Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Hickoids - 4/11/2008 - 3rd Annual Ram Jam - Sam's Burger Joint - San Antonio, TX

Every year since the tragic murders of Ram Ayala and Gypsy Doug Morgan (and the serious wounding of Denise Koger) at Ram’s legendary club Taco Land, promoter “Jukejoint” Jerry Clayworth and Hickoids frontman Jeff Smith have joined forces to continue to celebrate Ram’s birthday for the last three years. Jeff and Jerry do a remarkable job of billing bands that played the storied venue or, as is the case with my band, consist of several members who were in previous bands that played there. They recruit from little known bands, again like my own, to San Antonio legends such as The Sons of Hercules, a reunited Big Drag, and The Hickoids themselves.

If memory serves, and it does less so with every passing day, I first saw The Hickoids perform in 1987 at a Houston dive called The Axiom – one of two venues booking punk bands at that time. Having been raised on Elvis and outlaw country, rebelling into punk rock, and developing a powerful appreciation for the anarchic mayhem of The Butthole Surfers it was a fortuitous night from me. Finding out there was a band that incorporated all four blew my mind, and made such an indelible mark on me that The Hickoids remain one of my favorite bands to this day. I’ve been witness to breakups, acrimonious firings, amicable partings, and tragic losses amongst the members over the last 20+ years, and seen live Hickoids experiences ranging from the transcendent to the incomprehensible and had a blast every single God damn time. I even managed to make a Hole in the Wall gig mere days after being released from the hospital after a major surgery.

The current line-up of The Hickoids includes original members, the heart and soul of the band, Jeff Smith and Davy Jones, bass player Paul Harpel (who played bass for original Hickoids bassist Richard Hays’ final band The Country Giants before his untimely death), Scott Lutz of Snowbyrd on rhythm and pedal steel guitar, and an amazing drummer whose name I didn’t catch. There are as many opinions as there have been line-ups out there as to which one was the best (including my own), but that doesn’t change the fact that the current one is certainly up there in my book.

The band kicked things off with their by turns reverent/irreverent rendition of Doug Sahm’s “Texas Ranger Man” (similar in spirit to their pals The Loco Gringos interpretation) followed by their unarguable anthem “Brand New Way”. They seemed a little slow out of the gate for the first few minutes, but by the time they hit “Hee Haw” followed by “Green Acres” they were in perfect form. The addition of Scott Lutz’s distorted, deranged pedal steel playing adds considerably to their live sound and Paul Harpel’s bass meshes with the new drummer impeccably for a rock solid engine.

Then, you have frontman Jeff Smith’s stripper on acid stage routine, involving him stubbing out cigarettes in his crotch and wiggling his ass at the audience before slapping himself upright, punctuated by him strutting back and forth across the stage like a drunken tiger in some demented zoo. Davy Jones, in his 1970’s red and black plaid leisure suit, a cowboy hat that looks like it’s going to fall apart any second, and Chuck Taylors rips lead after paint peeling lead out his screeching guitar and traditional Marshall combo amp – a piece of equipment that has had more experiences than most human beings.

Smith quipped at one point “Y’all are here to listen to some good old country music. Let us know if you hear any.” You had the inspired “Turn me on, dead man!” followed immediately by the Hickoid takes on “Burning Love” and “Corn Foo Fighting” [sic], all this amongst most of their strongest songs, and even a new one – something to do with “whose gonna wear those hot pants” – a song that “only took 19 years to write”.

Some veteran fans of this band have been heard to argue that, since the band’s reformation a couple of years ago, their shows lack the spontaneity and combustibility (sometimes literally in the old days) of the shows of days gone by. While there may be some small merit in this opinion, in mine what The Hickoids might have lost a tiny bit of in that department they’ve more than made up for in dependability. You know they’ll show up, the show is going to be almost, if not quite, as anarchic as in the old days, and they’re going to rock the shit out of whatever venue happens to be hosting them.

That was certainly the case on the opening night of Ram Jam III.

Watch the listings for the next time The Hickoids are playing your town (sadly, this is unlikely to happen outside of Texas) and, especially if you’ve never had the pleasure, get your ass down to the show. It’s arguable if they invented the term “cowpunk”, but they sure as shit defined it.

Ram, I hope you’re making Jesus kiss that baby.


leigh said...

i <3 corn foo fighting.

Anonymous said...

That drummer is none other than Jonie Hell!!! He is the most amazing drummer in our fine nation!!!