The Judy's are rehearsing. Live. Right now. This fact alone should be enough to send a certain subspecies of Texas music aficionado — those who came of age in the late '70s and early '80s, when musicians fed up with rock's bloated arena excess stripped it down into the sleek strains known as punk and New Wave — into CPR-worthy palpitations. Even so, as when any band revisits riffs and rhythms that haven't crossed their minds (and fingers) in almost three years, the Judy's are a little on the rusty side at the moment.
"I still can't hear where you're at," bassist Jeff Walton tells singer and keyboardist David Bean, who is running through his lyrics without the benefit of a microphone. "You're going to have to face me."
Bean, Walton and drummer Dane Cessac, childhood friends who grew up in Pearland, are assembled at Walton's studio near US 290 and Mangum to drag their arch, keenly satirical, hyper-catchy songs out of mothballs. Those songs, as released on the albums Washarama (1981) and Moo (1985), as well as on various EPs and 7-inch singles, once made the Judy's one of the most popular bands in Texas. And a full generation after the original lineup last performed on any kind of regular basis, many would argue they still are.
The three fortysomethings are dressed in street clothes rather than the milkman uniforms, beachwear or Hare Krishna robes they once favored for their shows, which brought packed houses to venues such as Numbers and Austin's Club Foot — but this is unquestionably a Judy's rehearsal. A framed poster for Washarama hangs in the hall. Bean's keyboard is set up atop an ironing board, a familiar sight for any of the nearly 1,500 people who have viewed the clip of their 1981 performance of "Guyana Punch" on YouTube. An array of pots and pans, which Cessac attacks like Animal from The Muppet Show on "Right Down the Line," is strung up on a frame near Walton's amplifier.
Slowly but surely, the wayward notes fall into place. After a few tries, Bean (playing a miniature marching snare that belongs to Walton's son) and Cessac (on tom-tom) ace the moment in the "Grass is Greener" chorus where they theatrically click their drumsticks together. Walton successfully navigates the circular, robust bass lines of "Rerun" and "TV," two of the Judy's songs about the boob tube. Bean attacks the surfy two-chord vamp of "Girls! Girls! Girls!" (another preferred topic) with punk-like intensity, and croons the opening lyrics to "Guyana Punch" — his twisted tribute to the Jonestown tragedy and the closest thing the Judy's had to a hit single — through a paper-towel tube. The chemistry between the three is obvious; at the subsequent photo shoot, they giggle and crack each other up like it's picture day at Pearland High.
"I think that's the third time we've [rehearsed] tonight," exhales a flushed but smiling Walton afterward.
The reason for these rehearsals is the Judy's upcoming performance at the Austin Music Awards March 13, a 20-minute set that will mark the trio's first public appearance since the 1994 Raul's Reunion at Austin's Liberty Lunch. (They played a full set as a private benefit for a cancer-stricken friend at the former Pearland Elementary School in spring 2005.)
Last December, after nearly a decade of promising to do so, they finally released Washarama, Moo and 1991's never-before-released Land of Plenty (recorded after Walton and Cessac had left the band) on CD for the first time via their label Wasted Talent Records, sparking a renewal of interest in the group that has yet to subside. Stacked on a desk in the studio's reception area, an assortment of boxes and envelopes (about 30 in all) are bound for destinations like Dallas; Lanexa, Kansas; and Daniel Island, South Carolina. Orders have come in from as far away as Greece and Japan.
"It's like two to one," Walton says. "For every two [orders] in Texas, there's one from somewhere else."
No sooner had the Judy's set up their Web site, www.wastedtalentrecords.com, than the orders started pouring in; the first came about five minutes after the site went online. When news of the CDs' availability reached the community at long-running fan site www.thejudys.com, more than 150 orders came in literally overnight.
"It scared me," says Walton a week earlier, as he and Bean stuff a previous batch of envelopes with shirts and CDs at his studio, which these days doubles as the Wasted Talent offices and stockroom. "I didn't even know if [the site] was working properly, and then it was like, 'Oh, now we have to place all these orders.'"
The band originally planned to sell the CDs through their Web site alone, but the overwhelming demand forced them to reconsider and send shipments to various local record stores. Since then, they've sold so well several retailers, including Waterloo Records in Austin, have already reordered.