A fistful of tunes

The Big Gundown squints into the sun, throws its serape over its shoulder, and makes its play

Do you hear a lone trumpet blowing Deguello as you walk from the parking lot to work each morning? Do you still mourn Lee Van Cleef's descent back into television or wish you could peer icily out from under your flat-brimmed cowboy hat at your boss, slowly remove your cigar--a ropy cheroot as black as dried blood--and hiss "I don't think so" instead of "brilliant idea, I'll get right on it"? Does your significant other marvel--not altogether positively--at your ability to watch Once Upon a Time in the West over and over (and over) again?

Mike Haskins knows just how you feel. He's had the selfsame mixture of bad-ass cartoon heroism, nihilistic (potential) violence, and lush imagery running through his mind ever since he saw his first spaghetti western in the early '70s. Haskins was especially taken with the soundtracks to such Italian oaters as For a Few Dollars More and My Name is Nobody--perfervid, over-the-top scores that seemed to say that extremism in pursuit of vibe is never a crime. In 1974, when he and a bunch of school chums formed the early Dallas punk band the Nervebreakers, he found out that songs like the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly were as much fun to play as they were to listen to.

After the Nervebreakers, Haskins helped chart the beginnings of the local alt-country scene. Playing first with Tex Edwards, then with the Saddletramps in the early '80s, he relocated to North Carolina for a few years (it was he who hooked up North Carolina band the Backsliders with Donny Ray Ford and Ford's "Cowboy Boots"). While in North Carolina, he started his first version of the Big Gundown, called the Leopard Society. "Eventually, it dawned on me that perhaps the band's name should be closer to the kind of music we play," Haskins explains.

Returning to Dallas in the early '90s, he got a job as a factory rep for a couple of guitar companies and now sells acoustic and electric guitars. He changed the band's name around 1994, choosing the title of the 1967 movie directed by Sergio Sollima and scored by the ubiquitous Ennio Morricone.

"I just love the brooding, romantic, operatic minor-key music that those movies have," Haskins says. "The main appeal is the female vocals, which are very Italian, but the guitar sound--lots of twang, lots of reverb--fits in well with what I like, too--that whole Ventures-Bakersfield-Duane Eddy thing."

Together with his wife, Patti, who supplies the robust vocals, Jonny Jackson (bass), and Danny McCreary (guitars), the band gigged about town sporadically--"We're amazingly slack about getting bookings," Haskins admits a bit sheepishly--and quickly gained a reputation in spite of their fitful schedule.

The six-song, self-titled EP came out at the end of last year on Living Records and featured original drummer Kirk Lee, since replaced by Will Sahs, formerly of Adam's Farm. The song selection is a pretty good example of a Gundown live show--originals like "To the Last Drop of Blood" and "Any Gun Can Play" (did somebody say "dramatic"?), Italian movie numbers like "Uno Dopo L'altro" ("Maybe One, Maybe Nine," the number of people our steely-eyed protagonist will kill--did someone mention nihilistic violence?) and an appropriately lush cover of "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." Miss Patti sings with power and emotion enough to haunt the thoughts of the most dedicated lone rider, while Haskins' guitar gets a sound that's a thick slab of unabashedly dramatic, room-filling sound. He's honored his inspiration with a tone that can't help but sound cinematic, slathered in reverberating guitar twang that echoes forever, as if a guitar 40 feet long were being played at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Live, he applies the same philosophy to songs that cry out for that big sound, numbers like Link Wray's "Rumble," Duane Eddy's "Ramrod," and others.

"We're about half guitar instrumentals," Haskins--who is already working on a follow-up album--explains, "and half torchy female songs, over-the-top numbers like 'Where the Boys Are.'" Although such homages are quickly becoming trite--more and more bands cover the Pulp Fiction idiom with a passion and finesse that Street Beat recognizes from versions of "China Grove" and "Locomotive Breath" heard at long-dead junior and senior proms--the Big Gundown's palpable affection for their work and skill at executing it keeps them fresh and exciting. In these digital days of MIDI interfaces and pedalboards, Mike Haskins and the Big Gundown provide a welcome reminder of what an electric guitar can be about.

The Big Gundown's debut EP is available for $8 plus$1.33 postage from Living Records at 6212 Samuell Blvd. No. 513, Dallas, 75228.

...and the corner you rode in on
Everybody remembers those giddy days between pubescence and responsibility, when circles of friends were large and the questions weren't whether or not to waste time but how. One of the joys of that period was the evolution of a coded language--a sensibility, even--unique to the group, capable of carrying meaning yet utterly incomprehensible to outsiders. "Gyre the Innibinni!" you would say to the sales clerk, cracking up the people you were with and drawing blank stares from everybody else.

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