Music: Deviled Hams

The Supersuckers ­ fighting for truth and justice with the evil powers of Rock & Roll

Jun 15, 2000 at 2:06 pm
Woodrow J. Hinton

Rock & Roll is the devil's music — well, at least the good stuff anyway. Just ask Eddie Spaghetti, leader of The Supersuckers. The singer/bassist and the rest of his cohorts — guitarists Dan "Thunder" Bolton and Ron Heathman and drummer Dancing Eagle — have been making evil Rock & Roll for over a decade.

For the Supersuckers, however, "evil" isn't so much an issue of bad or good as it is a musical genre. For the Supersuckers evil music is loud, fast and it celebrates the unholy trinity of sex, drugs and Rock & Roll. If this sounds all-too-familiar, it's important to point out that the Supersuckers' take on Rock & Roll hedonism is essentially ironic. They are operating on a more sophisticated level than your average headbanger. But, that said, just because the Supersuckers see the absurdity in the "sex, drugs and Rock & Roll" cliché doesn't mean they don't truly love sex, drugs and Rock & Roll.

"We are pretty lowbrow usually, appealing to the lowest common denominators in each person," says Spaghetti from somewhere on the Supersuckers current tour with Motorhead, Nashville Pussy and Hair of the Dog. "The whole sex, drugs and Rock & Roll thing is a pretty heavy-duty cliché now, but it also is like a hot dog or a McDonald's hamburger.

It's something people keep coming back to, and I celebrate that sort of disposable culture. I celebrate that lowest part of the totem pole."

As Spaghetti sees it, the latest Supersuckers album, The Evil Powers of Rock & Roll, is just part of the evil musical tradition that includes such classic slabs of black wax as AC/DC's Highway to Hell, Motorhead's Ace of Spades and the Ramones Rocket to Russia, although Spaghetti qualifies his inclusion of the Ramones by describing them as "sinister" rather than full-on evil.

"There's been so much good evil Rock & Roll, it's hard to narrow it down," he continues. "The Rolling Stones were quite evil around their heaviest drug use days. That always lends to good evil Rock & Roll, lots of drugs.

"And there's also a lot of evil Country and evil Blues," he adds, getting deeper into the subject. "Hank Williams, Robert Johnson. It's an evil legacy. It all correlates with the selling of your soul. It's funny because it's all a very puritanical and Christian-based rebellion that supports Rock & Roll and its weird subversive relationship.

"Every action has a reaction, or whatever that phrase is, so for every person trying to be good there's gonna be a bunch of kids getting together, thinking about things you shouldn't say or do — drinkin' blood, killin', all that good stuff," he quips, keeping the conversation from turning too serious.

But being evil hasn't always been easy, even for a band as mean and nasty as the Supersuckers. The group couldn't get a break in their hometown of Tucson, Ariz — the old cliché that they "couldn't get arrested" probably doesn't apply in this case — so they moved to Seattle, where they got in on the beginnings of a vibrant music scene and signed with the Sub Pop label, the home of Nirvana and Mudhoney. They released their first album for Sub Pop, The Smoke of Hell, in 1992, and after several more slabs of breakneck Rock & Roll and one straight-forward Country album, Must've Been High (1997), the Supersuckers signed with a major label and recorded the album The Supersuckers Play for Your Mom.

The label, Interscope, however, lost faith in the evil hit-making potential of the band and dropped them without releasing their record. According to Spaghetti, they also gave the band the run-around when the Supersuckers tried to purchase the album back. Eventually, the band re-recorded the album, which is now known as The Evil Powers of Rock & Roll on the Koch label.

"Well, I still look at that as a very disappointing thing to have had happen," Spaghetti says of the Supersuckers' Interscope experience. "I definitely would like to be on the same level as these (major label) bands. A friend of mine said it: 'Everybody's out there making lemonade, but you think your lemonade is a little bit better than everybody else's lemonade.' And I definitely feel that way, that we are making a quality lemonade out here, and people should hear it. But it is tough to realize that you are just gonna be this little indie legend for the rest of your career. I would definitely like the world to know about the Supersuckers."

But as Spaghetti suggests, there are a lot of people who don't know or probably don't want to know about the Supersuckers. And like their current tour mates Motorhead, the Supersuckers are pretty much for serious Rock & Roll fans only.

"You're not gonna have a person who just sort of dabbles in Rock with a Supersuckers album in their collection," says Spaghetti. "They're gonna have to really love Rock & Roll to get to us. If they dabble in Rock, they're gonna get Matchbox 20 or some shit like that. Maybe they'll have a Rolling Stones record in their collection, at best, or the Beatles, but if they're hardcore into it, they're going to discover bands like AC/DC, Ramones, Motorhead, and that'll trickle down to the 'Suckers."

Finally, a good use for the trickle-down theory! But while some Rock fans might come to the Supersuckers through the records of like-minded bands, the best introduction to the band is to see them live. Onstage, the Supersuckers are one of the loudest and tightest bands you're likely to see. Eddie Spaghetti, wearing cowboy hat, shades and shit-kicker boots, takes center stage while The Heathman and Thunder Bolton work their way through every Rock guitar move ever conceived. Meanwhile Dancing Eagle on the drum kit powers what can only be described as a Rock & Roll machine.

The Supersuckers might be all about raising hell onstage, but offstage the band have also been involved in raising awareness for the plight of the West Memphis Three, three Arkansas teen-age boys who were, Spaghetti feels, wrongly imprisoned for the Robin Hood Hills murders in 1993.

"I just felt what happened to those kids could happen to anybody I know or even myself — wearing the wrong clothes, listening to the wrong music, having the wrong books in your collection, and more importantly, living in the wrong community," Spaghetti says of his interest in the case. "I feel like if that case had come up in Seattle where I live, those kids would never have been in jail. But they live in a small community where they wanted that case closed, they wanted some culprits, and they wanted them fast and these kids were a scapegoat."

Spaghetti cites the tangled, good ol' boy Arkansas court system as a deterrent to getting the West Memphis Three cleared, despite, as he says, there being an obvious culprit for the crimes. But in the meantime Spaghetti has called on some famous friends to put together a benefit record for the boys.

"I got turned onto the case through the movie (The HBO documentary Paradise Lost), and one day Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam and I were talking about this case, and I decided that we should rally around, and me and our manager at the time, Danny Bland, decided to put together this record. It's called Free the West Memphis Three: A Benefit for Truth and Justice. We've got great artists on it. Steve Earle. Tom Waits. We do a song with Eddie Vedder. Joe Strummer's on it. John Doe. It's really an all-star thing."

Free the West Memphis Three is due out in September, meanwhile, Spaghetti keeps in touch with Damien Echols, who is serving out his sentence on death row.

"Everyday I'm out here with my petty gripes, and he's on death row. I write letters back and forth, and we keep in touch, and it's been a really positive thing in my life. You know whenever I feel down about my troubles I remember Damien is on death row, everyday all day long, and I feel like they're in there wrongly and they need out."