This ain’t your mama’s country

At home (and at tavern) with Chico’s latest country sensation—the Asskickers

COOLING HIS HEELS<br>Chief Asskicker Bob Howard enjoys an ice cold Lone Star at Duffy’s Tavern after suffering a grueling interrogation at the hands of our writer.

Chief Asskicker Bob Howard enjoys an ice cold Lone Star at Duffy’s Tavern after suffering a grueling interrogation at the hands of our writer.

Photo by Tom Angel

The Asskickers CD release party:
Duffy’s Tavern, Thursday, July 19

It’s a relatively large rehearsal space somewhere on the north side of Chico, the interior just adequately lit by three or four crude lamps hanging from the ceiling. Deep, angular shadows fall across all four corners, darkening the shapes of the amps, keyboards and various other bits of musical equipment and general stuff stored in the building.

Toward the center of the room, three men look to a fourth for instruction. Bob Howard is leading the other musicians—John LaPado on double-necked pedal steel guitar, Alan Wood on bass and Steve Bragg on drums—through a few of his latest compositions on his guitar, when he stops and asks, “Should we wait for Scott?” The “Scott” in question is guitarist Scott Pressman, the fifth member of Chico’s latest music sensation, the Asskickers. Despite Pressman’s absence, the group decides to continue working out the bugs on a little marching piece called “Anarchy Redneck Kingdom.”

If you haven’t seen or heard the Asskickers yet, describing them is just a trifle problematic. The easy label to tag them with would be country. And certainly there are enough country clichés and Western nuances in their overall sound to justify such categorization. But a glance at the band’s song titles, a listen to their lyrics, and one becomes convinced that the Asskickers are much more than mere country. In some respects, behind the obvious ironic façade of the words, there’s this sense of desperation, or exhaustion.

For example, a line from “Anarchy Redneck Kingdom": “Get out of my wallet, get out of my bed/ I’m ready to defend my anarchy redneck kingdom.” Is the writer only kidding? There’s just enough palpable anger to make one wonder. In some respects, the ambiguously delivered lyrics drive the conventions of country head-on into the everyman angst of a new century.

The driving force behind the Asskickers is former SoCal resident Bob Howard. He’s a tall, amiable man with short dark-blonde hair and a self-effacing sense of humor. A few days after the aforementioned rehearsal, sitting in the back room at Duffy’s Tavern, the genial songwriter answers questions between sips of Lone Star (apparently, the beer currently favored by the Asskickers). A guitar player from the age of 15 on, Howard confesses that initially his greatest influence was anything but venerated country legends.

ASSKICKERS UNITED <br>(l-r, back) Bob Howard, Steve Bragg, Al Wood, (front) Scott Pressman, John LaPado

Photo Courtesy of Tits Howard

“At 15, I had one influence,” he says. “AC/DC. For my sophomore year in high school, AC/DC was all I listened to! And I had all of their albums. But that was as varied as my musical tastes were.”

Howard admits that his interest in country is a more recent development.

“I liked Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson from a long time ago, but more as a novelty, initially. Because it was so different and … sort of hokey! But I more recently have grown to appreciate what those guys are doing, quite apart from the hokey aspects of it.” He readily states that he now recognizes the depth that many country artists bring to their work. “When I listen to the radio now, it’s primarily for country music. There’s more emphasis on songwriting. It’s more songwriter based. Garth Brooks isn’t necessarily singing a song that he wrote; it’s some other songwriter from Nashville who’s written it. And then they assemble these incredible studio bands. It just sounds really tight, really effortless.”

Almost of equal musical effortlessness is the Asskickers’ first homegrown CD, The Other Side of Town (please see our review in this issue). Of it, Howard says, “We’ve got this album all recorded and those songs are set. But what it’s done is allowed us to work more on dynamics. Now we know the songs, and, even with the new songs, the band has gelled. I’m excited to see what we’re going to do next.”

What’s next for the Asskickers is a CD release party at Duffy’s Tavern on the 19th of this month.

Meanwhile, back in the rehearsal studio, guitarist Pressman has finally appeared. He hastily sets up his gear, tunes up and joins in as the band again runs through “Anarchy Redneck Kingdom.” By the second take with Pressman, and after Howard suggests they slow it down a bit, the thing sounds like a full on anthem—strong, funny … and more than a bit eerie, too.

This definitely ain’t your mama’s country.