No Respect?

In 1991, the Missiles were the coolest lame band in Houston. Seven years later, the irony still lingers.

Go straight to the source, and he'll say the reason for the
upcoming Missiles reunion show is one of simple economics.
"We'd just like to make a third of what the Road Kings make on their reunion shows," says Charlie Sanders, the Missiles' bassist and lead cutup. "I mean, they've killed."

Back in the day -- seven years ago, to be specific -- Sanders went by the nickname of Chuck Savage. At his most visually flamboyant, Chuckie indulged in clip-on mirror shades and a vast wardrobe of shirts; sometimes he'd tear the sleeves off, and he was just as inclined to button them up tight to the neck as he was to leave them opened to the navel for that cheesy chest-hair effect. For a while there, Sanders's near-equal in disposable fashion sense, Missiles drummer Bill Myers, was rarely seen in public minus his signature Wayfarers with the small skull and crossbones glued to the nose arch; he also liked to go shirtless on stage, common courtesy be damned. The band's first bassist, a "little-bitty guy" named Beau Mullinax, was affectionately known as the "hair farmer" because of his full-figured Night Ranger do. As for the other Missiles -- guitarists Dave Randall and Ken Jones (who joined after Mullinax's departure in 1990) -- they displayed far less flair, though Randall did show a weakness for arty headgear (paisley-patterned bandannas and whatnot).

Cool? Not especially. If anything, though, the Missiles were brave -- and also a tad suicidal, from a career standpoint. Back then, rock and roll was fast turning oh-so-glum and serious with the onset of grunge, while Houston's music scene was being barraged silly with Red Hot Chili Pepper clones. The Missiles, on the other hand, refused to acknowledge that the '80s were through. The unlikeliest of pop-rock visionaries, they failed to yield to the will of the Pearl Jam nation while vowing never to slap out a pseudo-funky bass line or prance around the stage with tube socks over their genitalia (though scantily-clad bimbos were always welcome).

"We were just a beer-soaked bar band," Sanders says.
Eventually, the buzz wore off, and countless shitty gigs and blown trailer tires later, the Missiles reluctantly disbanded, sending loyal fans on their way with a sweaty, packed farewell gig at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge in July of 1994. The band's scrappy run lasted a decade, far longer than anyone involved might've imagined it would. Somehow, they even managed to land a sponsorship deal from Budweiser ("I think we got 5,000 bucks, four leather jackets, a guitar and a bunch of fliers and posters," Sanders says.) -- this, the band that vigorously condoned alcohol abuse with randy little numbers such as "Cabbagehead" and "Start Drinkin'." Hardly models of responsible partying, the Missiles would like to think they're partly to blame for the fizzle of the Bud Dry campaign. Fact is, their sarcastic, between-song plugs at dive bars throughout the country probably hurt more than they helped.

"Less calories, more alcohol: We used to say that," Jones says. "I don't think [Budweiser] liked that too much."

Kidding aside, the Missiles were onto something, even if they weren't especially attuned to what it was.

"They were really the only band to successfully make the transition from the '80s to the '90s," says Darin Murphy, whose own Houston act, Trish and Darin, wasn't quite so lucky, eventually succumbing to all manner of insults from various local bastions of hip (including the Press).

Today, the Missiles still have fans, some of whom remain firmly entrenched in the local music business. Shawn Hauptmann, who now manages Houston C&W purists the Hollisters, was so bowled over by the Missiles' 1991 effort, Atomic Fireball, that he oversaw the release of its 1993 follow-up, Low Scale Mattress Fire. He even provided the band a rehearsal space. Outlaw Dave Andrews, the drive-time DJ at rock station KLOL/101.1 FM, lifted a portion of the band's catchy thermonuclear blast, "All I've Done," for his show's intro.

"First time I saw them, they were were opening up for Steve Morse," Andrews recalls. "At shows like that, you really don't think about the opening band. All of a sudden they start jammin', and I'm like, 'Wait, these guys are good.' They've got local lyrics, they kick ass, they played all these cool covers by the Del Lords, the Hoodoo Gurus, Zappa."

But the Missiles also had their enemies. A prissy, well-fed product of The Woodlands, they were unwilling to abandon their intellectually stunted brand of wit, insisting on milking it for maximum guffaws instead. "Somebody once said that our humor was a little too highbrow," Jones says. "I didn't understand that at all."

On at least one occasion, the jokes backfired. "We had this song, 'Me and My Oriental Girlfriend'," Sanders says. "Every now and then, people would come up to us at shows and say they didn't appreciate the song -- that it was tasteless."

Looking back now on the band's four releases, the Missiles were often tasteless -- but basically harmless. Although his lyrics were never dull, Sanders's songwriting was, for the most part, underdeveloped, the melodies derivative, the playing competent but predictable. And while the Houston Chronicle praised the band as "arguably Houston's best original rock band," the Press and the Public News (then the self-appointed gauge for Inner Loop chic) voiced their passive contempt for the Missiles by underplaying the group's popularity. Finally, in 1993, the band was featured on the cover of P.N. The Missiles broke up a year later.

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