Lucky Horseshoe

Are a praised CD and a slot at SXSW enough to make this band happy? Of course not.

Somebody up there likes me, so they provide me with little accidents of grace.

Horseshoe, 1996.

That may be true in concept, but at the moment, Greg Wood, Horseshoe's burly lead singer, looks less like an accident of grace than a walking disaster. It's a Sunday morning, and Wood -- decked out in his favorite casual wear, a T-shirt and black gym shorts -- is a touch strung out. He's been awake all night, and airborne debris from last night's performance at the Blue Iguana (cigarette ashes, lint, whatnot) is still nesting in his mass of tangled, curly brown hair. The gig went well, Wood confides, though he's not sure if the club's management was happy with the turnout. Still, the band kept it together nicely, and when you consider that Horseshoe's live shows have a habit of sounding like rehearsals -- and its rehearsals like something found just this side of hell -- that's no small footnote.

And neither, for that matter, is the band's first-ever showcase slot at Austin's South by Southwest Music Conference this week. In a year when the number of Houston acts invited to play the event is pitifully small, Horseshoe managed to be among the chosen. Still, flanked by Horseshoe drummer Eddie Hawkins and guitarist Scott Daniels at a local eatery, Wood is doing his best to make it appear like he couldn't care less.

"Fuck South by Southwest," he says. "I [tried] to get into that thing for years when I didn't have a CD. I thought it was supposed to be for unsigned acts to get noticed by labels -- bands that don't have a way to make an album. Now that we have a CD, all of sudden they want us."

No thanks, as it happens, to any of the guys in Horseshoe. It was their self-appointed manager/ guardian angel Alice Romero who, unbeknownst to Horseshoe, submitted the band's material to SXSW. But while Romero provided the impetus, it's more than likely that the group's stunningly varied debut CD, King of the World (on the group's own Hiccup label) sealed the deal. Released late last year, King of the World is an unruly 73-minute behemoth, its unorthodox helping of styles and potluck fusion of influences as generous as its sprawling length. There's Southern-fried boogie rock a la Lynyrd Skynyrd and Little Feat (Wood's grainy vocals and white-trash beat poetry bear more than a passing resemblance to Feat's long-deceased creative light Lowell George); heart-wringing C&W balladry in the Bakersfield tradition; and crafty hints of the band's affection for bands from the British Invasion (the original invasion, that is). Even Wood's obsession with the hair-trigger repetition of '60s psychedelic rock seeps out on a few tracks. It seems that Horseshoe's philosophy of making music is akin to its philosophy of eating: It doesn't really matter what you mix together on your plate. Everything goes to the same place.

"We're robust," says Hawkins. "We don't do things in moderation."
Adds Wood, "I don't necessarily buy into the fact that CDs have to be any specific length. King of the World is a bunch of songs, it's a CD, man. You don't even have to get up from your chair; you can just sit on your fat ass and skip around from your seat. And people are complaining because it's too long." Wood opens his arms to show off his substantial midsection. "Does it look like I know how to cut back?"

Horseshoe rose from the debris of Tab Jones, a band that aspired to bring a little rootsy authenticity -- not to mention the twisted gospel of Pink Floyd's crazed former leader Syd Barrett -- to a Houston audience that, at the time, was munching contentedly on well-chewed thrash-metal and the fresher seeds of grunge. Wood, Hawkins and Daniels were all members of Tab Jones, and when that group sputtered out quietly in 1992, the three took a two-year sabbatical to recover their wits. They launched Horseshoe in 1994, bringing aboard bassist Ben Collis, an old colleague of Daniels's from Fleshmop, and guitarist Cary Winscott to fill out the lineup. Soon, they were growing up, and messing up, in public, headlining at Last Concert Cafe, Rudyard's Pub and Mary Jane's, the last of which eventually hired them as Wednesday-night regulars.

As the months wore on, Horseshoe originals began sharing time with Johnny Cash, George Jones and Merle Haggard covers. Wood, the son of a truck driver, is an insatiable reader who gives little thought to tossing out literary references in song (two glaring instances are King of the World's "William Yeats" and "Lester Bangs"). Between Wood jotting down lyrics by the journalful and input from Daniels and Hawkins, the tunes came pouring out faster than the band could learn them.

By June 1995, Horseshoe was putting its ideas on tape at studios all over the state -- among them Loma Ranch in Fredericksburg and Sound Arts in Houston -- with Hawkins, a competent engineer, behind the boards. But money problems ensured that it would be a while before any of the material could make it to CD, which partly explains King of the World's pieced-together feel.

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