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Playback: Headcrusher's Heavy Metal Colombian Offense

Headcrusher's Heavy Metal Colombian Offense, Joe Ely's Lost Electro Album, A New Home for Refugeed Bluegrass

By Kevin Curtin, Fri., June 27, 2014

(l-r) Headcrusher’s Gustavo Calderon, Gustavo “Kike” Valderrama, and Alejandro Ospina
(l-r) Headcrusher’s Gustavo Calderon, Gustavo “Kike” Valderrama, and Alejandro Ospina
Photo by John Anderson

It's midnight Saturday on Beerland's smoky patio, and some cheapskate at the gate is debating whether entry's worth $5.

"Is the band gooood?" he asks, looking through the doorway as Headcrusher assembles onstage. My question makes him roll his eyes.

"Do you like metal?" I ask.

"Yeah man. It's what I play."

"This is Colombian immigrant metal," I warn. "You like the sound of that?"

Less than a minute into the quintet's cacophony of blast beats, tangled riffage, and bilingual flamethrower roars, the cheapskate from outside headbangs so hard he drops his beer.

"We are drug lords from South America," kids Gustavo "Kike" Valderrama, the group's lead vocalist.

No lie. Headcrusher's tough-yet-affable style of mellowed death cut with thrash and muscled hardcore proves high-grade with steroidal breakdowns, precision drumming, lyrics raging against corruption, and a badass front line of bass and guitars that balance technicality and brutality.

Three days later, Headcrusher and I hit a bar to watch Colombia's national soccer team face off against Japan in the World Cup. Winners of their first two, Colombia is amidst its finest Cup run yet. Fútbol hysteria runs high back home – at least 10 people have died during post-game celebrations this month.

"Colombia is a Catholic country, and I think religion and soccer are at the same level," notes Valderrama. "Corruption, too."

The metalheads are glued to the big screen. With every missed shot on goal, drummer Alejandro Ospina unleashes a hail of obscenities: "¡Doble hijo de puta!" he shouts. "Double motherfucker!"

"It's like a novella," says bassist Gustavo Calderon when I ask for Headcrusher's history. Ospina started the band in Pereira, Colombia, in 2001. Multi-instrumentalist Carlos Ramirez hitched onto it soon after. Valderrama became the group's vocalist in 2005, then left the next year to work in the U.S., where he became friends with Calderon. A much different lineup of Headcrusher toured the States in 2007 before taking residency in New York City and dissolving one year later. Then Valderrama rejoined the band and brought in Calderon, who convinced the group to move to Austin in 2008. They met Ecuadorian shredder David Coloma at a Hatebreed show, thus completing the current lineup.

"Everything happened because of metal," Ospina declares. "It's the reason we all met each other, and it's why we live in the States."

Colombia goes on a tear to open the second half, breaking its 1-1 tie with three straight scores. The largely Colombian crowd jumps from their seats and screams in Spanish with each one. Within the scrum of yellow jerseys, the members of Headcrusher stand out. With tattoos, black shirts, and heavy metal patches, their true pastime is clear.

"People find us quite interesting," shrugs Valderrama. "'You moved from your country and left everything to play metal?' Yes, that's true. We love metal. We breathe metal."

Headcrusher pulverizes the Lost Well Saturday, a show that coincides with the Spora Recordz vinyl release of their double LP Let the Blood Run/Black Burning Skies and the Colombian soccer teams' Round of 16 showdown with Uruguay.

Joe Ely's Lost Electro Album

"I left West Texas behind, took my honky-tonk band out into the world, and let myself be influenced by all the things I found out there."

So says Joe Ely, explaining why, in 1982, he decided to plug his Telecaster into a computer instead of an amplifier. "I'd become fascinated with the Apple II Plus home computer and hooked up a keyboard that was the first MIDI sequencer where you played into it and it remembered the notes."

Working with guitarist Mitch Watkins and bassist Roscoe Beck, Ely crafted an album that splayed his Texas-style rock over canned drum-machine beats and pumped up synth sequences. Ely may have been 20 years ahead of the curve on computer-based home recording, but MCA Records wasn't impressed with the vision.

"They were slightly horrified," Ely laughs. "They came to the conclusion that it needed to be re-recorded in a studio, which we did, and it ended up costing an arm and a leg."

The resulting synth & roll compromise, 1984's Hi-Res, contained select gems like "What's Shakin' Tonight" and "Cool Rockin' Loretta," but has been largely relegated to the dustbin and never pressed on CD, much to Ely's chagrin.

"When we finished that album, I went back and compared the songs," he says. "And I really liked the original tape better."

Having recently resolved to clean his cabinets of unreleased material, Ely sequenced his favorite cuts from the original sessions and compiled B484, featuring six alternate cuts, three previously unheard tracks, and a superior version of 1987 single "My Baby Thinks She's French." Be it digital curiosity or a completist must-have, B484 represents the beginning of Ely's continued practice of recording at home on Apple computers.

"Now that I'm receiving download payments from iTunes, it feels like Apple is finally paying me back for all the money I've spent on computer stuff," he chuckles.

B484 hits Amazon and iTunes on Monday, two days after Ely graces Strange Brew for two sets.

New Home for Refugeed Bluegrass

(l-r) Tony Kamel, 
Chojo Jacques, and Dave Wilmoth
(l-r) Tony Kamel, Chojo Jacques, and Dave Wilmoth
Photo by John Anderson

March's shuttering of Barton Springs hippie haven Flipnotics orphaned several longstanding residencies, among them the Bluegrass Outfit's three-year standing jams on Monday nights. The blandly named yet musically excellent engagement, which features a deep dugout of top-notch pickers, including Wood & Wire's Tony Kamel and Trevor Smith, fiddle expert Chojo Jacques, and bassist Andrew Pressman, has begun anew at upstart South Austin hangout Radio Coffee & Beer.

Six musicians squeezed onto Radio's kiddie pool-sized stage Monday night, calling tunes on the fly and taking turns on the mic as they rotated solos to loud applause and, aggravatingly, even louder talking. Unlike Flipnotics' listening room, which stood in quiet separation from the bar, Radio's action all goes down in one place.

"These are some of the best bluegrass pickers in all of Austin right here," Radio owner Jack Wilson hollered from behind the bar after the Bluegrass Outfit struggled to register amongst the talkative patrons. "Everybody please lower your voices so they can lay it down."

Damn right.

With the audience properly lectured, the players lifted off with a tremendous second set, giving hope that, once Radio finds its Monday vibe, the Bluegrass Outfit will again prove valuable residents.

Austin's selection of legit bluegrass – not string bands, new grass, nor alt-grass – remains somewhat limited, but once again we know where find it: Radio Coffee & Beer, Mondays at 9pm.

Half Notes

› Congratulations to Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey and longtime SXSW booker Craig Stewart, who tripped to New Mexico June 11 and got married. The two have been a couple for 22 years. In other news, Butthole Surfers bassist Jeff Pinkus says Honky's latest disc, Corduroy, is nearing completion. The record features both Michael Brueggen and Melvins basher Dale Crover on drums, Grupo Fantasma's Mark "Speedy" Gonzales on horns, and fellow Butthole Paul Leary mixing.

› Last October, surgeons removed a 23-pound ovarian cyst from the abdomen of Hex Dispensers guitarist Rebecca Whitley, leaving her with an eye-bugging amount of medical debt. A Saturday benefit show at Red 7 promises an ultra-rare reunion from Houston garage punk heroes Sugar Shack.

› My commute to the Chronicle offices has "rocked" significantly less now that I'm not greeted daily by attorney David Komie's dreadlocked mug. Komie's notorious billboard, trumpeting the Dharma Kings' leather-jacketed frontman as "The Attorney That Rocks" disappeared from its longstanding location on Airport Boulevard earlier this month. Repeated calls to the Komie & Morrow law firm, inquiring whether he's divesting from billboard infamy, and if he plans to continue rocking, were not immediately returned.

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