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Houston rockers Dirty Rotten Imbeciles keep the faith with intimate venues

Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. D.R.I. Either way you put it, if you've been following heavy rock or punk for long, you've probably known the name forever, or at least the past 18 years. It was in May 1982 that D.R.I. first formed, right here in a Spring Branch basement. Aside from its first practice space, the family home of vocalist Kurt Brecht and then-drummer Eric Brecht also provided D.R.I. with its name, on a day when Papa Brecht came home and started yelling about the racket, calling the people with guitars round their necks a bunch of "dirty rotten imbeciles."

From such homespun beginnings, the band rose to regional prominence fairly quickly as part of an early-'80s wave of Texas punk, which also included Dag Nasty and a handful of other long-since-departed acts (though Dag Nasty guitarist Brian Baker rocks on to this day as Brett Gurewitz's replacement in Bad Religion).

But as is the case now, so it was then: Strong local rock bands feel the need to get out of town or perish. By 1984 D.R.I. had packed up its bags and moved to San Francisco. It wasn't that the band wasn't thriving here. It had its pick of name acts to open for, and by 1983 had managed to achieve broad release of its own Dirty Rotten LP. These yardsticks, however, were not the ones by which D.R.I. had chosen to measure itself.

"We were playing every other weekend in Houston, and once a month in Austin or Dallas, opening for all these bands who were on tour," recalls founding guitarist Spike Cassidy. "But that's what we wanted to do: tour! We had no luck trying to get on a tour in Houston. At the time, a lot of bands were moving from Texas to California and getting on tours. We decided to take our chances and jump on that bandwagon. Within a month or so of moving out there we were playing shows, and a few months after that we were on our first national tour. It was the 'Rock Against Reagan Tour' with the Dead Kennedys."

By 1986 the band had inked a deal with Metal Blade for album number two, Dealing with It. The sophomore effort was simply a (somewhat) more polished version of the same hard-core punk racket the band had been plying from day one, but a year later D.R.I. released Crossover, which had distinctly metal leanings: guitars with just as much crunch as clang, solos and mid-tempo passages.

This wasn't a problem in and of itself; it was the direction the band wanted to go in, and fans were more numerous and rabid than ever. The problem was scale.

"We have always liked playing small, intimate clubs more than the big concert rock scene," explains Cassidy, unraveling the conundrum that arrived with the newly broadened audience. "We hate barricades. We love stage diving and having the crowd on stage and being within arm's reach. When we started to get bigger in the late '80s, and the crowds got bigger, we didn't like it. We didn't enjoy the separation that was beginning to take place between us and our fans. We started to see more and more barricades, so we took a step back from all of that and kept things where we like them, just like they are still right now: hot, sweaty little clubs."

Touring is still what the band does best. A three-week run of dates, which includes a stopover in Houston, is just one of many planned for the year; when the last suitcase is zipped and loaded, the guys will have taken in the entire nation.

"We're just playing a good selection of songs off all our albums," says Kurt Brecht, still a Houston resident, who now shares his band with drummer Rob Rampy and bassist (and ex-roadie) Chumly. "Fans of any part of the band's history shouldn't be disappointed. We play a lot of old songs, but some things off of our later albums also."

Looking back to 1987, metal in all its forms was at its commercial apogee. Guns N' Roses and Bon Jovi were all over radio. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax were climbing from the underground into the arena spotlight. Iron Maiden still made good records. The potential for D.R.I. to cross over was real, as evidenced by bands such as Suicidal Tendencies and Biohazard.

"Well, we never wanted to become huge, or rock stars," says Cassidy. "Our goals were always modest, so there wasn't a lot of room for letdown," he says, explaining how the band has lasted nonetheless. "We were always content with our status in the music scene. It will be 18 years since we started this May. And all along, what we wanted more than anything was to play live. Releasing records or CDs was a bonus. We didn't care how much we sold as long as our true fans could get our releases."

D.R.I., in fact, has come full circle in this regard, self-releasing its most recent full-length CD, Full Speed Ahead, on Rotten Records in the fall of 1995. A new deal is in the works, according to Cassidy. The plan is to rerelease the entire back catalog, then cut a new disc consisting of rerecorded versions of classic D.R.I. tunes.

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