALONE, with a tape deck. You could see his big grin...just sitting there, recording us, ALL the time.
Mike: So we say, "Maybe we could reconsider that breaking-up thing." So we got to talking to Tom Ordon, and we said, "Well, as a matter of fact, we just got through doing this demo tape, four songs, and if you're interested in putting it out as a record..." He says, "Yeah! I AM interested." That was the "Politics" EP. Also, at the same time, we were going through this incompetent management, so we said, "Well, you know, we're going to try and get out of our management contract," which we did, and so at the same time we got out of that contract, Tom Ordon came into our picture and he started helping out with management (as well as being our record company). So for awhile, Clarke and Tom were handling management, which could have been a great team, because Clarke is like this really aggressive, never-take- no-for-an-answer type guy, and Tom Ordon's REALLY easygoing, nice, sweet guy. So you think, "This could work out...could be a great team." Unfortunately what REALLY happened is they just butted heads all the time andhated each other, so it didn't really work out very well. But Tom wound up being a pretty good deal.
Bob: He had some connections with Bay Area Music magazine.
Mike: He was in San Francisco in the sixties and had a lot of music connections there that helped us out a lot, as far as our California business went.
Bob: They had all these ads in BAM magazine that probably were never paid for about us doing this tour in California.
Ken: I was talking to a buddy of mine in D.C., and when I told him I was interviewing you, he got real excited and told me I had to ask you what the story was behind the song "My Girlfriend Is a Rock."
Barry: An old sore spot.
Mike: We don't talk about that song anymore! How did it happen, Barry?
Barry: Out of the blue! Carl the drummer was a percussionist for the Dallas and Irving
Symphonies at the same time he was in the Nervebreakers. He would come in with songs
occasionally, and he was just WAY esoteric.
Bob: He came in with a song in 9/8 time one time!
Mike: And we DID play it!
Barry: He came in with a song to this little rehearsal and said, "What do you think of this?" He gave me the melody line, which was just like opera. And I went, "Man, this is a ROCK song. These are GREAT words, but this is a ROCK song." "What do you mean?" I rewrote the music along the lines of the opera, and it worked out. Of course when it came time to fill in that credit for getting that copyright, my name was conspicuously absent! And he said, "Well, I wrote it." And I went, "Oh yeah. We'll see about your next one...you'll be writing your next one by yourself." And you see he's had this LONG row of hits since!
Bob: I've got a slightly different take...I was watching the whole thing going down. Carl had written the song in one hour or something like that. He just kinda blurted out the lyrics. He was kinda singing, and Barry was playing stuff, and Carl was going, "Yeah! That's it!" That's what Carl was claiming - that Barry was interpreting what he was thinking!
Barry: Before he thought it! Carl was really twisted. Did you ever read his short story? Gawd! It was incredible...this piece of porn, this guy shoves the girl roughly into the bushes and pulls his tool out of his pants and she sees it glisten in the moonlight and goes, "You're not sticking that in me," and he goes "C'mon baby, you'll love it" and throws her to the ground, thrusts his tool in again and again with a slurping sound, then he gets up and wipes off this bloody screwdriver, and gets in his car! And I'm like, "Dude! You're TWISTED! That's pretty good." So he COULD write, he was a very good writer.
Ken: What's Carl Giesecke doing these days?
Barry: Selling vacuum cleaners.
Mike: He WAS doing that for awhile, pretty successfully. It's been a year since I talked to him, but he's a credit collection manager. He manages collections, apparently does pretty well with that. Has a big house in the suburbs, and a teenage son.
Ken: Still in the Dallas area?
Mike: Yeah. He played the Nervebreakers reunion gigs a few years back.
Barry: His father's the head anesthesiologist at Parkland Hospital.
Mike: His dad was the anesthesiologist when they brought JFK in.
Barry: Buddy Giesecke. So Carl and I would go up there 'cos we were getting into circadian rhythm and all this weird-ass stuff about body rhythms. We used to go up there and they'd Xerox off information for us. We'd go into research places..."Yeah! We're doing research on that!" But their family was French and German...his dad was actually Adolf Giesecke, but during World War II, Adolf wasn't the name you wanted to have, so he became Buddy Giesecke. But their normal decibel level in the house was like 110. "DAD, I NEED TO GET MY ALLOWANCE." "I THOUGHT I GAVE THAT TO YOU!" "WELL YOU DIDN'T!" It was very oppressive, and that's just the way they talked! They're very loud, they're yelling, but it doesn't mean anything.
Mike: My understanding of "My Girlfriend Is a Rock" was different, because when I got to the rehearsal, I walked in and they said, "Hey, we got this new song" and immediately, I said, "That's a hit!" They were thinking it was just a joke. I went, "It's a joke, but it's great!"
Bob: I remember saying, "If we break a string, we can play it, 'cos it's just a funny song." It was the only song Clarke didn't care about on the ["Politics"] EP. He started out saying, "Well, if you want that on there, go ahead; do anything you want with it. I don't really care about that song." One of the secrets is I play bass on that one, but I don't play bass on the other ones. Everyone in the band was a better bassplayer than me!
Barry: A song Mike and Tom wrote called "I Confess" SO irked Bob, he couldn't STAND that song.
Mike: You didn't like that song?
Bob: It was because I couldn't PLAY it very well!
Barry: It was very half-hearted, too. Finally after he left, it was late, so I went and redid
all the bass parts and never told anyone. A year later or something, Bob was going, "You did something to that song!"
Bob: I thought I knew about it at the time, but I thought Mike had done it or something like that.
Barry: I thought it was a done deal, it wasn't that important.
Mike: As soon as you [Barry] played it, I thought "There's no doubt, you NAILED the bass part." I played bass on the "Are We Too Late For the Trend?" compilation LP cuts "I Love Your Neurosis" and "So Sorry." Also, I had to dub the bass onto the Roky Erickson & the Nervebreakers LP ["Roky Erickson & the Nervebreakers Live Dallas 1979," New Rose/Fan Club]. These were all needed to solve strictly technical problems; Bob's original performances were fine.
Barry: We were a lot like Josie & the Pussycats anyway...I did all the background vocals, and we'd all play the bass parts, and Mike would do all the guitar parts, anything serious. I could crunch chords, but I can't play GUITAR. So we had this little band of guys that were pretty cool-looking guys. Together we'd get it done; we wouldn't get anybody outside the band to do it.
Bob: One of the things they did was when we backed up Roky Erickson, they learned the harmony guitar parts to "Bermuda." They played that live just great. And Roky was kinda goin', "Oh!"
Ken: How'd you wind up working with Roky?
Mike: Tom Ordon had come into the picture, and we started playing the Palladium, this real nice club.
Ken: I saw lots of shows there. I saw you open for the Clash, John Cale...
Mike: Oh, okay. The nicest gig on Earth...nice place, nice crowd, nice people, we actually got paid money and everything!
Barry: Eddie Gatis was the manager and he was just a DREAM.
Mike: Really a sweet gig, so we started playing there a lot. Whenever they had a New Wave or punk act or whatever come in, which was pretty often, you'd see either us or Kenny & the Kasuals opening. Sorta like whichever one of us they thought would be appropriate for the gig...they kinda split it between us, I think. So we were playing there quite a bit, and they'd had a gig booked for Graham Parker, and we were gonna open for him, but he cancelled a coupla weeks in advance, and so the booking agent called Tom, our manager, and said, "Hey, I've got an open date. Can you come up with something interesting to do on that date?" And Tom said he'd think it over. Tom, from his San Francisco days, was friends with Craig, who was Roky's manager, so he called Craig and said, "What's Roky doing?" He's not doing anything, he's just sitting in Austin; at that time, he didn't have an album out. He'd recorded some stuff, just demo tape-type stuff, which became an album later, but he had no record deal. "Do you think he might be interested in doing a gig?" "Give him a call."
We'd grown up with the Elevators; we were all Elevators nuts. One time Walter and I were sitting around, ca. '75, shooting the shit one night. "Wouldn't it be cool if someday we became ROKY ERICKSON'S BACK UP BAND? Wouldn't that be cool?" "YEAH, that would be pretty neat, wouldn't it?" Fantasizing or whatever. So Tom Ordon calls Roky: "Hey, Roky, you want to play June 23rd  in Dallas?" "Sure."
"Okay, cool. We can pay you three hundred bucks." "Sure."
"We'll send you a bus ticket." "Sure."
"The Nervebreakers will be your backup band." "Sure."
You start to notice the pattern.
Barry: I got a different version, where his first answer was something totally incomprehensible, so he ended up saying, "Roky, is your wife home?" and talked to his wife or his mom or something and got most of the details settled that way.
Mike: So he sent us a tape. "Can you send us a tape of songs you want to do?" "Sure." He sent us his demo tape, which later became his first album, and so we got Tom Ordon, for purposes of rehearsal, to do the Roky singing parts, and learned all of the songs. We busted ass, two or three weeks, every night, practicing and learning these songs. We had 'em nailed pretty good. Came the day of the show - bear in mind, we had never actually TALKED to Roky Erickson, or met him or anything, but we had some photos of him, his press photos. And his press photos basically looked like he was pretty cool - leather cap, nicely coiffed hair, clean-shaven, pretty sharp looking guy.
Barry: Then we went and got this guy we found under I-30 who was living in a refrigerator box.
Mike: So we're sitting there at the Palladium, we've got our equipment set up, waiting for him to show up for the sound check. And this STREET PERSON comes walking in the back door, like a Charles Manson kinda guy with a beard and long hair, looks like he's been living in a box on the Interstate, and we're going, "It can't be him...it must be him...okay. Hey Roky, how's it going?" "YEAH!"
"Cool, c'mon in." "YEAH! YEAH!"
"Listen, I'm glad you showed up just now, because our roadie Pope is about to go to 7-Eleven to get some drinks. You want a drink?" "YEAH!"
"What do you want, a Coke?" "YEAH! YEAH!"
"Well no, actually, we're going to have Nehi Peach drinks. How would you like that?" "YEAH!"
I started to get a little nervous...then Carl walks up and goes, "Hey, listen, Roky, we were
listening to your demo tape and we were trying to learn this one song, but we're having trouble telling what key it's in because of the speed of the tape. What key is that song in?" [Blank stare] 'Cos it's not a yes or no answer. Total silence. And we're going, "Oh, shit." I said, "It's in A minor, right, Roky?" "YEAH! YEAH!"
Barry: We strap on this "The Paul" - Tom Ordon's guitar - and turn it on. "Well, what do you wanna play?" "I dunno."
"How about 'Bermuda'?" "YEAH! YEAH!" We start playing, and he turns to me and goes, "What's the third chord?" "You wrote it, Roky." He goes, "I know!" "Okay, it goes like this." So I showed him how to play it.
Mike: But once the music got going, he was there.
Barry: He's like one of those dancing flowers. You turn the music on and they just start
Mike: He knew the words when the music started playing.
Barry: He unplugged his guitar twice and didn't know. I'm going over there and he's going,
"Thank you, thank you," trying to do his patter while I'm trying to plug him back in, "This next song is..." We started doing "Wind and More," and the Nervebreakers above all else was a good, solid, tight-ass rock band. Could play anything. And we had that shit NAILED. We did "Wind and More," and there were like 250 people at that show.
Mike: It was a good turnout.
Barry: Dead-on. And Roky just decides it's reprise time. And I look at Mike and "Two, three, four"...if he goes off the cliff, we're ALL going.
Bob: And Barry's going, "What song we playing now?" And I said, "It's the same song."
Mike: But at the sound check, we were kind of concerned about the fact that he didn't seem to be communicating at the same level as the rest of us, but after we played a song or two, it started to sound pretty good. We're going, "Hey! This is cool." And then he unplugs his guitar and goes, "I'm going to go take a rest now." And we're going, "Roky, shouldn't we try the rest of the songs before the concert?" And he's like, "Uh, it'll be okay. I'll see ya later. I've met you.
You're nice guys. It'll be fine."
It turned out fine. There's some review of the Roky & the Nervebreakers album on New Rose that said something like "weren't totally prepared, weren't in sync with Roky..." ROKY wasn't in sync with US! I didn't find out until later that he'd just gotten out of the mental hospital [in Rusk, Texas]. He was probably taking drugs, but besides that, I could see that he wasn't quite in the realm of everyday reality.
Ken: I dunno if he's been back there since.
Bob: But then basically he wanted to keep playing with the Nervebreakers. "This works."
Mike: We played a couple of other gigs, and from our point of view, the music was good. We were all total Roky fans, but living with him on an ongoing basis...
Mike: ...babysitting got real old, and after doing that a few times, Roky said, "Hey, this is
great. Let's go on the road." No, no, no. "We love your music, but no, we're not going out on the road with you." So we said, "You know, we have these friends in Austin. They have a great band; they're called the Explosives. You really oughta hook up with them."
Ken: Cam King! I remember seeing the Explosives a coupla times, not with Roky. I thought it was hilarious that two of those guys [Waller Collie and Fred Krc] were from Jerry Jeff Walker's band.
Mike: They were a good band, nice guys and everything. They were friends of Tom Ordon.
Ken: Talk about the tour you did out on the West Coast.
Barry: There was a point where I was going to drive Tom Ordon crazy. It took me a long time, too, to wipe that smile off his face. I'd say stuff like, "So, where are we playing?" "[Name of club]." "Where is it?" "I don't know." "What time are we playing?" "I don't know?" "Don't you think a MANAGER should KNOW that kind of stuff?" NEVER let up on him. Poor boy.
Ken: Bob told me a story about you and Thom Edwards getting into it in the parking lot outside the first venue of the tour, in Arizona.
Mike: The short of it is, Thom was being a real prima donna. We'd been driving for a couple of days and we got to our first gig, so we were a little bit cranky after sitting in the back of a van for two days. I think we started unloading the truck and tempers were a little bit ragged, and I go, "Tom, why are you sitting over there in the club having a beer?" Thom said, "Well, I don't know, I think I sprained my back a little bit, I don't think I should be unloading equipment." I think that was it. I think Barry was going to kick his ass.
Barry: I didn't, though.
Mike: You DIDN'T! I think the rest of us were kinda thinking, "You know, you shouldn't kick his ass, but really, we think his ass needs to be kicked." Mixed feelings about it. And on the upside, nobody got killed or anything, we went ahead and played the gig, tempers flared for awhile, but y'know...
Bob: And we've got this whole tour in front of us, and here it is the first gig and the band's breaking up! That's it!
Barry: To start with, there are going to be SEVEN PEOPLE in the van. Now, Mike and Thom show up with BEAN BAG CHAIRS. That's the start of it. You can see the consideration level is WAY high. Other than having to stop and get Odor Eaters, it wasn't that bad. And Pope, our roadie, running up these enormous bar tabs. Everybody on the road thought that the roadies were the band and we were the roadies, because we all looked normal and they were all punked out! That happened at home, too - we'd be playing at Mother Blues and they didn't wanna let Bob in, even with a GUITAR, because he didn't look cool enough to be in the band.
Throughout the tour, my guest was "Whoever says they're on the guest list but really isn't." I'd be standing by the table where they were taking tickets, and some college kid would come up and go, "I'm with the band." "Really? Which one?"
"Nervebreakers." "Really? Which one are you with?"
"Guitar player." "What's his name?"
"Uhhh..." "Well, I'm ONE OF 'EM, and I don't know you, so I guess it must be THE OTHER ONE." I'd put these guys through the wringer, and then..."He's my guest." "Wha?"
"See this here? 'First guy who says they're with the band but isn't.' That's my guest." "Cool!"
Mike: We did real well in Sacramento and San Francisco.
Bob: Mabuhay Gardens. Boz Scaggs came.
Barry: He tried to steal Carl.
Mike: That's right, he tried to steal our drummer. The L.A. part of it didn't go so well because Bay Area Magazine was promoting the tour, and they had no presence in L.A.
Bob: We played the Starwood with...John Hiatt?
Mike: We were headlining...on a Tuesday night! There are four other bands on the bill, we go on at 2 in the morning, and there's nobody there! "Wow, being the headliner on Wednesday morning is REALLY COOL."
Ken: It seems like Texas punk has gained a lot of notoriety the past few years. What Dallas bands or Texas bands did you feel an affinity with?
Barry: That's a weird thing, the way history looks at things. The real important historical
bands, if you look at the media, were just NOTHIN' in reality. Amazing. Bobby Soxx [from the Teenage Queers]...whoo! Big news! This guy shows up in a shag haircut and granny glasses trying to sing a Sex Pistols song. This guy had nothing new to say at all. The Vomit Pigs were the REAL punk rock. The Toys were way glam.
Bob: I don't think anybody REMEMBERS the Toys. They were on a couple of those "Texas Crude" albums.
Barry: Snakes On Everything. The Scuds...were kinda cool. The whole idea is that this guy had leukemia and he was gonna die, and his last request was that he wanted to be in a punk band. So all of his relatives got together and said, "Oh, okay..."
Bob: I've got some weird stuff on video...the Scuds and us at Zero's, the Dot Vaeth Group
Barry: The Dot Vaeth Group was probably the closest. The Nervebreakers were a separate thing. The rest of the scene was kind of going on under us. Those guys looked at us like we needed to be toppled. "Ahh, those assholes." Until they got to know us. The bands would all talk bad about us and what arrogant assholes we were, and then they'd meet us and go, "You guys are pretty nice!" Control...this band Control, I lent them my PA, and came and tuned their guitars for them when their parents were in the audience. But everybody thought of us as this big, unattainable, status quo band. When we started hearing about bands, the Dot Vaeth Group was probably the first one. And I'd already started making T-shirts, and I made one, "If you like peanut butter, you'll love the Dot Vaeth Group," because I'd heard that their bassplayer had done his hair up in chunky peanut butter when they played at this club, and I thought, "That's great!"
Well, we ARE kind of snotty at this point. And at the Manhattan Clearinghouse, we come walking up with our girlfriends, "Ho hum, another gig, another night." "Y'know, the Dot Vaeth Group's opening for us tonight." "Oh, yeah, maybe we'll catch some of their stuff." So there's four or five of us walking up the street, and we're about half a block away when we hear them stop, the song's over, "Thank you, good night!" So nobody looks at anybody, we go, "Fuck!" and we're running down the street, running up the stairs going, "MORE! MORE!" And then we're just too full of ourselves, "Yeah, y'all were very interesting." GAWD, we wanted to hear that band! And they WERE pretty interesting. But that little scene just went without us. You look back at what people remember or what got listened to on records and stuff - it wasn't us, because we were doing our own stuff and everybody assumed that we didn't need any help. As if we didn't need to be part of it, because we were just up there by ourselves.
Bob: Most of 'em were fans of ours.
Ken: I wanna talk about the recording of the "great lost album," and how things kinda fell apart at the end.
Mike: As far as the recording of it, there's no real mystery. We had money burning a hole in our pocket. Not exactly, but we had some money.
Ken: By this time , you'd already released the "Politics" EP and the "Hijack the Radio" single.
Mike: We'd done an earlier session. Our first session was like six tunes with Clarke on bass, then we did "Politics" with Bob, and "Hijack the Radio" with Bob. All at the same studio, High Grove, and Russell Berger was the guy who was engineering those sessions. He's now gone on to quite a bit of fame as a studio designer. He really didn't understand what we were doing, and he was kind of a mellow dude. This was back in the seventies, and with the best will in the world, he was trying to make us sound like Loggins & Messina or something.
So he really didn't get it, but he was a nice guy, and after we did the "Hijack" thing, I was
talking to him and we were trying to decide what to do next, which direction to go as far as recording. So I said, "Well, Russell, how do you think the last sessions went?" and he said, "Pretty good." I said, "Well, if there was something you could change, what would you do to improve what we're doing?" and he said, "I think I'd try to make it a little bit cleaner." Wrong answer! All right, he's outta here. Now, okay, we've gotta do something else. We needed to be RAUNCHIER. We did this ESR thing ["Are We Too Late for the Trend" LP, 1979], which was TOO raunchy. I actually engineered that session, and I had no idea what I was doing. As a result, it was okay, but it wasn't a step forward.
So Thom knew this guy Phil York, who's a real legend, he's worked with Willie Nelson and all these Texas music legends, a real nice guy with a depth of knowledge about engineering... Thom called him up and said, "Hey, would you be interested in working with the Nervebreakers?" He said, "I dunno." Thom said, "Well, we're playing this gig," we were playing at DJ's, and he came down and checked out a few songs and says, "YEAH!" Later I found out he said, "I never heard anything like that!" His background was totally country, he had no idea, he was from another planet. But, "This is cool." He's excited. So he really helped us. He engineered the sessions at Autumn, real nice studio. So the engineering was great; mostly live in the studio, a few overdubs, but mostly live. Bob on bass, except for one or two songs where Barry played bass.
Barry: And the Kooda Chorale!
Mike: Barry overdubbing vocals.
Barry: Sixteen tracks of me singing by myself!
Bob: Like Freddie Mercury, right?
Barry: "Do it again, a third up. Do it again, a fifth up. Do it again." "What are you DOING?" "It's the Kooda Chorale. You'll love it."
Mike: It was actually the closest recording to what we actually sounded like.
Barry: To get a sense of what we WANTED to sound like.
Mike: Yeah. How hard is it to go in the studio and be a rock'n'roll band? It's not
counterintuitive. That's the closest we ever came to being able to do that. When it came to mixing, Barry and I worked on the mix, and I don't think either one of us was satisfied with the way it was mixed.
Barry: I did one version of "I Confess" and he did another version of "I Confess" and now, I look back and go, "Wow, I wish there was one that was like a combination of the two."
Mike: At that point, we finished recording, finished mixing, and I was going through a lot of changes. I think it was a postpartum kind of thing. I'd spent the last five years working onthis music, and that was the result. In retrospect, I think I was kinda depressed, actually, I didn't have direction, I didn't know what to do, I was frustrated, I think there were too many egos, between me, Barry, and Thom. Any two of us could work together, but as three...it was creative tension, but it was tension. So basically I quit, and so did Bob at the same time.
Barry: We had already booked the New York tour.
Mike: I felt like the tour was poorly planned and not a good idea, so I felt like, "Man, I don't want to do this tour," and all this other stuff. "I wanna do something else."
Barry: It was poorly planned, and when we got up to New York, it was REALLY awful!
Mike: And then Bob had his own reasons, I guess.
Bob: Yeah, I couldn't stand working with Barry anymore, because he was being a jerk!
Barry: Oh, I totally agree!
Bob: I didn't wanna quit, because I recognized, being a fan, that the chemistry or the magic of the band and the people together and all that kind of stuff was more than the sum of its parts, and I couldn't really afford to do the tour, I'd used up all my vacation and stuff, I was about to be fired! But when Mike quit, that opened the door, because Superman's Girlfriend had broken up, and Paul Quigg and James Flory we knew were buddies and they could just step right in. They weren't doing anything.
Mike: Thom came to me and said, "What are we going to do? I know you're leaving, what can we do?" I said, "Well, you're going to keep the band going, right?" And he said, "I don't know! What can I do?" And I said, "Get Paul and James on bass and guitar!" And he said, "Oh! Okay." See, I didn't know 'em personally, so I wasn't recommending them as personalities, I was just recommending them as musicians.
Ken: Did you and Bob do Bag of Wire (with Clarke Blacker, Russell Flemming, and Curtis Hawkins) right away?
Mike: Pretty quick, yeah. A few months down the road, because I was still doing projects with Barry and with Thom. We had Tex & the Saddle Tramps. Maybe a year or two previous to that time, Barry and I were going to see some band play at DJ's one night and Barry was saying, "This Nervebreaker thing, it's not really much fun anymore. It's getting to be like a job." I said, "Yeah, I know what you mean." He says, "Mike, if you wanted to do something for fun, just for fun, not to gig, who would you want to play with?" And totally off the top of my head I said, "Linda on bass and Russell on drums." He said, "Really?" "Now that I've said it out loud, yeah, that sounds like fun." So we go down to the club and Barry goes into the club and comes out about an hour later and goes, "Yeah, I talked to Linda and Russell and they're ready to go." So we started doing the Barry Kooda Combo, and once we got that going, Thom was really wanting to do rockabilly and country kinda stuff; it was really kind of a dichotomy, 'cos Thom wanted to do this rockabilly kinda thing, and Barry's specialty was really pop-punk. So the Barry Kooda Combo was kind of a Barry thing, and Thom said, "Look, if you and Mike are gonna do something, I wanna do MY thing," and he got the same people - Linda, Russell, and me, and Bob played acoustic guitar, and we did a rockabilly thing. So we sorta had these projects going on all the time anyway.
Barry: Linda was just cool, and Russell, he was just there. Good drummer. I didn't realize until we did the Punk Rock Dinosaurs what a whiner he was!
Ken: Barry, considering the direction you've taken since then with the Cartwrights and all your country stuff, I just figured the country influence in the Nervebreakers (the George Jones cover and all that) was from you.
Barry: No. That was another tension in the band. I'd ask them, "Why are you doing this crap?" Allen Wooley came to me, I'd see him out when I had Yeah Yeah Yeah going, he'd go, "We need to do a project together" and I was like, "What? That stuff makes me want to projectile vomit! I can't STAND country-western." Finally he comes up with a tape of old Ray Price, the BEST introduction tape to get me into it, and I'm going, "This is COOL, this is really good stuff." Real old stuff.
Ken: Best and worst memories of the Nervebreakers?
Bob: The worst was when Barry was yelling at me to play quieter on "My Girlfriend Is a Rock" onstage, and realizing that it was no longer fun to be in the band at that instant and that the end was probably near for my participation in the band.
Mike: The best was the gigs! All the times we played were great. There were some off nights, but man, everytime we played was great. I loved playing with these guys! That was COOL!
Bob: The Mabuhay, that might have been the best, in a certain way, because it was in the heart of kinda like the punk scene, and all the people were sitting there looking at us, then they got closer and started spitting on us, and that's when I knew we had won 'em over. We knew that if they didn't do anything, that was an insult. So when they started throwing stuff at us and spitting on us, I said, "Oh, okay."
Barry: I reacted a little differently...I poured my pitcher on a guy's head. For me, playing was always the best of times, and studio was always - although I love the studio - the most antagonistic of times. There was a weird hierarchy in the band. It was actually Mike and Thom's band, and I was just a surfer. I pretty much got to play on the waves a lot. A lot of times, say the Russell Berger stuff, I remember going into the control room and listening to the NINE DISSENTING OPINIONS.
Mike: Girlfriends hanging out.
Barry: To me, the best record the Nervebreakers put out was "Girls Girls Girls Girls Girls" [7-inch 45, 1981], because it sounded like what a really good, hard-ass rock band sounds like. I produced it properly: Let the engineer do his job and shut up!
Bob: The other best thing was when we'd start improvising, like in the middle of "The End" or "Waiting for the Man," where we'd go in different directions each night and we didn't know where we were going. We just kinda looked at each other and we started doing something that we didn't do last night.
Barry: We were hacking through a jungle, a lot of times.
The Nervebreakers' 1980 sessions have been released as "We Want Everything!" on Get Hip. Rave Up Records in Italy (http://web.tiscali.it/raveup/) has released a vinyl-only compilation, "Hijack the Radio," which compiles the cream of the band's single and EP tracks along with a live show from 1979.
Schooley Rouses the Rabble at the Sympathy Showcase
(click on the picture to visit the Hard Feelings website)
John Schooley: Hard Feelings, Hard Thoughts
I know no one more straight-razor
serious about proper rock noise than John Schooley, the driving force behind Austin's premiere garage outifit, the Hard Feelings. Straight outta the nothing of Niangua, Missouri, he helped craft the greatest band Columbia, Missouri's ever known, the Revelators, who musically mugged the Oblivians at the Down Under Bar at their first-ever gig and waxed We Told You Not to Cross Us (click for our review) for Crypt Records, a raging slab of venom topped only by Ike Turner and the Bottlerockets (barely) in the annals of state rawk history. After the Revelators unfortunately self-destructed, Schooley packed his six-string and headed to the Lone Star State, where his new band's Sympathy for the Record Industry release, Fought Back and Lost, chewed through Garage Nation like a pissed-off wolverine. The band's sophomore release is imminent.
Schooley pulls no punches. Nevertheless--or should we say, consequently--the Reverend decided to wade into an interview situation last month, armed only with an inquisitive mind and the desire to bring some excitement to the congregation.....
You've been at "the rock and roll thing" for a long time for somebody so
young. What first lit that fire in you, and how have you kept it lit?
Well, actually, I always thought I got a late start. I was always interested in music, but I didn't have much access to it. I grew up in an isolated, rural community (Niangua, MO, pop. 450, Sa-lute!) I had wanted to play guitar for awhile, but my folks didn't wanna drive me somewhere to take lessons (the next biggest town being 15-20 miles away) so I didn't start until I turned 16. I never got a chance to play with anybody else until I was in college, I just practiced in my bedroom. I always figured most people were in bands in high school, but there was really nobody to play with.
So the Revelators was the first band I was in. I had been playing long enough by then that I kinda knew what I was doing, and I had been doing it in isolation for so long I didn't have anybody who tainted my "vision", (ha ha). And actually, my One Man Band 7" on Goner was the first record I ever did, it came out awhile before the first Revelators single. So the die was cast, so to speak. I was doomed from the beginning!
It helped that the Revelators enjoyed some moderate success right off the bat, so that was encouraging. Since we did put out a record, and get to tour, I wasn't ready to quit when the other guys did. I was just getting warmed up.
What distinguishes the Hard Feelings, your current band, with the plethora
of other so-called garage rockers out there?
We mean it!
Ha! To elaborate a little, it seems like there are lots of bands out there right now that are jumping on the "rock" bandwagon. Some of these bands are loud, some of them are fast, some of them play hard. Some even play loud, hard and fast. This is enough to fool the average dumbass into thinking he is watching a rock n' roll band. And he is, but it's a BAD one. I think what separates us from these other wankers is
1. We actually have SONGS. Bands used to have these long ago, now they mostly have gimmicks or a formula or sumthin'. I think every song on the album is good, no filler.
2. Good guitar riffs. Repeating the same thing twice does not make it a RIFF. A riff is something that makes the song!
3. Some distinctive musicianship. I like to think I have my own guitar sound. Trey's one of the best drummers around. And when you hear the new album with Will's playing on it, you will be impressed. We aren't afraid to actually play our instruments.
and, finally (and perhaps most importantly)
4. We have ROOTS. Most bands sound like they never listened to anything past a few years ago, so you get a third or fourth generation interpretation (of something that usually sucked to begin with!). And most people don't know anything about music older than when they first started buying records, so both band and audience are in pretty shallow waters. We bypass the puddle of contemporary historical blindness to explore the lost rivers of American musical experience, from blues, country, and soul to unknown garage and punk rock. (We also like AC/DC).
You've always been pretty eloquent about what you do and what you like, so let me play devil's advocate for awhile. One theory about garage rock is that it's seeking after that "amateur epiphany" that you hear in so many '60s groups (like, say, the Monks or the Sonics or the Music Machine), but that, in being self-conscious about something that lacked self-consciousness to begin with, it's a doomed pursuit. What's your take?
Well, I'd hardly say the Monks lacked self-consciousness at all! They very much knew what they were doing and the sound they were creating. I feel the same way. I'd be pretty pissed if anybody described my guitar playin' as "amateurish". I think this kind of attitude is what you get from people who think, say, Eric Clapton is a great guitar player. Their assumption is that technical competence makes for acceptable music.
I don't know anyone in a so-called punk or garage rock outfit who is "holding back" so as to appear more amateur. It's not like I can play like Yngie Malmsteen at home and I'm dumbing it down on stage. It has to do with a whole different attitude towards music, that drive and passion take precedence over the technical aspects. Some may just have a hard time accepting that we mean for it to sound that way.
The Sonics, Monks, all those bands knew what they were doing, they didn't just stumble across their sound blindly. Their sound was a reaction against the bland pop of the day, a rejection of the status quo, or maybe it just made 'em fuckin' happy. I think people seem to have a hard time accepting that you can make music that is simple, direct, and brutal like that and still be a thoughtful, intelligent person. People either seem to assume that it must take an idiot to do it and are interested in a sort of freak show way, or that it takes some sort of genius and are all misty-eyed and reverent. It's really neither one. Incredible music can be made by normal people. Iggy, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Hazil Adkins, Cap'n Beefheart, all the "greats" attain a sort of hero status. But it's really a cop out 'cuz if you think that way, then there's no way YOU could do anything as worthwhile 'cuz you are either 1.) a mere mortal or 2.) simply not "crazy enough" to be able to do something like that. The reality is that Iggy, Jerry Lee, and you and me all put our pants on one leg at a time like everybody else. That's not to diminish what they've done, or to ignore the fact that they were some pretty forceful and fucked-up personalities. But in order to recognize that YOU have something to contribute, as well, you have to get past all that fan-boy baggage.
But I think what so-called modern "garage rock" has in common with it's 60's forebears is that the people makin' it, at least those that don't suck, are really doing it for their own amusement. I hope they all know enough to know they aren't gonna be rock stars and be rich! It's more like a modern folk music, moved from the front porch to the punk rock bar. It's the same concept of making music for yourself and yer friends, but you can get more people drunk and turn the amps up louder.
How 'bout the possibility that striving for the perfectly raw sound reduces
"raw" to a cliché?
Well, I can agree with that on some level. On the one hand, there can be alotta charm in recordings with less than perfect fidelity (Back From the Grave comps, etc.). One of the reasons we're into punk and blues and rootsy musics is that we want to avoid the artificial polish of mainstream pop. (Or even mainstream so-called "roots" music- Keb Mo may be blues to some folks, but it sounds like pop to me. Yech.) On the other hand, I hear some bands that maybe are shooting for that Back From the Grave ideal and instead they make something that just sounds shitty.
Cost can be a factor. I mean, why is it "authentic" if a band 30 years ago made a shitty sounding record, but one this week does it and it's clichéd? I'd love to go into a real expensive studio and take a week to record an album. I think we sound raw to begin with, you'd just get a much better recording of what we really sound like, our "rawness." But that's not an option money-wise for us, and for most bands in the "garage-rock/punk" world. I mean, every 7" I've ever done has been recorded for free, either in somebodys basement home studio or on a boom-box or something. So it's authentic, in that we were trying to get it to sound as good as we could with the shit we had available to us.
I like the Mummies, the Gories, Billy Childish, and these folks seem to make it work (and my One Man Band singles both really sound like shit). But generally I wanna hear everything that's going on. Alotta the time a "raw" sound can just be covering up a bands lack of ability! I think our album is raw, but you can still hear everything. It's the performance itself that's raw. So sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
What about the caveat that lots of the trademarks of garage (misogyny, stoopid lyrics) are indicative of modern guys pretending to know less than they actually do?
Once again, you may have a point, but I also disagree a little. I'm a fan of some of yer singer-songwriter types or some folks who are known for their lyrics (Dylan, Merle Haggard, Elvis Costello, Townes Vand Zandt, etc.), but I still like plenty of rawk with what some may deem "stoopid" words. The thing is, it ain't poetry, it's rock n' roll! "Louie Louie" is not supposed to read like fucking Leaves of Grass on the printed page!
Here's an exercise: take any great rock n' roll song and write down the lyrics (if you can understand 'em). Fer example, take "All Day and All Night," by the Kinks, which I don't think anybody can argue is a great song:
Girl, I want to be with you in the daytime
Girl, I want to be with you all of the time
The only time I feel allright is by your side
Girl I want to be with you
All day and all of the night
All day and all of the night
Notice the lack of resemblance to Emily Dickinson! The words are worthless if you take 'em off by themselves, they've gotta have the riff, the beat, the screamin' to go along with 'em. Not to say that some lyrics don't hold up without all that, but the point is they DON'T HAVE TO, and even that they AIN'T SUPPOSED TO. Most of yer so-called "poetic" rock lyrics, usually liked by English majors or folks who want to appear smarter or more sensitive because they listen to A, B, and C, are crap! We're talking about Jim Morrison and Morrissey, here!
Anyway, rock n' roll is supposed to be visceral, dynamic, of the moment, an experience. Lyrics are just a part of it. Hearing Iggy sing "Nineteen sixty-nine okay, all across the U.S.A." with the Stooges is not the same as seeing the words on the page. Not that rock can't be intellectual, but it can be over-intellectualized. I generally find it's yer so-called "rock critics" who need to have some "intelligent" lyrics so they have something to write about. And some indie-rock wankers need these to prove how smart they are to themselves and their friends.
And yeah, I like alotta songs with misogynist lyrics. If it works in the context of the song, it works, and some women will sing along with it and some will be offended. So be it. You gotta have a sense of humor about some of this shit, after all! Besides, hip-hop has pretty much taken the honor of being "most misogynist music" at this point. Most rap records make "Under My Thumb" or whatever might have been considered sexist at the time sound downright quaint.
Now, all that being said, I don't really think my lyrics are misogynist or stupid at all. There are a lot of bottom-feeder bands out there whose "lyrical themes" center around drugs, sex, and clichéd aspects of rock n' roll. Are these people genuinely as stoopid as they make themselves out to be? Well, maybe they are that stupid or maybe they are just playing to the audiences expectations.
I think it comes down to two things: image vs. music. Some people are into Johnny Thunders 'cuz he wrote good songs, some people are into him 'cuz he was a junkie fuckup who died, they're into this rock n' roll martyr image. I'm into music more than image, so I want a well-written song. The thing is, you can still write a good song about getting drunk, or being horny, or whatever tired "rock n' roll" kinda topic that comes to mind, 'cuz these things are still part of the human experience. It just takes some talent! (more following picture)
I know you're a harsh task-master, and probably even more so with yourself. When you're playing or recording, what does it take to produce something you yourself can live with?
Actually, I like things to be loose, I don't care if you can hear the mistakes as long as the feeling is there. I've never had a lot of time in the studio, it's always been a git-in-&-git-out-quick situation, so I usually have to settle for getting through the song without fucking up too bad. That makes a good take: not TOO MANY fuck-ups.
Live, I like it when bands are sloppy. I don't think The Hard Feelings are usually that sloppy, but we can be. I assure you, depending on the beer intake, the potential is there! I think the key is that you practice enough that you have shit down, and then you just cut loose and try to have fun with it live. I don't sweat the small stuff.
I know that, economically speaking, the music you make isn't a going concern. Being a veteran of two of the coolest garage rock labels (Crypt and Sympathy), were you able to turn much of a profit and, if not---if making a simple living doesn't keep you going, what does?
A profit? (Insert laughter here) I'm always surprised when some delusional folks think we make any money! I could've gotten the same return on my "investment" if I took all my money, pissed on it, and then doused it in kerosene and set it ablaze. I've never turned anywhere near a profit being in a band. You get some money here and there, but compared to all you spend in the long run you are way in the hole. Really, I try not to think about it that much!
Crypt made some pretense of giving you a royalty statement, but the Revelators never sold enough to actually get anything. With Sympathy, we never signed anything, it was strictly a handshake deal, and Long Gone John doesn't even bother with the pretense of giving you a royalty statement. If he reprints the record, he'll send us some more copies, and that's all we can expect to see from it in the future. I'd say on our record Long Gone covered the advance he gave us, and he may have actually made a profit on top of that. So somebody is making something, at least. And Long Gone is pretty generous with the money he gives you up front, unlike a lotta other labels, so I got no complaints.
With most small labels, and I'm talking about the ones small enough to be in our ballpark, all you get (if you are lucky) is enough dough to cover the recording expenses and maybe a pittance on top of that. And they put out your record and give you some copies. They print (maybe) a couple thousand copies of the record. So you aren't gonna see any royalties, 'cuz they may recoup the expenses (i.e.: the pittance mentioned above) but after that there won't be much left. You make some money selling yer records off the stage, usually enough to buy gas to get to the next town and get some tacos.
That's it. And that's with Crypt and Sympathy, the "big" labels. Most don't even give bands that much. Most small labels also go out of business on a pretty regular basis 'cuz nobody buys their releases!
So, it's pretty obvious that it AIN'T about the money. The way I look at it, most of the bands I love were never very popular and never made any money. I mean, some, like the Stones or CCR were big, but overall we're talking about bands that nobody cared about then, and nobody knows about now. I'm grateful that these folks bothered putting out records, because their music means a lot to me, even if I never got to meet them and tell them that. I guess I'm just doing it assuming there are people like me out there who will find it and dig it. So this will sound lame, but it's for the fans! I'm a rock n' roll fan, and I'm making music for people like me and my friends!
And, it's also a chance to do something creative that will maybe outlast you. A good rock n' roll album lasts forever. I was reading the liner notes to that recent Saints compilation on Raven and the writer was talking about seeing one of the Saints' first shows at a Communist party function. Think about that: The Berlin wall has fallen, Communism is dead in it's homeland, but people are still listening to the Saints! And ask Chris Bailey and Ed Kuepper if they ever made any dough. Or guys from a lotta my favorite bands. Ask John Felice. Or Jeff Connoly.
When the Revelators first started out, I asked Steve Mace if Untamed Youth ever made any dough and he just laughed, too! He pretty much said we were doomed, and I remember his words quite clearly: "You'll never make shit playing garage rock. It's all for the glory!"
Were you pleased with the reception of your first record, Fought Back and
Well, everybody who's heard it seems to like it, but of course I'd like it to reach a wider audience. I think we are hindered by our lack of a gimmick. No matching outfits, no fire breathing, no black chick lead singer, not Scandinavian. It's a problem for some, 'cuz there's nothing 'cept the music.
With no gimmick and a maybe a record that's a little subtle that you have to take time to get into, no reviewer is gonna care! That's why you should never trust record reviews - they get them for free, listen to 'em once, and they prob'ly have a big stack of 'em to go through. So of course what sticks out is the gimmicky shit. With us, there's nothing to write about, just three guys in jeans and t-shirts. There's no angle! We're a pretty straightforward rock n' roll band, so there's not "snob appeal". We do reference alotta things (country, soul, r&b, blues, rootsy shit etc. that indie-rock types avoid like the plague) but I think that the average rock critic or punk zine writer isn't familiar enough with that stuff to appreciate it. We are both too lowbrow and too highbrow at the same time!
But I say put "Fought Back and Lost" up against any so-called garage rock, punk rock, or indie-rock release to come out in the past couple years and it will totally slay and lay waste to it! It is a good record, I feel pretty confident. So even though we'll probably never be any more popular than we are right now, I'm satisfied.
What inspires your songwriting? Do you start with music first or lyrics?
A little of both. Usually, it's the guitar riff first, and then I'll come up with a melody line. Then I'll just sing with that melody and see what words fit. Sometimes it springs forth fully formed, sometimes we'll play a song live for quite awhile before I actually finish writing the lyrics. I'll have an idea, a topic, for the song and then just see what I can come up with. Most of the clubs we play have shitty PA's, so live you can't hear the vocals anyway. So that gives me a chance to play with things and see what works. Usually a "hook" will come to mind, and I just have to fill in the blanks.
Is there a song you've written in particular where you've really hit the
ball with the fat of the bat, so the speak?
On the Hard Feelings album I really like "We Need Another Vietnam". I got the idea from a Bart Simpson quote, and I think it's just hilarious. A very broad indictment of the youth of America, who deserve it. It seems to be a popular live number, it's our usual set closer. I never get tired of playing it.
I also liked "Roger Peterson's Blues" 'cuz it was an attempt at a "story song," at least in my mind. And it was written from the perspective of someone else, which made it an interesting exercise. I was reading a book about Buddy Holly and there was a bit about Roger P., who piloted the plane Holly, Valens, and the rest died on. I thought it was really interesting, and sad, that this guy was a footnote in history. He got called outta bed on a cold shitty day to go to work, died, and his death was totally overshadowed by the death of his passengers. And it added an extra tinge of tragedy that it was probably his fault, too.
Who are the guitarists who've most inspired you?
Link Wray is the main one. Before I heard him I was a bedroom wanker, practiced a lot of scales. I was mostly into classic rock. I was just getting into rockabilly, like Cliff Gallup and Scotty Moore, and somebody told me I should check out Link. I bought Missing Links Vol. 3 on Norton, on LP 'cuz that's the only way it was available and it was the only one I could find. I didn't even have a turntable. When I finally played it, I started it on side two and played "Growlin' Guts" 'cuz I liked the song title. Immediately I knew I'd never practice a scale again! It was really a revelation, it was so easy you could figure out how to play it as you heard it, but it was so ballsy and so much fun. It was how guitar was supposed to sound. It was more punk than punk. I was hooked.
My other big influence is probably Hound Dog Taylor. He's like the Link Wray of slide guitar! Quoth Hound Dog: "When I die, they'll say 'He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good!'" That says it all right there. And in keeping with that spirit, I've never sat down and tried to "learn" a Hound Dog song. I have all the records, but I can't do like a note-for-note "guitar in the style of Hound Dog Taylor" impersonation. I also learned a lot from R.L. Burnside when I toured with him, and that helped my slide playing immensely.
And though I play some leads, I really think of myself more as a rhythm player. I guess from my Revelator days when I had to fill up all the space. So Malcolm Young is a big one, 'cuz he is the best rhythm guitar player in the world. And R.L. plays great rhythm guitar, he can really lock into a simple groove that could just go on forever.
So those are the big ones, but I'm a (reformed) guitar nerd, and a record collector nerd, so I've listened to A LOT of guitar players. Bukka White is a big one as far as slide. Grady Martin's playing on Johnny Horton's early records kicks my ass. Travis Wammack. Johnny Ramone. Paul Burlison. Ike Turner. Danny Gatton. Billy Gibbons (the solo on "Just Got Paid" is what made me wanna play slide in the first place!). Angus Young. Ed Kuepper. Lots of players.
I know you've had some interesting touring experiences here and abroad, with both the Revelators and the Hard Feelings. What have been some of the highlights of your life on the road, and, as someone who has to work for a living...how do you do it?
Getting to tour Europe was the biggest thrill, it was also the first real tour the Revelators had ever done. Crypt paid our way. We were with the Oblivians, a band I really liked, and so we got to see Europe and see the Oblivians every night.
The sights and smells of Europe! I remember in Rome we played this hippie punk squat, and couldn't find a bathroom that didn't make us nauseous. We had to go out in this vacant lot/field to take a dump! Making shit like a bear in the middle of Rome. We played in front of probably 1000 people at that show. We got to see Paris, Germany, we went to about 10 countries in two months.
The tour really made me a lot more aware politically, after seeing Sweden and Holland and all the countries with more socialist economic systems. It was eye-opening to see how much better the average person lived there than in America. The quality of the floors we were sleeping on were much improved. Then we came back to the U.S.A. and did a miserable month and a half tour. That pretty much broke up the band.
I'd love to get to Europe with the Hard Feelings, but we'd have to buy our own tickets over there and then hope we made enough from the shows to make that back. We can't really afford to lay out that much cash with no guarantee right now.
The Hard Feelings have done some brief U.S. tours, we've hit the west coast a couple times. I know, having lived there, that I can avoid the mid-west and the Revelators toured the east coast and nobody cared, so the west coast looked like the best option. We've been decently received. We played the Vegas Shakedown, and we played to more people at that one show than at all the shows on our tours combined!
We haven't done any extended tours like the Revelators did, 'cuz that seems to be just a good way to drive yer band into the ground. It's a catch-22, 'cuz you can't reach more people if you don't tour, but if you tour too much your band breaks up or you get burned out. You can't make any money doing it unless that's all you do. Otherwise, you have to quit your job so you can lose money for a couple weeks.
I've tried to keep our tours short, so we can keep our jobs. We use our vacation days, ask for time off, fake family emergencies, etc. Touring for an unknown band these days is trench warfare. You can stick your head out to fight a little, then dive back in the trenches where it's safe. Or maybe guerrilla warfare is a better metaphor. If you launch some big campaign to take over North America you'll be defeated. You have to sneak around, do a little damage by skirmishing here and there, and then get back home to lay low. We are an underground band, and always will be, so guerrilla warfare is our only option.
I know you probably don't wanna talk about this, but what's the chances
we'll ever see the 2nd Revelators record?
Tim Warren claims it'll come out this year, probably September. I wrote some liner notes for it. There is even an ad for it in the new Gearhead. But he about went broke doing these new Pagans reissues, if those don't sell the Revelators album won't get released. So if you wanna see the 2nd Revelators LP, you better buy Shit Street and the Pink Album!
Your one-man band singles are the cat's ass (click to see our review of the latest one). I'm lucky to have 'em both--how can the curious but unlucky obtain 'em? Any more in the future?
The Goner one is out of print (and going for thousands on E-bay). The new one you can get from Goner's web site or from Ball Records directly (PO Box 152,Gardiner, ME 04345).
I've been messing around with the one man band shit a lot lately, since I moved out of an apartment and into a house. Now I can be as loud as I want. I've added a snare drum, and I play a little harmonica as well. I should have enough material for an LP pretty soon. That should annoy lotsa folks. I figure the one man band is the only way I'd ever be able to make any money touring, and it would probably be more popular 'cuz all the records (by necessity) would all sound the same! I'm pretty much reached the conclusion that too much variety just confuses people. They want every song to sound the same, or they don't know what to think. The one man band could be my cash cow!
You're a pretty voracious reader and record-collector. What've been some
books and records that've been keeping you alive recently?
Just finished Noodling For Flatheads by Burkhard Bilger. The concept sounds shakey (New York writer travels the south in search of "lost" southern traditions) but he's good and pulls it off. Great essays on cock fighting, squirrel brain eating, catching catfish with your bare hands, and a marble game called Rolley Hole. I'd recommend it.
I picked up a few AVI re-issues of various artists (Wynn Stewart, the Hightower Brothers) that I was missing. Anything that AVI re-issed is good, and they're all out of print, too. Sometimes you can find 'em as cutouts or markdowns. Whoever it was at MCA that deleted all these records (when MCA bought AVI) should be hunted down in the street.
Also recently picked up a cd comp of Moon Mullican called "Moon Over Mullican" that's his more rock n' roll songs. It's pretty incredible.
But mostly I've been listening to Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis, 'cuz I finally nabbed the out-of-print Charly box sets for both those artists. I like the Bo one better as far as sequence, 'cuz it's more or less chronological, whereas the Jerry Lee one is grouped into various categories by cd (all his country covers on one, all his r&b covers on another, etc.). But both of 'em are killer and it's such an overload of music to have all at once that it's hard to take it all in.
Your championing of unsung rock and roll bands have led me to some great listening experiences. Any bands you've played with or been exposed to you feel are worthy of better exposure?
Just saw Tyler Keith and the Preacher's kids. Their record is great and they killed live. It's Tyler from the Neckbones' new band. It sounds like the Neckbones, but without the Soul-Asylum sounding tunes. Tyler always wrote the most trashy songs, and was the craziest on-stage. And now it's all his show. They are brilliant, but I'm afraid nobody is gonna care because they are on an "americana" label (Black Dog) and I don't think the people who'd like it are gonna hear it. And the Neckbones never got any breaks, they never sold many records and I thought they were a great band. The Revelators played with them some, both bands were active around the same time, and I think more people know about the Revelators than the Neckbones. (That should give you some perspective: lesser known than the Revelators!) So "featuring ex-Neckbone Tyler Keith" isn't gonna be much of a selling point for most. But they rock.
The Deadly Snakes record was one of my favorites from the last couple years. Talk about records that sound like shit! But it works, and I saw 'em and they rocked mightily. I'd like to see 'em getting the kind of attention that the White Stripes are getting.
The Country Teasers just came through town again not too long ago, and I always enjoy seeing 'em. They're the other white guy band on Fat Possum that didn't sell diddley-squat, but I dig 'em.
Jon Wayne just played here, too, and it was one of the better live shows I've seen for awhile. Talk about a totally underground band. I've never seen anybody review them, never even seen 'em mentioned in print. But the place was packed, and everybody knew the songs, so word got out somehow. Very drunken show, very funny, lotsa fun.
I've heard mixed reviews about what it's like to be a musician living in
Austin. How's it for you?
Well, I for me it's great, especially compared to Missouri. People actually go out to see music here, there is a healthy scene as far as bands and clubs. Emo's has improved a lot in the past few years, the guy who does the booking there now really knows his shit. Also, a friend of mine who used to book the Bates Motel is opening his own club (Beerland!) and it should be a great place to play.
And there are quite a few good local bands around town and in nearby cities.When we tour, I always hope we'll play with some cool band I've never heard, but usually it's an endless parade of lame combos. I haven't seen any town that can sport as many cool rock n' roll bands as Austin. I hear Detroit has quite a few, but it's too fucking cold up there, so I haven't seen for myself. Texas has a fine roster: The Crack Pipes, Damn Times, Titz, Big Foot Chester, Deadites, Sons of Hercules, Gospel Swingers, Boozers, Teen Cool, Ignorance Park, lots of bands that can provide a good evenings entertainment are from around here. Also, there's Sweatbox, a great studio that's pretty cheap. Bands come from all over to record there. As far as making money, it stinks, but I never made any money in Missouri
and at least we can attract a crowd here.
My friend D.B. Harris is a honky-tonk country singer here, and it's harder for him 'cuz he has to pay his band every night (he uses some of the same players as Dale Watson). Austin also has a good honky-tonk scene but it's pretty competitive. The "professional musician" types might have a hard go here, but if you give up the idea of ever making any dough (like I have) you can have a good time.
Austin is changing, the tech boom hit it like it hit San Francisco and raised rents and the standard of living. I'm hoping the music scene will survive, but it has been tainted by lots of yuppie bullshit (if you ever hear the name Bob Schnieder, RUN!!!). Luckily we exist so far from the mainstream that we don't have to worry about Dell and Intel tech-yuppie types flooding our shows. The scene we're a part of has survived and I hope it will continue to do so.
What's the current activity on the Hard Feelings' radar screen?
We've got a new single coming out on Dropkick, the Onya's label out of Australia. It's got an original on the a-side and a Flamin' Groovies cover ("High Flyin' Baby") on the flip.
We'll record the new album this summer. Will is real anxious to get an LP out with his bass playing on it, 'cuz at this point he's been in the band longer than Andy was but it's still Andy's picture on the cover of the only record.
I want the new album to be shorter, probably only ten songs, 'cuz I think the first one suffered by being too long. All the songs were good, but people's attention span starts to wander after too many songs, so I think some of the tunes get overlooked. I'd also like to be able to spend a little more time on the production.
I can't really describe it in too much detail, 'cuz of course we haven't recorded it yet. But we've got lots of new songs, some in a familiar vein and some a little different. At least in that they have more chords or are shooting for a different mood or whatever. Not a radical departure, but I'd like to think we have a distinctive sound as a band and so anything we do is going to sound like The Hard Feelings. When the White Stripes were in town, I asked Jack White about his next record, 'cuz Long Gone had said it wouldn't have any slide guitar or blues songs on it. He said yeah, that was the case, 'cuz he didn't wanna repeat himself, didn't wanna make the same record twice, etc. I told him we were plowing the same tired ground with our next record! There's something to be said for originality, but there is something to be said for consistency as well.
How would you describe the Hard Feelings' mission in the rock and roll
The Hard Feelings are a real rock n' roll band. Our music is not for poseurs, squares, or lames. We will not dumb it down to make it more accessible, we will not fatten it up with pretensions to make it seem more intellectual. We play music which is rooted in country, blues, punk and other forms of American roots music, but we never try to outright copy or imitate those who came before us. We play rock n' roll for those who like rock n' roll. Our mission is to annoy as many folks who don't as possible!
What are your Top Ten Desert Island Discs (as of today)?
I dunno, I've listened to all of these so much I'd probably get sick of 'em if stranded with 'em, but here goes I guess if you're looking for an "all time favorites" kinda list...
Saints - Wild About You (Ha! This is really cheating 'cuz this collection
has their first three albums on it).
Link Wray - Mr. Guitar (Norton collection)
Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers - s/t
AC/DC - Live at Atlantic Studios
Bo Diddley - Any of the Chess albums
Jerry Lee Lewis - Live at the Star Club
Slim Harpo - Hip Shakin' (AVI collection)
Captain Beefheart - Safe as Milk
Heartbreakers - L.A.M.F.
Ahh, I hate this kinda shit! No room for the Oblivians (Popular Favorites) or Tennessee Ernie Ford (Ol' Rockin' Ern)! Or George Jones! Soloman Burke! Jerry McCain! My desert island would have to have a large record library.
The First Church Chats with Mr. Chrome
Gene O' Connor, otherwise known as Cheetah Chrome, has brooked no bullshit as a dyed-in-the-wool rawk and roller. The six-string fulcrum of two legendary bands--Rocket from the Tombs, who envisioned an attack where all was permissible and nothing forbidden, and the Dead Boys, who looked into the void, whirled, and, snickering, unloaded into it--Cheetah's survived the worst and continues to generate holy clatter. The Reverend Coomers was fortunate recently to volley a few questions into his court, particularly since a certain East Village rag had posted his obituary. Upon being resurrected, here's what he spiked back our way:
What first struck the spark of rock and roll in your soul?
Believe it or not,seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan was what made me want to play, I got a really shitty little guitar for Christmas after bugging my mom forever, and that was it. What inspired me to play lead was the guitar sound on "Born to Be Wild," which still really kicks ass, by the way.
Didja have any classic rock and roll rebel experiences in school?
Just the whole thing with the long hair,which used to be a VERY big deal, a bit (!!!!) of experimentation with drugs, sex, all the typical teenage shit.
How’d you come to get involved with the other guys in Rocket from the Tombs?
I had been playing with Johnny Blitz in cover bands for a few years, and we happened to see an ad in the paper for a guitarist and drummer into Stooges, Velvets, etc. We were into all that stuff, but Alice Cooper was our bread and butter. I hooked up with Peter at a little bar in the garment district in Cleveland, we talked and set up a jam. I think Crocus was a little put off by us, being an art fag,but Peter was quite impressed. RFTT had been thought of as a joke until then!
There’s so much tension in that band’s music between art and trash. How’d you manage to hold things together long enough to make the few recordings you did? Thomas sez you all could agree on the MC5/Stooges, but I don’t notice you quoted much. And did that really cause the band to break apart, y’know, like in a High Noon showdown between the brutes and the brains?
Talk about tension--Crocus (who by the way I DID like) had a great sense of humor, but could be very condescending,and really didn't have much patience for us young upstarts. He took himself quite seriously as an "artist," how else could he wind up playing that little metal bar with that little silver hammer in Pere Ubu? How fucking precious!!! The reason you never saw me quoted was because we were the kids, and Peter and Crocus were the "creative nucleus." The break up was not what I would call a showdown, ,just a long, drawn-out drag!
With over a quarter of a century of perspective, how do you feel about those recordings? If you take the best of the Dead Boys’ first two albums, combine it with the hot shit on Ubu’s first EP and album (all of ‘em ex-RFTT things), it seems to me you have one of the all-time in-your-face rock and roll albums.
I agree, but oh, well!
Any chance the RFTT stuff will see legit release?
I doubt it, none of us speak, and the master tapes, which are 25-year-old 2-tracks, are most likely dust by now. Plus, I don't do much business with art fags since Rockets. They really do get on my last nerve.
Laughner’s seen as either a genius or a crafty dilettante. What’s your take?
I really would have to say both, not avoiding a real answer,but he really was. Peter was very naive, looking back (I mean, he died when he was 23!!), and almost asidealistic as I was. He was a big fish in a small pond in Cleveland, and had the sycophants to prove it. Half of them later played in one version or another of PereUbu! He sure could play guitar, and to this day is one of my biggest influences.
What was more fun: being part of a visionary group of program-fuckers barely anybody got a chance to see, or being in a band of major-label bad boys maybe more infamous for their behavior than their music?
It felt really good to be rockin' again!! Rockets had no clue we were visionary program-fuckers at the time, and the DB's were much more of a band, mentality-wise and musicianship-wise.The major-label bad boys part was, of course, a complete blast!!!!
I guess I probably need to point out that at the time (1977), Sire was NOT a major label. They had few acts besides the Ramones,and their claim to fame up till then had been this Dutch band Focus,who had that song "hocus pocus" with the guy yodeling. I can only assume they fired their talent scout before '77! In '76, '77, Seymour Stein started buying up all the punk bands he could,looking for the next Ramones, (or rather, looking for tax write offs FOR the Ramones). We were "lucky" enough to be one of them.The asshole still does this,and wrecks a lot of what could be decent careers with his little development deal scam. Anyway,in the midst of our first tour,Sire became a subsidiary of Warner Bros.,who ARE a major label,so next thing we know we've got these doofus A&R guys at all of our shows, setting up in-store appearances, radio interviews, and shoving "toot" up our waiting noses. This also brought what's known as toursupport,so we got to stay in decent places and eat a few times a week, hell, sometimes we could even buy beer and cigarettes!!We never got to be "rich rock stars" per se, but we had plenty of press, the girls loved us, all the dealers wanted to hang with us, and we couldn't walk down the street in damn near any city without being recognised.We could also destroy hotel rooms,dressing rooms,rental cars, etc., and Sire or our manager would get us out of it or pay for it.Just the thing for 5 like minded juvenile delinquents like ourselves! Now, if we were to appear today? My guess is we'd die the death, overshadowed by morons with black contact lenses and lead singers that wear baseball caps that can't play their fucking guitars. Plus,I'm proud to say that not one Dead Boy could rap worth a shit, and wouldn't want to, so that's another strike against us. Nah, unfortunately instead of changing things to where the criteria record companies used to sign acts changed,the kids figured that anybody that could wear a safety pin in his nose had a right to a million dollar contract after two guitar lessons! From what I hear these days, we played too well, cared too much, and dressed too cool to ever make it in today's market.
You obviously had some wild experiences in those days, serving time at CBGBs, fighting Sid Vicious, having Belushi in your rhythm section due to Blitz’s being stabbed, bartending with Keith Richards, being trailed by the CIA, traveling (I assume) in the same orbit as Dee Dee, Thunders, Bangs, and of course Stiv. Please elaborate.
Well, back then it really was a pretty special time, there was still a little bit of 60's optimism in the air, no AIDS, there was a big feeling in the punk movement that you BELONGED to something that just might change things. Music didn't suck quite as much as it had in the previous few years,and there was a sense of community in NYC that was very inspiring. This, of course, was before it all degenerated into Hard Core, and kids sat around being"straight edge," laying up in abandoned buildings bitching how everything sucked, all the while NOT having sex,NOT learning how to play an instrument, NOT drinking or taking drugs, eating out of dumpsters and going to see other like-minded schmucks and slam into them--no wonder they thought it sucked!!!! I've got way too many stories about that time to even begin and try to type them all--I've got a gig in a week, and my fingers wouldn't be recovered by then! Suffice to say, it was great, I got to hang with a lot of my personal idols, plus made some new ones, and I'll cover it in detail when I write my life story.
The Dead Boys haven’t really gotten a fair shake from the rockwrite clan. What’s your take on rock criticism in general, and the band’s legacy?
They never liked us,never did. But to this day there is a continued interest in what the band did, and I'm proud to say a lot of kids picked up guitars because of me--I talk to a couple at almost every one of my shows! It's always been my opinion that you really aren't qualified to judge someone else's work unless you are capable of doing as well, or preferably better, yourself. In my experience very few critics can meet that criteria, so...FUCK 'EM!
Any comments on GNR’s cover of “Ain’t It Fun”? Didja see any $$ from their recording, or meet ‘em?
The Gunners? Their version of "Ain't It Fun" was very faithful to the original, nothing
earthshaking, but real good. I did get to hang with Slash and Duff a bit, great guys, and was only subjected to Axl Rose twice (thank God). I did get paid handsomely, they are very honest gentlemen (unlike Pearl Jam) and I am very grateful tothem.
As a survivor of heavy substance abuse, how do you look back on it? No regrets? Ray Charles has always said he’s never regretted being a junkie; Lou Reed (though he’s a little stuffy), Steve Earle (though he’s taking himself too seriously again) and George Jones (very intermittently) have done great post-addiction work; guys like Stinson and Thunders ran into the wall. I’m also interested to know if you think, had Thunders been able to clean up, he coulda written more songs instead just doing the same ol’ same ol’ over and over again, great as it was. Is substance-induced flight from self necessary to great rock and roll?
Drugs? If anything, they might be necessary to themusician, but they aren't to R&R, not one bit!
Lots of folks may have lost touch with your post-Dead Boys career. What were the highlights? And what are you up to now?
I would have to say the coolest things I've done since the DB's would have to be working with Jeff Dahl, which is always very professional and a lot of fun (especially "I Kill Me"), and the Ghetto Dogs (both line ups).The Sonny Vincent cd with Capt. Sensible and Scotty Ashton was alright, but in my opinion could have been a lot better,considering the personnel. I did do a complete album's worth of material in 1996 with Genya Ravan (YL&Snotty producer) for my first solo cd, but due to some legal disagreement with the record company that hasn't seen the light of day yet. We'll see what happens with that. Right now I'm rehearsing my band to tour behind the new CD here in N'ville. The new line up is:
Cheetah Chrome guitar,vocal
Pat Albert guitar
Andy Zachary bass
Matt Bach drums
We're doing stuff from the new CD, some DB's, some RFTT, some new stuff nobody's heard yet!
What are the biggest challenges when "the guitarist" goes solo?
You mean besides having to learn to sing and play at the same time? Finding a recognisable band name without the word "featuring " in it, for one. Not working with chick singers is another, for some reason that always seems to happen. Not bitching about yer old bandmates, there's another one! There's plenty of challenges out there for erstwhile guitarists, you bet!
How are you liking Nashville? Do you ever miss Cleveland?
Nashville is really cool, everybody and their brother is in the music business,there's still an economy that "W" hasn't fucked up,and the scenery is great! There is a pretty strong little rock and roll scene here, lots of indie bands, and you can get a three bedroom house w/an acre of land for what you pay for a broom closet in NYC.
I never even think of Cleveland. It might be cool now, but it wasn't when I grew up there,and I've pretty much always hated it. But I hear it's improved a lot the past 10 or so years.
Most career rockers are pretty disgusted with the state of American music today. Is it really that much different from when RFTT was in its prime?
What do I think of music today? It's mostly shit! It does remind me of the days before Rockets and the DBs, or the early 80's, when there was nothing but hardcore and heavy metal. I guess somebody needs to rebel against all this new "punk" like Blink182. Limp Bizkit just need to be shot.I like the Backstreet boysbetter. Hopefully R&R can recover from this dry spell, but with that fucking little pipsqueak in the White House I doubt it will get the chance. It's all about $$$ now more than ever, anything of any real value will never get the distribution it needs to make a difference.
What have you been listening to lately?
A lot of old stuff I listened to before I was in the DB's, like Alex Harvey, Stooges, MC5, Cockney Rebel, Stones, Beatles, Dylan, Zep. I do love Clawhammer alot, and the Foo Fighters aren't bad. I was sad to see old Kurt Cobain die--they were probably the only real hope punk had, but the only influence I've really seen was Bush, who kinda suck! The newest CD I bought was the new Mark Knopfler solo, but I don't play it that much.Here and there you might hear something good,but few and far between. The Cult are playing here [in Nashville] Sunday--finally something to look forward to!!