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INTERVIEW – Warner E Hodges Part II, October 2013

| 6 November 2013 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Warner E Hodges Part II, October 2013
By Shane Pinnegar

In Part I of this interview Warner E Hodges talked extensively about the past few years playing with Dan Baird & The Homemade Sin. You can read it HERE

Jason & The Scorchers 03
Before we start delving into Hodges’ past career with the much loved Jason & The Scorchers, condolences are in order on the loss of his school friend and former bandmate, drummer Perry Baggs, who passed away last year after a 22 year battle with diabetes.

Hodges says they weren’t particularly close in recent years, but The Scorchers did do a couple of fund raising gigs to help him out with his illness, and after he died.

“Mmmmmm… I had kinda disconnected,” he admits. “Perry had left the band in 2002, and I didn’t see a lot of him up until the end, which was rough.

“We did one [benefit show] four years ago to help with medical bills, four or five years ago. And then when he passed away there was no money to bury him, so we did a gig and raised money to help out” he says in a voice tinged with sadness.

In Part I of this interview Hodges mentioned a live Jason & The Scorchers DVD that the band were editing. With his and singer Jason Ringenberg’s various projects, there isn’t much time for another full blown Scorchers reunion at this point.

Jason & The Scorchers 01

“[We’re] kind of on a hiatus – we do this a lot!” he laughs. “We’re working on getting this DVD together, maybe we’ll do some stuff next year. Jason’s kinda got his Farmer Jason thing going. I play with Dan and I’ve got The Bluefields going. When we can do it, we try to do Scorchers stuff – when we can’t do it we put it on the shelf. We yank it down, we put it on the shelf – we yank it down, hell, just play. Jason & I – 32, 33 years we’ve been doing this!”

The DVD was filmed for a special occasion but – like the technical difficulties with The Homemade Sin’s Viva Nashvegas DVD – a glitch almost meant it never sees the light of day.

“It was the 30th anniversary show with the new band,” starts Hodges, setting the scene, “and it was New Year’s Eve, our 30th anniversary. We recorded the show, it was gonna be a big deal, but we had a problem with the main camera on Jason – literally 60 or 70% of our footage was ‘oh shit, we don’t have footage of the main guy!’ But we’ve been able to fix that glitch and got it sorted out, so now we’re back in editing mode.”

Hodges was born in Wurtzburg, Germany to a U.S. Army couple who just happened to be country and western musicians and played in the U.S.O. band on base. They returned to The States and settled in Nashville in time for him to grow up a red blooded American, and he sometimes stepped in and jammed on the drumkit with his parent’s band as a young teen.

It was an AC/DC concert in the mid Seventies that prompted him to pick up the guitar, and by 15 he was playing regularly with his parents country band, while rocking out in Nashville acts such as The Electric Boys and The Purple Giraffes around town. AC/DC, Cheap Trick, The Faces and The Stones all vied for pride of place on his stereo, but it wasn’t until he met Ringenberg, the son of an Illinois hog farmer, in 1981 that these two disparate influences gelled together.

By that time Ringenberg had a vague idea to somehow weld his love of Hank Williams and Bob Dylan to the high octane, snotty rush of The Sex Pistols and The Ramones.

Hodges first saw Ringenberg supporting Carl Perkins, invited along by bandmate Jeff Johnson and instantly both men knew that the energetic singer fusing punk and country had something that they wanted in on.

Jason & The Scorchers 02

It wasn’t long before Hodges and Johnson had formed the classic Scorchers line-up with Ringenberg out front, and recruited Hodge’s school buddy Baggs on the drums. Before long Jason & The Scorchers practically invented the high energy rock and country hybrid known as alt-country.

“Y’know, it’s a funny thing when you think about it,” reflects Hodges down the Skype line from Nashville. “I think Jason’s a little more cerebral with it than I am. I live in Nashville, Tennessee and I wanted to be in a rock band, and my problem was I was listening to Hank Williams AND The Sex Pistols and AC/DC – early Bon Scott stuff.

“So it was our take on [being] a rock band, I don’t think we knew what we were doing, we were just playing country stuff hopped up ‘cos we wanted to – we were twenty year old kids! It was our take on rock n’ roll music, and I don’t think we realised ’til ten or fifteen years later that nobody was doing that, what we did.

“Now I sit here in Nashville and every song that comes out has got a distorted guitar on it – when we started out there was no such thing. You NEVER would’ve heard a country song with distorted guitar on it. Now, it’s all like watered down pop music – it’s weird!”

If you watched the early Scorchers music videos back in the Eighties – pre-internet, Google and Wikipedia – the image and fashions made it easy to assume that Hodges was the hard rock guy, Ringenberg was the country & western guy, Johnson brought the punk influences and so on but as with so much of life, things weren’t as cut and dried as the visuals may have made them seem.

“No it wasn’t,” agrees Hodges. “First off, Perry was a Van Halen and a Journey fan. Perry listened to the most album oriented rock music of any of us – most of the time he didn’t even own a stereo, he’d listen to the radio. He actually listened to what was playing on American radio at that time.

“Jason was a kind of folkie, you know, he liked rock stuff but he was very into Dylan and Neil Young, that kind of thing.

“I loved – I’m a monster AC/DC fan, I’ve seen ’em 105 times – they’re why I play guitar. I was also a Stones and Faces guy, and my parents were country musicians, so I knew old country music inside out – 50’s and 60’s REAL country, I know inside out. So I think a lot of people THOUGHT I was the hard rock guy in the band, but I also knew the country side really hard too.

“[And] Jeff Johnson, our bass player – he was Mister Punk rock! He was our punk rock guy!”

Jason & The Scorchers - Wildfires & Misfires

It’s hardly surprising that the band blazed such a unique trail with such an interesting mix of influences.

“Well it was a cool thing,” states the guitarist, leaning back in his chair again. “Because if we all got our quarter on the table and everybody had their input, it worked really well. It also was dynamite when it didn’t work well – it was explosive one way or the other! Jason used to say that people wanted to take us home and feed us, or whip our ass – one of the two!”

Another quote attributed to the singer is that their gigs ‘should be like a religious service, only a lot dirtier.’

“Once again, Jason’s a little more cerebral with it,” Hodges laughs, “but I do get that. He always wanted it to be the Jerry Lee ‘is it late Saturday night or is it early Sunday morning going to church’ kind of thing. And a great Scorchers show does kind of hit that point – ‘is it 3 or 4 in the morning Saturday night, or is it 6 or 7 in the morning Sunday morning? Which one is it?’ And that’s okay!”

Some parents may have felt hurt that their son turned his back on their pure country & western background for rock n’ roll, but not the Hodges. Blanche, Warner’s Mum, has even joined The Scorchers on stage a few times to sing, and you can hear her belt out a great Walkin’ The Dog on their live album Midnight Roads And Stages Seen.

Jason & The Scorchers - Midnight Roads & Stages Seen

“My Dad was actually the guy who said to Jeff one night – I think we were pre-Scorchers, and we were jamming in their basement,” Hodges explains with affection, “[we were] making fun of country music, hopping it up and doing our best Sex Pistols-to-country tunes [thing], and [Dad] looked at Jeff and said, ‘you know, if you boys got serious with that, then you’ve got something’. And Jeff was the first guy [to realise] it made it COOL to play country music when my Dad said that. We were kids, you know – we were 18 or 19 years old, pre-Scorchers.

“It was really cool having parents that were musicians – it made it a lot easier.”

The Scorchers remain a cult favourite to this day, with their last release being the very good Halcyon Times in 2010. There was even the recognition of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association in 2008.

Hodges laughs with glee at the memory, “Yeah – they had to give us something ‘cos we lasted too long, we didn’t die on ’em!”

Does the guitarist feel that Jason & The Scorchers lived up to the potential of the band?

“No,” he says plainly and a little regretfully. “No, I think we did the worst record of our career at the worst time. We were primed to take the next step after Lost & Found, and we just, we did a crappy record after Lost & Found. In retrospect, all these years later, Still Standing is our weakest record to me.

“We worked really, really, really hard to give EMI their radio hit. We never gave them a radio hit, and basically did a really weak JATS record trying to give them a radio hit. I don’t blame them – they worked really hard trying to sell the band. And in those days, also, they were screwing a square peg into a round hole, you know. We were too country for rock radio, we were too rock for country radio – there was nowhere to put us.”

Fans of the band have long held that they were well ahead of your time, an assertion that Hodges agrees with, even whilst admitting there were other factors why they never crossed over to the mainstream charts.

“Well it’s a weird thing, if I think about it, with EMI,” he starts. “Everybody bitches about their label experiences and I have thirty years under my belt now, and there’s a whole lotta things I coulda done differently too. I think they really tried to break the band, it was just, they were fighting an uphill battle and as you say – we were ahead of our time, or whatever.

“People just didn’t know what to do with the band,” he goes on, “the very little bit of success we had in America was because of MTV. And we lucked out when MTV started ‘cos we just happened to have a video – it wasn’t whether it was good or bad – they just didn’t have enough videos to fill the airwaves!”

“[And then the third record] Thunder & Fire was on A&M. We got dropped the day that record came out, so that was dead in the water the moment it came out. And I think if you go back and look at what we said in those days, we were probably bitchin’.

“All these years later as an adult,” he says generously, “I think EMI tried – it was just a hard sell for them.”

Jason & The Scorchers 04

Thirty years playing guitar in rock n’ roll bands is one hell of a career in anyone’s books – but there is a long pause when I enquire if he feels he achieved what he set out to do musically.

“I wish I woulda had more commercial success,” he eventually admits, “but here I am – I’m 54 years old and I’m still playing guitar, you know. OF COURSE I wish I woulda had more commercial success – it woulda sure made my life easier, you know. But man, I’m playing with my buddies, I’m playing music that I love, and I still get to play some guitar – that’s a big deal. I’ve got a buddy who used to play bass with Johnny Cash who jokes that nobody’s gonna pay 50 year old men to do ANYTHING! I’m 54 and still playing so I consider myself very fortunate.

“And every day above ground sure beats the alternative!” he laughs.

In addition to The Scorchers, The Homemade Sin, The Bluefields and Stacie Collins, over the years Hodges has played with such luminaries as Ginger Wildheart, Iggy Pop, The Ratz amongst others, and the luxury of being able to dabble here and there is far from lost on him.

“Well, if I get asked to do something and it makes sense, then of course.” He says. “I love Ginger – crazy guy, and The Wildhearts are a great band. Anything with The Ig is gonna be great – he’s Iggy Pop, man – the foundation of punk rock! The Ratz thing is my buddy Joe [Blanton]’s band, who sings in The Bluefields. I’ve known Joe since the very first punk rock club here in Nashville, known him since high school. And anything with Dan Baird – ANYTHING with Dan Baird is a good thing.”

Hodges is legitimately unsure whether there will be another Jason & The Scorchers record.

“I don’t know… I don’t know. Jason & I have kinda bantered that around – I think we’ll see, when we get the DVD and get that together and get it out next year, we’ll see how that goes. You know, it’s a whole bunch of work for actually a small amount of touring – we don’t tour a lot. So we just have to see how it goes.”

Jason & The Scorchers 05

With Ginger Wildheart’s recent astounding success with the Pledge Music crowd funding model, Hodges agrees that could be the way forward for The Scorchers.

“Yeah – maybe so!” he laughs, “that could be the way to do it.”

There’s a pause before Hodges realises the financial implications of my query.

“Well I wasn’t even… I guess classic dumbass guitar player – I wasn’t even thinking about financials of doing another record, I was thinking of the songwriting and recording and all that!”

There’s another pause as his wife whispers in his ear.

“Oh yeah!” He exclaims, “my wife Deb says we should do the Pledge thing so we can do an Australian tour!

“We went down there [to Australia with The Scorchers] one time, in… I guess ’87, and it was wonderful. I loved getting to go down there. And it’s come up 3 or 4 times with the Scorchers, and also twice with Dan, but when you start doing the financials it NEVER makes sense. I’m sorry, but just getting the band and a tour manager [to go] there is ten thousand dollars – before you even do anything!”

It’s a story we know only too well in Australia, let alone being in Perth, on the West Coast – the most isolated regional capital in the WORLD. Of the few bands who came to Australia in those days, less than half made it out West!

“Well thankyou,” Hodges says sincerely, “that’s hard fandom right there, you gotta work at that!”

Exactly! And it’s not too long before we’re talking about our favourite albums.

“I got into it with somebody the other night,” Hodges proclaims. “I remember ordering Powerage from my local record store, which is still there – in those days you had to work your tail off to keep up with your favourite band ‘cos there wasn’t videos and internet and stuff, man. You had to work to find out when the next album was coming – and I loved that, having to work to keep up with your [favourite] band. And it’s just not that way now…”

It’s taken as much or more as it’s given in terms of the internet – you can get your music out to millions of people instantly, but people aren’t consuming music the same – they listen to a song two times and never listen to it again, whereas in our day we’d buy the vinyl and by the end of the week you’d have every song committed to memory for life!

“And you pulled the cover out and opened up the jacket and read every line on it. I understand. It’s a much more disposable world now.”

So just to wrap up, just a couple more questions… will there be another Warner E Hodges solo album?

“Well you know, that is how The Bluefields started. The Bluefields [first album] Pure was the beginnings of my next solo record… so I dunno – I’m busy right now!” he laughs in mock exasperation. “I’ve actually been thinking about doing the Pledge thing for that, but I don’t know… maybe… we’ll see!”

Jason & The Scorchers 06

Our time is almost at an end so let’s finish with 100% ROCK MAG’s favourite hypothetical question… If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording of any one record in time, which would you choose?

“Powerage” Hodges says without hesitation.

After chatting for half an hour, we had a feeling he might pick that one!

“There’s three records,” he elaborates, “Exile On Main Street, Powerage, and Love Songs For The Hearing Impaired. If I only get one choice, then Powerage.

“Powerage means… I joke about it all the time, [but] for me it is the best set of rock songs put in one place, ever. And what I’d really like to hear is Powerage with Back In Black’s production – but Powerage’s tunes. That to me is when AC/DC put their foot down and it’s their least known record if you think about it… but that’s where you just knew that, wow, these guys are gonna be humungous! It was guitars, drums, bass, vocals – done RIGHT! Perfect. Dan Baird would actually go this round with you too – he feels very strongly about Powerage too.”
Dan Baird & The Homemade Sin’s DVD Viva Nashvegas and new album Circus Life are out now!


Category: Interviews

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