Louisville, Kentucky-based punk-metal act the Hookers are among the hardest-hitting and most under-appreciated forces in contemporary music. Their sound — screamingly pure, brutally focused, dangerously loud, dreamily vehement — evokes a particularly nasty Southern subculture (ever heard of the Confederacy of Scum?) that has mostly, and thankfully, festered in the dark.
It ain't pretty, it ain't for everyone, but if you're a rocker, these guys are of critical importance. Tonight, they're billed with the 70-something underworld rock & roll overlord Simon Stokes (one of Hookers' lead vocalist Adam Neal's idols) at the Redwood. We spoke with Neal about American culture, Satan and destroying shit.
What first set you off?
I'd say the biggest moment was hearing Black Sabbath for the first time. I heard it on one of my daddy's 8-track tapes, and it was just totally ominous and scary. And then what really set me off, as a kid, was Twisted Sister. To me, it just totally rocked. From that it was straight on into the heavy metal and punk. And that's what the Hookers do, punk and metal — it's a mix. I grew up in a rural area in Kentucky, in a hollow — the sticks, man, and when I first started hearing it I didn't understand there was a difference. I mean if you have, say, Alice Cooper versus the Dead Boys, there really isn't that much difference in the music, but there is in the culture. I didn't understand that, and to me really it's irrelevant.
So the Hookers are just their own straight up rock culture?
There's less and less people out there doing the real rock and roll thing — the crazy thing — and that's a damn shame to me. I think it all came down to just a few bands that influenced us with that vibe we like, metal of course, Sabbath, Venom and then Anti-Seen being a huge influence. That whole separate and apart vibe, “we're not part of anything,” is very important.
Also the Dwarves. Their first couple of albums really took it to somewhere else, and that influenced us, with the 13-minute-long shows, destroying shit. We still pull that stuff sometime today. And it goes back to Alice Cooper; it's shock rock mixed with a punk rock attitude. There's no real music at all, just a lot of fashion and people so into pop crap. And everyone just sits at home; the kids don't have to search for anything today. When we heard something we liked, we had to go out and dig it up. There's a big difference.
Obviously, sharing the bill with Simon Stokes is a big deal for the Hookers. How did you get into his music?
I came across Simon maybe 15 years ago. The first thing of his I acquired was The Outlaw Riders soundtrack. They had three or four songs of his on it, from the Simon Stokes & the Nighthawks album. After I heard those, that was it — his voice and the subject matter just completely won me over. There's very little real, authentic biker rock, and he's one of the few who can do it.
My dad was a biker, so that culture is something I grew up with and understand, and the fact that Simon's still doing it and that he's still got the fire, and is as angry as he is, is just amazing. Simon is such a one of a kind guy in rock & roll, it's like the 'first mouse syndrome' — he gets his head cut off and all the other mice eat the cheese. Simon's the same way: He was really the first to put that hard, hard stuff out there; all these other people picked it up, took it from him, and he got nothing. There's an underground population that appreciates it, but he doesn't get the respect he deserves at all.
The Hookers display a lot of heavy metal fetishism. Has that made your “professional” life easier?
For us, we took a lot of shit for the metal element, because we came up through the 1990s garage rock explosion, when bands like New Bomb Turks were really popular. We were signed to the same label they were, Crypt Records, and when we turned in our first album, they just bumped us. Absolutely dropped us, never put it out.
Tim Warren at Crypt, he avoided us for a month, and we'd signed contracts, and then he finally had his buddy contact me and they laid it out that the album was “too metal,” it had “too many solos” and “too many songs about Satan.” And that was that. We were kicked out, banished. All those bands turned their backs on us because “it's too metal.” That really pissed us off, so we just said fuck this, and it made us go hard. We just went forward — got faster and meaner. It's been about 16 years now, and I still can't believe we've come this far and that we're on the road and have another album out. Seriously, I cant believe it.
The Hookers, Simon Stokes appear at the Redwood Bar & Grill, 316 W. 2nd St., dwntwn; tonight 9 p.m.