Singing with Giants

Jeff Smith says the Hickoids survived by living off girls and black marketeering.

In the '80s, Austin's Hickoids were legendary. Like the Grateful Dead, they had so many stories about their zany exploits that unless you'd seen them play, you wouldn't believe them. For a then-19-year-old from San Antonio such as lead singer Jeff Smith, who today runs the Saustex record label, it was a time of walking among giants. The Hickoids have recently re-formed, reissuing their cowpunk classics "Hard Corn" and "We're Only In It For the Corn" on a single disc called Corn Demon. They've also begun playing around the state with like-minded outfits such as Dallas's Loco Gringos.

Houston Press: Hickoids were 1985 Country Band of the Year in Austin. How the hell did y'all win?

Smith: I think of it as one of those moments of collective civic consciousness when everyone just thought, "It would be funny as hell if the Hickoids won." Austin was different then, slackful and funky. The people who actually played country music were pretty hot about it. At the awards show Jukebox threw out a roll of firecrackers, and Davy shouted, "Kill Willie Nelson!" as we accepted our award.


The Hickoids

HP: Where did the "poke fun at country by playing it like punk" idea come from?

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Smith: I was 19 when we started, and my exposure to country music was via forced viewing of Hee Haw as a child and through a guy I roughnecked with one summer. He was the boss, and the boss only listened to the Top 10 country pop station. People like Juice Newton and Kenny Rogers were starting to come out. I'm not a real quick study, but three months was enough to make me hate it. It was a reaction against the sorry state country was falling into.

HP: How did you pay the bills and keep up the pace over such a long period?

Smith: We lived off girls, had shitty jobs and might have done a little black-marketeering. It was a chicken or egg situation -- did being in the band allow us to engage in immoral and illegal behavior or did engaging in immoral and illegal behavior allow us to be in a band? But we didn't grapple with such heavy questions, we just got by and enjoyed the immoral and illegal behavior.

HP: Most memorable gig?

Smith : The Sun Club in Tempe with the Loco Gringos. We had the immediate impression they did not dig us and were probably going to stiff us. Pepe of the Gringos "disappeared" before the show but arrived in time to play their opening set, good enough. We got up to do our set, and a couple of songs into it Pepe comes up on stage and spreads out some newspaper, unhooks his overalls and proceeds to take a runny-assed, alcoholic crap on the stage. He was squatting right beside me on stage and looked up at me like "I know I'm a bad dog, but you still love me, right?" There were six cop cars there in five minutes.

HP: Any of those Blues Brothers experiences when cultures clashed? That booked-in-front-of-the-wrong-crowd stuff?

Smith : A show in Odessa. We went to play a jam night at some oil-field bar. We played, and the audience did little to conceal their disdain. Jukebox, our original guitarist and an Odessa native, didn't seem to get it. I insisted we quit, but he grabbed the mike and said, "The Hickoids are gonna take a little break and will be back." During the break, his guitar fell over and one of the tuning pegs broke. He got back on the mike demanding to know "who broke his guitar," and about 30 rednecks raised their hands and said, "I did." I literally had to throw Jukebox's guitar case out the side door to get him to leave. We were going to get killed.

HP: Any important gigs, opening for someone huge, etc.?

Smith : That sort of situation was always anticlimatic and usually disastrous. A prime example was opening for the Butthole Surfers at the Variety Arts Center in L.A. The show sold out, but we only made $200. So we went back to Texacala Jones's house and had a party, drinking and singing and stomping on the floor all night after our "big gig." Nobody knew that the upstairs neighbor was an L.A. deputy sheriff. About eleven that morning, I heard the cops kick in the front door. After throwing stale beer on everybody and insulting everyone, they told us to get up, which we did, except for Wade, our drummer, who was under a sleeping bag. Wade emerges from underneath the bag wearing one of Texacala's antique lace dresses, a real nice, petite red one. Guns drawn, the cops went on to explain, "You think you have rights. That's bullshit. This is L.A., and we own L.A." and some other quasi-fascist rhetoric I can't remember. And then they just left.

HP: What is the worst thing anyone ever said to you guys?

Smith : Place your hands on the vehicle.

HP: Overall impression of the Hickoids' career?

Smith : Always the bridesmaids, never the brides.

The Hickoids perform Saturday, January 27, at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh Drive, 713-521-0521.

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