Picks to Click

The SXSW Class of 2002

Picks to Click
Photo By John Anderson

The Crack Pipes

Saturday, March 16, Beerland (8pm)

Imagine John Lee Hooker all jacked up on trucker speed and rotgut hooch and you'll have a pretty good idea of Austin's Crack Pipes. Then again, the local quartet's blast of garagey, blues-influenced rock calls to mind forebears like Poison 13 and Jack-O-Fire, much more so than some Strat-slinger striving to fill Stevie Ray's boots. The blues arrangements and feel are certainly there, but it's executed with much more ragged energy and noisy fervor than the mannered approach found in bars less shady than the Pipes' usual haunts like Room 710 or Emo's.

Centered around Ray Colgan (vocals, harp) and former Enduro bass player Michael Corwin (drums), the band began in earnest a few years ago, putting out a self-released cassette (The Yeah Sound) then a 7-incher (First Rolling Stones Church). They tried going about their business with no bass player, Oblivians-style, until the limitations inherent with that setup came home to roost and they recruited Nick Moulos. Guitar players, meanwhile, came and went until guitarist Billy Steve Korpi came along from the Showoffs and fit the band's niche perfectly. It was little surprise; Korpi is the younger brother of Evan Johns' guitarist Greg Korpi and had learned a thing or two about a thing or two from his older sibling.

With the current lineup, the Crack Pipes self-released 13 Poison Sermons before being discovered by prime punk rock indie Sympathy for the Record Industry. With a real recording budget, they entered Sweatbox Studios, where under Walter Daniels' production tutelage, they cut last year's hell-bent-for-blues Every Night Saturday Night. After that it was time for that most ancient of DIY rituals: hitting the highways in a smelly ol' van, tours of the Midwest and West Coast following. Their experiences in L.A. and San Francisco were familiar to Colgan.

"We'd have to chase somebody down to get paid, wait an extra hour and a half after we were done ...," says the singer, shaking his head. "It's pretty hard to get anybody to even know you're playing out there. We weren't in a big hurry to go back."

A shuffle through the Pipes' CD collections yield stuff by the Rolling Stones, Bo Diddley, Lightning Hopkins, Junior Kimbrough, Magic Sam, Sixties-era Stax soul and Ike & Tina Turner. "I always have to specify Ike & Tina, not just Tina," notes Colgan wryly. "Otherwise people think 'What's Love Got to Do With It,' and that's not it." His worries are misplaced; there's not much chance of mistaking his snarl or the Crack Pipes' ferocious take on R&B for the former Mrs. Turner. They blast out a sweaty, harp-driven garage blues that'd make a Baptist preacher jump around like he had a red-hot coat hanger down the back of his pants. Crack a tallboy, turn up the Crack Pipes, and annoy the crap out of your neighbors.

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