“Nothing like a gun will make you feel real tall/Alcohol, Adderall, hey, are you ready for some football?”—those are the opening lines of “’Merica (The Good Ole U.S.A.),” the leadoff track on Pinball, the new album by Reno honky tonk band Hellbound Glory. It’s a portrait of rural patriotism pumped up to a comedic level. Like a lot of the best country music, there’s a wink and a nod, and a tongue that seems firmly in cheek, but, according to singer-songwriter Leroy Virgil, it’s not—entirely—a piece of satire.
“It felt pretty sincere to me’” he said. “But in my own strange way of being sincere. … It was written spur-of-the-moment about the year that my ex-wife and I met—just running around here in Reno, shooting off fireworks. … It’s about a feeling, a feeling of freedom and happiness.”
But he’s also quick to acknowledge that there’s humor in his songs. “I always know when something’s good if it makes me laugh. … But making fun of something—I don’t want to do that. I’m not making fun.”
And not every song has humor in it. “Empty Bottles,” for example, is a straight-no-chaser, tears-in-the-beer tearjerker.
The album’s title cut is a rockabilly ripper, with a narrator who bounces—like a pinball—from Las Vegas to Reno, and ends up in Wendover, all wrapped up in a crazy bender. It refers to the challenges of tour life—the constant travel as well as the ubiquity of intoxicants.
“There were substances—it got to the point where we didn’t know what to do with all of them,” he said. “We don’t want to waste stuff, but we also don’t want to die.”
Hellbound Glory, now a Reno institution, has been around for more than a decade in various incarnations, centered around Virgil and lap steel guitarist Rico Peterson. The new album was produced by Shooter Jennings, the country singer and songwriter, whose father, Waylon, is the father of the style of outlaw country to which Hellbound Glory is clearly indebted.
The band recently premiered a new video for the song “Hellbound Blues.” In the video, Virgil and a scantily clad female accomplice rob a strip club at gunpoint. They get high on a massive pile of cocaine. She overdoses, and he shoots himself. The video has a horror-movie sensibility that some find funny, but others found it offensive, so Virgil released a follow-up video, apologizing to anyone who thought the video was in bad taste. The apology video itself has a cheeky tone. Instead of his usual cowboy garb, Virgil is dressed in jogging attire, and ends the video by going for a run in the hills.
Hellbound Glory is known for its raucous live shows, which can go haywire.
“There was a time at the Crystal Bay Club where I sat and flipped off the audience for 10 minutes, and went to piss in the back corner of the stage before security dragged me out,” said Virgil. “That was probably not a very good one. But they hired me back. … The guy who booked the place—I get a call the next day, ’Are you OK?’ He was really concerned, worried I’d gone off the rails. ’Do you need to talk to someone? Are you OK?’ So, it’s nice to know that some of the business people out there in the Northern Nevada, Tahoe, Reno area—they really care about their musicians. They really do. It’s an entertainment town. That’s a good song title—’Entertainment Town.’”