Monday, May 3, 2010

Cow Punk Rethunk

Jason and the Scorchers--"Help There's A Fire" (mp3)
Jason and the Scorchers--"Broken Whiskey Glass" (mp3)
Jason and the Scorchers--"Last Time Around (live)" (mp3)
Jason and the Scorchers--"Ezekiel's Wheels/Golden Ball and Chain (live)" (mp3)

For the briefest of shining moments, during the late 80's and early 90's, the cowpunk movement was the hottest thing going. At my house. When I thought about it. And not that many other places. And by cowpunk, I mean Jason and the Scorchers. Just like by regaae, I mean Bob Marley, plus a couple of Jimmy Cliff songs and one by Peter Tosh. Period.

Now, I wait for Goofy, or some other rock archivist who either reads this blog from time to time or now for the first time because he has Googled "cowpunk" and sees the gibberish I've written about it, to set the record straight. To illuminate me about all of the other cowpunk bands that were on the scene when Jason and the Nashville Scorchers were in their heyday. Too late, dude, I didn't know about them then and I ain't too interested now.

But, for that brief, shining moment, there was Jason, and Warner, and Perry, and whoever else was in the band. Jason and the Scorchers. One of the greatest live bands I've ever seen. One of the greatest rockin' CD bands I've ever listened to. The only band (slightly) responsible for me taking someone else's car up over 100 miles per hour after way too many beers and into Georgia in search of some Cracker Barrel knock-off that I had it in my head that we could get something to eat at after midnight. Which proved to be false. But anyway.

What other band could rock the shit out of Hank Williams' "Lost Highway," Phil Och's "My Kingdom For A Car," the Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown," and Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie," and still have those covers pale against their original material?

Allow me to offer a clarifying definition. If you check in on this blog on a semi-regular basis, you know that I like the clarifying definition as well as any man. So, I'm here to tell you that there ain't too much punk about cowpunk. Jason Ringenberg is way too literate a songwriter, Warner Hodges is way too skilled a guitarist for any band they anchored to be considered the kind of raw, skill-less thrashing that the word "punk" conjures up. Probably "outlaw-heavy-metal-pre-alt-country" would be a more accurate label for the Scorchers' music, but ain't that a mouthful?

Consider a sampling of their classic lyrics from "Broken Whiskey Glass":

You crossed a valley that was steeped in blood,
My virgin pain was simply not enough
To satisfy the one thing in life that you still require.

A dress of lace and a pint of gin,
A little heaven in a needle full of sin
Do the sights you remember
Scare you less than the sights you left unseen?

That ain't punk, folks. That's romanticism juxtaposed with jaded experience. That's Hank Williams for the modern era. The Scorchers may capture a kind of self-destructive lifestyle in more than one song, but their songs are about damaged women, the men they damage, and lost love.

Anyway, no matter. The Scorchers offered, for me at least, that classic rock line-up: vocalist who occasionally adds an instrument (acoustic or harmonica), killer lead guitarisit, ambitious bass player and rock-solid drummer, the kind of band that onstage appears to be spiraling out of control, but never does. That's the Who, Zeppelin, and in a countrified, American way, the Scorchers.

I look back now and study the up-and-down career of Jason and the Scorchers, the old "too country" for rock stations and "too rock" for country stations Catch-22, and I jam those CDs into the player, and I think, man, if only something like this had caught on instead of the plodding depression of Seattle grunge. Maybe the world would be a better place.

I mean, I know what the Scorchers were doing back then eventually morphed into alt-country, with everyone from Uncle Tupelo to Drive-By Truckers carrying the torch, but, hey, nobody then or now did it with the sheer rock exuberance that Jason and his cohorts did it, nobody had a rock shredder like Warner Hodges anchoring the single guitar slot, nobody had a vocalist like Jason working that mic stand and owning the crowd like a rural, Southern Mick Jagger who had a thought above the waist.

The good news is that the Scorchers, or at least Jason and Warner, are back--new album, new tour. Don't know too much about either one, but even if the current line-up is only rocking at 50% wattage, they'll still be blowing away most everything that's out there now in the rockless new decade. Can you repeat the past?

The Essential Jason and the Scorchers and Midnight Roads and Stages Seen are both still available. The new CD is available at the Scorchers' website.


goofytakemyhand said...

I'm not sure if this is aimed to bring Goofy back out from lurking, but I am honored to be considered a rock archivist by Bob's standards.

Now if Goofy could get a guest blog entry with the abstract of his Information Sciences & Technology term paper about Cyberpunk and Warren Zevon's Transverse City...

troutking said...

Bobby D says in Summer Days:

She’s looking into my eyes, she’s holding my hand
She’s looking into my eyes, she’s holding my hand
She says, “You can’t repeat the past.” I say, “You can’t? What do you mean,
you can’t? Of course you can.”

Ever listen to that Scruffy the Cat I gave you? It's right up this alley.

When's the show?

jed said...

Bob, i'll always remember you and Steve George at the Rock & Country Club seeing JATS in their prime. not to mention Riverbend JATS's acoustic show in the thunderstorm. saw them several other times too. they always played like it was their last show. Warner played with Dan Baird and Homemade Sin at Nightfall last year. of course, it rocked.
thanks for the great post!

Martin McCallion said...

Well, speaking as a random googler-in, I have to say that you do punk a disservice by dismissing its literacy and musicianship. Haven't you ever listened to The Clash?

That said, your assessment of the Scorchers is spot on. And I can assure you that they're rocking at 150% these days, and the new album is so good that, when my friends and I saw them in London a week or two ago, we were shouting out for tracks off the new one, almost in preference to the old.

Bob said...

Martin, love the Clash. Touche.