Musical Chairs

It's never the same show with the Good Luck Band

The Good Luck Band bears that name for a reason. They never know if enough people will show up to play a gig, but somehow, through six years of flying by the seat of their pants, they've made every one.

After stints at the Last Concert and Mary Jane's, the classic country cover band has found a new home at Walter's on Washington, which itself relocated not so long ago when the beer joint's noise ruffled the feathers of some NIMBY johnny-come-lately Dallas yupsters. But that's another story (see "Murphy's Law," by Melissa Hung, August 3, 2000).

The crowd at Walter's is a hard-drinking set, and Tommy the bartender obliges them with stiff drinks. On this night, the Jets-Raiders game playing on the club's large-screen is drawing an inordinate amount of interest -- it seems half the club has a wager on the Raiders. About 30 minutes before the early evening show begins, a stack of pizzas arrives. A free feed is a hallmark of the Good Luck Band's shows. Usually it's home cooking provided by jolly and loquacious Walter's manager Pam Arnold, but since this particular gig falls on her birthday, she's taking a break.

You really can hear that lonesome whistle blow at Walter's. Washington Avenue is hard by a giant rail yard, and as the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" plays on the juke, an obliging engineer accompanies the song's warm French horn with a few blasts of his own. It's a perfect lead-in to the Good Luck Band's brand of country. There's something about hearing a freight train rumble by that goes really well with a Merle Haggard song.

"We're pretty heavy on the Merle, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, Buck Owens," says singer Kevin Reagin. "I'd like to say my biggest influence was probably Merle or Lefty. [Co-vocalist] Ricky Welch picks up a lot of the Ray Price. He's got a better voice than I do, I have to say. He was a theater boy, a choir kid, and I never was."

As per this band's MO, there's some concern that the show won't go on. Drummer Chris King is spending less time banging the skins lately than he is looking after his kid and going to school, and a last-minute drummer whom none of them knew very well (if at all) has to be drafted. No one can tell Racket his name.

The Good Luck Band's set re-creates a honky-tonk circa 1975. By order of bassist Ben Collis, there is no singer-songwriter sensitivity allowed at this gig. Highlights include a couple of Merle tunes -- "All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers" and "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" -- and Roger Miller's "Invitation to the Blues." The impression left is one of love for the music, and yes, to get all treacly about it, for each other. Singers Reagin, Christie Gutoski and Welch have known each other since their high school days in The Woodlands, when a shared interest in this music brought them all together. They're less a band than a clique who happen to be knowledgeable and talented enough to entertain a pretty big room full of people.

While there is a "basic core group," says Reagin, "there's usually some other people who show up and sit in." The rest of the regular lineup includes Scott Daniels and Jimmy Dean on guitars, King on drums, Hilary Sloan on fiddle and the occasional vocal, and red-bearded bassist Ben Collis, whom Reagin calls the creative "torch" behind the band. "He's really the most knowledgeable and the biggest fan of this genre," says Reagin. "He's got the biggest collection of classic country music of anybody I know, and he knows it all."

Guitarist Pablo Burnett was a regular until recently, but lately, according to Reagin, he's had a conflict of interest. "For some reason he wants to play for money, not for free," Reagin chuckles. "Or maybe it was that Walter's bartender cut him off. He got his feelings hurt over that."

The band's guests have included Mary Cutrufello and Carolyn Wonderland on a semi-regular basis. Johnny Wolfe has been making a few appearances as of late.

The band's pedigree is as tangled as a whole pack of pariah dogs. Get your scorecards ready, folks. New member Sloan, who also plays with the Greg Wood Band, is the Allison Krauss-like daughter of local bluegrass musician Jamie Sloan. Drummer King also plays with Jug O' Lightnin' and once played bass with Wonderland. Burnett most recently led Clay Farmer's band, while Collis in his younger and wilder days played in the hard-rock combo Fleshmop, as did Daniels, who now plays with Wonderland. Hell, even the bartender's part of this incestuous crowd: His cousin is Mike Barfield from the Hollisters.

"We've had a lot of people try to sit in with us and not make it," says Reagin. "It's not as easy as these guys think it is. They say, 'Oh, that's all the same song over and over again,' but it's not."

And with a lineup as varied as this, you can be sure the same can be said of the Good Luck Band's gigs.

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