When I moved from Chicago to Dallas years ago, I had frequent reunions with an old drinking buddy. After a quick review of a US map while sober we determined that Memphis was nearly in the middle, and several times we each made the drive to our adoptive watering hole for a long weekend. (Previous drunken attempts to determine the middle resulted in prospective camping trips to Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky, followed by uncontrollable laughter.(To make it even better, Wikipedia claims it's on Beaver Road between the communities of Beaverlick and Rabbit Hash.)) However, during those Memphis weekends, in that short time frame between Shoney’s breakfast buffet on the way home at 6 a.m. and our first shot of Murphy’s after a few hours sleep, we’d try to fit in a little culture. Stuff like the world famous ducks at the Peabody Hotel, the greatness of Graceland and of course, Sun Studio. We wanted to include the National Civil Rights Museum, but it wasn’t walking distance and we were in no condition to drive, even in Tennessee. For anyone unfamiliar with Sun Studio, it’s a tiny place often referred to as the birthplace of rock n’ roll and the Hot Pocket. It was where Elvis first recorded, alongside of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash. Okay, I made the Neil Diamond part up just to see if you were paying attention. However, a part of me wants to believe that if studio founder and producer Sam Phillips had spiked their Yoo-Hoo with methamphetamine during those early sessions, rock n’ roll would have taken a far different road where the Von Ehrics would be atop the charts instead Avril Lavigne. But I digress.
You say black I say white
You say bark I say bite
You say shark, I say hey man
Jaws was never my scene and I don't like Star Wars
You say Rolls I say Royce
You say God give me a choice
You say Lord I say Christ
I don't believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein or Superman
All I wanna do is bicycle, bicycle, bicycle.
So why am I throwing down Queen lyrics during a discussion about the birthplace of rock n’ roll? Well, because I like to ride my bicycle. And so does my wife. More specifically, she likes to ride her bicycle since she probably couldn’t reach the pedals on mine, which does not make for a very fun ride unless you have a helluva a tailwind. Now cycling is a fine hobby if you just use your bicycle to ride down to the 7-11 to buy a Hustler or a Slurpee, but if you start to get obsessive (about the cycling, not the porn or Slurpees) then it can get expensive. Technically, I suppose porn and Slurpees could break the bank with the proper stamina, but it’s easier to go broke buying bicycles that double the value of your vehicle every time you load them up to go to the trailhead. This called for desperate measures so I sold my wife to the bike shop as an indentured servant. She was trying to decide between a career as a doctor or a bike mechanic, so I thought it might be helpful to her decision process as well as get us significant discounts on bikes and related accoutrements. She had already been spending time at the medical examiners office playing with dead bodies in the morgue, so I figured a little grease under the fingernails couldn’t hurt. Also seeing as I have the mechanical skills of Peter Brady, having a bike mechanic in the household would be a welcome addition. I’m proficient at changing flats, since I have a penchant for finding any and all road or trail hazards. If I rode my bike through a haystack, I’d come out the other end with the proverbial needle sticking out of my rear tire. However, I wouldn’t recommend you ask me to adjust your brakes before a big downhill unless you’re looking for a bad case of road rash. But I digress.
Most bike shops are cool places, typically staffed with aspiring bike racers, aspiring musicians and, uh, aspiring doctors. But mostly aspiring musicians.
So what do you do?
Oh yeah I wait tables too
No I haven’t heard your band
‘Cause you guys are pretty new
I never paid much attention when the Mrs. talked about any of their bands, figuring each one was a variation of four guys doing Quiet Riot or Blink 182 covers in their moms’ basements on Tuesday nights. But when I had a couple extra hockey tickets and realized that I didn’t have any friends due to my anti-social tendencies, I had the Mrs. ask around the shop if anyone cared to join us. Gabe won the sweepstakes and, in an effort to overcome my said anti-social tendencies, I decided to check out his band online so that I could make conversation between periods and wouldn’t be stuck entertaining the group all night with exciting stories about my latest lost income calculations at work. The band was The Von Ehrics and they call their music country punk, or honky tonk metal on their website. Merle Haggard meets Motorhead. With an emphasis on loud and fast. That sounded intriguing and I guess I did a pretty good job not being anti-social; although we didn’t get invited over after the game for some Parcheesi, we did get invited out to the next Von Ehrics show.
The show was only two days before we moved out of Texas, so we took a break from packing up our secret collection of erotic art and went down to the Darkside Lounge in Deep Ellum on a Saturday night. They rocked, nobody got hurt, and we became fans. To show his appreciation for our support, Gabe stopped by as the last official visitor to the F’er abode in Texas before we departed for Chicago. We sat on the living room floor and shared a Coke and a smile since all the furniture and whiskey was already packed up in the U-Haul in the driveway. We pulled out and left him in the living room and hoped the new owner would take a liking to him.
The band made a promised stop in Chicago last fall but I was depressed over the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the cancellation of Wings and couldn’t get out of bed. It was that or the chemotherapy. In any case, I was recently excited to hear that the band was coming through town again and got busy making sure I’d be there this time.
There were three shows within a reasonable distance – Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison. I wanted to go to the Chicago show, which was at a small neighborhood tavern, but the Mrs. had an exam the next day in some class ending with –ology and didn’t think a visit to the Montrose Saloon would be conducive to learning. Whatever. So I got out my little black book and realized that all the girls in there were in Texas and no longer on speaking terms with me. I also guessed the Mrs. might not be on speaking terms with me either if I did find a candidate. So I sold the book to one of the dumbasses hanging around outside the 7-11 after convincing him that 214 was a secret area code given to slutty girls in the Chicago area that wanted to have sex with him tonight. I then took the profits from that transaction and used them to bribe Stiv into meeting me out for the show in case any bar fights broke out as a result of me eating all the maraschino cherries in the joint. I put on my Sun Studios t-shirt, picked up Stiv, and luckily had him to navigate as I might have otherwise missed the place. We walked in and found a bar with at most 20 stools and a handful of tables on the opposite wall. A small alcove containing a small pool table and a dart board had already been commandeered by the band, but they politely abandoned their games to greet us, refill their beers, and find out what the heck we were doing there. After about an hour, it was clear that we weren’t going to leave without hearing some live music, so they finally capitulated and moved the pool table and loaded in their gear. Another four fans also showed up in the interim and there were maybe another half dozen regulars scattered around the bar. Perhaps everyone was already spent from the Billy Goat Boys bluegrass show the night before. Among the other fans were Razor and Di from the Razor and Di Show on WLUW 88.7 FM, heard Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. I had never heard of them or their station until the Von Ehrics did their show, but highly recommend them now. They helped the band book this last minute gig and truly support independent bands, as well as totally being able to work the hair dyes. Di also has a kick ass camera and I’m hoping she won’t mind me borrowing a pic or two for this blog.
The Von Ehrics started tuning up and were asked by the bartender to turn it down a bit. And then a little bit more. She had obviously not read the part about their emphasis on loud and fast. They finally started, and I apologize for not knowing the song names since I just bought the new CD that night, but I think it might have been East Nashville Softshoe.
Remember when I said it was a neighborhood tavern? Well, I guess that particular neighborhood doesn’t like honky tonk metal interrupting Jay Leno’s monologue as evidenced by the rash of phone calls to the bar and the bartender’s subsequent request to turn it down even more. Gabe put a towel on his snare to help mute the sound, Jason turned down his guitar, but it appeared that Jeffery only pretended to turn down his bass. This didn’t trick the neighbors and after the third song and some more phone calls, the bartender relayed requests to turn down the bass. This time he complied and they continued the set in their neutered state. It was like the guy sitting in his Porsche in the middle of bumper to bumper rush hour traffic. It’s a nice car, but it’d be a lot more fun on a different road. They still rocked the house as hard as it was willing to be rocked that night, and everyone that showed up had a great time hearing some live tunes and hanging out with the band. More tavern regulars stopped in that night and they seemed to have picked up another half dozen fans. After the set, we sat at the bar and watched women’s boxing, noted there was much more action than men’s boxing, and debated whether it hurt more to get hit in a head full of tight cornrows than regular hair. I offered to braid half of Gabe’s head and punch him, but he made up some excuse about having to break down his drum kit so instead I just paid for my CD’s and bid them adieu.
The Friday night show in Milwaukee was at a club called Heart Breakers, and Gabe had told me the previous night that it would fulfill a lifelong dream of playing at a strip club. Unfortunately, he had also mentioned this to the Mrs. so I was unable to sell her on going to the Milwaukee show since it was closer than Madison. Come on, ladies get in free! I would have to wait to fulfill my dream of seeing the Von Ehrics play a strip club. I wasn’t that devastated as I’m not sure Milwaukee attracts the best talent in strip clubs and I was definitely spoiled coming from Dallas. But I digress. Titty bars can make you do that.
Mrs. F’er still wanted to see her old buddy, so I volunteered to drive her to Madison on Saturday. The fact that Madison is home to The University of Wisconsin and full of young, nubile rock and roll fans was irrelevant. They weren’t playing until midnight, so we didn’t plug in the Mrs.’ iPod and make the 2-hour drive until 8:00. Although she claimed to have 700 songs loaded on the thing, I’m convinced they were all either Beth Hart, the Killers, or Solomon Burke. With one Alkaline Trio tune thrown in to confuse me. We arrived at the King Club on schedule to find the band at the bar as usual. A fourth band was added to the bill, so their start time was bumped back to 1 a.m. After watching the National Beekeepers Society for a couple songs, Gabe invited us over to the Paradise Lounge for cocktails and conversation. I detected a Flaming Lips influence in the Beekeepers music, but the Mrs. countered with Blind Melon. It wasn’t bad, but Paradise was the right call. Great jukebox, great people-watching and a great menu featuring deep-fried cheese balls which are seemingly just referred to as “balls” by those in the know. We chatted, watched some cage-fighting on TV, and laughed uncontrollably every time someone ordered some balls to eat. Eventually we headed back and caught the end of the second band’s set – the Lee Rays. They didn’t make my ears bleed, but they didn’t make me smile and eat a bologna sandwich, either. I don’t know what that means, but I’m not sure their power pop worked its voodoo on me. Most of the crowd seemed to be there to hear the third band – the Motorz. Another power pop band, this time with a boner for Cheap Trick. That’s not a bad thing and the music was pretty tolerable. That Can’t Sleep tune even borders on catchy. But. Yes, the dreaded but. I really like you, but… the singer’s vocals annoyed me. Maybe more than they should have because his attempted comedy banter between songs was more than annoying and as funny as a soggy pair of sneakers. Finally, the bass player didn’t look like the kind of guy I’d ever want to hang out with. It’s hard to really like a band if you think you’d make fun of them behind their backs if you ever saw them in public. That being said, the crowd seemed to dig them and if I was hungry I might have eaten a bologna sandwich. But I’d really be craving some balls.
Finally all the cheddarheads cleared the stage and made room for the Von Ehrics. I guess this is where I’d start my review of their set if I was some sort of self-proclaimed genius music critic, but I’m not (except for my genius reviews of the opening bands). The Von Ehrics simply set up their shit, turn it way up and rock your socks off. Unless you’re one of those dirty hippies wearing Birkenstocks, in which case you would have left after the Motorz finished playing. Jason simply takes his position behind the mike, keeps the power chords coming and delivers the classic country lyrics about whiskey and the road. You’ll marvel at Jeffery’s nimble fingers on the bass as he delivers the standard Nashville bass lines in quadruple time while rocking out with speed metal sensibility. I’m not sure what that means but it seemed to capture the essence of his performance for me. And you’ll wonder how Gabe keeps that beat going for over an hour without collapsing like a fat middle-aged white guy with a heart condition in a pick-up basketball game. You can tell they love the music and love playing it for you – whether it’s half a dozen people in a corner tavern in Chicago, a gaggle of titty dancers in Milwaukee, or a good Saturday night crowd in downtown Madison who are rocking out with the band and singing along. They’re good guys, so check out their myspace page and give it a listen. If you like it, order the CD or download some stuff off iTunes. Be sure to support the band on their next trip through your town. And by support, I mean buy them shots of Jim Beam and let them crash on your floor. And if you don't like them, well then....