Tuesday, September 15, 2009


"I want an emerald green Jaguar,
and an Irish Wolfhound,
I want you to stick around..."
Buck Pets
"Inamorata", 1989

In late 1991, things were tumultuous in my late-teen, early 20's "era of discovery".
Isn't that what they like to call it?
"These are the best years of your life", my Dad used to say.

Okay. If you say so.

My home situation was unresolved at best, I was a recently diagnosed epileptic, was malnourished, underweight, politically and ideologically lost, and the woman "in my life" was playing pro style head games with me.

I didn't need an answer, for I wasn't looking for one, not expecting one to exist. I was looking for a voice.

Enter the Buck Pets.

Four lads from the Deep Ellum area near Dallas, Texas that formed in the late 80's, the Pets dropped their self-titled debut in 1989. I was lucky enough to be one of the music directors at my college radio station when their second LP, "Mercurotones" was tossed without comment onto my paper-clogged desk, probably by some aloof fellow student with eyes on being the next Mancow.  To him, the music didn't matter.

"Mercurotones" was a slightly shiny, forever hard mixture of somewhat power-punk, almost thrash, cutting-edge, poetic, pre-grunge "piece of mood", as the lyric says in the Pets' banging track "PM". Brimming with confidence, they also displayed a more than human sense of longing.

There it was.

Shortly after falling in love with "'Tones", I tracked down their debut, but had to go all the way to Milwaukee to find it, and borrow the money from my best friend Matt to purchase it.

Thanks, Matt.

I forgot that I should place "broke" among the adjectives I need to use to describe my situation at that time.

Their first lp, being less polished and angrier than their second, I could almost identify with it more. They conveyed meaning to my thoughts, and if the lyrics weren't exact matches to what I was thinking, the textures of the music mirrored what I was feeling.

Below is one of 4000 limited copies of "Pearls" pressed to 45 RPM Vinyl. Click to expand:

"You're about as subtle as a tank"--"Pearls"

"I think it's plain to see,
it could work perfectly,
but I don't want anything
she doesn't want to give me."--"Song For Louise Post"

"I've been dry so long,
I get nervous when I sweat."--"PM"

Those were sentences I carried around with my arsenal of emotional introspection. The Buck Pets lyrics worked that way. They could be straight-forward or abstract, take your pick. It was memorable and great stuff.

So, anyhoo, one cold-ass day, the producer from my college cable access music show, "Video Whiplash" calls me out of the blue. He asks me, almost with no glimmer of sarcasm or even excitement  (which couldn't have been easy considering how well he knew me), "Hey, Rob, want to interview the Buck Pets?"

That would be yes. And my final answer.

So two weeks later I'm in a Winnebago outside of Shank Hall in Milwaukee, with guitarist/vocalist Andy Thompson and drummer Tony Alba. Couldn't have been nicer guys. Knowing the pretension and holier than thou assholitude that can be possessed by rock musicians that fancy themselves artists, this was refreshing. For the Buck Pets are human. Human as their music. Andy and Tony answered all my questions with free-wheeling honesty and abject humor. The only area I couldn't venture to was a recently finished tour opening for the overtly arty and celebrity-grubbing Jane's Addiction, still apparently a sore spot with them. Which was fine with me. The Pets music alway was more pure and important than the overrated Addiction in my book, anyway.

Below is the "Mercurotones" cassette liner Andy and Tony were good enough to sign for me: Click to Enlarge:

The two were briefly peeved and almost ready to cancel the gig due to the fact that the club owner wouldn't let us in after the interview piece, because of my crew's age. (We were babies) This kind of stuff wasn't new to me. I had been turned away from a Soundgarden interview because an idiotic student that had botched a previous one got there before I could and screwed it up. Anthrax road manager Rick Downey turned me away in Chicago because one of his assistants failed to call in my crew at check-in, and it was too late for the Q&A. I was used to inconveniences that busy schedules and confusion can cause. The Buck Pets knew this, but saw a crime being committed.

Knowing that Thompson and Alba were willing to go to the wall in that way for a couple of fans that they had just met made not being able to see the show almost worthwhile. That felt good.

This band's very brief 3 album catalog should be absorbed as a whole.  They covered ground.

Through the interwebs, you should be able to access all of this band, who was way ahead of the grunge curve, and probably better than the Seattle Scrod that came after them. The Pets, their music, and their personalities having met them personally, never stopped being important to me. Maybe they can have that effect on you.

It's a shame that a band can be "ahead of it's time", to the point where they can't benefit in the way that those that trod behind them do:

From the Dallas Observer:

Kim Buie (Island Records VP of A&R at the time): "The first time I saw the Buck Pets play at the Theatre Gallery, I remember there was this lightening bolt of energy flying off the stage--guitars, hair, and snarky youth in its full glory. After seeing them live, I knew I wanted them to be on the Sound of Deep Ellum compilation I was making for Island Records. It was during the process of making this project that I knew I wanted to sign them. I just had this sense that they were on the cutting edge of something that sat between punk rock sensibilities, college radio garage days and what was to become the apathetic disenfranchised rock bands of the '90s. They preceded Nirvana, but were every bit as good and could have just as easily been the band to spark that revolution."

It denotes on the side panel on my blog that the Pets are one of the greatest bands you've never heard of. Here's verification from SPIN magazine's feature "The 100 greatest bands you've (probably) Never Heard Of":


Marcel said...

great story, Rob! I likewise "discovered" the Buck Pets at a rather tumultuous time of my life, and they were my soundtrack as well. I'll try to get a link to your site soon, possibly later tonight. Take care, Marcel Roy

Muddy said...

Wow, great stuff. Fell in love with The Buck Pets about the same time you did. Got to interview them for my college station in Chicago at the Lounge Ax. Their first is one of the few albums from that time that I still spin. Definitely a couple years too early!

holygrail said...

Oh the sore subject of the Jane's Addiction tours. Yes, tourS. their record companies made them do it twice. i heard all kinds of crazy drug stories about Perry Ferrll and Dave Navarro. I remember Ian and Ricky (even though the tours preceded R) used to sing the song "Pets" by Perry Ferrell's later project Porno for Pyros as, "We hate Buck Pets, we hate Buck Pets, we hate Buck Pets..." Classic line from Ian, "I got along fine with Perry. I just didn't like him." I think doing some shows with the Chili Peppers was a little more fun. Soul Asylum kinda gave them the "little kid treatment." Harry Dean Stanton flipped them off at a club in LA once, which they thought was awesome. The Replacements were kind to them. Opening for Neil young, well they were stoked, and of course they did that before Pearl Jam ever did. The smashing Pumpkins once opened for them. Okay, I think that is all my Rain Man-ish memory can come up with now...