REPRESENTATION – AGENCY / LABEL
Help Me Mama I’m A Scorcher Now!
The life and hard rockin’ times of Warner E. Hodges.
At a time when full blooded rock ‘n’ roll music often seems to be in terminal decline and dour singer-songwriters hold sway, it’s reassuring to know that there are still individuals out there ornery enough to believe that salvation and deliverance from the trials and tribulations of modern living can still be achieved through the application of excessive amplification. And it’s always cause for celebration when such an individual returns to active service after a period of relative inactivity.
One such person is Warner E. Hodges of Nashville, Tennessee’s legendary Jason & The Scorchers, a man who definitely knows what the business end of a Fender Telecaster is for. Warner has been a cult hero’s to many for over two decades now. A figure renowned not only for his blistering and instantly recognisable style of playing, but also as the most dynamic and entertaining guitar player of his generation.
Warner was born June 4, 1959 in Wurtzburg, Germany. His father Edger, a serving U.S. Army officer, and Warner’s mom Blanche were both keen musicians and played in USO country music outfit on base. On returning to The States the young family settled in Nashville where Warner grew up.
Surrounded by music from the day he was born Warner was a marked man and was playing drums in country bands by the time he was twelve. The bolt of lightning that compelled him to switch to guitar hit at an AC/DC concert in 1973, and by fifteen, Warner was regularly playing guitar in many of his parents bands.
With country music in his blood from birth, Warner now dived head long into the other music he loved – hard rock and punk. His influences ranged from; Kiss, AC/DC, Cheap Trick and Jimi Hendrix, to Elvis and Little Richard, The Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival, then later The Ramones, Sex Pistols, New York Dolls and The Clash. Rock ‘n’ roll boot camp came in the form of his early, high-octane, Nashville outfits such as The Electric Boys and The Purple Giraffes.
The journey that led to Warner becoming a guitar player of international renown began, in the summer of 1981 when the son of an Illinois hog farmer packed his guitar and knapsack and headed for Nashville to start a new band. Jason Ringenberg had a vision to arc weld his love of Hank Williams, Eddie Cochran, and Bob Dylan to the reckless, methamphetamine rush of the Sex Pistols and The Ramones and finally make the kind of music he heard inside his head. It was Ringenberg’s electrifying Jerry Lee Lewis meets Iggy Pop stage attack that attracted Warner and band mate, bassist Jeff Johnson to the singer in the first place. Johnson was the first member of what eventually became the Scorchers’ classic line-up to see the edition of the band Ringenberg assembled upon arriving in Music City. The fledgling Scorchers were sharing a bill at Cantrell’s with then-regionally acclaimed indie-rockers R.E.M. Immediately after the show, Johnson called Hodges and invited him to Ringenberg’s next gig. This time, it was a slot opening for rockabilly legend Carl Perkins. “I went to the Carl Perkins show and thought, God Almighty, this guy is nuts,” remembered Hodges, referring to Ringenberg’s incendiary performance. “He spent the entire night in the crowd with this long guitar cord. Everybody else up onstage was scared to death. But Jason, man, he was the show.”
It wasn’t long before Hodges and Johnson had replaced the Scorchers’ original guitar and bass players. Several weeks later, Perry Baggs took command of the drum kit, and the classic line-up of Jason & The Nashville Scorchers was born.
In those days before No Depression magazine and Americana radio The Scorchers’ thermonuclear fusion of punk rock and honky-tonk music was totally unprecedented in Nashville. To the point that it could get you run out of a club or even worse and it almost did on several occasions. The bands sound at the time approximated nothing less then Joe Strummer riding a wrecking ball through the Grand Ole Opry.
As rock critic and early devotee Jimmy Guterman would later report, “Onstage, the early Scorchers…eschewed all subtlety. Drummer Perry Baggs concentrated on destroying his snare with style and bassist Jeff Johnson stood intent and rail-straight, an ideal foil for the two wild men up front…Guitarist Warner Hodges slid from delicate lap steel to Keith Richards-style guitar heroics without making one seem like a departure from the other. Whether he stood at the lip of the stage, leaning over the audience, sucking a cigarette, or he spun himself into speedy circles that would have made any mere mortal dizzy, Hodges personified the country boy too thrilled to be rocking to care how ridiculous he looked. The same went for Ringenberg. His own dancing during the rocking numbers suggested (The Honeymooners’) Ed Norton on ‘speed’, but when he strapped on his acoustic guitar and stood centre stage, no one could argue that he wasn’t haunted by the ghosts of Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.”
Cut in four hours in somebody’s living room, live to four-track, the Scorchers debut EP, Reckless Country Soul, hit stores in the second week of 1982, and immediately sent shock waves through the Nashville rock underground. “They called themselves Scorchers for good reason: They kicked butt,” commented country music historian Robert K. Oermann, who was the senior music writer for The Tennessean, Nashville’s morning newspaper at the time the Scorchers burst onto the local scene. Oermann also penned a USA Today story that helped break the band to the rest of the nation.
“Their shows were so physical,” said Oermann. “Jason acted like a guy who had been attacked with a cattle prod. And I still maintain that Warner 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.”
But if in 1985 the Scorchers were poised to conquer the world, by decade’s end the bottom had dropped out. Excess, personal problems and the fickle winds of the music business all contributed to a fall that was as dramatic as the band’s rise was meteoric. It started with Capitol’s ineffective marketing of 1986’s Still Standing just as the record’s first single, “Golden Ball and Chain”, was getting some serious airplay. Soon Johnson left the group; by the time the band’s more rock oriented Thunder and Fire surfaced in ’89, the Scorchers were all but finished.
As Warner said later, “We worked on Thunder and Fire for two years, Jason wrote like 70 songs and we demoed and demoed and demoed just busted our butts putting the band back together [after Jeff’s departure]. I didn’t think it was that bad a record. Maybe not quite the direction we should have gone, but we gave the record company the record that they quote/unquote wanted. We put a lot of time and effort into it and then it just fell flat on its face. And then Perry got sick with diabetes and we said, ‘The hell with it’. The Scorchers didn’t break up, we fell apart.”
Warner moved to New York, where he played with Iggy Pop and guitarist/producer Eric Ambels band Roscoe’s Gang, before relocating again to California and largely abandoning the guitar to work in the video business. “I ran,” he admitted. “I guess I hid and ran. I didn’t know how we could try any harder and be any less successful. I seriously didn’t know how we could put any more effort into it for so little return. We just couldn’t play the game anymore.”
In the early 90s it was Jeff Johnson who decided to try and reunite the band, after hearing and liking EMI’s ‘Essential Jason and the Scorchers’, Volume One collection, which compiled the Scorchers first (and some would say best) two albums Fervor and Lost & Found, plus some choice rarities into one volume. Jeff called Warner first, who hadn’t played guitar in roughly a year. Warner hung up on him after hearing Jeff suggest a reunion, but he called six more times that same night. Eventually, Jeff tried Jason, calling him at four in the morning “until Jason agreed to do it.” Warner eventually agreed to a reunion as well, with his rationale being “Okay, I won’t be the bad guy”. Perry also agreed and with the original Scorchers together again, the group began touring in 1993. The reunion shows were a critical and commercial success, eventually extending into 1994. A demo tape of new recordings was also made that year, and Jason was able to secure the band a new contract with Mammoth Records. The band released their comeback album A Blazing Grace in 1995, following it with, Clear Impetuous Morning in 1996
In 1997, Jeff essentially retired from the music business and was replaced by Kenny Ames, who is with the band to this day. The bands final album was the live Midnight Roads and Stages Seen, which was released in 1998. After the demise of Mammoth Records and Perry deciding to leave the band, the Scorchers to all intents and purposes have been in semi-retirement ever since, although they did continue touring for a while with Fenner Caster joining on drums.
Post-Scorchers, Warner hooked up with guitarist Todd “Todzilla” Austin to form a new band called The Disciples of Loud. More than living up to their name, The Disciples were a much heavier sounding beast than the Scorchers and gave Warner the chance to handle lead vocal duties for the first time since before he joined the Scorchers. Over a two year period The Disciples undertook several successful U.S. and European tours and put out a self produced album.
Since then Warner has been tearing up the stage as a member of Stacie Collins road band, Hotter than a smoking pistol, Nashville up and comer Collins blends sassy hillbilly vocals, gut-bucket blues harp and Southern rock styles with the same reverence and disregard for tradition that the Scorchers applied to country music twenty five years earlier. In terms of looks, singing ability and attitude, Stacie’s equal parts Daisy Duke, Kelly Willis and Joan Jett, with the harmonica chops of Slim Harpo and James Cotton thrown in for good measure. When schedules allow the band also features Stacie’s producer Dan Baird on rhythm guitar.
With his passion for playing loud and proud rock n roll electric guitar well and truly reinvigorated, Warner is throwing himself into playing with more gusto than at anytime since the heyday of the Scorchers. 2007 is shaping up to be a pivotal year, not only is Warner continuing to tour with Stacie, but in June the Scorchers reformed for a jubilant home town benefit show to raise funds for Perry who is now suffering from kidney failure, although even that wasn’t enough to stop the original Scorchers wildman from commanding the drum-stool for much of the three hour show.
September 2007 saw Warner kick off his solo career in no uncertain terms with a fifteen date U.K. tour. Backed by the current Scorchers rhythm section of Kenny Ames and Fenner Castner on all dates, Warner joined forces with Ginger of U.K. metal-popsters The Wildhearts for four special shows under the banner of Ginger & The Scorchers. Coinciding with the tour was the pre-release of Warner’s debut solo CD. The album – Centerline – features ten songs, seven of which were written by Warner, covers of Merle Haggard’s Branded Man and Jerry McCain’s She’s Tuff (as popularized by The Fabulous Thunderbirds) and a new version of the Scorchers standard Harvest Moon. The album was co-produced by Warner and Dan Baird, features contributions from both Dan and Stacie Collins. It’s set for an Ap[ril release through JCPL, with some UK dates to coincide. The Dan Baird connection continued when Warner became the new guitarist in Homemade Sin, the first fruits of which will be a studio album in May and a major British tour to coincide.