It's been 20 years since Sugar Shack released "You're a Freak," a bona fide local anthem that perseveres to this day. The legendary Houston band's complex, 20-plus-year history is full of numerous lineup changes, multiple record labels and wholesale shifts in sound. On the eve of their appearance at Sweatbox Studios' 16-year anniversary in Austin this weekend, here's a look back at Sugar Shack's past, present and future.
Kilian Sweeney, guitar/vocals, de Schmog: For me it wasn't about Sugar Shack, but Mark [Lochridge], Andy [Wright] and J.R. [Delgado]'s first band, the Party Owls. I went to a house party in what is now the gentrified Midtown area but at the time, which I guess was the late '80s, it was run-down, dark and largely vacant. I was probably 18 at the time. I remember they were sloppy — they had to keep starting songs over, but it was raucous fun.
Andy Wright, guitar, Sugar Shack: After Robbie [Rice] moved to Seattle, we played a few shows with Mark taking over the lead vocals. It sounded pretty good, but didn't really feel like the Party Owls anymore. We all got along great and were having fun playing, so we just changed the name and kept going.
Uncle Charlie, bass, Dresden 45: When Party Owls became Cement Pond then later Sugar Shack, they were looking for a drummer. I suggested I try out, [but] neglected to mention that I couldn't play drums. I couldn't really hold my own and they knew it — probably for the better, because along came Lyman Hardy, who kicked everybody's ass.
Lyman Hardy, drums, Bayou Pigs/Sugar Shack/Ed Hall/Pong: When I saw they were looking for a drummer, I tried out. I didn't hear anything back, so I figured I didn't make the cut. Then I saw an ad in Public News: "Lyman from 1960, where are you?" They had lost my number. I called them up and we started playing together.
Everyone in the band but me had this long hair. I'm bald. I remember going to play at Numbers one time, the door guy was asking me to pay cover — he didn't believe I was in Sugar Shack! When I moved to Austin, [he] wound up being my neighbor.
Julie Grob, booking agent, The Axiom: Their most memorable song was "You're a Freak," which was the unofficial anthem of the local music scene at that time. When they played it the audience would sing along, shake their fists and wave their long hair.
Hardy: It seemed like it had a kind of resonance. The only people who would go to these dive clubs with no air conditioning in the bad parts of town where we would play were the freaks, so I imagine they could relate.
Sweeney: My last great memory of Sugar Shack was when I first moved to Lexington. It was the first party I went to on the street, at a house we called "the Flower House." Sugar Shack played, and I remember footprints on the ceiling the next morning.
Grob: At the peak of their grunge-era popularity, [they] won Houston Press Band of the Year. I was working for J.R. at the Axiom at the time, and I asked him if Sugar Shack would play a party at my house, the Flower House. They wanted to maintain their "street cred" by playing a house party. We ended up with about 400 people showing up.
I remember walking into my living room while Sugar Shack was playing, and people were dancing on our couch. At some point during the show, a guy started hassling Mark's wife, and Austin [guitarist Thomerson] stopped playing and began throttling the guy. The next morning I found footprints on the ceiling because people had been crowd-surfing in our living room!
Wright: By the time we recorded our first album, we were mixing the slow, heavy songs with the lo-fi, upbeat garage songs and I think it kind of alienated some of our old fans. We were having much more fun playing the garagey stuff, so we just dropped all the old heavy stuff and went full on garage-punk.
Mark Lochridge, vocals, Sugar Shack: There were definitely some fans that didn't like the change. I remember a difference in the two Australian tours that we did, one in February of '93 and the other in August of '95, after we had gone a bit "tinny," as our Australian tour manager called it.
Dorothy Dean, manager, Sugar Shack: I went with them on that first tour to Australia. It was really shocking. It was like when the Ramones went to England — a lot of people over there knew who they were. They played in this suburb of Melbourne and I heard some guy say to his girlfriend that they were better than Mudhoney, and she goes, "they fucking are not!"
Tim Kerr, producer, Big Boys/Poison 13/Lord High Fixers: They were definitely Mudhoney Jr. mixed with Poison 13 on the first record. I knew they really liked Poison 13 because they told me over and over. I think Andy was really into Thee Headcoats and the Mummys and that's what sent it that way. Maybe it happened when they cut their hair.
Kyle G. Otis, guitar, Sugar Shack: The running joke about "ruining Sugar Shack" comes from a review in the Houston Press about our first show after I had joined up. It basically said we sounded okay, but not as good as we had before. I just kinda ran with the notion that I had ruined Sugar Shack.
Lochridge: I think with each new person you bring into the band it changes things. Stefanie's more swinging style was probably the biggest transition. As far as the chemistry of the band, everyone within this current lineup gets along so well it's almost sickening.
Stefanie Paige Friedman, drums, Sugar Shack: It was just a warm feeling when I joined because they had liked my bands and I liked theirs. At first it was odd playing Houston shows, because a lot of their fans really stayed in Houston to hear music, so they had no idea who I was and I felt I really had to prove myself worthy to play in their favorite band.
Ruben Dominguez, guitar, Toho Ehio: They were the only really successful band to come out of Houston in those days. They put out albums, toured and made a dent nationally. I think everyone in the scene respected them for that. I remember when they left to play in Australia. That was all anyone could talk about for a long while.
Friedman: I think because we love the band so much and just playing together, none of us will ever admit to disbanding, so we play when we can and don't promise anything. Rumor has it I am the longest drummer they've had. They are kinda like Spinal Tap. I've been waiting to blow up.
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