They were Townes Van Zandt's only true backing band, and Lucinda Williams tabbed them for her second album, Happy Woman Blues. Mike Edwards, Mickey White and Wrecks Bell are the Hemmer Ridge Mountain Boys, and though they are not as widely storied as more famous bands, the hell-raising tales that do survive of this swashbuckling Gulf Coast supergroup are as vivid and colorful as any told on even the most lurid episode of Behind the Music.

There was the time in Austin when they extorted a club doorman by coating themselves in garbage and threatening to enter unless they were given a pint of Popov. There was the night in Nacogdoches when Wrecks and Townes were thrown in jail. Wrecks had each fingernail painted a different color (he used to claim that he learned to play bass on the color system) and Townes was daubed in Native American war paint. Bell remembers that evening as one of the better nights the band spent in jail. (See "Out of Townes," October 19, 2000.) There were hundreds of nights like these, in jail and out, though in some cases nobody, least of all the principals, can remember the essential details.

But those days are long gone. Both White and Bell have been sober for years, at least in the sense of not putting whiskey bottle to lips. But labeling the eternally wisecracking Bell a sober person is as wrong as when Decca Records passed on a little unsigned act called the Beatles, informing the future Fab Four that "guitar bands are on the way out." As for White, "sobering" is the better word, especially when describing his heavenly flatpicking skills.

No abler interpreters of Van Zandt material draw breath on this planet, so expect to hear a few of the master's tunes in his most public shrine. And then there are the hilarious HRMB "originals," which run the gamut from "Puae Gainstae Hetae Allwae, Edneckrae Othermae" ("co-written" with Bell solo project producer Ray Wylie Hubbard) to their take on "I've Been Everywhere" (in which lists of drugs take the place of cities) and of course their Skynyrd rewrite, "What's Your Sign, Little Girl."

Legendary Houston folk music pioneer and "daddy banjo" inventor Dr. Frank Davis is slated to open.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax