Jimmy don’t care
Train-wreck rock band Billy Goats Gruff gives the working man an excuse to cut loose
Describing Sacramento-based group Billy Goats Gruff as a rock band is like calling Sacramento mass murderer Dorothea Puente a nurse. The band’s live performances are an organized train wreck, with singer and guitarist Billy Haggard egging on the crowd like a preacher in an old-time tent revival show. The music is 90-percent mayhem.
“Our music is OK. We’re good,” said Haggard, who, in a previous life, was a child pitchman for Arden Furniture. “Our main thing is to turn any show that we play into a party. Jimmy over here had a fucked-up day at work. He comes to see Billy Goats Gruff; he forgets about work. He doesn’t care about work. All he cares about is for that hour that he saw us, he was having a good time. That’s what we’re about.”
Formed in the summer of 2000, Billy Goats Gruff is Haggard, bassist Nino McMurphy, drummer Daniel “the quiet one” Benbrook and guitarist Mark Blasquez, who has done production work with Axl Rose, Gene Loves Jezebel, Gary Numan and Skinny Puppy. Blasquez is currently touring with industrial-rock band Ministry.
Billy Goats Gruff’s debut CD, Hands on Ewe, sold out in less than a month. Instead of pressing more copies, the band accepted an invitation from Sacramento producer Pat Olguin (Black Eyed Peas, Papa Roach and Deftones) to re-record the CD at his Velvet Tone Studio.
McMurphy is animated onstage; he can’t stand still while he plays, beating his 1969 Fender Jazz bass like a mule. “That thing is a workhorse,” he said. “I find that there is a reason why some basses are beat up—because they sound good and play good. I’ve had immaculate vintage pieces that had no scratches on them, and they sounded terrible.”
The bassist smashes it into whatever’s convenient and into some things that aren’t—like his head. “I’ve seen him come home from gigs,” said Haggard, “smiling like a kindergarten kid who got his first graham cracker in math, with lacerations across his forehead. We measured the cuts to his bass strings, and they were actually from him slamming the bass on his head.”
Friendship holds this band together, especially the friendship between Haggard and McMurphy. “I had done the whole ’80s thing,” Haggard lamented. “I ended up playing with a band called I.C.U., which was some of the original members of Steel Breeze. I got so hooked on blow that I started selling my guitars for drugs.”
“Should this go in the interview?” Benbrook interjected.
“If this goes in there,” Haggard answered, “then maybe some kid is going to read this thing and is going to understand that music is more important than drugs, because it is. We’d play gigs where they’d pay you half in money and half in blow. Basically, Nino saved my life. One day, Nino walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, I have a money-making opportunity for you.’ Now, I had sold all my gear. I had given up on getting a record deal. I had given up on music. I was done. And that’s how I got out of drugs. Nino told me that he had a band called Juan Ton Ton and they had a show in a week. I said, ‘Give me a tape.’ I listened to that tape day in and day out—didn’t pick up a guitar. So, we played this gig at the Press Club, and I had so much fucking fun. This guy got me back into playing. Nino saved my life.”
“He showed up with long hair and spandex,” said McMurphy. “I thought, ‘I ain’t hanging out with a guy like that!’”
“Nino is my best friend in the fucking world,” replied Haggard. “He is the nuttiest motherfucker that you’ll ever meet, but if your back is against the wall, he’s there. If something is wrong, he’s there. If you have a problem with a woman, he’s there. If your genitals are small and you want an enlargement, he’s going to support you to get that penile implant to make it bigger.”