By Jeremy Hallock
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On the eve of a highly anticipated art opening, with his face on the cover of the Austin Chronicle and his name on the lips of every punk rocker in town, Randy "Biscuit" Turner, the former lead singer of Austin funk-punk pioneers Big Boys, was found dead at the age of 49.
The news was as shocking as it was untimely. Biscuit was supposed to hang the work for his art show, named "Mental Volcano," at South Austin's Peduzo Chunk last Monday and Tuesday afternoon. When he didn't show up either day, concern amongst his friends grew quickly. "Randy was really on top of the world lately," PC co-owner Dannie Ramirez says, staring at an improvised collage of Biscuit photos taped to the walls where his artwork was to have shown this past weekend. "I had never seen him so focused or motivated."
Two days later, after Chronicle author Marc Savlov got no answer from knocking on Biscuit's door, police found his body inside the house, a victim of fatal complications from hepatitis C.
Savlov's retrospective had become an unintentional obituary, and what was to have been a proper art opening on Friday night became a wake, with a reported 800 people gathering to remember Biscuit's immeasurable contribution to Austin's early-'80s punk scene. "I think [the huge crowd] really says a lot about the impact the Big Boys had," Ramirez says. "One minute they could be singing about political stuff, the next they were all about fun, fun, fun. That made it okay to have a soft side or be funky. And that made them appealing to anyone who ever saw them."
Longtime Dallasite Mark Ridlen (Scaraoke's DJ Mr. Rid) agrees, fondly remembering the band's '80s concerts at local venues like the Twilite Room. "It was just wall-to-wall people everywhere. At the time, the Big Boys were managing to break through to the same national audience who were embracing Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Black Flag. There was something about Biscuit that made them very approachable. There wasn't an implied negativity in their subject matter. And they were the first punk band that I can remember who used elements of funk music. Obviously, their influence is still seen today in bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers."
At Biscuit's South Austin home, his closest friends gathered in the backyard to take down police tape, and they gave me an informal tour of spots like his sculpture garden, which they hope can become a public museum dedicated to his work some day.
Phyllis Evetts showed me the backyard shower where Biscuit would bathe at night. "He really loved to come out here and just be naked in front of the whole world," Evetts says. "Everybody around here knew Randy was a little different, but we all knew it was just part of his artistic gift. He was our clown, our savior."
Biscuit's connection to the Dallas punk rock scene started out roughly. "[The Big Boys'] first show here was at some old VFW hall out in the middle of nowhere, and the police shut it down after two songs," says former Twilite Room booking agent Hank Tolliver.
The Big Boys were quickly turned off by this and other bad shows, but luckily, Tolliver wasn't too proud to beg. "After a few months of having people ask me every five minutes when the Big Boys were coming, I called [Biscuit] and said, 'If you just give me the chance, I'll show you we can do this right.' Sure enough, they sold the place out pretty much every time they played after that."
Whether crafting costumes out of "found" materials or inviting fans onstage during raucous concerts, Biscuit created a lasting onstage persona that was both captivating and clever, constantly blurring the notion of what a punk performer should be.
"On the day of that first Twilite Room gig, he and his father came up early that afternoon," Tolliver says. "Biscuit had driven through his hometown of Gladewater and picked his Dad up on the way so he could he see his show, and we sat out in the parking lot that afternoon and ate watermelon on the tailgate of his pickup truck. He was just the coolest, most normal punk rock guy you could ever hope to meet. Everybody loved him."
Austin's subversive art crowd isn't quite ready to let Biscuit go. Ramirez ventures that "Randy is on a psychedelic cloud somewhere, watching down on us all." Other folks assure each other at the service that Biscuit's art will reach a larger audience now that he's gone. As I gather my things to head back to Dallas, I stop for one last goodbye with Evetts underneath the backyard shower. At that moment, a spider spinning a new web drops down the gutter and stops between us at eye level, then spins around in a circle and hangs there in delicate repose.
Without missing a beat, Evetts smiles and says, "See? It's Biscuit. He's still here. He'll always be here."