Jason and the Scorchers got me kicked out of my first band. We all went to see them at the Pan Am center in Las Cruces in the spring of 1987. The University was hosting a lot of great shows at that time. Sure they had ZZ Top and Van Halen in the big basketball stadium, but they’d split the building in half and put on shows by people I found more interesting like Joe Ely, Foster & Lloyd, The Alarm and Joe King Carrasco too. I knew a little about the Scorchers before the show from sparse MTV sightings and a few magazine articles. The punk rock meets honky tonk ethos was exactly where my 15 year old head was at. My bandmates on the other hand were in a different place. The guitar genius Eric Johnson opened the show and blew their minds with a dazzling array of fretboard pyrotechnics, which in all it’s brilliance left me completely cold. When the Scorchers hit, I’d ditched my bandmates for my older cousin and his punk rock friends, it was pure joyous rock’n’roll mayhem. I was drawn in to every riff and lick Warner Hodges played. After the show when I reconvened with my crew the divide was immense. They wanted to talk effects pedals and harmonic minor arpeggiated scale runs while my head was in a cloud of pure rock’n’roll. They hated the Scorchers as much as I was bored by Johnson. It was the beginning of the end, or the beginning of a new beginning.
Getting my Telecaster was the first good thing that happened to me after getting dismissed from the group. We had all gone in on some PA gear and me being the hardworking little dude I was at 15, had more money than anyone else in it. So it effectively worked like a savings account when they honorably bought me out. I took the money and went straight to Hubbard’s Music and picked out my dream guitar, a sunburst Japanese Tele with white binding. It looks exactly like the guitar Tito Larriva is holding on the cover of the Plugz Electrify Me album. There was a cocky guy working there who asked me if I was on a Ralph Macchio trip, as the movie Crossroads was freshly out. I retorted “ever heard of Keith Richards?” I went next door to Trax Records and Tapes, where my musical education was rooted, and above the counter was a photo of Keith playing a sunburst Tele affirming my decision.
Getting the right guitar changed everything for me. I’d had an Aria Pro ll and a double cutaway Vantage that looked a little like a Les Paul Jr. Both guitars were playable and I guess stayed in tune but neither had a personality or a soul that I could connect with and find a voice. There is something about an electric guitar that makes such a statement of identity. When you pick one up you have the whole history of players who used that model to draw on. I knew I wasn’t a Hendrix or Clapton type of player, so a Strat didn’t catch my eye. I definitely did not have the Jimmy Page Gibson Les Paul attitude. What I was drawn to were the Stones videos on MTV, the sound of James Burton’s solos on Ricky Nelson records, Waylon Jennings leather covered guitar and that picture of Tito. The Telecaster seemed to me to have a certain ability to cut through a loud band, be it Buck Owens or Green on Red. There was an earthiness to it, a couple chunks of wood bolted together with minimal electro gadgetry. With mine in hand I set about finding where I could fit in. It took awhile before I got in another band, but I practiced guitar ten times more in my room learning licks off Rank and File’s Sundown album and playing around with various blues, country and punk rock ideas. When I did get in another group what I lacked in flash or technique I could make up for in having some vision and a sound.
People often rip on the 1980’s as a terrible time for music. I really can’t agree with that at all. Though most of my favorite groups had ill fated major label experiences and some disastrous productions, it was a time when good hard rocking bands with unique sounds and songs could get signed and out on the road building audiences. I cherish hearing bands like The Blasters, X, Los Lobos, True Believers, Del Fuegos, Cruzados, Royal Court of China, Webb Wilder, Georgia Satellites, Plimsouls, Lone Justice, Long Ryders, The Del Lords, Beat Farmers, Paladins and Jason and the Scorchers on MTV or syndicated radio shows that reached the small town where I grew up. It is really interesting to me to see in the digital age how many players from those bands (or bands in whole) are still active and in many cases doing the best work of their lives now. Case in point Warner Hodges who’s full tilt rock’n’roll impacted me in 1987. Similar to the legendary Faces guitar man Ron Wood joining up with Keith Richards in the Stones, Warner hooked up with Georgia Satellite frontman Dan Baird in Homemade Sin, turning out the best sounding records and some of the coolest songs from their careers. They tour Europe tirelessly and when not doing Homemade Sin they work on a lot of other projects. True rock’n’roll soldiers.
When Warner was in town doing a house concert a few years ago I was able to tap him for a session. He had two guitars, his white Scorchers Telecaster and a Les Paul, and his pedal board. At drummer Patrick Herzfeld’s hill country studio he plugged in to my Fender Deluxe and added some killer guitar work to three songs we’d recorded a few days earlier with Ron McRae on bass. The first being a very early take on “Reservation Radio” (which we recut for our latest album Streetlamp in a slightly different form), another being a run through on the Stooges’ “No Fun”, which came with some great tales of Warner’s association with Iggy and Hanoi Rocks’ Andy McCoy, and this tune called “You Could See Me Coming” that I originally sketched out a a finger picking kind of folky thing while I was staying in a motel room in Idaho. I don’t remember where the idea came from or what I was going for lyrically but it was the most finished thing I had to work on. Right before the session I made up the little intro chord thing and put a chugging beat to it and we came up with this version. Warner is playing his Les Paul and doing the verse fills, we trade off on the solo with him doing the beginning and end while I fill in the middle. I throw in the licks at the end while he chugs on that unmistakable Scorchers rhythm guitar groove. When we were cutting he referenced Paul Kossof from Free being an inspiration for some of his licks. For me growing up in a post Ramones world, I rarely think about those classic rock guys and their individuality and influence on the stuff I love, so that was a lesson to look in to some thing I’d missed. There are a few classic Warner licks in the songs that were a real thrill and education to watch go down as they happened, many of which I’d tried to figure out and had completely bastardized in the wrong positions.
Even though none of these songs have been released or heard much, it was a great thrill to record and spend an afternoon with someone who had such a profound influence on my own musical path. I’m sure if it wasn’t the Scorchers, something would have separated me from my Jr High School band. I was in to Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Freddie King while they were getting in to “Owner of the Lonely Hearts” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane”. Timing is everything though. The Japanese Telecaster I pulled down off the wall and took home is a beautiful instrument and had been played a lot in it’s then short lifetime. The previous owner could’ve come to buy it back or it could have found a home with some country picker drifting through town. I was lucky to be the one who ended up with it and I still play it everyday.