Asylum Street Spankers – Sound off
When a disillusioned punk rocker named Wammo met Guy Forsyth and Christina Marrs at a performer’s night in Llano, Texas, in the mid-’90s, the wonder of chance meetings and beautiful accidents came gloriously into play. “We were bitching about how loud our bands were and decided to start a jug band,” says Wammo, explaining the origin of the Asylum Street Spankers.
Each of these three core members write and sing, while Wammo typically adds washboard, Marrs ukulele, and Forsyth guitar. They corralled more musicians, including another key member, clarinetist and rhythm guitarist Stanley Smith.
Connecting a love of early jazz and blues with nascent country, they built a set list culled from old 78s featuring the work of artists such as the Mississippi Sheiks, Washboard Sam and Fats Waller, soon adding country tunes such as Roy Acuff’s “Wreck On The Highway” and “Unloved And Unclaimed”.
The Asylum Street Spankers then stumbled upon another key ingredient that would shape the band’s future. “When we played our first gig, somebody forgot to bring the PA,” Wammo recalls, but what could have been a disaster turned into triumph. “We went ahead and played anyway. We loved it and the crowd loved it.”
That was just the push for Wammo to realize he’d found his musical calling. Already suffering from early stages of tinnitus after years spent in rock bands, he realized the ingenuity of ditching amplification. Rarely, unless it’s a large festival gig, do the Spankers use microphones.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than playing in a room without amplification and having the audience riveted, loving what you’re doing,” Wammo says. “The entire fourth wall that is built when you amplify — when you force them to hear your music, you build this huge wall between you and the audience — that is completely gone.”
In September, the Spankers released My Favorite Record, their sixth studio album on the band’s own Spanks-A-Lot label (which is also an outlet for group members’ solo projects). It’s a collection of originals stuffed with satire, plus one cover: Willie Dixon’s “Insane Asylum”.
Appreciated as much for their irreverent approach as for their musical prowess — novel songs such as “Funny Cigarette” have become firm fan favorites — the Spankers are in danger of not being taken seriously by a larger public. And that’s quite all right, says Wammo.
“I’m very satisfied with where the band is right now,” he says. “I don’t really worry about whether we’re going to get filthy rich. We’re all too old to be rock stars anyway. There’s no real worries of whether we’re going to make it or not.”