Kentucky Gentlemen –One and All
“A bunch of rednecks making punk rock…” laughs Bryan Minks as the EPK starts for Lexington, KY’s Those Crosstown Rivals. The video opens up with their Punk version of a southern rebel riff, which is the beginning of the song “Bear’s Den”. Member by member they all get a sound bite in, talking about their ‘philosophy of rock and roll’. By the end you know this is a band of brothers.
I asked Bryan Minks, front-man for TCTR, how they got started and where the name came from anyway:
“Nick and I met years ago in London, KY – his older brother was my roommate for years. Our first meeting ended in a black eye and a trashed house. We decided to start playing music years later – and started this project as a two piece. I worked with Cory, he started tagging along and we quickly became a 3 piece. Josh Beisler and Nick met at work – and brought Josh over to play drums one day and we all had a great time. We then grew into what we are today. No real story on this (where the name of the band came from) – there was a reference to “Blue Ox and the Crosstown Rivals” in a book… I don’t even know what the book was – we all decided on being Those Crosstown Rivals because it felt like a good fit. ”
They’ve been playing together under that name now for two years.
Happenstance and serendipity were the conduits that lead to my association with Lexington, KY’s hottest Cow Punk band—Those Crosstown Rivals. The story basically started with a gig for Ned Van Go that I had booked in Lexington that was in need of a ‘local’—meaning a local band needed to be on the bill. I asked Kevin Hamilton, a Lexington drummer I know well, for a recommendation, as he had been the one to turn me on to Sunday Valley, I trust his opinion carte blanche. His suggestion was Those Crosstown Rivals. So I e-mailed them. They were busy but yet apparently intrigued enough to make a point of venturing into the venue the night of the show to check out Nashville’s ‘bastard sons’.
Somewhere between “Charlene” and “Laid” the four members of Those Crosstown Rivals became fans of East Nashville’s Ned Van Go and over this past year have played countless shows with Ned Van Go from Cleveland, Ohio to Memphis, TN. That the two bands hit it off isn’t surprising. They site similar influences. They both have their roots in rural, small town Kentucky and moved to a larger city. Nick Walters’ hair is just about as wild as Bob Grant’s.
All I got to see of Those Crosstown Rivals for months while Ned and his merry men played shows with them all over were the videos I could find on-line, my favorite being “Shake, Shake, Boom, Boom” which would get stuck in my head for days on end.
I didn’t get see TCTR live until July 3rd at a show at the Hard Rock Café with Fifth on the Floor and Ned Van Go. Music City’s riverfront was a torrent of tourist, townies, and college students all flowing below the balcony of the Hard Rock that night. As an arts and entertainment reporter I learned early on that the temperature of a band could be measured by listening to the banter of the band members prior to the show. I’ll watch a band’s rituals and how they interact with the other bands on the bill. That night I watched all the members of both Lexington bands lean over that railing and ogle the crowd below. It is heart aching to watch that many people stream past the venue you’re about to play. Moments later Justin Wells of Fifth on the Floor pushed himself off the railing and announced, “Well we’re here…at the Hard Rock…in Nashville…let’s get it on.” All the members of TCTR shot a look around and put a defiant fist in the air to demonstrate their agreement and gave the appropriate Kentucky squall.
In that break before NVG took the stage after Fifth on the Floor, Ned introduced me to the members of Those Crosstown Rivals. I was greeted with the warmth, charm, and friendliness that most Kentucky gentlemen have. When they took the stage after NVG, I witnessed the passion and love that had made Ned Hill a fan of these 4 musicians.
Now anybody who knows me knows musician wise I’m usually fixated on the drummer and after that like most, the front man. It is rare that a bass player snatches my attention and holds it. The last time it happened was when my favorite front-man, Jarrod England, brought the Scream’ Cheetah Wheelies to Tidball’s. Steve Burgess had my attention nearly completely. So there I was at the Hard Rock trying to absorb the whole experience of Those Crosstown Rivals and there’s this thrashing, bass wailin’, heathen on stage by the name of Cory Hanks. The element that separates rock from punk and punk from metal is the channeled energy of the bass. It is not just mere tempo or rhythm. The bass is the fuel that forces the blood of a driving melody. You hear it. It’s distinct and there on the top of the sound, not just a layer amongst many. So here is this guy, Cory Hanks, absolutely plucking the strings of this bass like he’s playing a twelve string guitar and thrashing around like he’s playing Thrash Metal. The guy doesn’t stop moving until the last note or on occasion, he stops for dramatic pause. I became ‘a at your feet fan’ of Cory Hanks.
Now nearly as animated is front-man Bryan Minks and lead guitarist, Nick Walters. It’s really a shame Nick doesn’t sing, or at least I haven’t heard him, because he has this southern pure honey of a speaking voice. Like Mark Twain would be jealous and Foghorn Leghorn would take speaking lessons from this man. Nick wears his hair in a grown out mohawk that resembles the helmet of a Roman Legion. Unlike so many lead guitarist, when he’s on stage he’s not really there to grab the spotlight. He delivers his part of the song with just the right ump, not needing to beat you over the head with his guitar master skills. He conveys with his body language that his objective is to deliver the song as a whole, like a big box. He knows it takes the hands of the other band members to carry that box to the audience. Bryan, on the other hand, is a front-man. He doesn’t just sing. He’s leading the performance. Like a catcher motioning to the pitcher his gestures are provoking a rehearsed response from drummer Josh Beisler and the other two band members. Josh is the anchor. He’s steady and unshakable. No matter how outrageous the 3 guys in front of him get…he just keeps on.
This past March Those Crosstown Rivals made their first appearance in Bowling Green at the Twisted Tap. I stood outside and chatted with them. I asked after their wives and their families. I’ve always loved the fact that the immediate and extended family members of this band are involved with this band. The band enjoys the full support of their entire family structure, which is pretty damn cool. Erica Minks, Bryan’s wife, is present for a good portion of their shows and with good cause. She’s helped write a healthy percentage of their material. She was there for the Twisted Tap show and was excited to tell me she had written Ned Van Go into a song she’d written about her dad called “Trucker”. I asked Bryan to repeat the story:
“Erica’s father, Mark, is a trucker – and he loves Ned Van Go. We got him a copy of all of Ned’s records. He was telling Erica how driving in the middle of the night is rough sometimes. But he said “When I get to tired, I just crank that NED VAN GO!!” and a line was born.”
I remembering thinking moments after she’d told me the story that is why I loved Cow Punk or Roots Rock or Alternative Country. Whatever label makes whomever comfortable. It hits both of my musical sensibilities—Country and Rock. It’s closer to the origins of Rock n Roll that my father raised me on than anything else. There’s a reason why there’s that anthem, “Sex, Drugs and RocknRoll”. Rock songs in general aren’t written about truck drivers, or waitresses, or the daily lives of anybody. Country does sing those truths. If there is an anthem for it, it would be “Whiskey, Work and Home”. When you blend in the Punk Rock you’ve got a genre of music that a small town kid with a rocker’s heart can grasp and hold on to. If you look around the small towns of Kentucky you’ll find quite a few Cow Punks. There’s a few hanging out in Bowling Green selling outdoor wear or managing toy warehouses.
Wednesday May the 9th at the Spillway Bar and Grill hosts their return. They’ll share the stage with Ned Van Go and a few other folks for the venue’s First Annual Cutter/ Townie Party which starts at 7pm. Those Crosstown Rivals have a new CD out called Kentucky Gentlemen. I asked why that title and Minks answered with:
“2 reasons – we are indeed Kentucky gentlemen and we love to drink Kentucky Gentleman whiskey.”
I’ll drink to that. On May 9th I think I’ll buy them a round and we’ll all drink to that!
Originally published in my home publication http://www.bgdailynews.com/amplifier/