Bill Davis has been touring as the lead man of Dash Rip Rock for over 30 years now. And he’s still going strong, pushing the band on the road in support of their latest CD, Wrongheaded. The trio started as a punk band, got typed as rockabilly, credited with leading cow-punk, endured the hit song phase (“Let’s Go Smoke Some Dope”), was pegged as country rock, and finally has lived through the alt-country era. Their new CD is a collection of just about every style they’ve recorded. It’s an honor to talk with a guy whose music I’ve enjoyed for decades. Then to find him as easy to talk to as an old friend, makes me look forward to the show even more. Some musicians take on these concert preview calls like it is an intrusion. Bill was laughing, joking, and friendly throughout.
Following are pieces of our conversation:
SCMG – First off, congratulations on being inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame. (In 2012)
DRR – Thanks, that’s been an honor. We’ve really been a fringe artist. Kind of progressive rock and roll. You know, Louisiana has made its name from the founders of Rock and Roll. Elvis, and Fats and some of those guys. It’s just cool to be accepted as an innovator among all of them. We are far from mainstream.
SCMG – After 30+ years of touring and recording, is it still fun?
DRR – It really is a lot of fun. We are in festival season. So instead of playing to 200-300 in a bar, we get to play to several thousand in the sunshine. It’s our favorite time of year. We usually go to Europe in the Summer. That’s what makes the time pass so quickly. So many things to look forward to. We’ve had our ups and downs, but now we have semi legendary status (laughs), so that’s cool. We did SXSW, where we did like 5 show in 4 days. And we’re new enough onto this tour where we haven’t gotten on each other’s nerves yet.
SCMG – So, we can expect a good show with three guys that get along?
DRR – Definitely. We’ve come through Charleston a lot and it’s a place we like. In the 90’s we would hit Music Farm and were friends with a lot of local bands. And there were bands there on Mammoth records when we were signed to them, who played Charleston a lot. There was always a good scene there, and a lot of the bands there were in our wheelhouse. Right now there are a lot of cool rock bands with the country influence. It’s a good scene.
SCMG – Any memories of Charleston shows?
DRR – Actually, fishing! I used to walk the grass out there. There was an old fishing guide with a really odd name. Side Eye. Old Side Eye would take me out and we’d walk through the grass and man it was fun. I was flyfishing for redfish and when I got a few, Side Eye would call it ‘Dash In The Grass’.
SCMG – The record Wrongheaded starts with a song called ‘Stickin’ To The Woods,” which seems to be just about unplugging and getting out to nature. How much does being in the outdoors play a part in your life and music?
DRR – Well most of the record was written out in the woods. A couple friends of mine has places in the woods. So I just went out there and wrote a lot of the record and recorded some of it there too. It ended up as a great synthesis of all the things I’ve tried to do. I’ve taken Dash Rip Rock through a lot of different style issues. When we started and were touring with REM and the dbs, and others, we started as a southern rock band, college rock band, country-esque like some of those bands were doing. But at the same time, we were throwing in rock a billy. It was always sort of a synthesis. When we were out with the Black Crowes, we were taking a southern rock detour. But it’s always been fun to see where we could plug Dash in to something else and make it our own. So all of that is on that record.
SCMG – On the song, ‘Songreader’, you ask, “Dear reader / do you like my song / Can you tell me / What am I doing wrong.” It almost sounds like a challenge to someone like me as a music writer.
DRR – That’s not the way I meant it, but I can totally see that. The way I’ve seen the music business turn lately, it’s almost like the people who run the record labels are the ones calling all the shots instead of the artists. I used to be in Nashville as a writer, pitching songs. It’s like all those guys who wrote the classic country songs, they’d say if they were in Nashville now, that nobody would listen to those songs if they were pitching them today. They aren’t contemporary enough or something. “Songreader,” is about a a guy living the life, and writing the life, and having his songs being torn apart about not being country enough – but he lived that country song life.
SCMG – So at the upcoming show, are you bringing the Alligator guitar? (a guitar with a alligator head and design that resembles a gator – very Louisiana)
DRR – The Allicastor? Or Ga-Tar as I like to call it? Hideous and beautiful at the same time. Yup, it will be there.
SCMG – What can we expect in the set?
DRR – A lot of Wrongheaded and mixing in our older material. Maybe some odd covers. A Merle Haggard tune, seeing as he just passed.
SCMG – Any Prince?
DRR – Ha. No. I know everyone is doing that now. But we decided not to sully any of his memory by destroying his songs.
SCMG – A friend of mine played a show with you just after Kyle joined the band on drums. He tells that between songs, Kyle started playing some beat that was from a corny song. Bread, Pablo Cruise, Vanilla Ice. He can’t remember the song, but you and Hokey (bassist) joined in and the crowd got into it. Then Kyle stopped and said something like, “Man, I was just kidding.” You turned to him, angry and scolded him, “Look man, we know every song. So don’t ever start playing something unless you are prepared to finish it.” Here is my question: Is there any song Kyle could have started that Hoaky and you would NOT have joined in on?
DRR – Wow. Maybe something by Hawkwind. Your friend got to see a little of classic Dash Rip Rock that night. But we do pride ourselves in knowing everything. I mean, we’ve launched into a punk version of Girl From Ipanema and I sang the lyrics in Portuguese. When you’re a punk band and you break into something out of the ordinary, it kind fo blows the crowd away. We enjoy giving them a break from the usual stuff. But yeah, Kyle is notorious for pulling our cheesy covers.
SCMG – Here is another question from that same friend: What is the strangest thing that ever happened at Dill’s Motorcourt (Where they stay when playing Tuscaloosa, AL).
DRR – We’ve had so many things happen there. One involved a midget. Another involved someone almost drowning in a swimming pool. One that sticks in my mind, we were playing with Cowboy Mouth. At the time we didn’t get along with them because when Fred left the band (Fred LeBlanc was once the drummer for Dash Rip Rock before leaving to form Cowboy Mouth) there were some hard feelings. But eventually we sucked it up and decided to do some shows together since we were playing to all the same crowds. One time we were all staying at Dill’s. We were all being civil to each other and toward the end of the night Hoaky had too much whiskey. And when he gets drunk, sometimes he likes to wrestle people, eventually somebody got cut with a bottle. It went from happy drunk wrestling to “call the ambulance.” So Hoaky got to ride in an ambulance and got some stitches. There are so many stories from Dill’s. When we stayed there, it would not be just the band, but the band and 6 other people. I’d wake up and have to ask, “Who are you, and you, and you?”
SCMG – While we talked more about mutual acquaintances, and other stories, he didn’t want to let me go before telling me the following:
DRR – And write this too, we just added the Defilers. We weren’t sure if they could do the show, but just confirmed them. So that’s sure to bring people out. We like them.
Dash Rip Rock with the Defilers
Sunday May 1 at the Tin Roof, West Ashley
Note: The friend of mine who sent in the other questions is Joe Oestreich, currently a professor of English Literature at Coastal Carolina, and bassist for Watershed, which toured with Dash a couple of times. Dash Rip Rock also appears in Joe’s book Hitless Wonder: A Life In Minor League Rock and Roll. I’ll throw a plug in for Joe’s book any time I can.