When I was growing up it didn’t matter what side of the tracks you were from – if you were male you watched wrasslin’ (although some uppity snobs insisted on calling it “wrestling”). Week in and week out you watched the drama unfold and the blood flow. Having a friend over to the house for wrasslin’ night never failed to inspire my daddy to tell the tale of the time my grandaddy went to see the wrasslin’ in Abilene, TX. You see at this even they offered a whole $50.00 for any man who could last one round against the champ. My grandaddy, Red, started down to take them up on the offer because that was a helluva lot of money at time. Red sat in the cheap seats because it was all he could afford and by the time he got down to the ring the champ was on his way out. Red ran over to catch up to him and his manager and take them up on the offer. Well they told him he was too late and he would have to wait until next time. Then the champ said something fairly rude (no-one ever remembers what it was) to Red at which point my grandaddy threw a haymaker and laid the champ stone cold out on the floor. Red was banned for any further wrasslin’ events and didn’t even get the $50.00. So after regaling us with this story my daddy would kick back with us and we’d glue ourselves to the TV and watch as the script played out before out eyes. Now if you were a Texas boy you were a huge fan of the Von Erichs (of course hating the Fabulous Freebirds) and especially of the Von Erich Claw and only slightly less so the body scissor.
As an adult the story of the Von Erichs is a tragic one with patriarch Fritz Von Erich losing 5 of his 6 sons, 3 to suicide, before succumbing to lung cancer that spread to his brain. But as a kid this family was so cool it hurt to know you were part of a family that could never ever be even close to that cool. They even had wrassin’ moves named after them! The legendary Von Erichs left a helluva mark on some of us as children so taking on this moniker as a band, and these boys are about my age so they know, you had better be ready to live up to the name. And they do just that on Two Foot Stomp (their 9B debut review).
The Von Ehrics come from the same vein as the Supersuckers, Slobberbone, and other great slight off center Texas bands but this ain’t about no Red Dirt music scene. Robert Jason Vandygriff belts out some of the punkest cowboy music I have ever heard and Clayton Mills on lead guitar, Paul “Santi” Vaden on bass and Gabe Aguilar on drums somehow manage to keep the twang coming hard and fast with just the absolute right amount of punk rhythm and attitude. I absolutely hate making comparisons but when even my wife comes up with the same thought I had sometimes I have to just go with it: these guys are the Dropkick Murphys of the Red Dirt scene. There I said it but even with it typed out it doesn’t do them justice as much as it does kind of almost describe where they fit in the Texas music scene. I hope you can all forgive me for that one.
Vandygriff opens Two Foot Stomp by belting out a ditty titled: “Last Of The Working Slobs” which, like the band’s namesake, reminds me of growing up when and where I did. With lines like …his oldest son’s sixteen years old/he knew he smoked didn’t know he sold reminding me of my dad an me and the music reminding me of daddy’s opposition to my music this song couldn’t help but hook me. Directly follow that with “Gone”, a song for the disaffected, with the chorus I’m gonna stay, I’m gonna stay, I’m gonna stay alright/I’ve been needing a trip/I took another hit/Ain’t gonna feel tonight/Nobody’s gonna be there when I’m gone/Nobody’s gonna care if I’m wrong and I was ready to declare this one Essential Listening and I wasn’t even to the third track! As if that wasn’t enough the hits just kept coming with every one of them being high-energy-jangly-twangy-punk. Some of the references might be lost on non-Texans like: …in Southwest Houston no-one seems to care if you’re white, from “I Don’t Wait”, whereas I grew up in the very area to which he refers and know exactly what he means. But even if you miss a few inside digs the rest of the album more than makes up for it.
I am sucker for good covers and Vandygriff and company don’t fail to deliver on that front either. “Down The Road Tonight” (Hayes Carll) is a bad ass cover and that has me singing along, out loud, in the office right now while I am writing this review. But no, one wasn’t enough and these boys went and covered Tanya Tucker‘s “Texas (When I Die)”. Now I have to admit when I saw that track I had my reservations because it’s a Tanya song and you don’t fuck with Tanya but these fears proved unfounded and instead of trying to cover Tanya they made it their own and did it some proper punk justice. And as much as I have been ranting about this one the real stand out it a little number: “Lord, I Pray” which is a punk rock Gospel tun with a full choral compliment that will pretty much blow you away. I was totally floored by their arrangement on this track. The way the music, Vadygriff’s vocals, and the choir all work together perfectly is pretty damn amazing.
In closing: I would totally get way all sorts of wasted if I went out to see these guys play live. I am talking about cab-drive-home wasted. Of course that means I will be following them closely so that I can go see them and ask for any days off I need well in advance. The Von Ehrics’ Two Foot Stomp is an album you really should own and while I haven’t seen them live I have faith they are a sight to behold so you should do that if you get a chance!
In short: Cow-punk, Essential Listening, Damn fun!