By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
He and his Ruff Riders work in black uniforms and on the bandstand make everything a joke — except the music. He runs through a raft of classics every night ("It’s like Tony Bennett said: ‘Take care of the standards, and they’ll take care of you’), and when a friend calls for one of Bryant’s own numbers, he fires back, "Hey, we’re just a bunch of guys who get paid to do cover songs!" He’s proud of his originals but is so historically obsessive that he is almost unable to not do all the greats.
"I think about them every night while I drive to Viva, because it’s the same street they took to work the Riverside Rancho — Cactus Mac, Cliffie Stone, Roy Rogers and the Pioneers, Foy and the Riders, Tex Williams, Johnny Bond, the Western Caravan, Leo Leblanc, and the hundreds of others, and every night I’m conscious of doing their music justice. Their music had value beyond their lifetimes . . . I know I take it way too seriously — I would’ve stopped long ago if I could."
The mostunlikely and perhaps noblest extension of the Los Angeles form of applying extremes to an old-time musical school are the hard-drinking, hell-raising lowlifes known as the Groovy Rednecks. Ridiculed for years by most of the Town South of Bakersfield and Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance crowd, the Rednecks have endured, persevered and not only outlived but artistically outstripped almost all of each camp’s most celebrated acts. As frequent Barndance band guitarist Harry Orlove recently said, "I used to hate the Rednecks — they always showed up drunk, and you could never understand what Tex was singing. But I got their last album, and now I love them — they’re my favorite band."
That album, the band’s third, titled Ass Grabbin’ Country, is a lurching showcase for the band’s terminally self-deprecating exercises in truth-telling rocky-tonk ("Happy Mother’s Day From Prison," "My Girlfriend’s Got a Boyfriend"), and they manage, as usual, to strike dead center with a Roger Miller pith. Meeting with founders Tex Troester and Bob Ricketts and nine-year Redneck Ron Botelho in the party garden adjacent to Troester’s micro-mini Ivar Avenue studio apartment, the bud both foams and burns as they recount 12 years of lurid recklessness.
The Rednecks are a pure Hollywood enigma, born of the crusty Raji’s club school but, trading in an almost folk-style accounting of that life, they qualify more as classic troubadours than rock & roll rabble.
"It’s strange," Tex says, "but we always go over better at punk clubs than we do at country clubs."
Much of the palaver revolves around the fact that almost no one takes them seriously (then, again, neither do they). They finally got a slot on the "Sweethearts of the Rodeo" jam night after several years of trying, but it only happened because another band canceled — the call came three days before the show.
"We’ve also been trying for years to go down and play South By Southwest," Ricketts says of the Austin-based music festival and conference, "but they always send our CDs back."
Neither the Chicago-born, Delta-blues-fixated Ricketts nor former Blood on the Saddle bassist Botelho are exactly born-again country fans, and with the band’s primary country picker Gary Riley MIA this afternoon (even as they’re preparing to play a matinee set at Hollywood Boulevard boozeteria the Frolic Room), it’s almost mystifying trying to peg their indisputable country credibility.
"It is weird," says Ricketts, "but as more time passes, we just get more and more country."
It’s the songs that nail it — a number like "How Come I Only Love You When I’m Drunk" is nothing if not country; the occasional presence of acclaimed songwriter and drummer Mike Stinson (who sits in when regular trapsman Jim Doyle is unable) speaks further to the magnetic allure of this oddball outfit.
The band demonstrably came into their official hillbilly own last month, opening for apocalyptic proto-outlaw David Allan Coe at the Key Club. They took the stage in a just-drunk-enough condition to appease the upscale-rebel-scum audience and still saddle up their do-not-give-a-fuck pony for a smashingly tight spree through Ass Grabbin’ Country in its entirety.
"I’d never felt better than I did after that Coe show," Troester says. "I was walkin’ around the club like a normal guy, but I couldn’t go two feet without someone shakin’ my hand or pattin’ me on the back — that was the greatest night of life."
An hour or two and a 12-pack later, they start setting up gear at the Frolic Room. Out front, Tex is in his element. A longtime door man at boulevard strip joint Jumbo’s Clown Room, he still occasionally fills in checking IDs and intimidating sloppy drunks at the Frolic’s door, and he seems to know everyone. A Middle Eastern guy from the Hollywood Star Tours office next door comes out, eager to show Tex his new belt buckle — a Confederate flag with a golden eagle superimposed upon it.