A LITTLE TASTE of the Bottle Rockets
While the Bottle Rockets may be undergo ing some logistical shifts and difficulties, the 14 or so people who turned out to catch their last set at the Wrocklage will tell you that, as live, bar band experience goes, this is one you should make time for.
They ripped through rockers like “Gas Girl,” (“it’s a self-service station so she don’t have to work too hard!”) an amusingly ironic paean penned by the songwriter as an homage to the girl who takes his gas money, and everything else (“Hell, I stop by for cigarettes and I don’t even smoke!”)
“Ever seen that damn thing, that burned out shell,” they’d sing as they subtly shifted gears to a southern-goth ballad like “Kerosene,” the story of a welfare family whose trailer-make that modular home in these PC times-burned down with them in it. The song clinches the source of the fire in the refrain, “If kerosene works, why not gasoline?”-an actually fairly common question around these parts in the winter-always asked with disastrous results for families who can’t afford anything more than a space heater to keep them and their children warm in the winter. (“They hated that goddamn trailer so it burned ‘em up alive/if kerosene works, why not gasoline?/if kerosene works why not gasoline?”)
The Bottle Rockets make a self-deprecating allusion to being a 16-eyed band, and it’s true no one’s going to confuse them with Eddie Vedder, but the music’s the THING, isn’t it?
When they hit the stage at the Wrocklage, it was a summer evening and they were all dressed in baggy shorts-one in an Uncle Tupelo t-shirt (a reference to some side-work one of the band members had done)-and it would’ve been hard to imagine a more unassuming gang of critters.
But from the first throb of the bass drum, from the first resonating twang of the lead guitar, the force of their music dragged us in from the patio-from the warmth of the night and the good conversation among the local scenesters and artists and writers and musicians and students gathered there-and the omnipresent pale blue clouds of smoke that so innocently wreathed our summer evenings way back then.
A moment to be savored. As we learned with the Wrocklage, they don’t come around often enough.
The Return of the Bottle Rockets
by Alan Sculley
The Bottle Rocket’s latest CD, 24 Hours A Day is hardly a snapshot of the band’s mood at the time the songs were recorded. By and large, it’s a cheerful CD by the country rockers based out of Festus, a small town near St. Louis.
Sure, there are thoughtful songs like “Smokin’ 100′s Alone” (in which a woman can’t let go of her loser boyfriend) and “When I Was Dumb” (a tale of romantic regret). But most of the songs take a lighter view of life. There’s a warm-hearted song about a favorite St. Louis drinking establishment, “Slo Toms.” The title track is a hard-charging testament to romantic dedication. Even “Indianapolis,” which tells a story about being stranded in the Hoosier state shows more far more humor than desperation.
But in truth, life in the Bottle Rockets was in chaos during the recording sessions. The band was going through two management changes. Their record label, Tag, had been absorbed by Atlantic Records and there was no word whether Atlantic would keep or drop the Bottle Rockets. The group wasn’t touring and the band members’ sources of income had dried up.
“There are leftover songs that would show that [mood],” said Brian Henneman, the band’s singer, chief songwriter and lead guitarist. “But they didn’t fit. It’s like there weren’t enough to make a whole album like that. We could have made like Neil Young’s “Tonight’s The Night’ if we would have had three more songs like that. But you know, it’s like we looked at what we had and picked the ones that felt the best attitude wise from what we were doing, because there’s no sense in us making an old sour puss album because once we get on the road, we’re not that way at all. It doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ever come out some day. It would be interesting to hear it. I loved like the depressed stuff, but I just know there’s no way we’d pull it off live because I just can’t do it. I’m just too happy playing, too happy to be sad.”
Returning to the road may indeed be the best medicine for the band, which over the past 14 months has been weathering their most difficult period together. Things took a turn for the worse when Tag Records folded. Despite not knowing if Atlantic would keep or drop the band, the four band members – Henneman, guitarist Tom Parr, drummer Mark Ortmann and bassist Tom Ray – decided to begin recording the new CD.
“We had the feeling if we didn’t do it then we’d probably never get to make an album,” Henneman said. “It was like we were kind of feeling even way back then that we had no idea what the record company had in mind. And so as I look back in hindsight, I’m glad we did it because chances are we might have never gotten to make one if we hadn’t done it then.”
The uncertainty, however, took its toll.
“It’s like there’s been so much time off,” singer/songwriter/guitarist Brian Henneman said. “The best thing you can do for this band is just keep us working because whenever we get time off and start thinking about things, it’s like, ‘Oh damn.’ So when we had so little going on for so long, we all started kind of freaking out. And then right at the time we started making the album, we had just gotten off this Kenny Wayne Shepherd tour that was like financial disaster. Then we had just changed managers. Everything was as weird as it could be. And we were out there making this album and didn’t even hear one word from the record company during the entire making of it. So then, we’re like ‘What the hell?’ We didn’t know what to do.”
Henneman credits producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel with keeping the group focused on the CD. It’s a credit to the Bottle Rockets talents and perseverance that despite all the distractions, the group made their best CD yet – no small accomplishment given the quality of their first two releases, “The Bottle Rockets” (1994) and The Brooklyn Side (1995).
But even after the CD was finished, problems have continued. Bassist Ray quit the band before the Bottle Rockets began a short tour this fall opening for John Fogerty tour. A replacement has now been found in Robert Kearns, whose former band, Cry Of Love, just happened to break up while the Bottle Rockets were touring last fall with Fogerty.
“He’s great. He sings harmony, plays bass, plays five-string banjo,” Henneman said. “And it’s great because just yesterday he found he fit the requirement of all Bottle Rockets. He had to get glasses. Yup, we’ve always been a 16-eyed band.”
The group’s business future, however, remains cloudy at best. Henneman said at this point he feels Atlantic Records is disinterested in the band. Distribution of 24 Hours A Day has been spotty – the CD, Henneman said, is unavailable in some markets.
I kind of compare them to the deadbeat dad syndrome, you know,” Henneman said. “They did all the stuff to have the baby [the 24 Hours CD], but then they don’t want to take care of it. I don’t know, there are a couple of people up there who I think like us, but I think they’re like fighting the same thing we are with them. It’s just I have no idea what’s going on because they just don’t seem to be too involved whatsoever with the whole thing. It’s a bummer, but what can you do.”
Bottle Rockets play June 5, 1998 at Lynagh’s. Union City All Stars open.