Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Long Gone Trio- Wildcat Juice

Rockabilly by it's very nature is a minimalist form of music.  For the style to ring true the timing must be impeccable.  It's easy to fuck it up, the Brits have long attempted to capture the essence of rockabilly, yet they crap the bed every time. In the UK rockabilly was the music of choice for Teddy Boys, seminal British rock writer Nik Cohn, knew them well: "These boys were nothing, just delinquent flotsam and jetsam with no future or hope."  Because of the Teds, The British public associated rockabilly with violence and anti-social behavior. Not the case here in the states, where it is the music of the uber cool (going all the way back to Presley), these cats pay attention to detail.  Every part of the uniform must be perfect, every hair in place, looking the part is as important as the music.
Robert Gordon must take the blame for this vain revival, the former lead singer for CBGB punk band "The Tuff Darts",  Gordon quit the punk scene and found his niche as a born again cool cat.  Rockin' Robert  steered clear of the hellbilly antics of The Cramps and kept it real by regressing into the past. Gordon revived some great long forgotten rockabilly hits like "Red Hot" and "Flying Saucers Rock and Roll." He also turned Springsteen's "Fire" into a rockabilly song, proving once and for all that The Boss was nothing more than an updated version of Gene Vincent. Brian Setzer like Gordon turned his back on the punk scene to embrace rockabilly. His band, The Stray Cats relocated from Long Island to London and wowed those gullible Brits with their authentic rockabilly sound. Sadly, in the end the Stray Cats were just as cartoonish as The Cramps and without the cult status to fall back on.  Brian Setzer would eventually find the parameters of rockabilly too restricting and branched out to other styles. The problem with Rockabilly had always been, how do you make it contemporary without mucking up the music. The format demands that you stay true to your school, that doesn't mean you have to grease your hair back and pick your teeth with an Arkansas toothpick. Although, that snarly, rebel flag hanging in the living room ambiance, does give the music some badly needed authenticity.
Right about now, you're asking yourself  "Ernest! what the fuck does this have to do with The Long Gone Trio's, Wildcat Juice.?"  Just hold on! I'm getting to the point, a funny thing happened to Rockabilly on the way to the graveyard, it made like Lazarus and came back to life in the southwestern region of the good ol' U.S.A.  This unexpected revival started in Los Angeles but has spread across the southwest. Rockabilly acts like; Dusty Chance, Luis & the Wildfires, Chuy & The Bobcats, The Hi Strung Ramblers & The Star Mountain Dreamers,  picked up the battle flag and gave the cause new life.  Albuquerque has flirted with rockabilly revivals before, in the early 1980's a cluster of bands (Jet Girls, Broadway Elks & The Breakers) played varying forms of the style, however authenticity was not a strong point with any of those bands. It would be easy to mistake  The Long Gone Trio for a retro oldies band which they are not.  Pat Bova and company are very contemporary, these cats play like it's 1956, but their minds and hearts are in the here and now. The Long Gone Trio is Pat Bova (vocals, acoustic guitar) Tom Sanderson (lead & steel guitar) Killer Pat Kowalski (stand-up bass)  "Wildcat Juice" their debut album was released in 2006 on  El Toro Records, a label based in Spain. 
The album opens with "A-Bone" a hot rod tune that moves up to the starting line like a rattlesnake. Pat sings "I gotta love affair with that old A-bone" there is a price to be paid "My pretty pretty baby will never understand what it means to be a hot rod man." Another night alone for ol' Pat  "Everybody's boppin at the soda shop, I'm laying on the floor of a cold garage." From the opening note of "A-Bone" Tom Sanderson takes charge with some nifty and precise picking. Pat Kowalski puts down a subtle yet driving beat while Pat Bova wraps his voice around the lyrics. His gearhead pride shows through in the end "Well they gave me a ticket, exhibition of speed, I hung it on the wall, I was proud of my deed" It'll keep him going on those long weekends, while he's picking up trash from the roadsides.  Sometimes you just have to get shit faced drunk and "Sloppy Joes" is the place to go. Pat has it all figured out, he's lined up a safe driver "Better call my gal to come carry me home, I drank too much at Sloppy Joe's"  Pat's understated vocals are perfect, Tom Sanderson's playing is clean and crisp, always free of frills and pretense. He brings to mind, that outrageous Chris Spedding track "Guitar Jamboree" on which Spedding calls out the name of one guitar slinger after another while he expertly plays just like them. "T-V8" is a model 27-Ford,"An old muscle buggy like you've never seen before" it's basically a V-8 motor with tires, steering wheel, a seat. The jalopy ain't much to look at, "She ain't got no paint and she's full of bullet holes" but when the flag drops she answers the call. Pat sings; "Once when I was racing the wheel fell off, that tin lizzy crashed, but the other fella lost, cuz that tire of mine was the first to cross the line, I like to brag my tire left him far behind." Tom plays with tasteful restraint which accents Pat's low key vocals which he puncuates with an occassional yelp.
Tom Sanderson rings in "Gotta Know" in the style of Paul Burlison as the band tears into a Burnette Brothers inspired tale of a restless gal. "You can't stand living in this one horse town, by six o'clock everything shuts down....this ain't no place for a girl who likes boppin' around."  She's at the station waiting for that lonesome train, as he pleads  "Babe I gotta know...I gotta know right now, are you gonna love me or are you leavin' town?"..Man! she is long gone and he is lonesome and blue.  On " It's You Who's Makin' You Lonesome" Tom channels Luther Perkins, Pat's vocals however, are more Johnny Horton than Johnny Cash. The handwriting is on the wall; "You'd like to blame me for all your misery, but it's you who's makin' you lonesome"  The next track "Bullfrog" is a Carl Perkins inspired ditty. "No matter which way I jump, I just can't win with you" sings a frustrated Pat Bova.  Tom's guitar and Pat's vocals seem to fly out of the speakers, hell! all this talk about jumping is making me feel froggy. "Don't Move Me" sounds so much like Carl Perkins that I swore it was a cover, until I compared it to Carl's "That Don't Move Me."  Both Pat and Tom sound menacing as the band swaggers it's way through this tough sounding rocker.  The Long Gone Trio also favors the honky tonk music of the early fifties. "Treason", "My Well's Run Dry" and "Last of my Junk"  are well crafted tributes to Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Hank Snow and of course Johnny Horton. All those influences converge on the showstopping "If Only You Know" Pat is in high spirits "Applejack is the flavor that I like, straight from the still it's sweeter than wine" feeling the glow Pat remarks "Wildcat juice, it'll turn your Monday into Friday night" Pat growls and snarls like a wildcat, while Tom rolls out the licks. Then after a pause of over a minute they segue into a dreamy track that shows Tom's skill on the steel guitar.  Pat softly strums along while Killer Pat quietly taps on the bass..blissfully perfect! but you have to wait.
 "Goodbye Lonesome" is a Johnny Horton cover, He is best known for "The Battle of New Orleans" (#1 in 1959, it also earned him a Grammy award) Horton, a five year veteran of "The Louisiana Hayride" dressed in gawdy western suits and a stylish cowboy hat while playing a mix of honky tonk, country swing & boogie blues. A prodigy of Hank Williams Sr. (he would marry Hank's widow Billie Jean just months after Hank died) Horton was going nowhere until he teamed up with Tillman Franks (bass) and Tommy Tomlinson (guitar) This rudimentary line-up would soon become the norm for rockabilly bands. In 1956, Horton had a #1 hit with "Honky Tonk Man", as his fame grew Johnny became obsessed with death. He had a premonition that he would die at the hands of a drunk, so he avoided drinking in bars. He started practicing evasive maneuvers while driving to and from gigs. On New Years Day, 1953 while returning to Shreveport after a gig, Horton had stopped in Milano, Tx. where he heard a radio report of Hank William's death.  A few days after his final stage appearance at the Skyline Club in Austin,Tx., Williams had died in the back of a Cadillac while on his way to a show in Canton, Oh.   Flash forward to 1960, on that same road to Shreveport, after performing at the same Austin club as Hank Williams, Horton's car was hit head-on by a truck while crossing a bridge in...Milano, Tx. Horton was speared through the skull by  a sun visor rod but was still alive when help arrived, however, he would die before reaching the hospital. The driver of the truck was a 19 year old Texas man who was drinking at the time, thus fulfilling Horton's premonition of death by a drunk.  Franks and Tomlinson were both seriously injured in the accident with Tomlinson losing a leg as a result. Tillman Franks would later state "I thought he was driving too fast for that road."
 Rockabilly can be formulaic and derivative, it affords very little wiggle room for musicians to show off their skills, finding that space can be tricky. The Long Gone Trio  time travel into the present, but they don't rely exclusively on nostalgia and this allows them to display their talents while still sounding contemporary. "Wildcat Juice" is suffused with original rockabilly material. Just one track out of the twelve that make up the album is a cover. Pat Bova manages to keep the arrangements as diverse as the spare simplicity of  the format allows. He checks his wilder  instincts and avoids vocal grandstanding. As a result he comes across as a timelessly enthralling and truly entertaining singer. Tom Sanderson, the guitar man, contributes sizzling guitar licks on every single track.  His playing is expert without being showy, complimenting Pat's vocals without overpowering him. Pat Kowalski in the tradition of stand-up bass players, stays in the background and drives that beat.  "Wildcat Juice" is a great sounding debut album full of sparkling, tuneful gems. The Long Gone Trio play with the devotion of true believers and ultimately that makes them totally convincing and original. Bernadette Seacrest has recorded a couple of songs written by Pat Bova, these torch songs are far removed from  the rockabilly of The Long Gone Trio. Leading me to believe that Pat has also moved on to another style of music.  It's going on six years since this album came out, could it be that The Long Gone Trio is indeed long gone?