Bright Lights, Bridge City
The Golden Triangle has yielded some very fine music. From the bottomless blues of Blind Willie Johnson to the heart-rending honky-tonk of George Jones to the Gulf Coast fusion of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the fresh musical aroma of the greater Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange area fragrantly contradicts those who call it the Armpit of Texas.
The latest -- the greatest -- of the Golden Triangle's musical exports is Bridge City's PC Cowboys. Combining the down-home sensibility of a roughneck on an eight-beer buzz with the sensitivity of an indignant sociology grad student is no mean feat, but Hamshire Fannett, Toomey Starks and Arthur "Don't Call Me Art" Dekko (the only PC Cowboy to not yet have an I-10 exit ramp named in his honor) somehow pull it off.
I caught up with them in the verdant Dan Electro's beer garden. Perhaps "lush" would be a better word to describe the surroundings that particular night, given the boys' predilection for frosty malt beverages But hey, enough o' my yakkin'. Get ready for the sights, the sounds, the smells of the PC Cowboys.
Houston Press: So did you all really steep in that legendary Golden Triangle musical environment?
Hamshire Fannett: I think it was mostly beer that we steeped in.
Toomey Starks: And chicken. We loooove chicken. And George Jones, mainly because he was generally fried. As long as it has that beer-fried thing going on, we generally love it.
HF: But growing up in the Golden Triangle, there's a sort of mystique. People who didn't grow up there don't really understand the magic of places like Vidor, Mauriceville, Nederland, Lumberton. It's just something special about those kinda places, and you tell people you're from there, and they try to act stuck-up. But deep down
HP: They know
HF: Yeah, you know they're going, "Man, I wish I was from Port Neches."
HP: All three of you are very well educated.
TS: Yeah, I went to the University of the Really Deep-Ass South. I was on a scholarship there. Well, I say scholarship, I just didn't, you know pay. They haven't caught up with me yet, so I'm guessing my diploma's still good. 'Course it does say "Agnes Johnson" on it.
HP: Art, I understand you went to a school worthy of wider attention.
Arthur Dekko: BCJCBBQ. Bridge City Junior College Barbecue College. I had a fishing scholarship. I lettered all seven years.
HP: Did you not have any trouble with the NCAA?
AD: Naw, they ain't real good lures, I know that.
HP: Hamshire, I saw that you majored in an interesting program at UT.
HF: It's kind of a beer garden studies program. It's a broad umbrella kinda thing. I say UT, but it was really about a block and a half south of there, at the Scholz's Beer Garden Campus.
HP: Hey, let's get to the meat of the matter, as it were, and talk about the music. You all tackle serious issues head-on. You grapple with negative body images on "Butt Crack Boogie"
HF: I'm glad you brought that up. You know, there's just too many young men and women--
AD: There's never too many young women.
HF: I guess that's right. There's never too many young women, but of your pool of young women, there's just too many of 'em reading Vogue magazine, things like 'at Elle, which is actually four letters
TS: They don't even spell it right! I did not know that a damn consonant could have four dadgum letters in it!
HF: Me to you, man, swear to God. Anyway, they look at the pictures of all the pretty models and ever'thing, and we just wanted to help 'em out. That's why we came out with a major pro-butt-crack kinda stand.
HF: Or lean.
HP: Then there's the gritty realism of "Idaho (But I Lost Her)"
HF: I have not had the best luck with women.
TS: Paid or unpaid.
HF: That's true. One time I was trying to celebrate a National League Championship Series victory, and, uh I probably shouldn't tell that story. Let's just say for that amount o' money, she shoulda said yes.
HP: I admire your almost Coltrane-like ability to improvise musically.
TS: We don't have like a real set thing of what we're gonna do, mainly because we can't remember nothin' to save our lives, and we don't wanna take paper and pencil up on stage. We believe that's unprofessional.
HF: Not to mention bad for the trees. We are an environmentally friendly band. Dolphin-safe. We're one of the world's first and only dolphin-safe country bands.
TS: We generally try to pick a different artist ever' show to compare ourselves to. It could be anyone from Tracy Byrd to
HF: Mark Chesnutt. We go all the way from one side of Beaumont clear to the other.
HP: What about the lost PC Cowboys; any members who may have fallen by the wayside over the years?
HF: Yeah, we've had one drummer who just kept comin' back over and over. Stumpy Johnson.
AD: You could always tell it was the same guy 'cause he had only one arm.
HF: That's true. Long before -- I'm not namin' any British rock bands named Def Leppard -- we had the first band with a one-armed drummer. We had to kick him out of the band repeatedly for drinkin' too much.
TS: If you've seen our show, you know that is a serious drinkin' problem.
HF: That's when Betty Ford says, "Dude, can't help ya."
TS: I think his last guest shot was about a year or so back. He did a killer solo. It was so on the edge that he didn't hit one single drum. Didn't even pick up a stick. It was so out there.
HF: That's usually 'cause he has a Scotch in one hand and and that's the only hand.
HP: Something else that has always fascinated me about your status as the world's only PC country band is your unique method of touring.
TS: Well, you know we don't have a tour bus. We lost our truck in a freak accident. Kept the GemTop, though.
HF: So we tour on foot. Again, environmentally sensitive.
TS: So we don't really get a chance to gig as much as we'd like. I mean, that show we did in Beaumont on New Year's Day was our last gig. We just got back here to Houston today. Walkin' with that GemTop is not easy.
HP: I imagine if the walls of that GemTop could talk, there'd be some stories.
TS: Not really, 'cause they're really short walls. It's a GemTop. It's more the quips, the little one-liners when it talks.
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