In 1987 or so, a pal of mine procured an LP by a band called Country Bob and the BloodFarmers. Titled “Goin’ To Hell In A Hatbasket,” it commanded the attention and imaginations of the really good weirdos in our circle of friends like little else. There was a vogue for all sorts of rural-coded rock music at that time, but the lion’s share of attention was paid to MTV fodder like Lone Justice and Jason & the Scorchers. The independent/underground scene boasted so-called “cowpunk” bands like Rank & File, the gothier Tex & the Horseheads, and the more gonzo likes of Elvis Hitler, Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, and the Raunch Hands, but Country Bob and the BloodFarmers went miles farther than all of them in terms of musical extremity, Southern gothic death-trip lyrics, and driving sacred cows into the slaughterhouse (though Elvis Hitler certainly nipped at their heels).
It was clearly a jokey album, full of breakneck punk/hayseed anthems like the Ed Gein tribute “Bowl Full of Noses,” the no-holds-barred torpedoing of southern racism “Black Cowboy,” or the single gnarliest cover of Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” I know. The inner sleeve boasted a lyric sheet on one side and “The American Gothic Tribune” on the other, a police blotter style compilation of hilariously disturbing fake news items from the “South.” (The stuff would ring familiar to anyone who knows Michael Lesy and Charles Van Schaick’s Wisconsin Death Trip.) One involved the attempted murder of all of his children by one “Gomer P. Neighbors,” a joke I pray I don’t have to explain. Another item, the longest, tells of a drug-fueled misadventure from the life of Bung Hill, Arkansas’ Bob Ledbetter, Jr., who is also listed as the band’s singer/guitarist.
Band photo by Jill Greenberg, who has since become quite well known.
But who the hell was it making this elaborate joke? A credible rumor had it that Country Bob was a side project of Gargoyle Sox, a regionally popular goth band from Detroit, which made kinda sense—Detroit, like much of the Rust Belt, famously had a “Hillbilly Highway” influx of Appalachians when the auto industry needed a shitload of bodies in its foundries and on its assembly lines, so pockets of a rural migrant mentality had long existed in that town, and were probably ripe fodder for tribute or parody, whichever this was. Plus, the album was released on the Manster label, which a member of Gargoyle Sox actually owned. But the musicians named as members were all pseudonymous, so finding what other bands they may have played in was pretty well impossible in the pre-Internet era. Well, it’s not impossible anymore; through the non-pseudonymous songwriting credits and some attentive digging through Detroit Rock City and some online sources, I learned that the BloodFarmers indeed included Gargoyle Sox’s guitarist John Koester, but its actual prime movers were a Detroit artist/scenester named Tim Caldwell (who was also credited with the album art), and “Country” Bob Ledbetter Jr. himself, the alter-ego of RUR/Shock Therapy guitarist Tex Newman.
Newman and Caldwell were kind enough to fill DM in about the band’s conception.
NEWMAN: Basically what it was is that I had been in a lot of different bands, and it was born out of frustration. Me and Tim Caldwell had done a goth band, Danse Macabre, with some people. It imploded like most bands do and I was pissed off, wondering what I could do that was really fucked up. The hardcore scene sucked, I knew everybody, everybody in punk, hardcore and goth knew everybody, and it had turned into a big fashion show with little substance. I told Tim that there was this really awful punk/country band I knew in California, that all dressed up in cowboy clothes, so when it was time to do something again, I was thinking about this character of a real fucked up hillbilly punk, that no matter how hard he tried to be a badass punk, he was just a fuckin’ hillbilly and everything would come out Country and Western. And that fit with this rebellious notion that we should do something with NO CHANCE of success, something so fucked up that it’d be dead in the water upon release. So I came up with Country Bob, and Tim came up with the BloodFarmers.
CALDWELL: There’s a lot of people in Detroit who came up from Appalachia to work for the auto industry, the “big three.” Johnny Cash spent some time up here, that’s how you get that song about the Frankensteinian hot-rod [the song he means is “One Piece at a Time,” FYI—DM]. A lot of blues guys were up here working in the foundries, a lot of Motown funk guys worked on the lines, you name it. Any kind of band in Detroit, they’ve probably done their stint. I did it myself.
Tex, with his accent, and being from Texas, he had a lot of the “cool kids” saying “oh, you’re a poseur,” you know, fuckin’ guys in either fancy New Waver duds, or ARRRGH, I’M WEARING GROUND ZERO HARDCORE CLOTHES and their punk uniforms and shit. And people would piss and moan about the “relevance” of anything in New Wave or punk rock, and we thought “You know what? That’s really outside this whole thing.” We wanted to do a Country and Western take on punk rock, and there were bands doing it, I went to go see the Gun Club and it was great, but a lot of that Jason and the Scorchers kind of shit, hell, even the Blasters, we were kinda like “fuck that.” And we decided “let’s just go with this thing, fuck all these scenes, fuck all these people, we don’t care if people follow it or not.”
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