Two OG friends mix it up as the Babs Johnson Gang
Jailbird-style harmonica notes wail out from behind a cardboard door at the end of a dark hallway. The missing doorknob provides an opportune peephole, and inside, a red-haired 24-year-old wearing a denim armband sits behind a drum kit, his chest expanding and exhaling aggressively as he blows into the harmonica cupped tightly in his hands. At his feet, a curvaceous, nude blond woman posed amid graffiti, her pregnant belly proudly exposed, and white letters that read “The Babs Johnson Gang” decorate the jailbird’s bass drum. The nude’s sphere-shaped stomach throbs and rapidly pulses at the mercy of the bass-drum kicks.
This is where longtime friends Tim Pronovost and Cory Gorey practice. The duo, whose goal is to revive the spontaneity of local music, formed the Babs Johnson Gang by combining a love for old John Waters and Abel Ferrara films with a laundry list of musical awareness. They’re passionate, but it’s rumored that club promoters, audience members and even local bands have labeled them the most hated band in Sacramento. Maybe it’s due to outbursts of random movie quotes or a rejection of audience applause?
“We’re hated because we put on the most intense shows, where we both put our heart, soul and fucking blood into [it],” says guitarist and vocalist Pronovost. “We don’t stop during shows, because we don’t want you to clap; we want you to dance. … That means you’re having a good time, and we vibe off that.”
The band’s diverse list of musical influences includes blues musician Sandy Nelson and surf bands such as the Tornadoes. But the Gang doesn’t limit inspiration to just music; both their lyrics and name reflect two of their favorite films. “Babs Johnson Gang” stems from John Water’s Pink Flamingos, staring Pronovost’s favorite reoccurring starlet, the infamous Divine, a full-figured drag queen known for her vivacious demeanor and extreme makeup choices. And the Gang’s song “Driller Killer” narrates the events of Gorey’s favorite Abel Ferrara film of the same name.
“We draw so much from movies. All my pedals and my guitars are named after film actresses,” explains Pronovost. “This is my ‘Uma’ pedal, and I thought it broke, so I got a double and I named it ‘Zoë,’ because Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill was Zoë Bell.” On his amp is Edwige Fenech, who’s his favorite ’60s Italian giallo star.
The Gang’s sound is best described as “Ballroom Blitz” style snare drums with reverberated screams and catchy melodies. Pronovost’s energy channels Jack White’s tried-and-true rock ’n’ roll, while Gorey’s drumming and vocal styles speak to the swagger of a modern-day Jerry Lee Lewis.
Still, they intend to mix up their styling. “We don’t want to limit ourselves with what we can do,” Gorey says. “Once you paint yourself in a corner as far as a sound goes, you tend to stay there. People start expecting things from you.”
Pronovost adds that the Gang borrows from the Clash, old blues artists, and doo-wop groups such as the Platters, the Flamingos. “We go to record stores and we dig. We probably have black lung from all that dust,” he says.
When attending a Gang show, nothing bugs these guys more than texting during their set or feeling self-conscious about dancing. As Gorey says, “Forget that vibe” and welcome the unpredictability of Sacramento’s smallest gang.
“When Tim’s strings break on his guitar, we don’t stop; we just keep going and make it work,” Gorey says. “It leaves it open for spontaneous shit to happen.
“We’re trying to make people excited about music again, or as excited as we are, because we’re nerds and consume music.”