The music you missed this summer

By Sam Wershow

Before this awful weather causes you to write off Minnesota as a cold, forsaken wasteland, try spending a summer here. Having barely survived the past two winters, I was astonished to discover that the Twin Cities can actually be a lot of fun. Midwesterners do summer right: lakes, beaches, barbecues, beer, and music. Ah, music. Nothing says summer like brawling in the streets at four a.m. after a rowdy concert. On July 31, Minneapolis enjoyed a rare treat. Hellbound Glory, hot off their first record deal, barnstormed the Midwest in their beat-up Winnebago. Who is Hellbound Glory? I’ll tell you, you ignorant schmuck. They are the best band you’ve never heard of and some of the most exciting live performers in the country. Take a healthy dose of punk-rock nihilism and add it to a pure strain of the American roots musical tradition: blues, country and folk. Give that package to a group of the drunkest, wildest scumbags Reno has to offer and you get Hellbound Glory. Self-dubbed “Scumbag Country,” Hellbound has mastered their niche genre, if not outright created it. This summer, they finally scored a record deal with Gearhead Records, typically more of a punk label, and went on tour.

Previously, the group had only played small towns throughout the mountain west, in addition to their home base in Reno. Hellbound is a simple five-piece band, with drums, two guitars, pedal steel and bass, plus the occasional banjo. The band cites Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johhny Paycheck as key influences. Lead singer and guitarist Leroy is the band’s public face, if they can be said to have one. What they do have is a devoted fan base in Reno bars, and a growing cult following.

My first Hellbound show was on Leroy’s birthday in June 2007. I had gotten some of the band’s tracks from a friend, and everyone in town said they were great live. It was a no cover show at Davidson’s Distillery-a bit of a misleading name, considering its one of the rowdier biker bars in Reno. East of downtown Reno, Davidson’s got a stripper pole in the corner, and the chick behind the bar looks like she could stomp your ass.
Everyone was trashed long before Hellbound started playing, the band included. Since Leroy is something of a local celebrity in the Biggest Little City in the World, everyone was buying him drinks to celebrate his birthday. They staggered off the stage at three a.m., leaving an exhausted, semi-conscious crowd to exit the bar in a drunken daze.

I recall hearing Hellbound staples “Either Way We’re Fucked” and “Livin’ On Pabst Blue Ribbon.” They also played an ass-kickin’ cover of Hank Williams Jr.’s “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.” And I remember Leroy’s face-plant off the bar. He had leapt up there, got tangled in his guitar chord and was knocked off by a drunken fan attempting to help him. Leroy didn’t miss a note. He played on the floor for several minutes, bleeding from the scalp.

This past summer, I had the pleasure to greet the band before their Minnesota debut-at Lee’s Liquor Lounge in downtown Minneapolis. With a five-dollar cover charge, it was the most I had ever paid to see Hellbound Glory, and they were worth every penny. The fans were a bit subdued, and Lee’s seems to be a bit too nice of a place for scumbags like us and the band, but the music was first-rate. They played most of the favorites and all the hits off the new album, tunes like “Livin this Way,” “Chico’s Train” “The Ballad of Scumbag Country” and a clever homage to Waylon Jenning’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” The song is a classic criticism of the Nashville country music establishment, a scene that Hellbound and similar outlaw country groups love to hate. Later, a rollicking cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” livened up the dance floor.

It’s a shame that more people weren’t on hand to enjoy a truly unique band. Its members are talented, humble and undeniably great entertainers. They do their utmost to ensure everyone is having as much fun as they are, even if that means nose-diving off the bar. But the boys are definitely on their way up, so maybe, just maybe, all of you losers who didn’t go will get a second chance that you don’t deserve.