Drunk Stuntmen – Barroom Blitz
“We were split down the middle at that time, influence-wise, and you could hear it,” Sanderson explains. “It was a confused sort of angry rootsy jam thing. I mean, we could show you some videotapes of this skinny, funny little shaved-head man in a red suit, jumping around with these long-haired guys — it was like two bands onstage at the same time.”
Things changed after their first big road trip, a month-long trip out west in 1995 during which they played about a dozen shows. “That was actually the end of Soup,” Flood says. “That’s when we decided that the drummer was — he was the main guy that was really dragging us in the hippie direction. No matter what kind of song you wrote, he had this same jam beat through it. And, he’s a great guy and all, but, it wasn’t cutting it.
“So we got home and we’re like, all right, since that tour didn’t go so well, whaddaya say we get a new drummer and actually write a structure to the songs?”
There was also “that mix tape,” Johnson chimes in — and everyone around the table agrees. Sanderson explains that his friend Rachel, a former Northampton resident who now lives in Austin, “gave me a mix tape for my birthday, and it had Townes on it, and it had a lot of Gram on it…”
“And some of the new stuff too, Son Volt and some Uncle Tupelo; it had a whole bunch of shit that, at that point, we weren’t really all that exposed to,” Flood continues. “The older stuff — you know, old Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and all that — we were into. But this newer resurgence of country just piqued our interest. And that’s what made these guys form the Polecats, which was a little side-project, which was strictly country.”
The instrumentation was significantly different. Flood played mandolin, and Johnson decided to try his hand at pedal steel. “I had faked it with a volume pedal on a guitar before that, and then I just figured, all right, I’ll plunk down a little bit of money and pick one up,” he says. “And I’ve just sort of done it by ear since then.”
Another substantial change was the addition of keyboardist Scott Hall, a bartender at a couple venues where Soup had often played. “He used to get drunk and dance in front of us all the time,” Sanderson says. “He’s got this real funny little hippie dance that he does.”
But Hall, too, was ready for a musical shift. “I said, I’ll play with you, but we can’t be a hippie band anymore, because I don’t wanna see anybody else ever dance the way that I’ve seen myself dance the last couple years.”
“He didn’t even ask [to join the band],” Sanderson recalls. “We got to practice one day, and there’s a keyboard set up. We’re like, what the hell is that? And Scott’s there, he’s playing along, and he knows the songs.”
“Really, it was the Polecats’ vehicle,” Hall acknowledges. “They were getting sick of being a jam-band, and they decided to just play country covers in this side-project thing. So that’s how I snuck in.”
Before long, the side-project redefined the main project. They changed the name from Soup to the Drunk Stuntmen, and went about recasting much of their old material. “A lot of those jam songs, when we took out all the stupid jams, kind of were rootsy songs written on an acoustic guitar,” Sanderson observes. “And some of them are still around and in the set.”
Not that the old days were gone for good. Though the band’s repertoire shifted away from hippie meandering toward more roots/country song structure, they were still served well by their rock ‘n’ roll performance instincts. Such a combination is the essence of alt-country, of course, and it’s embodied in the following admission from Sanderson:
“Willie Nelson has been my hero since I was a little kid; Tougher Than Leather is my favorite record in the world. And I would say, when it comes right down to it, I owe everything to him — and David Bowie.”
Though Sanderson looks less like the Thin White Duke than a Duke Of Hazzard, he certainly approaches live shows with the same sort of zest for performing. Flood is often equally animate, prone to wild leaps off the stage. And there’s something to be said for the simple variety of presentation in a band that features three members who take a lead vocal turn on occasion (both Flood and Johnson have their spots during Stuntmen sets).