Guitars, horns and irony fuel Austin band The Scabs

But a funny thing happened to the lineups as the months dragged on: They began to look more and more alike. Uglies would leave the fold to join The Scabs, then play with both bands and vice versa. On the Scabs side, Robinson quit, then returned after his replacement began to suffer asthma attacks on stage. Charles Reiser replaced a guitarist who had a bout with schizophrenia (once telling Schneider ominously, "There's a battle between good and evil in this room"). And Ugly David Boyle joined on keyboards.

"Bob definitely siphoned people into The Scabs," Hughes says with a laugh.
But by far the most important addition to the group was a horn section, which at first consisted of Carlos Sosa (saxophone) and Fernie "Maddog" Castillo (trumpet). The pair also convinced the band to add their horn-blowing friend Rolo on trombone, despite objections about the group's spinning-out-of-control size. Now it's impossible to listen to The Scabs and imagine the absence of horns. "They're brilliant," Hughes says of the trio. And Schneider, who was vehemently against becoming "a fucking horn band," was eventually won over by the trio's impeccable musicianship.

By late 1997 only one member separated the two bands. But when an Ugly guitarist left, instigating another interband transfer and the institution of Hughes into The Scabs, the nine-piece lineups were identical, though neither had a record out at the time.

The Scabs, desperate to fill the void for some product, last year released Freebird, a live disc culled from its Antone's shows, which, according to Hughes, could have been considered a serious breach of contract by Capricorn. The label finally released Boom Boom Baby shortly thereafter. Confusion between the bands, their music and their shows was perhaps inevitable, and Schneider says that people who hadn't seen the Ugly Americans in several years couldn't recognize the band that played under the name now. Stuck and unhappy with what the band viewed as a "less than satisfactory" relationship with its label, the Ugly Americans asked to be released from its contract. Capricorn complied earlier this year.

"We wanted to continue with what we were doing as the Ugly Americans, but with a fresh start," Hughes says. "That name had a lot of historical baggage, and we were tied to [the label] with it. In the end, it seemed better just to [dissolve]."

Now firmly ensconced in one group with one direction, The Scabs entered the studio to record the follow-up to Freebird, a disc called More Than a Feeling, on the band's own Shockorama label. It was released last month and is selling well at gigs.

But even though Schneider casually mentions that he's also involved with yet another side band, he is completely comfortable with the current Scab lineup, which he hopes stays permanent.

"It's like a puzzle where the pieces just kept falling into place," says Schneider. "I mean, you couldn't pick nine guys out of anywhere and get the same mix of talent and [feeling] that we have now and we didn't before. It's just a weird, mysterious chemistry that works."

The Scabs will play Thursday, May 13, at Party on the Plaza in Jones Plaza. Guy Forsyth opens. Music starts around 5:30 p.m. Call (713)230-1666.

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