But the Bottle Rockets are the sort of band they go nuts for in the North, where any hint of roots authenticity carries considerable weight; down here, though, there are quite a few bands that blend rock and country in various proportions, among them the frenzied honky-tonk of Liberty Valance, the Clash-meets-Lefty cowpie punk of the Cartwrights, and the folkified pop of the Old 97's.
Certainly, Slobberbone's roots-rock is no more or less authentic than the Bottle Rockets' or Uncle Tupelo's (or Wilco's, the band Uncle Tupelo has evolved into): they were all weaned on punk and pop, found themselves drawn to and writing country songs, and, as they performed their own material, were unable to distill the influences from the result. And so their country was loud, their rock was rustic, and never the twain shall be separated.
"It's hard to tell people you're a country-rock band because they don't even know what that is," says Best, who has spent time in punk bands and with Adam's Farm. "You don't want to say you're more one than the other. I guess a roots band is a good thing because that's what Del Fuegos is. I remember the beer commercial they once did where they used to say, 'It's folk music because it's music for folks.' That's good. I want to make music with elements of all of it. It's more sincere than most rock. It's a little more sincere than more post-punk rock, but it still has that energy.
"At the time we went into the studio [in February 1994], we wanted to make a rock record. We knew the country element would be there, but we wanted it big and noisy and dumb. And now I'm not so sure."
Best's lyrics are as evocative, as plain-spoken, as moving as anything the Rockets can come up with. In most of Best's songs, someone usually gets drunk or dead--sometimes both--and, over a haunting harmonica or a ferocious guitar, he sings his words in a plain, desperate tone; his is the sound of a flat, arid land from which there's no escape, a place teeming with the promise of unexpected violence and unending loneliness.
Crow Pot Pie, recorded a year ago with Brutal Juice's Sam McCall, begins with the blistering bluegrass-thrash "Boy Howdy," such cowpunk-rockers as "Whiskey Glass Eye" and "No Man Among Men" and "Shoot You Dead" until, almost imperceptibly, the album unfolds as a story--a tale of angry men and restless women, drinkin' and fuckin' and fightin' their way through pathetic, listless lives.
"I've been stuck in this old town for a while, and this town has seen its better days," he howls on one song, "and I'll be damned if I let you be a part of some new start and make me lose my will to leave this place." And on "16 Days," another of Crow Pot Pie's 10-minute-plus mini-epics, he sings as a man who is a self-kept prisoner in a wretched, decaying house where "the air has turned foul and the walls have turned brown." "And all I can do is lay here and sweat," he sings, his words hanging in the air like a stench.
"Sometimes I'll write songs for shock effect," Best says. "I realize I have a lot of songs in which people die. I was doing the old folk thing inside-out and trying to shock people at the end of the song. I'd write another song and it'd be like, 'Aw, hell, someone else died.' But then we'd play it live and someone would come up to us and say, 'That describes how I felt at one time.' A song you were doing tongue-in-check takes you aback when someone else takes it seriously."
Crow Pot Pie is available by calling Best at (817) 381-1085 or writing him at 712 W. Sycamore, Denton, TX, 76201.
Texas radio and the big beat
You may not hear much of the Toadies, Reverend Horton Heat or even Jackopierce on local radio, but in College Station and Corpus Christi, they're being heard at least once a week as part of a brand new regionally syndicated Texas-music radio show you'll probably never find in Dallas. Former Houston DJ Donna McKenzie's "New Texas Radio," which began airing in February, is a bizarre, wide-ranging cross-section of Texas-made music, bounding from the Toadies to Jackopierce, Reverend Horton Heat to ZZ Top, Tripping Daisy to Soul Hat, with some oddball oldies like Johnny Reno and Sir Douglas Quintet thrown into the mix.
So far, the show has been picked up by six Texas album-rock radio stations--in Houston, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Abilene, Amarillo and Bryan-College Station--and a San Antonio station likely will begin airing "New Texas Radio" this spring. McKenzie says she has sent material to program directors at two Dallas stations, but the response hasn't been promising to this point--perhaps because most local stations already air their own Texas-based music shows such as Q102's "Texas Tapes."