But no fancy terminology can explain the jarring juxtapositions of people and roles you find every night at Earthwire studios. The realities are too complex for mediated perception -- it's like a nonsensical fever dream. Frizzy-haired New Jack Hippy Guy Schwartz chats with über-indie MenMechanical front man Brian Taylor while a Freddy Fender record plays in the background. Young street rappers chill with aging literary poets. Noise rocker and original punk Don Walsh of Rusted Shut was recently seen freestyling with an ad hoc posse of honest-to-God rappers, for chrissakes.
Another such Earthwire collision is the recent jam partnership forged by alt-country/Southern rocker Opie Hendrix, veteran blues bassist Schwartz and street poet Kool B, a young, less-pissed-off Gil Scott-Heron. The result? Country blues jazz rap. "That was something completely different we got going there," says Hendrix. "We were jamming, having fun, and all of a sudden -- bang! It made sense."
Hendrix, B and Schwartz will be collaborating again October 5 at an invite-only after-show party following the Rudyard's "pre-release" party of Hendrix's sophomore album, San Jacinto. If the six-song sampler is any measure, the album is plenty eclectic. In addition to Hendrix's Texas Tallboys band -- bassist Pat Sullivan, drummers Albert Storo and Steve Candelari, fiddler Marty Starns and visionary steel guitarist Susan Alcorn -- people like Greg Harbar of the Gypsies and Chris Hirsch of Lonestar Bluegrass guest on the record, too.
And Hendrix's opener at Rudz is no slouch in the oddity department, either. Psychedelics Express -- featuring Rebel Crew turntablist Joe B., jazz percussionist Citizen Doug and blues harp player Cap'n Krunk -- will bring their electronic update on the blues to the opening slot. "Talk about a diverse show, that's gonna be wacky-doodle diverse I don't want to be quoted on that 'wacky-doodle' part," says Hendrix. "They're gonna come up and do that weird techno blues stuff, and then we're gonna come up and do our thing."
Racket recently spent an evening with Hendrix trying to find out exactly what that "our thing" was. First, he observed Hendrix broadcasting his Earthwire.net show Straight Jacket Junction, which is billed as "three hours of maximum C&W with the will to be weird." Talk about truth in advertising. The show starts out a fairly straightforward deep honky-tonk show -- plenty of Pride, Coe, Paycheck, Willie and Cash. Suddenly, he's slapped on a platter of the Kronos Quartet's Elvis covers. Then there's some Zappa, and a Hendrix Mix of the Firesign Theater and Ozzy Osbourne playing simultaneously. Bill Monroe, the Andrews Sisters and the Captain and Tennille make appearances, too. Where there's a will to be weird, Hendrix shows the way.
Through it all, the red-haired, freckle-faced Hendrix sits in the control booth sipping on a big bottle of cherry Gatorade and smoking pungent hand-rolled cigarettes that come his way from time to time. His image is about 45 degrees different from your typical Texas-based alt-country artist. Instead of boots and a snap-button shirt, he favors Dickies overalls and sensible navy-blue canvas slip-on shoes that your grandfather would wear after work. Judging by his threads, and also his more Southern as opposed to Texan taste in music, he seems a little more like the type of guy you would meet in the Nashville underground rather than the one here, a little less huevos rancheros, a little more biscuits with sausage gravy. If you're looking for Houston's answer to Mojo Nixon, call off the dogs -- here he is.
As it happens, Hendrix doesn't even hail from south of the Mason-Dixon. He's from Albany, Indiana, a town so small he uses Muncie to try to place it. But as anyone who has been there can tell you, rural Indiana is Northern by geography alone. The accent is Southern, and so is the taste in music. Hendrix was born there 32 years ago as Stephen Buchanan and grew up on a steady diet of Elvis, the Beatles and Hee-Haw.
Hendrix moved to Houston in 1993 to become a bluesman. He spent the next five years woodshedding at the old Boat Yard, where he landed his current nom du rock. "I used to be easily riled up," he remembers. "The guys in the Hairy Fish band that used to play there used to say, 'Hey, there's Opie Hendrix,' and it really used to piss me off."
Buchanan sat in with other artists for a few years then got a band. As a joke, he told Boat Yard owner Dennis Marshman to bill them as the Opie Hendrix Experience. "Dude, there's a couple of things I wish I could take back," Hendrix says. "I don't know if I regret it or what, really. It's a blessing in disguise, I guess. A lot of people would come in just to see what an Opie Hendrix was."