“Y’all can come down here. You don’t have to be scared of the rock music.”
And so Warner E. Hodges sets his trap.
I’m at Dingwalls in Camden and, so far, the six-foot gap in front of the stage has remained empty, despite two bands having already, in the parlance of the evening, rocked the place. As David Sinclair from openers David Sinclair Four noted, there are enough guitars racked up by the side of the stage to open an instrument shop. And as I’m noting now, one of those guitars belongs to Mr Rick Richards of Georgia Satellites fame, so you can be sure that the place had been rocked in a full and proper fashion, too.
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In today’s musical climate, where anything goes and the melting pot is regularly stirred, it’s easy to forget just how radical an effect Jason and the Scorchers had on the Nashville scene when they formed in the early ’80s. Country rock might have been a well-established concept, but never before had the two musical styles blended with such force. The Scorchers fused country twang with white-hot rock ‘n’ roll, scaring the hell out of country purists (whatever they are). Hank Williams was reborn in an era that had lived through punk.
Commercial success might have eluded them but their cult status was, and is, assured; their pioneering spirit acknowledged with an exhibit in the museum in Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame, where Jason’s shirt and hat from the cover of the Fervor EP are on display, along with press cuttings detailing the band’s early trailblazing.
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“Who’s the guy on guitar?”
The post-gig piddle is usually a good chance to overhear some opinions. Men’s mouths are never freer than when they’re standing side by side with their comrades in urination, having just drunk beer and witnessed live rock ‘n’ roll. If Prime Minister’s Question Time was held in the bogs of the Camden Underworld on a Wednesday night, we’d get to find out what was really goin’ on.
The show-off in question is actually Warner E. Hodges, a founding member and mainstay of Nashville’s finest rock ‘n’ roll outfit, Jason and the Scorchers – the band that, in the early ’80s, put a steel-toed cowboy boot up the backside of country music, opening it up to the post-punk generation and making cult heroes of the band’s members, not least Jason (Ringenberg) and Warner.
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Getting ill on the road: it’s every musician’s nightmare. For a one-man, high-octane show such as Jason Ringenberg’s, it’s a potential disaster – one that seems to be chasing the Tennessean country-rock legend around as he embarks on his first UK dates for more than two years.
With the flu – “the kind that kills people” – doing its best to lay him low and turn that distinctive voice into a croak, Jason has come closer than he’s ever been to cancelling shows. But amazingly he’s here tonight, upstairs at The Prince Albert in Brighton, a small pub next to the train station, and rocking up a storm – albeit at slightly less than gale force.
A back injury – sustained while lifting a suitcase – means that, unusually, no boot marks are left in the stage. And his voice is a little hoarse on the high notes, though this doesn’t seem to temper his choice of songs in any way, nor dampen his spirit. The twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face are still there.
When you consider that even his clothes are conspiring against him – while getting ready, he spills water over his trousers and has to go on stage wearing the denim dungarees from his afternoon Farmer Jason kids’ show – it’s a remarkable performance. Set opener Life Of The Party might have been a mission statement.
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Earlier this year, Tara and I were in a Nashville bar, Robert’s Western World, sipping cokes and watching the resident covers act. We’d only been sat down for 30 seconds when a voice came from the stage: “Who’s your favourite country singer?” All eyes in the room turned to us. It was obviously the newcomers’ turn to request a song.
“Jason and the Scorchers?” asked Tara, hopefully. “Sorry, who?” came the reply. The name was repeated for clarity but it didn’t do any good – the guy on stage who prided himself on being able to play anything from country’s vast and rich catalogue of classics was stumped. To save us further embarrassment, a voice from the bar requested some Johnny Cash and everything was suddenly back on track.
With hindsight, as well as sticking a couple of dollars in the tip jar on the way out, I should’ve included a note answering that “Who?”, if only for the sake of the next weary traveller that stopped by hoping to catch, say, Harvest Moon or Shop It Around. In fact, I should’ve nipped over the road to Ernest Tubb’s and returned with a copy of the freshly reissued Still Standing CD. Next time, I’ll come prepared.
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