"Ahhh, there’s nothing like a shot of tequila. Except for maybe a stab in the balls." —Ronnie Nashville, bass player, Bill Parker and His Motherscratchers
And so, with a quivered gulp and a chuckle, the evening began. Relegated to the bizarrely refaced Old Miami, Bill Parker and His Motherscratchers and I sat down for a beer … and a shot … and a beer. Involuntarily charming, the boys of the Motherscratchers are four separate characters with four separate stories: Arlo “Chicken” Pickens plays rhythm guitar and is the oldest; a modest front man for the majority of the band’s songs, as humble as he is hilarious. “Howlin’” Hank Diesel is lead guitarist and the softest-spoken of the four. He is younger but wise beyond his 21 years — he could easily pass for a guy in his 30s. (I mean that in a good way.) “Shotgun” Jerry Bayou is the drummer and the wildest one. Confident and sarcastic, when he scoffs, we laugh. Ronnie “Ronnie” Nashville: the bass player, though hulking in presence, is the quietest and most difficult to read. He is selective with his remarks, but loosens up once he realizes he is not in the presence of complete morons.
Individually, all four members possess impressive personalities; collectively, they produce one solid unit of cool. In fact, when asked who the asshole of the band was, the response came quickly and in unison: “We all are.” Camaraderie till the end — even in disgrace, this is the attitude that will get them everywhere.
Bearing a name spawned from a debauched week in Memphis, when they holed up watching nothing but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Raising Arizona over and over again, the concept of the band rose up like a drunken phoenix. From the ashes of 75-cent shells of beer and honky-tonk music, an idea was born. Arlo recalled, “I had these songs and we started playing … eventually we became a real band.” (For those who don’t catch it: the moniker Bill Parker and His Motherscratchers is a reference to a subtle line in the opening sequence of the Coen brothers masterpiece, Raising Arizona.)
“There’s an element of Bill Parker in all of us,” says Hank. Seems to me, there is a backbone of Motherscratcher in all of them as well. There is very little that would daunt a crew like this, but there is plenty of unassuming conversation to go around. “I want to be on the Country Music Channel,” admits Jerry.
And he could be.
Musically, the men of the Motherscratchers are true artists — this is not kitsch: “We can take ourselves very lightly, but we are as serious as cancer with this shit, man … the lyrics, that’s where the funny part comes in. When we sit down and work out the music, you know, it is completely serious, we don’t think about the comedy part of it that much.” Wittiness is one of their most obvious character traits — there was no need for this gang of four to front. Reckless rock and roll dumbasses, they are not — these guys are proud to be poignant. The humor that comes from their songs is inherent; it is chemistry, not punch lines. Without even really caring, they are confident that they are a very good band. But even if they were the only ones to ever acknowledge that, it wouldn’t matter. That’s just how it works in Motherscratcher world.
Having shared stages with country scene-established bands like The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, it has become apparent that the Motherscratchers are not in the same vein as the pre-approved countrified types. “If they would have shanked me, I think that I would have liked them a lot more.” says “Shotgun” Jerry when asked about the Bastard Sons. “If you are going to throw a name like Johnny Cash around, you need to be a little more dirty.” How true, boys, how very true.
Although the Motherscratchers have widespread appeal, they have no musical home in which to reside. It’s like this: if Lefty Frizzel, Roy Orbison, Goober and Al Barr shared a drunken night of sweaty screwing, Bill Parker and His Motherscratchers would be their beloved, though slightly creepy, illegitimate, redheaded offspring. The Motherscratchers are original by definition, not proxy.
Though simple, the goal is this: Play well, play hard and see where this thing takes them. Truthfully, Bill Parker and His Motherscratchers don’t have a single thing to prove.
But something tells me they are going to do it anyway.
Bill Parker and His Motherscratchers will be accepting free tequila shots (and stabs in the balls) at the Lager House on Friday, Oct. 11. Eve Doster is the Metro Times listings editor. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org