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Supersuckers with The Drags and Jal Lure; Thursday, July 3; Launchpad

By Michael Henningsen

July 8, 1997:  "What the hell's up with the Supersuckers?" a friend of mine queried, his confused glances pouring over the CD in his hands. "They used to rock," he continued, raising his voice, "and now they put out a country record. What the hell?" Somewhat surprised at his "country record" assertion, I grabbed the CD, shrugged and headed off to my showerless hovel where music is my only salvation and my CD player is the only thing that keeps me from ending it all.

And what I found after a couple of listens to Must've Been High, Supersuckers latest Sub Pop release, is that the band still rocks. And the fact that the new record is full-on trailer park heartbreak and dusty roads country isn't really all that surprising when one considers the Supersuckers' musical progression in terms of the proverbial Big Picture. From their first Empty Records release (The Songs All Sound The Same) to the Sub Pop records previous to this (La Mano Cornuda), hints of a Western fascination have been obvious. The band's rollicking live shows have featured bassist/vocalist Eddie Spaghetti sporting a Stetson from day one. Of course, it takes more than a cowboy hat to play country music (just ask Billy Ray Cyrus or one of those dipshits)--it takes a certain spirit, a state-of-mind where loving your mama as much as your Budweiser is the standard.

Up to now, though, the Supersuckers' most serious foray into pure country was their collaboration with Willie Nelson on Twisted Willie, the coldly received Justice Records tribute to the warble-voiced Highwayman. Their version of the Nelson-penned classic "Bloody Mary Morning" pitted the Supersuckers' fuel-injected power chording against Nelson's acoustic chicken-picking and background vocals, thus helping to create one of the better, more interesting tribute records out there, despite the upturned noses and poison pens of many a rock critic.

On Must've Been High, the Supersuckers have thrown caution to the wind and opted for writing real-live country songs that are just as likely to reach "classic" status within that genre as anything Dwight Yoakam churns out. In fact, the Suckers called upon Yoakam's stringman Brantley Kearns, along with Nelson harmonicist Mickey Raphael and Jesse Dayton to add their expertise, just to make sure. Other guest appearances include vocal contributions from Kelley Deal.

What my aforementioned friend not-so-cleverly forgot to consider is clearly emblazoned on the back cover of Must've Been High. There, in a brief note signed by the Supersuckers--presumably intended to explain themselves and their new record before closed-minded rock fans smash the disc against their bedroom walls or return it for a full refund--the similarities between pure country music and punk rock are spelled out in just two words: Pure and Simple. Songs born of the heart rather than having been brewed in a studio from Berkeley Music College degrees, Rod Morganstein drum workshops and an Eventide Harmonizer. The Supersuckers readily admit that they indeed must've been high to make their new record, but doing it their way has always been what they're about.

But if the music's the one thing that's changed, the live show is the one that hasn't. Watching Spaghetti and the boys--guitarists Dan Bolton and Renaldo Allegre and drummer Dancing Eagle--tear shit up on the dusk-lit outdoor stage at this year's South By Southwest Music Festival was all the proof anyone needed that the Supersuckers know exactly what the hell their doing.

Which brings us back to my poor friend, so quick to judge a record by its cover and music by its moniker. The Supersuckers don't claim to be the "hot new country" band of the day; they're just exploring in all honesty music they happen to find as pure and liberating as the punk rock that so fascinated them in the beginning. Really not all that far-fetched, now, is it?

--Michael Henningsen

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