Stewed, Screwed and Tattooed

Although the Down and Dirties didn't intend to live up to their moniker off-stage, it's certainly turned out that way. "The band is more like a gang," says guitar player/vocalist Bill Greer. "We don't say we want to get into fights, but there seems to be like a biker-gang mentality when we're all hanging out together."

In our interview at local rehearsal space Francisco Studios, one story in particular stands out. It seems that drummer Stevie Sims once got caught with his pants down in Los Angeles, and the scene ended up a gory melee. "He had hooked up with this chick and her boyfriend was there and caught up with the whole thing," says Greer, who goes by the name Bill Fool on stage. "The guy got really ticked off, but we convinced him to calm down and he left."

Or so they thought. "Then we heard a pounding on the door and he kicked in the door…The guy wanted to kill Stevie. Chad Hawkins -- our bass player at the time -- was asleep in the back room. He comes out, he's like five-three, five-four -- the smallest guy in the room. The guy looks around, and instead of going after [the larger] Stevie, he goes after Chad, and starts punching him… Stevie's just sitting there the whole time. I grabbed a candelabra and started beating the crap out of the guy, just to get him off of Chad, and blood is going everywhere."

Luckily, Greer and his band ascribe to the "any pub is good pub" school. "So we get this little following in L.A. that knows we fight," he says. "We don't really want to be known as a band that fights a lot, but I guess it's good for publicity reasons."

On stage, the band hopes to match that aggressive spirit with their rough-and-ready, rock-edge-of-punk sound. In contrast to the legion of young, Hives-aping garage punk bands of the day, the Down and Dirties name the Finnish band Hanoi Rocks as their biggest influence, along with a few others -- Turbonegro, the Backyard Babies and the Hellacopters -- from the first (and superior) wave of Scandinavian hard rock bands. And now that the second wave of Scandi hard rock -- the Hives, Division of Laura Lee, the (International) Noise Conspiracy -- is lapping at our shores, the Down and Dirties hope they're poised for a breakthrough. "Those Scandinavian bands are really bringing back rock real strong, and we wanted to do it American-style," says Greer. "If you look in a magazine it's Scandinavia this and Scandinavia that, but you don't see that many American bands that rock really good. We want to be the American band that takes it farther."

Norway's Turbonegro was especially crucial to their early development. "I had a band with the kids in Pure Rubbish called Denim Demons doing Turbonegro covers, and strongly wanted to do another band like that," says Greer. He met some like minds in Sims (a.k.a. Stevie Hangover), bassist Hawkins, guitarist/singer Christian Best (a.k.a. Christian GFN) and bassist Jared Tarver, and about 18 months ago the side-project cover band started evolving into a full-time original outfit. Their first gig was at the second anniversary party for the Montrose record store Rockpile, whose owner, Kevin Forbes, asked them to play the party before they even had a name for the band. Having a gig thrust upon them prompted them to write songs and get a set together. In the ensuing months, Tarver was asked to leave (according to the band's Web site, about.html, his drinking got out of control) to be replaced first by Hawkins, who lost interest, and second by current bassist Gilbert Lira (a.k.a. Gilboracho), formerly of the band Speed 90. Meanwhile, former Spunk front man Tod Waters had been drafted in to take over lead vocals from Best.

While the current members of the Down and Dirties look like they walked off the set of a low-budget biker flick, the fact is that they're all gainfully employed -- albeit some by more conventional standards of "gainfulness" than others. Stevie and Christian are tattoo artists -- they ply their trade at Scorpio's, a nationally acclaimed Montrose studio -- and Waters is an artist, actor and fashion designer in Hollywood. As for the boys a woman could -- at least sight unseen -- consider bringing home to meet her father, Greer is a structural engineer and Lira works for a NASA subcontractor.

The Down and Dirties admit to having had dreams of rock stardom when they were younger, but now in their thirties, they keep at it for other reasons. "To be able to play music and for people to listen to it, that's what we really want the most," says Greer. "We've all had band experiences, but this is the very first time we're really happy being together. We hang out with each other all the time, we do everything together. [But] it'd be great to see the band accomplish something besides being here in Francisco Studios."

"It's gone beyond the point of where I want to be some kind of rock hero," Best adds. "I want people to finally hear what I've been doing for the last 18 years, to see something come from the fruit of our labors." And they do labor -- practicing regularly, playing as many shows as possible and bombarding fans on their e-mail list. Best designs original full-color posters for all the shows, and the band pastes them up all over town. They often spend more money promoting gigs than they make playing them.

On February 19, the new Houston label Rad Roach will unleash the Down and Dirties' debut CD, Stewed, Screwed and Tattooed. Produced by Alex Reverberi (who helped engineer The Eminem Show) and Greer, it's a potent blast of accessible 1970s hard rock, chock-full of catchy hooks and melodies. As the title suggests, the subject matter on Stewed doesn't stray far from the primal rock-and-roll fare of fast living. For this band, it's all about having a large time; the power chords are big and fat, and the drums are mixed loud and up front. Their musical approach and tongue-in-cheek attitude harks back to a time before the term "heavy metal," and in the best AC/DC tradition, they bring shit-eating grins to the faces of their listeners.

To put it in a nutshell, as the band does on "Madman," the Down and Dirties pose the following rhetorical question: "Sleep all day and party all night / what's so wrong with the rock and roll life?"

Currently their plans for the rock and roll life are to use the CD to shop for an independent record deal stateside. (Disney-owned Hollywood Records had discussions with the band but passed after deciding they were a little too rough around the edges.) Long-range plans include a possible move to Los Angeles and a European tour, as the Italian and Spanish media are already hip to them.

The band acknowledges the recent rock resurgence and press garnered by groups such as the White Stripes and the Hives as helping dislodge the bubblegum that clogs the charts, but mostly they're holding out for history to repeat itself. Just as a tidal wave of punk welled up during the stultifying right-wing Reagan years, they predict a similar trend, should Bush win a second term. "Eventually America is going to turn around," says Greer. "With Dubya in office making all kinds of dumbass mistakes, that's going to bring around rock even better. With the economy going downhill, people are going to go back to the slums and start rocking out again."

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Timothy J. O'Brien