In some ways, Jason and the Scorchers are not so different than The Replacements.
For Warner Hodges -- lead guitar for Jason and the Scorchers, which opens for Tesla at Riverfront Park on July 28 -- the comparison to Minnesota’s hard-driving, hard-partying native sons is welcome.
“That’s a nice band to sidle up with,” he said.
The Replacements, as many Midwestern music fans know, were a transformative punk rock band who helped blaze the trail for mainstream punk like Green Day and Offspring. But partly due to their own in-fighting and excess, and partly due to a lack of industry foresight, The ‘Mats never matched commercial success to their unquestioned creative vision.
Jason and the Scorchers followed a somewhat similar trajectory. Formed in 1981 in Nashville, the band played a curious blend of honky-tonk country and punk rock -- delightfully melding the sounds of Hank Williams and the Sex Pistols into a new genre they helped create, called “cowpunk.”
Coincidentally, the two bands knew each other well. And Hodges said he nearly helped jumpstart Paul Westerberg’s solo career post-Replacements.
“I loved that band. We go way back,” said Hodges, before adding with a laugh: “I almost did Paul’s solo tour. But I had just sobered up and I guess my list of demands was too long.”
For Jason and the Scorchers, airplay wasn’t easy to procure as a band caught between two seemingly dichotomous sounds. They were too heavy, too electric for mainstream country stations, and too western for hard rock stations.
The result was a tragically under-heard catalogue of work that attracted a hardcore nucleus of followers but little widespread acclaim.
But these days, Hodges said he’s not interested in pondering the past.
“I really don’t look back,” he said. “I hope I’m still making music and not looking back at music.”
In 2010, the band released “Halcyon Times,” its first full-length release of original material in 11 years.
The release was critically well-received and preserved the band’s trademark punk tempo fused with country sensibility. Lead singer Jason Ringenberg’s lyrics are crafted with a sardonic wit and emotionally complexity rarely heard in punk or western circles. Hodges continues to defy imagination with the raw and utterly powerful sounds he creates with his guitar.
But the band continues to stake its reputation on its legendary live shows.
Check the YouTube videos for yourself. Rarely has a band played live with such a combination of technical artistry and reckless abandon.
About their live shows, country music historian Robert Oermann -- who was the senior music writer for Nashville’s morning newspaper at the time the Scorchers burst onto the local scene -- once wrote:
“Their shows were so physical. (Ringenberg) acted like a guy who had been attacked with a cattle prod. And I still maintain that Hodges was one of the most charismatic lead guitarists of his generation. The two were like twin poles of electrical energy. You could almost see the bolt of lightning that connected them. The Scorchers never sold more than a million records, but nobody who saw them will ever forget it.”
Hodges said the band still plays with the same energy -- though, their aging bodies don’t respond as well as they used to the next morning.
“During our last American tour in January, I came flying off a (platform) like I was 23,” Hodges said. “When I hit the ground, a little voice inside my head dared me to try that one more time. ... We approach our shows with the same head, but our bodies are saying, ‘C’mon dude.’”
In addition to the Scorchers, Hodges also plays in Homemade Sin -- a band comprised of three former Georgia Satellites -- and his own band, The Bluefields.
Hodges estimates he can play about 5,000 songs on his guitar -- but still hasn’t lost the passion to play.
“Still, all these years later, I’ll sit down with my guitar to noodle for 10 minutes and then I’ll realize I’ve been there for three or four hours,” he said. “That’s the real reason I got into guitar: To sit down and enjoy it.”