Beating meat

It was early in January of 1995, and way too early in the morning, when Tenderloin lead singer Ernie Locke received the call. His head groggy with sleep and the irritation that someone would ring him up at 4 a.m., Locke answered the phone to discover a very drunk Patrick "Taz" Bentley on the other end of the receiver. Bentley had phoned to tell Locke he had just quit as Reverend Horton Heat's drummer, a gig he had held for five years, and he now desperately wanted to play in Tenderloin. Slurring his words slightly, Bentley rambled on for a few minutes, excited and inebriated. Locke listened patiently, then told Bentley to call back the next day--this time, sober--and they'd discuss it.

So a few hours later, Bentley called Locke again--this time, sober--and said he had heard the Lawrence, Kansas, band was looking for a drummer and was offering his services. At the very least, Bentley said, he could join the band for a tour and see how things went. That was 10 months, about 200 shows, and one recorded and released album ago.

This is the story, more or less, of how Bentley went from playing with one of Dallas' best-known musical exports to hooking up with a Kansas-based band that had often opened for the Rev and sounded less like Gene Vincent on gin and tonics and more like Tom Waits on ZZ Top. When Bentley quietly and quickly resigned from Reverend Horton Heat at the beginning of the year--surprising most everyone associated with the band, not to mention even the most casual observer--he did so with the intention to stay far, far away from anything to do with music for at least six months. He had grown "sick," as he says now, of "music and drumming and touring and everything" and didn't even want to step behind a drum kit for a long time.

"I couldn't take it anymore," Bentley says. "But then, honest to goodness, a week later I had to get into it again. I was getting fidgety. I was at the Orbit Room just hanging out and I heard a couple of songs from Tenderloin's last album [1994's Let it Leak] on the jukebox, and I thought, 'Man, why don't I just call Ernie and see if I can do a tour and record their new album with them?' After that I could do the Reverend again--at that time, we were still talking about my coming back--but we were just having such a good time in Tenderloin."

It's the oldest musicians' joke in the world, but one that will forever hold true: "What's the last thing the drummer said to his band? Hey, guys, can we try one of my songs?" To hear Bentley tell it now, a couple of weeks after Tenderloin released its gargantuan-sounding Bullseye, he did not quit the Rev because of personality conflicts with Jim "Reverend Horton Heat" Heath or bassist Jimbo Wallace; in fact, Bentley and Locke--as well as Tenderloin guitarist Kirk Moffitt, the former Atomic Rodeo singer-guitarist who resigned as the Rev's guitar tech last October to join Tenderloin--all stress they are still close with Heath. "They're friends and family to us," Locke says, and Bentley emphatically agrees.

Rather, Bentley says he left the Rev not merely because he was tired of the long tours (with White Zombie and Soundgarden, among so many other trips back and forth across the interstates), but because he was just a musician, there to play the songs as Heath wrote and arranged them. And Bentley became frustrated with his limited roll, so much so he considered giving up the drums altogether.

"When I decided to leave Reverend Horton Heat," Bentley says, "it just pretty much came to a head, and was either now or never. I just figured that was it, it was time to do it. It was at the beginning of the year and at the end of a good tour and damned near five years to the day since I joined the band, and I just found myself feeling more and more stagnant. I never had time to sit behind my kit and come up with riffs or practice."

In Tenderloin, Bentley found a band in which he could contribute not just the pounding percussion but a real sense of musicianship; Locke excitedly and repeatedly mentions how Taz arranged several of the songs on Bullseye and contributed all the music for at least one track ("Dip Your Body in Ink").

"He's done more than just drum for the band," Locke says. "I just don't think he had that freedom in the Rev. Jim had him and Jimbo on the payroll, and I think that's why Taz had to leave."

"I spend a lot of time being real nervous," Bentley says, "because for the first time in years I have a lot to do with the writing process--all of us do. In Horton I was so confident of Jim's writing I didn't have to do anything, and I didn't have to worry about the songs because I knew they'd be there, so this is a little scary. But Kirk and Ernie and [bassist] John [Cutler] and I work well together, and I'm really happy."

The result is a lean and mean album, this dense piece of work that sounds like the world's toughest bar band playing covered in mud; it's thick, ugly, frenzied, dark, sandwiched by a song called "Hearty Beef Party" and a dead-on cover of ZZ Top's "Heard it on the X." If it bears any resemblance to the Rev's sonic boom, it can be found in Moffitt's frantic guitar and Bentley's high-speed percussion; but it's less a continuation of the Reverend Horton Heat sound than an evolution toward something different, darker, deeper.

In addition to writing the bulk of the songs for Bullseye and co-producing the disc with Locke, Bentley's also taken a hand in the band's business dealings. Through his old connections with Sub Pop Records, which released the first two Reverend Horton Heat albums, he struck a deal through which the label released a Tenderloin seven-inch single ("Supernatural Bologna"); Tenderloin will also tour this fall with Sub Pop's Supersuckers, with both bands coming through town October 30 at the Orbit Room.

And Locke says Bentley also landed Tenderloin a spot on the forthcoming Willie Nelson tribute album (Twisted Willie) due shortly from the Houston-based Justice Records--which will feature contributions from L7, Soundgarden, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, and (you guessed it) Reverend Horton Heat.

For someone who was going to stay out of the music business for a while, Bentley has been quite busy: Aside from Tenderloin, in August he was invited by Izzy Stradlin to drum on the former Guns N' Roses' guitarist's upcoming album, and he has also cut some tracks with Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron for a potential future project.

It seems at once ironic and appropriate that Bentley and Moffitt should join a band once closely linked with Reverend Horton Heat. Tenderloin opened so often for the Rev that both bands became good friends and drinking partners; Locke, in fact, is to blame for sending Jim Heath home early during a Rev set one night at Club Dada early in 1994, giving Heath several bourbons too many.

But those days are over for now: Locke and Bentley don't foresee opening for the Rev any time soon, though they don't rule out the possibility once a little more time passes.

"You know, I have to answer questions damn near every show," Bentley says of fans who still can't understand why he quit such a good gig. "They're like, 'Why did you do this? How could you?' And it's hard to go over it every night. Most of them I try to slip away from, to be honest. Half of me says it's none of their business, and half of it's hard to explain. You had to be there, and you have to know me and Jim and Jimbo. We're all still really close. There's no love lost. It's just a movin'-on thing, that's all.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky