Ain't nothing but a twang: Jason and The Scorchers celebrate milestone

Winston-Salem Journal
January 05, 2012

Back in 1981, Jason and The Scorchers melded traditional country with punk music, creating an unlikely, even unholy, union.

Music executives couldn't figure out how to market them.

Audiences couldn't decide whether to love them or stomp 'em with their boot heels. Turns out, the band experienced both kinds of treatment.

With Jason Ringenberg singing as if his vocal cords had been steeped in corn likker, and Warner Hodges bashing out chunky riffs on his Telecaster, JATS eventually won over skeptics, emerging as critical favorites and college radio darlin's, while coming within a whisker of mainstream success.

After several amiable partings and reunions over the years, JATS is a solid unit again, releasing a highly praised album in 2010 and performing a series of 30th anniversary shows in the U.S. and Europe. They will play at The Garage on Friday.

Fans will be delighted to know that they remain consummate hell raisers.

"The best Jason and The Scorchers shows are a train wreck, when it looks like the train is going to jump the track but never does," said Hodges, a grandfather. "We can be a great country band, a great rock band and a great punk band. All kinds of things can happen in the course of a Jason and The Scorchers evening."

The band formed in 1981 when Ringenberg, an Illinois farm boy who grew up on country and discovered the Ramones in college, came to Nashville to fulfill his musical vision.

Hodges caught an early incarnation of the band and, sensing he had found a kindred spirit, teamed up with Ringenberg. Drummer Perry Baggs and bass player Jeff Johnson rounded out the classic lineup.

"It was just an explosion of different chemistries," Ringenberg said.

They each brought different musical sensibilities to the table, with country music the common thread weaving through all their tastes.

"We all had admiration and love for the Ramones but also George Jones," Hodges said. "It made sense for us to play music that way."

On records such as 1983's "Fervor" and 1985's "Lost and Found," JATS delivered hard-driving melodies and raucous, but tight, musicianship at a time when every pretty boy and girl with an eyeliner pencil and a synthesizer was producing MTV-ready pop.

But it was their live shows that distinguished the band. A Billboard reviewer gushed: "Someday, Jason and The Scorchers may play a mediocre set. But it won't be this lifetime."

In a cowboy hat and fringed shirt, the long-limbed Ringenberg was a focal point, karate kicking the air and swinging the mic stand around like a dance partner while Hodges shook his mop of unruly hair in true head banger fashion.

For all their prowess on record and stage, JATS never scored that big hit, to the dismay of their record label, EMI.

"We worked hard to give them one and didn't succeed," Hodges said. "If reviews were money, we'd be the Beatles. But reviews do not translate into sales. And I've long since made my peace with that."

Eventually, JATS disbanded, although they have occasionally played and recorded. Ringenberg took on a new career as a farmer and made kids' records under the moniker "Farmer Jason." (Farmer Jason will play at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts on March 30, celebrating the release of his new CD, "Nature Jams").

In 2010, Ringenberg and Hodges — Baggs and Johnson left for various reasons — recorded "Halcyon Times," which was met with widespread praise. An off-and-on again tour has followed, with Ringenberg still making music as Farmer Jason and Hodges touring with Dan Baird, formerly of the Georgia Satellites.

"I always had the goal that we'd be a long-term band, but when you're 21, you can't think 30 years ahead," Ringenberg said. "At the time, we admired as career role models more the Rolling Stones, as opposed to Duran Duran."

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