Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hickoids: Won't stop playing until the cow punks come home

Jeff Smith, right, leads the Hickoids in Seattle. (All Cat Rose photos)

Text: Andy; Photos: Cat Rose

When Jeff Smith ponders the Hickoids' Alaskan tour, at first, no words are necessary to describe what's on tap.

His piercing eyes, mischievous smile and chuckle tell the story.

But then he leans in, "I've been in freak vans before, but never a freak RV."

While sitting at a table inside Slims Last Chance Saloon in Seattle a few hours before his raucous cow punk, gunk, hard-corn band takes the stage on Thursday, Smith said they've got a buddy in Alaska who helped set up the current 10-date Fiasco in Alaska tour -- which began in that RV in Seward on Friday and runs through June 25 in McCarthy. The Hickoids have never gigged in Alaska before and they always enjoy invading a new territory and giving it a go.

Later on stage, he told the crowd that on their Alaska jaunt, they'll make some new friends -- or enemies. And there's those eyes, smile and chuckle again.

With that, the Austin/San Antonio band oozes into another tune and the crowd continues drinking, jumping and shouting. Throughout the set, Smith goes from shirt on to bare chested ... playing guitar to just wielding the mic ... performing on stage to bursting through the crowd ... and then scooting out the back door and inside again. At one point, he jokes with the bartender, and then people untangle the mic cord as the singer maneuvers his way back on stage.

The band rages as Smith, an original member of the outfit that formed in 1983, does his wild-man thing. Everyone in the place is digging it. The people of Alaska will surely eat it up as well.

Speaking of Alaska, the Smith humor flowed from the get-go during our interview.

"What we do is we get a globe and a piece of spit chewing gum, you know, which doesn't have a lot of elasticity or stick-um left to it, keep on throwing it at the globe until it sticks somewhere and that's how we decide where we're gonna go..."

Nah, but it generated some laughs and broke the ice to kick off our chat. (More story following photos)

The band's latest release,"The Out of Towners," sprung forth last October and features longtime guitarist Davy Jones, who passed away from lung cancer in November of 2015. Recently, they played Nashville, some East Coast dates and toured in Europe for 12 days.

While in Nashville, the band took some of Jones' art -- cartoons and mixed-media pieces -- to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where it will go on display next spring. One of the curators at the HOF is Mick Buck, who is Smith's former bandmate and Jones' college buddy.

"Mick was ecstatic when we dropped the stuff off," Smith said.

After Jones passed away, Smith inherited his best friend's considerable volume of artwork and had a big sale to benefit the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM).

"The idea was to just put art in the hands of people who knew him. As long as his art and his music's around for people to appreciate, he still lives as far as I'm concerned," Smith said.

Smith had a lengthy conversation with Jones about continuing the band when he became ill and Jones said for them to keep the Hickoids rolling.

Smith thinks about Jones every time they play.

"He was dyed-in-the-wool, for sure, he was a freak and a music lover," the singer said.

The two became friends in 1980 or 1981 when Jones' band The Ideals traveled from Killeen, Texas, to Smith's home of San Antonio to play a gig. Richard Hayes (RIP) and his brother Arthur were also in The Ideals, and they would all eventually join the Hickoids.

The Hickoids -- which Jones named while describing a homeless man in a beat-up cowboy hat digging through the dumpster outside his apartment -- entered the musical fray at the end of 1983 when Smith teamed up with a untamed guy named Jukebox (RIP) and other misfits.

They first unleashed their jarring tunes to the public alongside Black Flag and Meat Puppets in March of 1984. Jones and the Hayes brothers weren't in the band yet, but they were tugged into the fold soon after.

Smith can dig some of what transpired during those early days out of his brain.

"We ate a lot of mushrooms back then, and I used to normally have a stage bottle of tequila, which I would drink about two thirds of over the course of a 30- to 40-minute set, so I don't really remember a hell of a lot about it, but I had a hell of a lot of fun," he said.

They also shared stages with the U-Men, Tales of Terror, Tex and the Horseheads, Screamin' Sirens, Blood on the Saddle, Offenders, Scratch Acid, Butthole Surfers, Flaming Lips, Soul Asylum and many more.

What drives the 53-year-old to continue belting out tunes today with his bandmates Rice Moorehead (bass), Tom Trusnovic (guitar), Lance Farley (drums) and Cody Richardson (guitar)?

"I like to play, I like to show off. I'm too old to start over with another band name," he laughed. "I try and leave people with something they'll remember -- good or bad."


Smith lives in San Antonio and runs a record label, Saustex, while he's not working in the family business of oil and gas investing.

Before the Hickoids, he played in a band -- at age 14 -- called The Dwarves (before the other unit of the same name), which covered Ramones and Sex Pistols songs.

Then, there was the Smart Dads, whose cassette, "Bummer Summer," was recently released on vinyl via Radio Raheem Records.

Heading back inside after checking out the patio scene.