For such a brazen bunch of foul-mouthed antiheroes, the Supersuckers are certainly capable of groveling with the best of them when it comes time to face a true icon.
"We've worshipped that man for a long time," says the Supersuckers' Dancing Eagle (birth name: Dan Seigal), still slightly awestruck over his first meeting with Willie Nelson. "He's just a fucking legend, and behaving around a legend, it's like, what do you do?"
Evidently, not much. All jaws dropped to the floor and the room went silent the day Nelson walked into Austin's Arlyn Recording Studio last March, Eagle says. The band was finishing up The Sacrilicious Sounds of the Supersuckers, a devilishly hard-driving slab of remedial kicker-punk. Obviously accustomed to strained welcomes, Nelson loosened the tension with a few warm hellos, says Eagle. Then it was time to go to work on a scrappy rendition of Nelson's "Bloody Mary Morning," an early '70s classic that the band had been tearing apart on the road for years. Bullish and tongue-in-cheek (like all vintage Supersuckers songs) with backing vocals and an out-of-sorts guitar solo from Nelson himself, the tune is one of the more impressive moments on Twisted Willie, the recently released compilation of Nelson covers.
A few hours in the studio with their favorite legend loosened the Supersuckers up enough to mug a little with Nelson for an in-studio photo that ended up part of Twisted Willie's liner notes. Posing for the shot, Eagle is visibly basking in the wonder of it all, his arm around Nelson and a self-satisfied, shit-eating grin on his face.
"He's the most down-to-earth guy you'll ever fucking meet -- which is amazing just because of his life," Eagle enthuses. "After [Twisted Willie], we met him a few [more] times. We were in California two months later and went to see the Highwaymen play. We hung out backstage, hung out on his bus, smoked a lot of pot with him and chatted. At this point, we try to be extremely relaxed around him so we don't weird him out. I hope he doesn't think we're just a bunch of fools making a racket."
The idea of it is kind of scary: a rowdy teenager trapped in the body of a man in his late twenties, free to offend others and drink and smoke himself into a tizzy whenever the mood suits him -- which, when you're a still a kid, is just about every waking hour. Now picture four of these freaks of nature in one very noisy, obnoxious Seattle bar band with bionic road stamina, and you've got a decent gauge of the Supersuckers' collective personality. "We're the 14-year-old kids whose parents are still driving us down to the arena to see the Ozzy [Osbourne] concert," says Eagle.
Fans maintain, however, that to know the Supersuckers is to truly cherish them -- no matter how often they piss you off by taking perfectly good rock and roll songs and disemboweling them. And the more you listen, the more the band's followers seem right.
"The thing for us, it's not so much about being aggressive, loud and fast; we tend to like to write really good songs, screw them up a little bit and twist them," says Eagle. "We call it 'T.F.U.': 'totally fucked up.' But we like to have a really nice core song. After a few listens, I guess that comes through for people."
The Supersuckers arose out of a mischievous high school social circle in Tucson, Arizona, the original home of Eagle, bassist/ vocalist/primary creative funnel Ed "Eddie" Spaghetti (he won't give his real name), and guitarists Ron Heathman and Dan Bolton. Perhaps overexposure to the relentless Sonoran desert sun explains the group's weathered features, which make the guys appear years older than they are. But more than likely, their rough-hewn looks have more to do with the lifestyle the Supersuckers have led since high school.
"It was just delinquency," Eagle recalls. "There was nothing else to do in Tucson besides making up your own twisted fun, lighting things on fire, throwing rocks at cars and getting in fights."
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Weaned on a mixed musical diet of Ozzy, X and the Blasters, the Supersuckers slowly got it together in bars and clubs around the University of Arizona. By 1990, they began to realize that their borderline unsavory metal-punk/roots-rock meld wasn't catching on in the tradition-minded Tucson music scene, so the group packed their gear and moved to Seattle. Friends from Tucson who had moved there earlier introduced the group to the Sub Pop people, and after a loose courtship, the Supersuckers were signed to the label. Not surprisingly, the band's Sub Pop output -- The Smoke of Hell, La Mano Cornuda (Spanish for "the horned hand") and the new The Sacrilicious Sounds of the Supersuckers -- is short on subtlety and long on nasty good times. Loud, playful and precise in their fury, the Supersuckers, it seems, have a corner on a kind of heartfelt buffoonery that's almost always worth its weight in laughs. And with the help of Butthole Surfer-turned-producer Paul Leary, who helped fellow Arizona cow-punks the Meat Puppets find their commercial center, Sacrilicious is the group's least abrasive effort so far. Who knows? Maybe it's just professional enough to bring the band their first fluke hit.
In the meantime, the Supersuckers are on the road in America, having just finished headlining a tour in Sweden. The group also cleared a significant commercial obstacle by landing a February 20 slot on the Tonight Show, where they'll back Nelson on "Bloody Mary Morning." Trying hard to stay cool, Eagle admits that he is still giddy over the prospect of sharing a stage with the legend.
"Until I drive away from it, I won't believe it," he says. "It's just too much."
The Supersuckers perform Thursday, February 15, at the Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue. Jesse Dayton and REO Speeddealer open. Tickets are $8. Doors open at 8 p.m. For info, call 863-7173.