You know that saying about always remembering your first love? Dash Rip Rock was my first band love at South by Southwest.
The SXSW you know today is unrecognizable compared to the early years, before the attendant film and interactive festivals. Before the Convention Center, when it was held in the Sheraton (now the Radisson), there was a little van system to take you around to clubs.
The vans got dropped after about three years but while they had them, for one night during every conference, my best friend E.A. and I would hijack a van and dub it “Van from Hell.” We had our own driver, Scott, and co-pilot, Larry. We’d be driven from place to place and pick up out-of-towners and bands and offer a heapin’ dose of Texas hospitality by taking them on guided tours of the clubs and recommending barbecue joints and good Mexican food. I made friends I still have from that experience 20-something years ago.
Having a driver was helpful because we applied the one club/one band/one song method to our rounds. We’d tried one club/one band/one song/one drink the first SXSW but found ourselves knee-walkin’ drunk by the fifth club, hence the driver. One fateful night during the second SXSW, we set out for the late, lamented Back Room to hear a New Orleans band we knew only by reputation, Dash Rip Rock.
In the foggy recesses of memory, I recall a strobe light, a packed house, and a walloping version of “I Saw The Light” that peeled back the top of my skull. On stage, drummer Fred LeBlanc thrashed the daylights out of the Hank Williams song as bassist Ned “Hoaky” Hickel and guitarist Bill Davis went head to head, locked in a rock & roll nirvana that didn’t waver until the end of the set. My skin flushed, my heart pounded, and I panted for breath. It was one of those unholy baptisms with rhythmic fire and lyrical brimstone.
The rest of the VFH folks wanted to go plus I had broken our one club/one band/one song streak but I didn’t want to leave. The next day I looted Waterloo Records’ vinyl for Dash’s albums. Since then, I have attended most every Dash Rip Rock showcase at SXSW. I still have my swag bag of oregano from their “(Let’s Go) Smoke Some Pot” era (the song that made High Times’ list of Top 25 pot songs), my Miller Beer poster of them, my “Fuck Dash Let’s Dance” t-shirt. I kept their vinyl but got the CD versions as they were released and watched as Fred left to start Cowboy Mouth, replaced by Chris Luckette then Kyle Melancon then Eric Padua. Hoaky hung in a loooong time before choosing to fish full-time, replaced by Brian Broussard in 1999.
But no one can replace Bill Davis. He’s the brains behind Dash’s brawn, a barroom poet with a wicked sense of humor and a shameless knack for a good lick. He doesn’t mind taking good-natured potshots at New Orleans icons like Aaron Neville but he’s capable of writing memorable heartbreakers like “Endeavor.” If song titles like “Pussywhipped” and “Bumfuck, Egypt” don’t tell you a lot about them, their latest Alternative Tentacles disc should. It’s called Hee Haw Hell and it’s based on Dante’s Inferno.
Hee Haw Hell – which features Mojo Nixon and Jello Biafra – is a back porch masterpiece, but not the only Dash you need. Look for Recyclone, their remixed and remastered best of collection on Alternative Tentacles, and you too will soon be singing “Johnny Ace” and “String You Up” along with “Southern Rain” and “If You See Kay” (yuk yuk).
If that doesn’t do it for ya, get a big ol’ helping of Dash Thursday at the Continental Club.
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