We’re becoming all too familiar with the musical trope of the sleeve-tattooed former punk swapping his studded battle vest for a denim pearl-snap, laying down his Les Paul Custom, picking up a vintage acoustic, and doing his best Waylon Jennings impression. So-called “cowpunk” has become ubiquitous in local scenes across the country, and the Fort has (naturally) provided a particularly eager audience for reformed rock ’n’ rollers’ attempting to reinvent themselves in snakeskin boots and cowboy hats.
Aside from the sizable show payouts and the local music media that tend to coddle the growing number of rockers who’ve gone country, raucous amphetamine-paced Western swingers Convoy and & The Cattlemen want no part of the cowpunk scene. The Cattlemen aren’t interested in rehashing Waylon and Willie’s ’70s golden era. Despite growing up playing hardcore and metal, they reach back further into country music history for inspiration, deep into the pre-war Texas barns-turned-dance-halls that spawned the jazz-fueled honky-tonkin’ of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys and Merle Travis. The whiskey-soaked sextet pours a stiff shot of up-tempo swing mixed with bluegrass, rockabilly, and a seedy dive bar aesthetic. So it’s fitting that the band’s first single from their upcoming full-length album, “Division Dive,” is an ode to the band’s favorite watering hole, Arlington’s infamous Sunshine Bar, the musty, smoke-in-the-eye, junked-up beer joint that hosted the Cattlemen’s first shows – the type of place they feel most at home playing. The track will be released on 7-inch and is being distributed by Rescued from Life Records, a DIY grindcore/power violence label that will also put out the band’s upcoming sophomore full-length.
If the Sunshine Bar seems like an odd home base for the Cattlemen, that’s because they haven’t necessarily found a warm reception in traditional “straight” country circles.
“If I had a goddamn dollar for every time somebody told me, ‘Boy, if you only had a baritone voice, you guys wouldn’t be that bad,’ ” said Tyler Morrison, a.k.a. Convoy Cabriolet, the rowdy raconteur who fronts the Cattlemen.
With his voice and stage presence more Bon Scott than Merle Haggard – coupled with the lightning-fast ferocity of guitarist Joel Adamson, a.k.a. Toker Ace (Tolar, Baby Shaker), drummer Chris “Leche” Acosta (The Ju-Ju Beans, History of the Universe), fiddle player Sheridan Silver (Cruella), pedal-steel man Alex Johnson (House Harkonnen, Wayne “The Train” Hancock), and upright bassist Brett Walker (Walker and The Texas Dangers) apply to their live shows – it’s no wonder the band is often received as an oddity at the generic three-hour country bar gig.
Convoy and The Cattlemen were birthed eight years ago, initially as a bit of a troll. Adamson, Morrison, and Johnson were roommates lamenting their meager financial situation. They joked about starting a country band just to make some money playing music, pointing out how lucrative live country music could be, especially compared to punk and metal. They learned some tunes using a book of guitar tabs called The 20 Greatest Country Guitar Solos as their inspiration. But somewhere along the way, they genuinely fell in love with the music they were making. Then, the natural competitiveness of the members helped drive and push one another’s musicianship as they honed their live act.
“At some point, it went from, ‘Let’s make a little money and drink for free and play a trick on all these people’ to ‘Let’s just be badass,’ ” Adamson said. “We basically decided to be assholes that get drunk and play fast and don’t care what anybody thinks.”
You can next catch Convoy and The Cattlemen’s antics Friday, May 4 at Lola’s, where the band will celebrate the new single’s release.
“Most music – country, rock, or punk, whatever – belongs in dark, sweaty places that smell bad, and there’s a good chance a bottle might hit you,” Adamson said. “That seediness is what has drawn people to that type of music since its inception. It was never meant to be a clean, glossy product.”