Sunday, March 13, 2011

Honky Tonk Hero: Ron E. Rebel of The Shivering Denizens

Ron E. Banner leads the Shivering Denizens at the Little Red Hen. (Cat Rose photo)
 By Cat Rose

Ron Eugene Banner first came into our lives at Al's Tavern in Wallingford (neighborhood in Seattle, WA) around 1998.  I was playing pool (and winning), and he challenged and beat me.  After he won, he started to make jokes about women vs. men playing pool and how women can never win...and for anyone that knows me, especially when there is beer involved, well, let's just say that's not gonna fly.  Being the competitive person that I am, I played him again and it did not go well for me. It was last call, it had to end there, so I popped off at him and Andy and I went home. 

The next night, we were back at Al's (we lived around the corner then, so we were always there and it was "the place to be" at that time).  Ron came back that night and came over to me immediately and wanted to make sure that I was not upset with him, as he had (of course) just been kidding. I laughed as I had overreacted the night before, and we became instant friends.  He came to our house that night for an after-hours party and an indulgent music-listening session that lasted to the wee hours of the morn (the first of many ).         

This is how I remember it, anyway, Ron said we made amends and he came over that first night and hung out with us, but in my recollection it took a second meeting to realize his charm.  

Meet Ron E. (Eugene) Banner, 43, guitar slinger and singer, born in Ketchikan, Alaska, and set up shop with his family in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1979 for 17 years.
In Cleveland, he started listening to Black Sabbath and Suicidal Tendencies, he started a metal band (Fistful) at age 16 and first started playing bars... 

Interview by Cat and Andy at Slim's Last Chance in Seattle (March 4, 2011):

Fistful started in 1982, it was kind of a heavy metal band, power metal band turned thrash metal, you know, within six months. After we started listening to Slayer, it just turned to heavier and faster and maybe a little more punk influenced, but mostly it was just thrash metal. (He sang and played bass.)

Hyper as Hell was a band from my college town, Kent State, and that was basically hardcore -- we had a lot of metal influences, I started adding a little Slayer, a little Celtic Frost. We played a lot, we played with COC, DRI, Dayglo Abortions, Dr. Know... we got a lot of good shows, we were a pretty good band ... I went to prison in '88, and when I got out in '92, we started playing again, but it just wasn't the same and the whole scene changed, the energy wasn't there. I couldn't take it anymore -- and so I moved out to Seattle. (Just guitar in Hyper.)
Banner, left, with Hyper as Hell (Courtesy photo)

I've been here 17-18 years now ...the first nine years I had not played in any bands, I pretty much gave up on music. I quit drinking back in 2001, and that's when I started getting the itch to play again.

Jack Tripper .... It started out to be a band, we had recorded some songs, we never played any shows, we played in my basement. My roommate had a recording studio down there and so I started this band called Jack Tripper. It just sounded like a cool band, it had some 'Three's Company' themes in it just a little bit, it was very indieish sounding ... it was so indie that each song was a completely different genre (laughs) ...(It was my first band back) I just wanted to write songs and play with people again.

So I hooked up with a friend of mine, Lenny Burnett, who actually got me going again. I didn't have any gear and he had never seen any of my bands, I wasn't involved in the scene, he just invited me down to play bass with someone else's cabinet, someone else's bass and I eventually just went out and bought new gear. I just went out and bought the best Ampeg amp, the best rock bass, I got an Ernie Ball bass, and we started playing and we've been together for almost nine years now ... the band is called Zero Down, as you guys know.
Lenny Burnett, left, with Banner in Zero Down (Courtesy photo)

It was awesome, my first show with Zero Down was back in 2002. We had been rehearsing for like four months, we had about 8-10 songs, and it was our first show. Those guys had been in the scene for a long time, the last 20 years, so they got friends from way back around here. I was still kind of a new guy around here, no one knew me in the scene ... I wasn't really expecting much, we played at the Sunset Tavern, and I showed up there and the place was practically fucking sold out. I was a little nervous, and I've never been nervous playing -- and of course, I've never played sober. I'm usually, you know, got a couple hits of acid rolling. One time I even brought a crack pipe out on stage ...and some roadkill. We (Hyper as Hell) found a dead deer on the side of the road and we dragged it into the van, we put it out on the stage and started smoking crack.

After about five years of playing with Zero Down, I started getting some guys together to play this honky tonk and it was a big joke, so I started writing songs. I had been writing since like 2002 and learned some songs and I started listening to Hank III around the same time ... and he was big metalhead, so I could see where he was drawing all his influences from and how it related to the metal ... 'It's misery to me, it's all evil to me,' I was kind of getting tired of some of the topics in metal and it turned into a big joke ... all the new death metal stuff, I just wasn't into it. When I started this band, it was like the new punk to me.

(The band features Banner on vocals/acoustic guitar, Lee Harvey Hartwood on lead guitar/banjo, Hank Leinonin on stand-up bass/vocals and Bob Borazza on drums/vocals. Fred Speakman played guitar on the first, self-titled record.)

When we got Lee Harvey Hartwood to play banjo and guitar, that changed our sound a little bit to more of this bluegrass/hillbilly sound, and we put out our second record called 'Crooked and Crazy' and we've been getting a lot of shows in town. I get show offers every single day ...we went on tour last year, we went to South by Southwest and we had some really good turnouts, we got to open up for Exene (Cervenka of X), that was really fun ... we're going back out on the road in May and we're gonna do Southern California and probably go to Arizona and play a couple shows in Las Vegas and Reno, southern Oregon and Portland -- it will be our first time to play Portland and we're really looking forward to that.
Denizens' set list

It's not so much the genre, it's where the music feels raw to me ...hardcore still is raw, that's one of those genres where if you've been out of it for a while, it's really hard to get back into it. My right hand isn't what it used to be, you know (laughs) ... speed picking, I'd love to do it again, but I've kind of got my hands full with the other two projects, but I love playing hardcore. I love playing metal -- we're opening up for Accept next month, we're (Zero Down) playing with all those bands we wish we could have opened up for in the '80s, but we'll take it, man (opened up for Prong, Paul Di'Anno, two shows with UFO). So, yeah, that's been a great ride, too.

The band I'm in right now, the Shivering Denizens is by far the most happy I've been with a band ... it's just real free, there's no stress, we just go and play, the songs are real simple, we have lots of fun and we make more money than any band I've ever played in.

The thing I like about with the Shivering Denizens is I write the songs and the songs are stories about either my life or someone else's life. It's fun, we get people anywhere from the ages of 6 to 85 to 90, we had a couple that could have been in their 90s dancing to us. It's not just the punks, or the metalheads or the rockers -- it's everybody. And we can play these little small towns out in the middle of nowhere, like Orting or Spanaway, and people appreciate music out there. They're not jaded like shoegazers that you're gonna find in Seattle, people who are just too cool -- don't wanna buy any merchandise (laughs).

(Favorite show, last year:)
We played a show down in Houston, and I got Brent Amaker to play with us, he's from Seattle, too, at this place called the Trash Bar. It was on a Wednesday night, we had no idea what to expect, went down there, it was this little dive bar, it was St. Paddy's Day, and it was packed in there. It was insane. There was all these kids who never heard of us, it was 18 and over, all you could drink, you could even bring your own beer in there and smoke in there ... you can imagine the mayhem -- 18 and over! People were getting up on the stage and singing with us.

(Favorite places to play in Seattle:)
I like the Shanty (Tavern) a lot, I like the Little Red Hen a lot, and Slim's (Last Chance), too, where we're standing here.

The Shivering Denizens in action at Slim's Last Chance (Cat Rose photo)
(Pre-gig meal:)
(At Slim's) The chili with the grits, the wings are really good.

Our new record is gonna have a lot of family oriented stuff, so I do have a song for my mom and my mom's family. I got a song just about being an American: it's about getting off the boat on Ellis Island, coming out and starting a family. My grandparents came out here with one small child, they come from Hungary (Budapest), and they settled in western Pennsylvania, and he started a job in a coal mine. They had 16 kids, they went through the Depression, my grandmother made moonshine and blood sausage. They're all really loud, in-your-face people, all yapping, there's no filter, they'll say anything, at anytime, they never bite their tongues.

I got a song for my grandfather from the other side of the family: it's a song about working hard, no matter what you're doing, if you want something in life, you gotta work for it. He was the epitome of that, he was a farmer, he died on his tractor at the age of 80 (heart attack), but that's where he spent most of his time, so go figure, you know. It's a tribute to him and some of the things I've learned from him.

A little bit of a heartfelt record ... but I've got a serial-killer song -- just to mix it up a little bit.

They used to call me that back in the '80s. I've had many, many, many (nicknames) from different people in different segments of my fans and friends, of people who either knew me or didn't know me. In Fistful, people called me Ronnie Fistful... Ronnie Fistfuck...Careful with that Axe Eugene, Rocknaldo.

Whatever the nickname, Ron E. rocks, always has and always will... 

Ron E., center, kicks up a racket with his pals as a tyke. (Courtesy photo)

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