Heavenly Fire

Jason and the Scorchers reunite, and get hot in the process

The key to appreciating the new Jason and the Scorchers is to remember that the band has been reborn, not remade. Sure, Hodges' guitar will set your ears on fire just like in the old days, and a lot of the songs involve the country themes of drinking and sin, but the band has a whole new attitude. Says Ringenberg, "It couldn't feel more different than before, any way you look at it. Our priorities are completely different -- now we're only worried about rocking the house and writing great songs. Everything else is irrelevant."

The Scorchers seem to have found their center by renouncing the fierce ambition that possessed the band throughout the '80s and eventually drove the members apart. Giving up the dream of making big bucks by signing to a major label was a big part of that. Ringenberg explains that "being on an independent label is like guerrilla warfare -- more freedom to just get out and play, and not have to worry about how we look or what we might say. No rules, just rocking. It's a lot more fun than being on a major. We don't have to get embarrassed about things the label makes us do. Like when EMI made us change our name."

Ringenberg goes on to note that in the half-decade that the band's been on hiatus, the entire music industry has changed for the better. He sees a lot more independent labels, or, more specifically, more successful independent labels. Throughout the '80s, independent labels existed on the fringe of the industry; to some, it looked like their main purpose was to make jobs of the major labels A&R guys' easier. But in the '90s they've emerged as potent commercial and artistic forces. Performers have started seeking the minors out, as have CD buyers, who will trust a particular label to put out only good music. Bands such as Jason and the Scorchers, who signed with the hot Mammoth Records out of North Carolina, get the benefit of that trend.

"When we first started," Ringenberg recalls, "we were grouped with Rank and File and Lone Justice. In the mid- to late '80s, we were labeled with the 'American Rock' tag, along with John Mellencamp, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Georgia Satellites, the Kentucky Headhunters. Now, they seem to think we're traditionalists, and they put us in a movement with the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo." Attentive readers will notice that if you put aside Mellencamp, and one or two singles from the Thunderbirds and the Satellites, you aren't left with much in the way of major label success stories. It's ironic that the style of music regarded as most authentic -- whatever the hell that means -- or American doesn't attract the mass audience for which the majors are looking.

This doesn't seem to bother the Scorchers in the least. An informed source in Chicago tells me they tore the roof off a club there a few weeks ago. Rave notices from across the U.S. suggest that wasn't anything out of the ordinary for Ringenberg and company. If form holds, Houston will be in for a treat.

"Houston is one of our best towns for live shows," says Ringenberg. "It didn't start out that way -- our first few shows there were pretty dead, we were barely tolerated. In the mid-'80s, though, people started coming out, and it's just been getting better and crazier ever since.

"At the show, we'll play a mix of the new stuff and some of the old stuff, like 'Harvest Moon' and 'Broken Whiskey Glass,' which is probably our favorite song to play live. That song just gets going. We usually throw in some surprise covers, sometimes some stuff we haven't played as a band in 15 years, like when we opened the set with 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' a couple of weeks

Did you play it slow or fast?
"Slow and fast."
So tell us a joke.

"Keith Richards finally gets around to dying, and he's up at the Gates of Heaven, and, Keith being Keith, they turn him around and send him down to Hell. Jimi Hendrix meets him at the door, hands him a guitar, and says, 'Hurry up, we're about to start.' Jimi takes him to a big room, lots of food, lots of beautiful women. Brian Jones is there, tuning his guitar, Jaco Pastorius is stretching his fingers doing runs on his bass, and Sid Vicious is still trying to figure out how in the hell to play the bass. Elvis is there, Gene Vincent. Out of nowhere, Karen Carpenter walks in, sits at the drums, picks up her sticks, starts to count off: 'Okay, 'On Top of the World' on four....'"

Jason and the Scorchers play at 10 p.m. Thursday, April 20 at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Tickets $8. Call 869-COOL for info.

The key to appreciating the new Scorchers is to remember that the band has been reborn, not remade.

The Scorchers seem to have found their center by renouncing the fierce ambition that possessed them throughout the '80s.

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