What's that on your head?
I believe it was Roy Blount Jr. who, while meditating upon the cowboy hat--that most essentially American thing to place atop your head (with the possible exception of a lampshade)--said that while having actually grown up working on ranches and riding horses enabled him to wear such a device (the hat, that is) honestly, he was still reluctant to do so, because he didn't ever want to find himself in the position of having to back up a hat.
The effect--and obligation--is magnified onstage. Almost every band that passes through Texas has at some point had a member who's felt obligated to buy a cheesy truckstop chapeau, from INXS' Michael Hutchence on down (the tendency seems most pronounced in foreign bands), and most of them simply cannot pull it off. Now that alt-country insurgent neo-New-Traditionalist hardcore honky-tonk blahblah is all the rage, even native-born American musicians--who should know better--are falling victim to this unfortunate weakness.
The Backsliders--from Raleigh, North Carolina--are in no such peril. For one thing, judging by the photos on their full-length debut, Throwing Rocks at the Moon (produced by Pete Anderson, Dwight Yoakam's right-hand man and tonemaster), they don't wear hats, opting for the bikers-who-broke-into-Porter-Wagoner's-house-and-stole-his-clothes look. What they do instead is use their three-guitar lineup to play sharp, rock-inflected country that's a variation on the guitar-driven Bakersfield sound of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, but with an edge that's more aware of modern improvements, like stacks of Marshall amps and hot pickups.
The V-Roys (pictured) are another band that avoids manly headgear altogether, advancing BR5-49's traveling salesman look into the rat pack era. The band is from Knoxville, Tennessee and along the same lines as the Backsliders, country perhaps in their ragged-but-right attitudes, but no strangers to the ways of the big city. Their debut, Just Add Ice, was produced by renegade country-rocker Steve Earle and Nashville knobmeister Ray Kennedy; Earle was so impressed with the V-Roys that he chose the album to kick off his own E-Squared label. The V-Roys have gained quite a local rep from their previous Dallas shows, which roughen up the edges of Ice's rocking sound even more.
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Donny Ray Ford--a guy who can back up a cowboy hat--heads up the hometown team and opens the evening. Like the V-Roys and the Backsliders, Ford knows that you're really not at the beach until you get some sand on your wiener (hot dog, I mean), that a little grit can do a world of good. With his long, droopy moustache and fondness for Western accoutrements, Ford looks like a bandleader as cast by Frederic Remington and delivers honky-tonk stomp of an even purer vintage than the Backsliders or V-Roys, recognizing that George "Thumper" Jones was a punk long before Sid Vicious drew his first breath.
And that ain't no hat trick.
Donny Ray Ford, the V-Roys, and the Backsliders play Friday, July 25, at a benefit concert for KNON (89.3 FM) at the Sons of Hermann Hall. Because of the number of acts on the bill, the music will start at 8 p.m.