Nasty Conquers All

Determination, and bad manners, rescue Ugly Americans from a sorry fate

McCarthy founded the Ugly Americans, an outfit conceived out of an admiration for the fierce grooves of funk demigod George Clinton and the sex-soaked rhythm and blues of James Brown, in 1993. The Uglies were a casual, soulful union of misfits and outcasts from other bands that, as it happened, were pretty well-known.

Before starting the Uglies, McCarthy played with Mojo Nixon's Toadliquors. Uglies drummer Dave Robinson and organist Corey Mauser (who was replaced last year by Australian export David Boyle) came from Loose Diamonds, while guitarist/singer Bruce Hughes had been with Poi Dog Pondering and Cracker. Add to that mix the somewhat less impressive resumes of Schneider (Joe Rockhead) and lead guitarist Max Evans (the Thangs), and what you had wasn't exactly a superstar lineup, but at least one with affiliations snazzy enough to give the group a good head start.

As much as they helped, though, those credentials also threatened to overshadow the group. The gigs came easily, but getting people to recognize the Ugly Americans as a true band, and not just a haphazard collection of "formerly withs," was more difficult. Three years down the line, the Uglies still see stories that play up their heritage more prominently than their current exploits.

"It's good and bad," McCarthy says. "As an introduction, it's good for everyone to know our backgrounds. But then it should be like, 'Get on with it.' It is valid; it gets your attention, so it's a good start. And if we mislead someone, I'll guarantee their money back."

From the looks of things now, the Ugly Americans needn't worry about misleading anyone. Live, the group's soul-drenched bravado can rock a sturdy venue right off its foundations. Led by Schneider's strong lungs and free-spirited machismo, the band operates smoothly to a single throbbing pulse even as its members retain their individuality. There's the hammy lady's man, the weight-lifting jock, the hippie-looking freak with a nasty streak, a few artsy, quiet types: the Uglies are an unlikely bunch who find their connection in music.

The Ugly Americans could squeeze an orgy out of a funeral wake, and they've never been ones to pine over lost love -- or lost opportunity. Now, with their hands-on seminar in music industry politics behind them, they are concentrating again on staying true to their name. For evidence, one need only go back a month or so to a performance at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Before taking the stage, the Uglies' Hughes waltzed into a packed men's room and ordered a patron to zip up and surrender his urinal; he had to take a leak and didn't feel like waiting.

Was Hughes joking, or was he serious? It's hard to tell -- probably a little of both. Whatever the case, his prey acquiesced, finishing fast and graciously offering up the porcelain to Hughes, who made water and then made it back in time to join the Uglies for one of their finest Houston shows to date. It was a fun tale, one that found its way easily back to the crowd in front of the stage. But this time, the story couldn't hold a candle to the band.

The Ugly Americans perform at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $6. For info, call 869-

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