Hell, let’s just cut to the chase right at the outset. The Hickoids defy easy and neat description, or even messy description, though “messy” was often applied to the band’s members and their shamelessly uninhibited punk rock run for the wilted Texas yellow roses from 1985 through ‘92 — one of the mildest descriptions, in fact. The tags hung around their scrawny and unruly necks like name and number slates in arrest photos include but are hardly limited to cowpunk, white thrash, glambilly, hard-corn, psychobilly, hick rock, acidbilly and out on bail. All in a way apply, but none and even the sum of those terms do these magnificent musical reprobates full justice.
To truly “get” The Hickoids as they were in their original wild, wooly and damned loud and raucously ragged magnificence, combine tequila with beer chasers (not the other way around), psychedelic shrooms, demon musical seeds spewed by The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and Iggy & The Stooges, honky-tonk and “Hee Haw,” hay bales scattered in the air, power chords and toxic twang galore, battered cowboy hats and tattered thrift store dresses, and their Austin hometown in all its late ‘80s cheap rent/booze/pot/living slacker splendor. That’ll give ya a bracing taste of what was and now, nearly 20 years after they sputtered to a halt, returns anew. Or simply mix the notions “Texas” and “punk rock,” multiply that to the Nth exponential, and shake vigorously. Voila! Hickoids.
Now in 2011, The Hickoids throw another wrench into the cogs of preconception on Kicking It With The Twits. Yeah, they’re an American band in ways that Grand Funk Railroad could never have dreamed of in their worst nightmares. But proudly flying the Union Jack of the Disunited Kingdom across the pond on their latest release makes perfect sense for this resolutely renegade rock’n’roll band.
The eight-song mini-album shouts never mind the corn, here’s the Brit-rock bollocks that are as much a primal musical scream within the Hickoids consciousness as the magic mushrooms found growing in the cow patty of the band’s twisted American roots. Anyone who has wondered where the cross-dressing, splashes of glam and elegantly wasted decadence that The Hickoids have ingeniously perfected into the highest levels of low art will find the origins here on songs by superstars like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Elton John as well as such quintessentially English groups as Mott The Hoople, Eno, Slade, The Move and punk pioneers The Damned.
The disc abounds with transatlantic twists like a billowing blues harp on Pete Townshend’s ode to onanism, “Pictures of Lily,” and Sir Elton’s #1 hit “Bennie and the Jets” neon lit by rolling Texas tumbleweed steel guitar. The Jagger/Richards 1965 social commentary of “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow” and the first Brit-punk single “Neat, Neat, Neat” are reborn in the colonies and supercharged new millennium garage rock nuggets. The Saville Row savoir faire of Eno’s “Needles in the Camel’s Eye” gets transmogrified into a swirling psychedelic storm and The Move’s “Brontosaurus” becomes a heavy metal guitar squall. The stomp’n’roll of Slade’s “Gudbuy T’ Jane” gets amped up to 11, and Mott’s “Whizz Kid” becomes a roaring slide guitar fever dream. Just as The Hickoids have done with everything they’ve musically touched since their mid-1980s breech birth, this set sparks a roaring American heartland prairie fire from the fuel of the band’s seminal British inspirations.
“The Hickoids are to country music what a stick of dynamite is to firecrackers. Back in the days when no one had to worry much about keeping Austin weird, The Hickoids were doing their best to make it the weirdest place in Texas, if not on earth," observes William Michael Smith of the Houston Press today. Although it’s nothing short of a miracle that the group even survived their sordid past, the truth be told they “sound as big and badass as ever,” raves their hometown rag the Austin Chronicle. Key members Jeff Smith (aka “The Thin White Duke of Hazzard”) at the microphone and Davy Jones on his gnarly guitar still lead the charge, ably abetted by Jonie Hell on drums, Rice Moorehead on bass, Jacob Schulze on guitar and keyboards and Scott Lutz on steel guitar.
“There are some things about The Hickoids that will never be known,” confesses Smith. “You could only know them by being there when they were happening.” And even those who were there debate the facts and/or try to remember them. But this much is known and not in dispute: Three original — and we do mean bracingly original — vinyl (somewhat) long-playing record releases titled We’re in It for the Corn, Hard Corn and Waltz a Crossdress Texas, plus a holiday spirits 45, “We Got the Eggnog If You Got the Whisky.” Thousands of miles in run-down stinking band vans and hundreds of gigs whose memories linger for those who witnessed them like God’s own worst hangover after a damned and devilishly fun night of demented hillbilly from hell rock’n’roll revelry. And a genuine legend left in their wake along with drained beer kegs, pregnancy scares, arrest warrants, damaged eardrums, shattered psyches, and truly fond recollections of how The Hickoids buzz-sawed through musical clichés and conventions while staging intoxicatingly (and intoxicated) extemporaneous entertainment extravaganzas whenever they took the stage.
Those who happily suffered the damage in the day and lived to rave about it include such influential rock star dudes as Peter Buck of R.E.M., Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Sublime drummer Bud Gaugh. Nine Inch Nails opened a show for The Hickoids on their first tour. The guy who recorded the band’s debut album describes it in his Wikipedia entry as a “destructive, reckless, absurd, stoned, drunk, sped-out tweaked mess that happened to capture that mentality and people related to it.” The Hickoids are also proudly listed on Eagle Glen Frey’s website as one of the artists who have covered — but to be more accurate in this case transmogrified — one of his songs, “Take It Easy.” (“Has he ever heard our version?” wonders Smith.)
It’s no surprise that the two main principals behind The Hickoids were both corrupted soon after puberty by rock’n’roll. For Smith it was reading the English music weeklies Melody Maker and New Musical Express that he bought at a local underground record store in San Antonio at age 13. “I was following the Sex Pistols saga very closely,” he recounts. Soon after he was singing Pistols and Ramones songs in his first band at school assemblies. At the end of his high school years Smith fronted a “porno punk” band called The Bang Gang who got as far as opening for Bad Brains at CBGB in New York City, and put out an EP, She Ran But We Ran Faster, that even cutting-edge punk zine Maximum Rock’n’Roll found so offensive they wouldn’t run an ad for it.
By 1985 Smith was living in Austin and not just dropping but bottoming out of his Radio, TV & Film studies at the University of Texas. He decided to start a band with his friend Jukebox, “who was one of the best guitarists on the fringe of whatever passed for the punk scene in Austin,” Smith recalls. And also “an itinerant black-marketeer [read magic mushroom dealer] who carried around a teepee and lodge poles atop his van but never set it up.”
Their concept was “Gary Stewart meets Black Flag with psychedelia and glam thrown in,” explains Smith. The group’s debut gig was opening for, fittingly, Black Flag and The Meat Puppets in San Antonio.
Guitarist Davy Jones coined the band’s name after watching a homeless guy in a crumpled cowboy hat dumpster diving and remarking, “There’s a real hickoid-looking son of a bitch,” sealing his fate to join the combo a few months later. He had started playing in bands at 13 on the East Coast and “got Southernized” in 11th grade when his family moved to Arkansas. Then the debut New York Dolls album and Raw Power by The Stooges “changed everything,” he recounts. After graduating from college, “I was at a loss to get work and fucked up and went in the Army. But the good thing was that I ended up at Fort Hood in Texas and started coming down to Austin and going to shows.” A stint in the seminal Lone Star hardcore outfit The Offenders led to his relocation to the capital city after a surprisingly honorable discharge.
The Hickoids line-up eventually solidified with Central Texas punk scene vets and brothers Richard Hays on bass (now dearly departed) and Arthur Hays on drums, later replaced by Wade Driver due to Arthur’s ongoing troubles with the law and stretches in jail and on probation or parole (dilemmas to which the rest of the band’s members were also no strangers). They initially released their debut album in 1985 on Smith’s Matako Mazuri label, later picked up by Toxic Shock Records. That year they aced out local C&W favorites like Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel and Jerry Jeff Walker to win Best Country Band at the Austin Music Awards. “All it really did was piss-off people who actually played country music, and we of course dug that,” says Smith. “Mission accomplished. That award and two bucks would have got us a six-pack of Lone Star back then.”
They followed with an EP, Hard Corn, that included a reinterpretation of “Kung-Fu Fighting” as “Corn-Fu Fighting.” On a subsequent West Coast tour, Jukebox absconded with the tour proceeds. “He was probably always better off as a solo artist,” Smith notes philosophically. “And it did unite the rest of the band.” They considered titling their final eight-song 1989 release Teepee My Ass in honor of their larcenous former bandmate, but instead named it Waltz a Crossdress Texas for their inclination to shop for stage duds off the ladies rack and smear on make-up.
By 1991, the “nutball cudpunks,” as San Francisco Weekly dubbed The Hickoids, no longer had the breath to siphon gas into their corroded creative tanks. After all, their antic and substance fueled stage shows were no act, and in truth only the highpoint of a 24/7 lifestyle. “It was a chicken or egg sort of situation,” Smith explains. “Did being in the band allow us to engage in immoral and illegal behavior? Or did engaging in immoral and illegal behavior allow us to be in a band? At the time we didn’t grapple with such heavy questions. We just got by and enjoyed being able to engage in immoral and illegal behavior.”
More than once in their travels The Hickoids heard the line, “Place your hands on the vehicle.” And on an all too frequent basis they barely escaped gigs and other scrapes with their lives. Booked one night at the last minute into an oilfield trash juke’n’puke in Odessa, Texas, Smith walked into the club bathroom after their set to find Jones, garbed in stretch pants with a tiger tail, facing the business end of a knife brandished by a six-foot-six tall redneck who didn’t appreciate the band’s unique take on the country music ethos.
The Hickoids certainly weren’t the Grand Ole Opry. After a show in Athens, Georgia attended by only two people, Peter Buck and Jones’s father, the elder Jones told his son, “I hear the punk, but I don’t hear the cow.” Band members would alternate nights being the one who fell down drunk (and worse) on stage. And to bring it all back home to the barnyard, they’d often shower their audiences in hay. “We weren’t above grabbing a bale or two out of a ditch being used for flood control,” Smith recounts. “We had to be careful because sometimes they had ants in them,” much to the itchy dismay of audience members the following day.
Garbed in mix’n’mismatch yard sale chic, gender-bending regalia or t-shirts that read, “Fuck You, We’re From Texas,” The Hickoids were rarely if never less than a sight to behold. Smith would frequently unzip during shows to let his flagpole fly in all its randy glory, and full frontal and back nudity was neither above nor below them on occasion. Yet on the best nights and even the worst, the group pursued their musical mission with an invigorating potency and abandon as well as affectionate if also hilariously ironic corniness that was so life changing there oughta be a law against it.
Song titles like “U Kin Lead a Hoss to Water, But He Still Drinks on His Own,” “Animal Husbandry” and “Pennsylvania Mexican” hint at their knack for making bad taste timeless. And no sacred cows were spared from slaughter as they slashed and barbequed covers like the Elvis Presley hit “Burnin’ Love” yet also recorded a surprisingly musically true cover of a Webb Pierce’s honky-tonk classic, “There Stands The Glass.” But as Jones points out, “I like that fact that we didn’t take it seriously. That’s an important part of rock’n’roll.”
A handful of reunion shows through the 1990s started to coalesce into reformation school after the turn of the century. As Jones explains, “Even when we really didn’t do shows for 10 years or so, I just considered The Hickoids such a part of me — ‘That’s my band,’ the most important one, and certainly the most satisfying. It’s the greatest group I’ve been in. I’ve never stopped being a Hickoid, not that I now dress in conflicting plaid and stripes every day.”
Smith eventually relocated back to San Antonio and again started a record label, Saustex, which re-released the material from the last two Hickoids records on CD as Corn Demon in 2006. Last year’s The Hairy Chafin’ EP sounded the siren for the rebirth — or maybe better re-spawn — of The Hickoids to be heard on their highly-anticipated upcoming full album, The Hairy Chafin’ Ape Suit. Rated as a slab of tunes that “kicks some major booty” by Punk Planet, “these perverse purveyors of cow-punk poon-twang have whipped up five saucy tunes” raves Blurt. And the best — well, maybe better said the most bad ass yet from the band — is percolating up to full blast in the near future.
“We’re making a record that is true to who we are now,” Smith explains. “Funny, but a subtler brand of funny. And more musically solid.”
On the other hand, Jones points out, “It’s only going to be so grown up.” But their redneck punk rock filth and fury still retains its 100 proof potency. “Apart from maybe the Groovy Rednecks or Hank III, there aren't any country-rock performers around these days who live it up recklessly and raucously with the same boozy, profane attitude and hell-raisin’ abandon as the Hickoids," notes L.A. Weekly
“The delightfully lewd, crude and lascivious Hickoids have returned from the corn crib of oblivion,” declares Blurt. So lock up your wives and daughters as well as your liquor and medicine cabinets, batten down the hatches, and happily beware. The corn is again popping, roasting and brewing in the still as The Hickoids return to criminally mischievous action. After fomenting a musical revolution from the dung of punk rock and country, they’re back to rule the roost like the proverbial wolves in the henhouse of contemporary music.