If you’ve been a denizen at Denver venues over the past near-decade in search of wild, homegrown roots music, chances are you’ve run into a performance or two from Denver City Saltlicks, one of the best punkabilly/surf/blues/jugbands around.
Denver City Saltlicks – or DCS – pack a musical punch with tunes that explode out of their private backwoods still and into your face with the force of a moonshine firehose. As it finds its way down your throat, it burns with a feeling like it’s removing most of the smooth lining, and then sits inside, warming while it generates a small nuclear reaction that powers unstoppable hips, cheeks and ankles. I defy you to avoid dancing next time you see them live, without suppressing an inevitable and overwhelming full body twitch fit.
” . . . the guys in this band are righteous people. I mean the best people I’ve ever known. I just want to hang out with them all the time.”
– Cate Hate
And their repertoire isn’t only jet fueled, actually. The four-piece, currently fronted by ‘Bama Slim and Cate Hate, a brother and sister team that covers vocals, ukelele, washboard and the “Blue Spruce” Johnson (look below for more on this fabulous home-grown piece of music history) and joined by bassist George Wilson and Bullseye Dray, the drummer, can just as easily croon any packed bar into a teary singalong with vocal stylings akin to a duette between a young Elvis and a punkier, grittier, Supremes’ Diana Ross. And they fill in the spaces everywhere in between with solid delta blues, smoking surf guitar and frenzied, scathing punk rock – it all depends on their mood, and possibly the heat in the room at the time.
DCS has recently gone through some major lineup changes also, as longtime bandmates (and husband and wife) Fish (on standup bass and rockabilly gymnastics) and Rev. Spooner (on vocals and spoons, sticks, castanets, and just about anything else she can bang out a rhythm with) left the band in January of 2010. As close a family feeling as they exhibit onstage, it seemed it would be difficult to replace the pair and move on, but the band has done just that, and is now producing their first full length album, which should drop sometime this fall (if all goes according to plan).
I recently corresponded with some members of the band for DenverThread about the new record, lineup changes and the state of the Denver scene. Read on for more:
DenverThread – How goes the new album? I know it’s your first full length – congrats! After about six years, obviously plenty of material, how did you decide what to put on it, and what to leave off?
Cate Hate – The album is running smoothly. We are currently recording at Motaland Studios and it is phenomenal to work with Bart McCrory, and we hope to drop the album in early fall. It’s going be a fucking great album. I really think it’s going to bring something different to the table.
“. . . ‘Bama is a great song writer. I don’t hear a lot of memorable and great songs being written out there in Denver.”
– George Wilson
Bullseye Dray – With the album content we wanted to create a gumbo of Saltlick flavours, so we threw in a Surf tune, some traditional Americana, Olde Tyme Roots, 50’s R n’ B, and of course some D-Town twang!
Cate – It was hard to sift threw our songs and find which gems we wanted to polish on our first full length. Because, we’ve been together so long and with ‘Bama turning out songs like a Denver City Madman, it was hard to keep it limited to just one CD. I wish we could’ve put out a double disc. Doesn’t that sound great guys?
George Wilson – I have to say ‘Bama is a great song writer. I don’t hear a lot of memorable and great songs being written out there in Denver.
DT – Saltlicks has a strong band personality – more a family than many bands – all united in the kick ass and take names punkabilly style. I know you and ‘Bama are sibs, but it seemed the whole band lives comfortably together. What do you attribute your closeness to (or am I way off base)? Does the new lineup feel as close so far?
Cate – Well, you hit that right on the head, we are that kick ass and take names kinda people, but we are all really laid back. And, we’ve all been friends for years. My bro I’ve known all my life, right? And, the guys in this band are righteous people. I mean the best people I’ve ever known. I just want to hang out with them all the time.
‘Bama Slim– We are all like minded assholes, so we get along well with each other.
Bullseye Dray– I’m just glad to be here.
DT – Speaking of the family – what about the lineup changes – with Fish and Rev. Spooner aloft, how are you finding the [new] aesthetic? Any progress on a new bassist?
Cate – Well, the trio lasted about a weekend. Luckily, we picked up a close friend, George Wilson, who is also Bullseye’s band mate from TARD for 15 years, so the Saltlicks still have a close family feel. We feel very fortunate that we have added a close friend with vast musical chops. He really schools it on the bass. Cooked very rare, by the way.
DT – ‘Bama – I love your 2X4 electrified lap steel, as do many of your fans. It kind of makes me think of the musical equivalent of deep fried thanksgiving turkey – simple, incongruous, but you’ve never tasted anything quite as succulent, full-bodied and sinful. What’s the history behind this instrument? Is it true it’s partially fueled by moonshine?
‘Bama Slim – My wooden friend “Blue Spruce” Johnson is patterned after old fashioned Delta blues Diddley-Bows. Blues musicians used to play on their porches and nail a piece of bailing wire up to banisters, jam two rocks under each side and play it with a bottle neck, and then let the porch timbers resonate the sound. I always thought it would fit in with the Saltlick sound…rustic, raw and confounding. The actual recipe is two parts Alabama Moon, a spoonful of sweat and a floater of kerosene…smooth.
DT – What are your thoughts on the Denver scene of 2010? From a band’s point of view, what are its drawbacks, its plusses?
Cate – Well, most of us come from a punk background and we all spent many a time in punk bands, or still do. It’s been refreshing and exciting to be a part of a different genre, too.
George – Scene?
‘Bama – Scene? I don’t know. There’s no hometown rockers anymore that really put on a real show. All the same bands play all the same places, nothing changes show to show. We want to be that band that you can only see in Denver but bring a different and great show every time. I mean rock in hard based right in Denver.
Cate – I agree. I don’t want it to be the same shit every show. I get bored. I like to mix it up. That’s why we have so many different sounds. We could do an all bluegrass show, or stick to surf and 50’s stuff, or bring the gritty blues. I mean, we have so many options for different types of shows. I think that’s what makes us stand out from many other bands.
DT – Psychobilly seems to be on an upswing at the moment in Colorado – especially in Colorado Springs, or so it seems. What are some of your hopefuls from that scene, and where do you see it going?
Cate – We haven’t really played with any Psychobilly bands, I don’t think. We kind of fit more with those country punk bands around.
George – I think it’s cow punk, Cate.
Dray and Bama – But, we love zombie movies!