$2 Pistols – Young and in the way
Don’t worry if you won’t be able to catch the $2 Pistols anytime soon. According to songwriter and guitarist John Howie, they plan on hanging around for a while.
“With this kind of music, we can have this band until we die,” he quips.
“This kind of music” is the straight, old-time country of Roger Miller, Buck Owens and Lefty Frizzell. Howie came around to it in typical prodigal son fashion.
“My dad was into country, so I had to find something that was different — that’s when you end up turning to bands like The Exploited,” Howie explains. “But when I was 18 I went to England and met people who were into Gram Parsons and stuff like that, and when you hear it in a different context, when your peers are listening to it, it’s a lot easier to relate to — and to not worry about whether you’re going to be identified with your father.”
After he came back to the States and became drummer for the punk band Finger, his country re-education continued. “One of the first songs we did was ‘Grievous Angel’,” he says. And their version of “Still Feeling Blue” appeared on the Gram Parsons tribute album Conmemorativo (released on Rhino in 1993).
“But it first occurred to me that it was possible to play that kind of music when I saw the Backsliders,” says Howie, acknowledging his NC Triangle peers who have a live EP due out on Mammoth this fall. “That changed the way I felt about trying to perform it. I would sit at home and sing it, but it would never, ever have dawned on me that it was possible to actually go out and do that in front of people.”
The only thing left was for the pieces of the $2 Pistols to fall into place. “Three years ago, I met the bass player, Pat McGraw, who’s now in the Uncrowned Nashville Kings. At first we were going to do an Everly Brothers type thing, and it branched out from there.” Drummer Chris Phillips is in the Squirrel Nut Zippers; fiddle player John Kempannin is a former Zipper himself. Bill Ladd, on pedal steel, is in Jolene. And guitarist John Price comes from June, Howie’s current day-job drumming gig.
While the lineup may indicate otherwise, Howie says this is a real band, not a one-off side project. “Initially I was taking whatever gigs I could and playing with different lineups as long as Pat was there,” he says. “We’ve done that enough, so whenever we play now, there won’t be substitutes. I don’t want it to be me and a bunch of people backing me or something stupid like that, because I can’t pull that off at all.”
With all of their other commitments, how do they find time to play anywhere? “It’s pretty rough,” Howie admits. “I’d love to have the time to practice twice a week, and that’s just not there right now. And we’re working on getting at least a single out. If I was trying to do something I felt I had to do before I was 30, then I’d budget my time a little differently. But I don’t feel that way about it. It really is the kind of thing that we can pretty much do in our 50s and 60s — certainly,” he added with a laugh, “our 30s and 40s.”