More than a one-trick pony... Any band that aims for greatness needs a steadying element -- an authority figure, if you will. For Houston's Horseshoe, that used to be drummer Eddie Hawkins, who, during his four year-stint with the somewhat hapless acid-rock and country quintet, gladly took on all the least desirable tasks. In the process, Hawkins did a decent job of keeping the ground firmly under the band members' feet, acting as the group's manager, publicist, booking agent and producer in addition to his duties behind the set.
By '96, his work seemed about to pay off. The group released its sprawling, fitfully brilliant debut, King of the World, which so impressed Houston's Justice Records that the label agreed to distribute the album nationally.
Horseshoe seemed on the road to somewhere -- even if they weren't always sure how to drive -- and Hawkins made damn sure the band had a full plate of (mostly local) performances. In fact, they were playing out so often at one point that they were in serious danger of saturating the local market. Horseshoe may have been going in circles -- but at least they were going.
Then Hawkins's life changed. "We were on tour last July," he explains. "On the way back, I called home, and [my wife] said she was pregnant. I made the decision right there to go into responsibility mode." He quit the band in September of '97, and now has a full-time job doing sound for Theatre Under the Stars.
For Horseshoe fans, the news was dire. Just like that, the group evaporated from the local landscape: no more weekend hoedowns at the regular haunts, no more anticipating Monday what nutty stunt Greg Wood, the band's lead singer and bowling-alley poet laureate, might pull Saturday. Suddenly, the live entertainment calendars at Mary Jane's, Dan Electro's and the Last Concert Cafe seemed empty, uninspired -- hell, just plain unfun.
"It was actually a good time to take a break," Wood says of Horseshoe's uncertain hiatus. "We needed to refocus, and we weren't in any rush to find a drummer."
But, after six months of lying low, the band has found a new stabilizer in the form of drummer Michael Fischer, formerly with Sisters Morales and The Kick. The group hired Fischer in January, obviously taken by both his powerful, no-nonsense playing style and his willingness to take over where Hawkins left off in the business department. The rest of the lineup remains intact: Besides Wood, there's founding member Scott Daniels on lead guitar, Ben Collis on bass and Cary Winscott on second ax.
Fischer has clearly been good for the band. "He's far more aggressive," says Wood.
Which is to say that Horseshoe is officially back, and proof is all over town. Horseshoe sightings are now common again at places like Rudz!, Mary Jane's and Dan Electro's. As for Hawkins, he's still the band's acting producer; the band has been in the studio of late recording music that will eventually become the 23-track King of the World's follow-up, which Wood promises will be considerably more efficient.
"I got so tired of hearing complaints about [King of the World] being too long," he says, "that I vowed the next one would be, like, three songs."
Release activity... On his new CD, Honky Tonk Diary, I was half-expecting Steve Ribnikar to come right out and claim some distant blood relation to Lefty Frizzell or maybe Hank Williams. In truth, though, Ribnikar is just a passionate, unwavering acolyte of them both, which ought to be plenty to seal his reputation around here. This low-key Houston crooner oozes pure C&W; prick him, and he bleeds trad-country blood.
In a nicotine-stained tenor, Ribnikar makes a strong case for the merits of simplicity -- both in his instrumentation (guitar, banjo, fiddle, accordion, steel guitar, dobro and drums are all administered with a casual touch) and in his lyrics. "Truth comes from the heart / Not from the tongue," he sings on the utterly charming Texas waltz, "Truth from the Heart." Chances are, Merle couldn't have said it any better.
On St. Patrick's Day, Ribnikar and his Flying Spurs celebrate the release of Honky Tonk Diary at the Shakespeare Pub.
Also due next week is Rain Dance in the Desert, the 11-song debut CD from Pam Ross and Ten 'Til Six. Expected March 18, the album was recorded at Houston's Third Stone Studios by Copper Records' Darrell Clingman and is said to be a solid representation of the band's modern bar-rock sound.
Etc... Evidently, the Sonnier Brothers Band did something right at their Atlantic Records showcase last month. Scouts from the label are returning to Houston for an encore performance Monday at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. As with the last Satellite showcase, the Sonniers' set will come after the El Orbits' weekly gig. Two's the charm -- or something like that.
Good news: The number of Houston bands heading to Austin's South by Southwest Music Conference has more than doubled since my last count. Here's the final in-list: Chlorine, Junior Varsity, Jesse Dayton, DJ Biz, The Lord Vishnu, Gone Blind, Truth Decay, Carolyn Wonderland, Los Palominos, Ezra Charles, Gandhi in Vegas, The Hollisters, Caedmon's Call, Ground Zero and Under the Sun. The eight late additions make it 15 in all. Now, that's more like it.
-- Hobart Rowland
Have a comment, tip, compliment or beef? E-mail Hobart Rowland at Hobart_Rowland@houstonpress.com.
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