25 Years Later, Poor Dumb Bastards Are Still Getting Away With It
Photos courtesy of Joseph Schneider/Poor Dumb Bastards
Who knows how it works in other cities, but something would be terribly wrong with Houston's music scene without Poor Dumb Bastards. Founded in 1991 by Scarborough high-school buddies Byron Dean and Mike Porterfield, the unabashedly rude local rockers gleefully explore the depths of vulgarity and depravity like crazed manchildren set loose in the Bayou City’s most perverted porn shop. Their repertoire could easily be imported from the pages of Hustler by way of the nearest public-restroom stall; a few of PDB’s more family-friendly lowlights include “Browneye,” “My Pussy Hurt” and “My Dad, Two Whores and a Crack Pipe.” (See? Family-friendly.) But they’re no longer accidentally ingesting horse tranquilizers before shows, a definite step on the road to maturity.
Like a weird canary in a coal mine, often wearing a lucha libre mask, the Bastards put themselves out there — waaaay out there — as a warning to any of their peers who may be in danger of taking themselves too seriously. Their music is no joke, though. The Bastards prefer the term “Texas Drunk Rock,” a pungent cocktail of classic metal, twisted twang and Dicks-grade Texas punk (PDB covered “Saturday Night at the Bookstore” on the soundtrack for the recent The Dicks From Texas documentary, renaming it “Houston Bookstore”). Dean and Porterfield’s partnership has remained steadfast, but their revolving-door cast of sidemen’s other projects amount to a cross-generational sampling of rowdy H-Town guitar rock: Toho Eiho, Sugar Shack, Horseshit Gunfire, Sad Pygmy and Hogleg, to name just a few.
For an idea of just how well-trodden Dean and Porterfield's welcome mat is, it helps to visualize what a PDB scrapbook might look like.
“It would have beer stains and blood stains on it, that's for sure,” Dean chuckles. “It would run the gamut between things we can talk about and things we can't. There'd be a heck of a family tree. If there was a page a year, there'd still be a different member for every one of those pages.”
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Dean himself admits his memory of the days when an average PDB story was likely to start with “they were so messed up they couldn’t play” is a little fuzzy — “those have subsided quite a bit,” he notes — but a quick YouTube search reveals a highlight reel any band could be proud of. In May of last year at Plaidstock, a fundraiser for guitarist Davy Jones of the Hickoids (perhaps PDB’s closest Austin counterparts), Dean appeared shirtless with “Fuck Cancer” scrawled on his belly in honor of Jones, an arrow pointing to his nether regions. In a cringeworthy clip for “Crack Pipe,” he donned a bra and tighty-whities at the Engine Room in 2000. PDB’s scene-stealing performance at the release party for the 2012 film When We Ruled H-Town has led to its own documentary, now in the works. The director is Joseph Schneider, another member of the extended PDB family.
"While trying to cut down the Byron Dean and Mike P interview [in H-Town], I realized that most everything they were talking about was pure gold!" Schneider says via email. "They were too funny through the whole hourlong interview and trying to cut them down to a five-minute segment was extremely tough. There were so many great stories from bands and fans. My wife actually saw them open for Smashing Pumpkins and she told me, 'I saw this naked guy in Fish Nets and he got knocked out during one of the songs.'
"Stories like that and the 'Beer Bottle up the Ass' legend made the band grow in Houston," Schneider adds. "There was so much leftover interview footage that I thought, 'They need their own documentary,' and Mike and Byron had the same idea. So we talked and went through a few ideas and came up with a title, "All the Way to Nowhere...the Story of Houston's Poor Dumb Bastards."
We'll leave the beer-bottle legend to Schneider's film, and the Smashing Pumpkins story for a little later, but the Bastards' legend runs deep. They've won at least two Houston Press Music Awards, which Dean once dutifully accepted stark naked. Someone from the paper (God knows who) had called to encourage him to attend the awards ceremony, adding, Dean recalls, "‘Don’t do anything stupid…wink, wink.’" You can probably guess what happened.
“I got a little saucy and I thought it would be a good idea,” says Dean. “And it was, to me, and still is. I think the [review] said, ‘It’s not a party until the fat guy gets naked’ in the next week’s print [issue]. And one of the [reviewers] said something like, ‘Man, my mom was there.’
“I’m like, ‘How rock and roll is that?’”
This Saturday night calls for a high probability of more nudity as a number of like-minded bands including the Hickoids (though Jones has since passed away, sadly), Lubbock’s the Beaumonts, and locals including the Guillotines, Satanic Overlords of Rock and Roll, Feared Alien Voodoo (billed as “the ’90s’ scariest band”) and Donkey Punch will help the Bastards celebrate their 25th anniversary upstairs at Fitzgerald’s. Earlier that day, the band is also hosting a benefit downstairs for cancer-fighting PDB “superfan” David Ganz, dubbed “Bandz For Ganz,” complete with barbecue, a silent auction and a raffle for a Dean VX guitar autographed by the entire PDB roster. Bands playing that part of the day include Porterfield’s honky-tonk project Hard Luck Revival and three more PDB superfans from New Orleans who have taken it upon themselves to start a cover band called Brownie. Plus maybe a "special guest" or two, Dean hints.
Over the phone earlier this week, Dean admitted he had been too busy planning all this stuff to do much reminiscing, but said he expects that to change when both current and former members start showing up for rehearsal Friday evening.
“‘That’s when the stories are going to flow,” he says. “All the…‘Remember all the stupid things Byron did?’”
Dean says at least ten to 15 former members should come back for the anniversary. One who will definitely be there in spirit, he adds, is Hunter Ward, who was only 26 when his June 2007 death crushed both the Bastards and Houston’s punk community at large.
“Mike’s going to be playing one of his guitars in a couple of the songs; it’s going to be a little bit of a moment,” Dean says of Ward. “He was a huge part of our…I don’t want to say ‘resurgence,’ because we never really went away, but as far as the band, he gave us some new energy and new life and some young ideas. The last record we put out [2010’s The Price of Rebellion], even though it was six years ago, has his fingerprints all over it — all his leads and his guitar work.
“We still miss that little guy,” he adds a little later. “I think about him every single day. There’s something somewhere that sparks a memory of Hunter. You don’t get past it. We’re celebrating him now, and we still grieve, but it’s out of love.”
The Bastards have been going all-out from the very beginning, or at least their second show. The band was opening for Smashing Pumpkins, whose debut, Gish, had recently come out. The buzz drew a packed house to Emo’s Houston, and the Bastards rose to the occasion.
“I was standing on the edge of the stage,” Dean recalls. “That’s the time Mike kicked me in the butt and sent me flying out [into the crowd]. They had a big brick table in the middle of the dance floor at Emo’s, and I smashed my head on it. I’m lying there knocked out, dead to the world, and Mike’s thinking, ‘Aw shit, I killed Byron.’
“Some people did what people do — they shook up some beers and squirted them on my face, and slapped me and shook me and took me on out,” he continues. “They got me back out onstage, and we started out with a song called ‘More Fucked Up Than You.’ Which was fitting.”
The Bastards are even planning to release new music soon, schedules permitting.
“We’re bound and determined to do a new record this year, which means 2017 or ’18, it’ll be ready,” Dean chuckles.
Dean figures the band has between 300 and 400 songs to pick through to, in his words, “find ten that are decent.” Perhaps some may even find their way onto the set list for the Bastards’ 30th-anniversary show in 2021.
“When we’re onstage and Mike and I get the giggles with one another, it can be in front of two people or 200, it’s hilarious to me that people are enjoying what we're doing,” Dean says. “We’ve been getting away with this joke for 25 years. To me, it's still funny.”
All of the relevant details for Saturday's 25-year blowout are listed on its Facebook event page. Doors open at 1 p.m. Take cover.
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