Jason & the Scorchers

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Jason & The Scorchers
Origin Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Genres Country rock, Alt.country, Cowpunk
Years active

1981–2007

2010-present
Labels Praxis (1981-1983)
EMI (1983-1987)
Mammoth Records (1997-1999)
Courageous Chicken Records
Associated acts Farmer Jason
Ginger and The Scorchers
The Wildhearts
Dan Baird & Homemade Sin
Website http://jasonandthescorchers.com/
Members Jason Ringenberg
Warner E. Hodges
Al Collins
Pontus Snibb
Past members Jeff Johnson
Andy York
Ken Fox
Kenny Ames
Perry Baggs
Jon Brant

Jason & the Scorchers, originally Jason & the Nashville Scorchers, are a Cowpunk / Country rock band formed in 1981 and led by singer/songwriter Jason Ringenberg.

With a sound that straddles hard rock, punk rock and country music, Jason and the Scorchers are noted for their energetic live performances, and have earned strong reviews from critics: Mark Deming, who declared they "blazed a trail for the cowpunk and alt-country movements that followed in their wake."[1]

Jason and the Scorchers continue to maintain a loyal cult following around the world. Jason and the Scorchers released their latest album Halcyon Times in February 2010.

History[edit]

Early days[edit]

A native of Sheffield, Illinois, Ringenberg attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and was a member of a short-lived acoustic trio in 1978. In late 1979, Ringenberg formed his first band, Shakespeare's Riot, the precursor of the Scorchers.

Named after an oblique reference to the Astor Place Riot, Shakespeare's Riot consisted of guitarist/vocalist Ringenberg, drummer Tom Miller and a bassist (Jerry Johnson?). The band played Ringenberg's original compositions, rockabilly songs and other tunes (Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, e.g.) adapted to his high-energy country rock style.

Chicago-area native and fellow student Gary Gibula later became Shakespeare's Riot bassist. With the addition of bassist Scott Nelson, Gibula later moved to lead guitar in 1980 as the band became a four-piece unit.

Ringenberg disbanded Shakespeare's Riot and moved to Nashville in 1981. He was introduced to his original Scorcher bandmates through the independent Praxis label, and the group soon established a strong reputation among indie-rock circles.

Country rock was not a new concept. Some of rock's earliest pioneers like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins established their reputations playing rockabilly, a country-rock hybrid, and the late '60s and early '70s saw a new wave of country rock by performers such as Gram Parsons, Neil Young and the Eagles.

However, all of those efforts predated the raw sound of '70s punk and '80s alternative rock, and by the '80s, most country resembled mainstream pop, making Jason and the Scorchers something of a novelty in their hometown, Nashville, Tennessee, as their ragged, high-energy music was somewhat unprecedented. This made The Scorchers a natural for eclectic venues such as Nashville's Exit/In.

Rock critic Jimmy Guterman reports that in late 1983, during a concert held "in the basement of a now-boarded Philadelphia dive...Jason Ringenberg balanced himself on a rickety stool...and wished aloud what he wanted his band to sound like. 'Like a religious service,' he said wistfully, 'only a lot dirtier.'"

According to the band's website, the Scorchers worked out

"on stage what they had in their heads and hearts from their teenage years: roots in country, hearts in rock, minds more or less in the gutter. All the members of the band grew up around country music, but they were interested in rock as well. The way [guitarist] Warner E. Hodges told it, his father (who was a traveling USO musician) heard Warner's bands thrashing through Van Halen and Kiss-type songs and suggested that if they played Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash, it would sound great. So perhaps it was one part their own doing, one part Edgar Hodges', and one part divine inspiration."

As Guterman would later report,

"onstage, the early Scorchers...eschew[ed] all subtlety. [Drummer] Perry Baggs concentrated on destroying his snare with style, and [bassist] Jeff Johnson stood intent and rail-straight, an ideal foil for the two wild men up front...Guitarist Warner Hodges slid from delicate lap steel to Keith Richards-style guitar heroics without making one seem like a departure from the other. Whether he stood at the lip of the stage, leaning over the audience, sucking a cigarette, or he spun himself into speedy circles that would have made any mere mortal dizzy, Hodges personified the country boy too thrilled to be rocking to care how ridiculous he looked. The same went for Ringenberg. His own dancing during the rocking numbers suggested (The Honeymooners') Ed Norton on methamphetamines, but when he strapped on his acoustic guitar and stood center stage, no one could argue that he wasn't haunted by the ghosts of Hank [Williams] and Lefty [Frizzell]."

Debut EP[edit]

The Scorchers eventually released their debut, D.I.Y. EP, Reckless Country Soul, in 1982 on the independent Praxis label. Guterman would later write that it "captured the explosive band in its untutored infancy...Across its four terse, hilarious songs - full of rants against British hair bands [on 'Shot Down Again'], analyses of Jerry Falwell's shortcomings as a marriage counselor, and an irreverent homage to Hank Williams - the band was able to erect a sound that approximated nothing so much as Joe Strummer hurling a wrecking ball through the Grand Ole Opry. This was no joke."

Signing with EMI[edit]

The EP was well-received for an independent release, and when EMI signed the Scorchers in 1983, Producer/Engineer Terry Manning was brought on board, new tracks were recorded, and a second EP was released with the title Fervor. By now, the Scorchers were fairly popular as a live act, and rock critics from noted publications began to take notice. Robert Christgau praised Fervor in his "Consumer Guide" column, writing that "crossing Gram Parsons's knowledge of sin with Joe Ely's hellbent determination to get away with it, Jason Ringenberg leads a band no one can accuse of fecklessness, dabbling, revivalism, or undue irony. The lyrics strain against their biblical poetry at times, but anyone who hopes to take a popsicle into a disco is in no immediate danger of expiring of pretentiousness." Fervor also attracted much attention for its groundbreaking cover of Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie." A song which originally appeared on Dylan's Blonde on Blonde in 1966, the Scorchers' version did not originally appear on Fervor but, newly recorded by Manning, was added as a bonus track to Fervor, as reissued on the EMI label.

Fervor earned a great deal of critical praise, placing at No. 3 on The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1983, and the Scorchers quickly followed it with two full-length LP's: Lost & Found produced by Terry Manning, and Still Standing produced by Tom Werman. Both albums were critically acclaimed (particularly Lost & Found which placed at No. 22 on the Pazz & Jop for 1985), but neither achieved any chart success. Pre-dating country music's popular neotraditionalist movement of the late '80s and early '90s, the Scorchers were unable to obtain substantial airplay on either rock radio or country radio, as mainstream rock stations considered them "too country" while mainstream country stations considered them "too rock." In 1987, EMI dropped the Scorchers from its label, and Jeff Johnson left the band. He was replaced by Jon Brant who was forced out of Cheap Trick by SONY Epic. Brant then left in 1988 to form Siren (later Red Siren) and was replaced by Ken Fox, who later joined The Fleshtones.

Third LP and split-up[edit]

After a three-year "fallow period," the Scorchers released a third LP, Thunder and Fire, where they steered more towards hard-rock. Reviews were mixed, often negative, and sales were disappointing. "The songs were more metal-influenced," according to the band's website, "as Warner [Hodges] had a big hand in the production. Then Perry Baggs was diagnosed with diabetes during a tour in 1990. Warner called Jason and said he couldn't do it any more. As Warner said it later, 'we didn't break up, we fell apart.'"

After the Scorchers split, Ringenberg turned to country-oriented solo work, Hodges moved to Los Angeles to work in the video business, and Johnson moved to Atlanta to work in the auto and motorcycle repair business, while Baggs remained in Nashville, working on Christian music projects.

Compact Disc retrospective[edit]

A few years later, EMI Records hired Jimmy Guterman to compile a compact disc retrospective of the Scorchers' music. A single compact disc containing 22 tracks, Are You Ready for the Country?: The Essential Jason and the Scorchers, Volume 1 was issued in the fall of 1992, including all of Fervor, Lost and Found, and four rarities. (Reportedly, plans for a second volume never materialized.) The compilation would fall out-of-print years later, replaced by a shorter compilation that excluded all of the rarities, but it helped introduce the Scorchers to a new generation of listeners who were experiencing a different musical landscape.

Alt country goes mainstream[edit]

By the mid-1990s, following the unprecedented success of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Green Day, alternative music had broken into mainstream culture; this change in the music scene encouraged the development of Alt country, a movement presaged by bands like Lone Justice, X and the Scorchers. Groups like southern Illinois's Uncle Tupelo and Nashville's the Kentucky Headhunters were now building on the developments made by their predecessors.

90s Reunion[edit]

According to the band's website. it was around this time that "Jeff [Johnson] bought a copy of Essential Jason and the Scorchers, Volume 1...He liked it and decided to try to re-unite the band." Johnson contacted Hodges first, who hadn't played guitar in roughly a year. Hodges hung up on Johnson after hearing him suggest a reunion, but Johnson called six more times that same night. Eventually, Johnson tried Ringenberg, calling him at four in the morning "until Jason agreed to do it." Hodges eventually agreed to a reunion as well, "with his rationale being 'Okay, I won't be the bad guy.'" Baggs also agreed to the reunion, and with the original Scorchers together again, the group began touring in 1993. The reunion shows were a critical and commercial success, eventually extending into 1994. As a part of the agreement to tour, no songs from Thunder and Fire were played on this tour, as Johnson was not a member of the band at the time is was recorded. A demo tape of new recordings were also made that year, and Ringenberg was able to secure the band to a new contract with Mammoth Records in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The band then released a new album in 1995, titled A Blazing Grace, which returned them to their original sound. The Scorchers then released another new record, Clear Impetuous Morning, in 1996.

Departure of Jeff Johnson[edit]

In 1997, Jeff Johnson amicably departed from the band, wishing to be with his wife and essentially retiring from the music business; he was replaced by Kenny Ames, of Fredericksburg, Virginia. A live album, Midnight Roads and Stages Seen, was recorded that November and later released in May 1998.

Independent releases[edit]

In 1999, Walt Disney Records folded Mammoth Records, two years after buying them out, leaving the Scorchers without a label. Since then, the band has independently released a live concert from 1985 on Ringenberg's own homemade label, Courageous Chicken Records. Titled Rock on Germany, it was released in 2001.

In 2002 Courageous Chicken Records released Wildfires and Misfires: Two Decades of Outtakes and Rarities, which contained a treasure trove of previously unreleased material from throughout the band's history.

2010 Reunion[edit]

Due to the success of recent concerts performed in the U.S. and throughout Europe, Jason and the Scorchers have officially reunited with original members Jason Ringenberg and Warner Hodges. Bassist Al Collins and drummer Pontus Snibb are current members of the band. The band are currently touring and performing in support of the new Jason and the Scorchers album "Halcyon Times," which the band released on March 2, 2010. It can be purchased at concerts and from the band's official website.

Discography[edit]

Jason & The Scorchers[edit]

Side projects[edit]

  • One Foot in the Honky Tonk (1992) - Jason Ringenberg Solo
  • A Pocketful of Soul (2000) - Jason Ringenberg Solo
  • All Over Creation (2002) - Jason Ringenberg Solo
  • Disciples of Loud (2003) - Warner Hodges Solo
  • A Day At The Farm With Farmer Jason (2003) - Farmer Jason
  • Empire Builders (2004) - Jason Ringenberg Solo
  • Rockin' In The Forest With Farmer Jason (2006) - Farmer Jason
  • Best Tracks & Side Tracks 1979 - 2007 (2007) - Jason Ringenberg Solo
  • Centerline (2008) Warner E. Hodges Solo

Awards[edit]

On September 18, 2008, Jason and the Scorchers received the Americana Music Association's Lifetime Achievement Award in the Performance Category. The band performed during the Annual Awards Show at Nashville's famed Ryman Auditorium. Bassist Jeff Johnson participated at this event, the first time that all four of the original band members played together on stage since 19 January 1997, when the Scorchers played Club Zydeco in Birmingham, Alabama. Warner Hodges and Jason Ringenberg led a modified version of the Scorchers through a full set at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville after the Americana awards.[1]

Current status[edit]

Ringenberg now performs as Farmer Jason and does children's music.[2] He also performs solo shows playing his own stuff and even Scorchers classics.

The band played several gigs in Scandinavia and Britain in May 2008, as you can see on Jason Ringenberg's official Website. This coincides with a couple of solo shows from Jason and Farmer Jason around the same time, and Warner E. Hodges solo shows (which you can see on Warner's myspace)end of April. This marks something like the real return of the band. There was also a US show at the Johnstown Folk Festival, Labor Day weekend 2008.

In June 2007 Jason & the Scorchers reunited for a Perry Baggs- Benefit- Show in Nashville at Exit/In.

They also played one single European- gig in Spain in September 2007.

Warner E. Hodges is a full-time member of Dan Baird & Homemade Sin, touring through Europe in October 2007, as well as releasing a new Homemade Sin album 12 May 2008 on Jerkin Crocus Records, UK, and touring UK, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden

In 2007 Warner E Hodges, Kenny Ames and Fenner Castner played four UK shows under the name Ginger and The Scorchers, with Wildhearts frontman Ginger on vocals, as well as a full tour as a three piece solo Warner E Hodges project, he toured the UK again April 2008 (see myspace.com/warnerehodges).

In Sept. 2010, Ringenberg reunited with his Shakespeare's Riot bandmates Gibula and Miller for brief performances at a coffeehouse and an outdoor pavilion in Carbondale, Illinois.

Jason & The Scorchers recorded a new album—their first in eleven years—titled "Halcyon Times"in 2010. They are touring intermittently in support of this album, including four dates in January, 2011.

Former drummer and songwriter Perry Baggs became an archivist at The Tennessean where he was employed for 17 years. He also played bass guitar with the Scottsboro First Baptist Church Praise Band. He passed away in his home on July 12th, 2012, following a 22-year battle with diabetes. He was working on a gospel album at the time; "Hymns For Him".

Notes and references[edit]

Warner E. Hodges is a member of Homemade Sin, they are releasing a new CD in 12 May 2008. Jason and the Scorchers are releasing their new album "Halcyon Times" in February 2010. The new CD can be purchased on the band's official website and at their live concerts.

External links[edit]

Awards
Preceded by
Joe Ely
AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Performing
2008
Succeeded by
Asleep at the Wheel