When word spread three and a half years ago that deadhorse -- the undisputed kings of the Axiom back in the '90s -- were reuniting after a 20-year layoff, most local fans were elated. Most. Not all. There was dismissive grumbling from some quarters about former guitarist and songwriter Mike Haaga's non-involvement. And just to up the train-wreck factor, rumor had it that some dude nobody knew was going to be singing. Jesus! Would they even sound like deadhorse?
Well, come to find out, that dude nobody knew was named Mike Argo. He heard the bitching and the grumbling. And what's more, he understood it.
"I could relate to it," Argo says. "There were some nerves surrounding that first show, because being a fan myself, I knew how I would've felt: The new guy would have to be badass. It couldn't just be some joker getting up there. They were really going to have to tear it up and do a good job, is the way I would've seen it."
So, that's what Argo set out to do. When the band made its triumphant return at last, taking over the Warehouse Live ballroom and filming its first-ever live DVD, the skeptics got quiet pretty fast. The guy out front may have looked unfamiliar, but his voice undeniably sounded like pure, unadulterated deadhorse. You'd best believe that was no coincidence.
A lifelong Texas City boy, Argo had counted himself among the loyal horsecore army built by the local legends behind countless sweat-soaked performances around the state. Though he was raised playing Hank Williams-style country on guitar, it didn't take many encounters with the 'horse to pull Argo deep down into the world of underground thrash. Soon he was screaming right along to every word.
"My friends and I would go up to the Axiom every time we heard they were playing there," Argo says. "It was intense, bro. I guess I was about five years younger than those guys, so they were really peaking right when I started getting into music. To all the people in my age group where I grew up, they were the shit. If you were into music, you wanted to do what they were doing."
It took awhile, but Argo is finally living that teenage dream. The origins of his admittance into the deadhorse fold lie with another group entirely. Several years ago, deadhorse members Scott Sevall, Greg Martin and Ronnie Guyote were working with D.R.I. front man Kurt Brecht on a new project called Pasadena Napalm Division. For those three, getting back together to jam on some new tunes unavoidably raised the specter of a potential deadhorse reunion.
But as "what if" and "maybe" became "when" and "hell, yeah," the horsecore veterans discovered that none of them had any inclination to attempt singing stuff like "Bewah" and "World War Whatever" in the 21st century. Luckily, PND bassist Bubba Dennis had a suggestion in mind.
"He was a friend of mine from high school," Argo says. "We used to always listen to deadhorse; there was a whole group of us at my school that listened to those guys. When they were talking about putting a show together, he was the one that talked them into giving me a shot at it."
A shot was all it took. Argo showed up knowing exactly how deadhorse songs should sound, and after a single jam session, he knew he was in.
"They didn't say anything that day, but there was definitely a connection there," he says. "They knew it was going to work. They talked about the possibility of trying other guys out, but they never did. Once I came in and started working with them, that was pretty much it. It was just the right fit."
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Originally, deadhorse intended only to reunite long enough to play a few gigs and film the DVD. But the reaction to their performance with Argo at Warehouse Live was so strong that the band just couldn't call it quits again. Despite being spread out between Houston, Austin and San Antonio, they found a way to make it work, reassembling to play shows all over their traditional territories of Texas and Louisiana.
Nearly four years on, Argo says he doesn't feel like the new guy anymore. When deadhorse plays Scout Bar on Saturday, he'll be right at home. He still gets nervous about living up to the band's local legacy, sure. Just not onstage.
"As far as being nervous because of who they were and how I felt about them in the past, I didn't really feel that kind of pressure until we started writing," Argo says. "That was nerve-wracking, because Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers is up there in my Top 10 albums of all time.
"There's a lot of pressure there from myself, not from the band," he continues. "The bar is set pretty high in my mind. They put out some good stuff, man. Anything new couldn't be a bunch of garbage floating out there, trying to be passed off as deadhorse. It had to be deadhorse."
Last year, Argo and the boys delivered the Loaded Gun EP, the first new deadhorse release in more than two decades. Now they say it was only the beginning.
"We're talking about the possibility of having a full-length album out by the end of the year," Argo says. "We're hoping to be in the studio by the end of spring. Timelines change, but those are our goals right now."
So go ahead, get to know Mike Argo a little, 'cause he ain't going anywhere, and neither is his band. Argo says deadhorse is back in it for the long haul.
"I'm going to take it as far as it goes," he says. "I love the band; I love those guys. They're fun to be around, fun to write with. It's just been fun!"
deadhorse storms into Scout Bar, 18307 Egret Bay Blvd. (Clear Lake), Saturday night with special guests Space Rhino, Sons of Blackwater and Weapons of War. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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