On a rockabilly roll

The Saddle Tramps

The Saddle Tramps’ Johnny Fingers, Scotty Roller and Mike Young rough up their bassist Big John Von Nolde.

The Saddle Tramps’ Johnny Fingers, Scotty Roller and Mike Young rough up their bassist Big John Von Nolde.

Photo By David Robert

The Saddle Tramps perform at their CD release party, 9 p.m. Feb. 28. Admission is free; ages 21 and over. Performance is at The Garage, Reno Hilton, 2500 E. 2nd St., 789-2000.

A shotgun marriage between honky-tonk and potty talk, The Saddle Tramps, purveyors of smutty “corn-fed bolt music,” have been raising hell for nearly five years. They’ve played their filthy “cowpunk"—swinging rockabilly played with punk rock energy—with a number of high profile acts including Royal Crown Revue, Social Distortion and Brian Setzer. They’ve released CDs, set liquor sale records at local venues, played at events as disparate as the Entertainment Tonight anniversary party and owner Dennis Hof’s birthday party at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch (where they were introduced by porn luminary Ron Jeremy and backed by members of Digital Underground). Yet the best is still to come for one of the area’s most popular bands.

The Saddle Tramps’ sound is rooted in the witty banter, comical lyrics and rockabilly crooning of rhythm guitarist Scotty Roller and bassist Big John Von Nolde. The sound is given a serious shit kick by innovative lead guitarist and Reno legend Johnny Fingers, formerly of The Boston Wranglers, The Swiveltones and Gunshot Licker. Fingers’ seductive twang lines are jaw-dropping. The drummer’s seat, having long been a rotating stool, is now filled by hard-hitting Mike Young.

The record release party for their new album, Nashville Swinger, on Split Seven Records, with widespread national and international distribution through Cargo Records, is Feb. 28 at the Reno Hilton Garage. The CD will be in stores the following Tuesday and features studio tracks and live tracks recorded at the Great Basin Brewing Co. in Sparks. Two of the studio songs, “Susanville” and “Female Trouble,” will be promoted for radio play. The studio recordings are rocking, fun and catchy, but they lack the lyrical and musical nastiness of the adult-audience live tracks, like “Cal Transvestite” and “How Can I Say I Love You With a Shotgun in My Mouth?”

Part of the fun at Saddle Tramps shows is the banter between songs. Roller and Von Nolde take the piss out of the audience, current events and each other. During a recent performance, Young was playing a bit sloppily. Roller turned to him and said, “I’m not one to point out anyone’s shortcomings, but you are a beat off.” The concert tracks on the CD capture this comedic spirit well. Banter about menstruation flows right into the topical ballad “Cotton Pony Express.”

The band is polishing up even newer material to debut at the release party.

“Our songwriting is progressing,” says Roller. “It’s not just three-chord country. I’m in a Glen Campbell phase, and Big John is writing stuff that sounds like The Reverend Horton Heat meets Danny Elfman.”

The band will be touring throughout the summer, and it’s working on a long in-progress Christmas album ("It’ll come out for our reunion tour,” jokes Roller) and planning a possible European tour in 2005. So what else is new?

“Scotty got his truck lowered today,” says Von Nolde.

“I got my truck lowered today,” says Roller, “and my cholesterol.”

“Yesterday, I had my expectations lowered,” concludes Von Nolde.

The band’s upcoming tour includes dates in Folsom, Los Angeles and Long Barn, a small town just outside of Yosemite.

“It’s right across from where they found those dead bodies,” Roller explains, “and for some reason, they treat us like The Beatles there—everybody just goes nuts.

“But do you know where they hate us? Santa Cruz. We somehow got booked to play a coffee shop there—this place called The Union where grandmothers go to read. And we talked to the owner and said, ‘Do you know what we do? We’re a dirty rockabilly band!' So we didn’t play. They had awful coffee with rancid half and half that gave us all diarrhea. So we started crank-calling him on the drive back, saying that we were the real Saddle Tramps and that there were imposters following us around, claiming to be a dirty rockabilly band and foiling all the shows on our coffeehouse tour. Then we got an e-mail from him that said it was unprofessional of us not to show up for our gig … anyway, we can’t go back to Santa Cruz now—at least not that place."