An album-by-album guide to Jason & The Scorchers, whose fiery mix of pop, punk and rock'n'roll gave birth to an intoxicating new sound
(Image credit: Paul Natkin / Getty Images)
Jason And The Scorchers exploded onto the music scene in the early 80s and single-handedly invented a whole new genre of music – you could call it cow-punk or alt. country – that was the purest combination of country and rock'n'oll since Elvis first decided to blur the boundaries back in the Sun Studios.
The unique combo of Jason Ringenberg’s non-traditional wild vocal stylings and Warner Hodges’ ‘Clarence White meets Angus Young’ guitar style set the band apart from anyone else who's tried to weld the two genres together.
Jason & The Scorchers have maintained an on-off status for many years, although Jason and Warner have both released a number of solo albums, and Hodges continues to play with Dan Baird and Homemade Sin. Jason has just released a new, crowd-funded album Stand Tall and the Scorchers – along with Homemade Sin and The Kentucky Headhunters – are heading to the UK for a tour in September.
Scorchers fans keen for a fix of that reckless country soul should waste no time in picking up or downloading a copy of Stand Tall. With the usual mix of witty observational lyrics, memorable melodies and great playing, it'll sit comfortably in your Scorchers collection and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of them.
In light of the new developments in Scorcher-land, it seemed like a perfect time to reassess the works of the band with the help of Jason himself and noted super fan Ginger Wildheart, who has actually served time with the band in a short run of gigs under the moniker 'Ginger And The Scorchers'.
Reckless Country Soul EP (1982)
Jason: This four song EP recorded live in someone’s living room is one of my favourite sounding Scorcher records. It was recorded live to a two-track with very minimal overdubs. Unique to that record, Warner played with no distortion. To me Reckless Country Soul EP sounds like a mid-60s Stones record. I love it.
I also have to say that first version of Broken Whiskey Glass is better than the Lost And Found version. It has an innocence, simplicity, and complete lack of pretension. Steve Earle always favoured that version as well, and Steve is right about a lot of stuff!
Ginger: A more traditional sounding band but driven by the sheer gusto that their live shows generated. Candy Kisses could feature on anything they would later record, and I love hearing the embryonic version of Broken Whisky Glass, without the intro that they’d tag on in the definitive recording on Lost & Found.
The debut album based on the 'Reckless Country Soul' EP released the previous year under the name Jason and the Nashville Scorchers. The addition of their incendiary cover of Bob Dylan’s 'Absolutely Sweet Marie' to the earlier EP was the game changer for the band. One of those Dylan covers that is actually better than the original, it was an instant profile raiser and catapulted the band to flavour of the month status with the fickle world of the mainstream music press.
Jason: The songs on Fervor permanently changed the chemistry of Jason and the Nashville Scorchers. Before Fervor we were basically a dumb, loud, party band with the gimmick of taking old country classics and punking them out.
Fervor changed all that. It showed the band could write real songs and express beautiful musicianship. Interestingly there was a lot of resistance to those songs, even within the band. Harvest Moon is my favourite track here, and my overall fave JATS song.
Ginger: This is the one where it all started to come together, sonically speaking. I still get chills when I hear Harvest Moon, when that third verse comes in with double tracked vocals, only to split into a harmony. Sheer class. And I absolutely adore Help There’s A Fire, one of their absolute best songs ever.
Lost & Found (1985)
Capitalising on the momentum generated by the previous album and supported by endless touring – the band were frequently in the UK and Europe – 'Lost and Found' will be many fans’ favourite. The perennial classics ‘White Lies’ and ‘Shop It Around’ are the key tracks but this is that cliché ‘all killer no filler’ album. The perfect introduction to the band for anyone curious to know what all the fuss is about.
Jason: Most folks consider this our best record and I would probably agree. We had a real recording budget and a crack producer in Terry Manning, a perfect match for us. Also, our drummer Perry Baggs had started writing songs at that point. His White Lies remains our most popular original song. It is a masterpiece.
A forgotten track is the closing song Change The Tune. Our bassist Jeff Johnson wrote most of that one and it has truly stood the test of time. It is a wonderful album closer, and one of my ‘new’ favourites from our catalog.
Ginger: What can be said about one of the greatest rock’n’roll albums of all time?
Justifiably revered amongst JATS fans, this album houses not one filler song, just pure killer all the way. I mean Shop It Around, Broken Whisky Glass and White Lies all jostling for first place on an album of bangers? Suffice it to say, if you don’t own this album then rectify that situation immediately.
Still Standing (1986)
This was the obligatory ‘backlash’ album. In spite of no dip in quality whatsoever, the critics decided that they’d tired of the Scorchers’ unique brand of country-punk rock’n’roll and moved on to the next big thing. Unfairly maligned and featuring standout tracks ‘Golden Ball And Chain’ and ‘Crashing Down’. Interestingly both cuts had been played live with different lyrics for some time before they appeared on record. They also successfully out rock the Rolling Stones on their cover of ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’.
Jason: As good as Lost and Found is, Still Standing is its polar opposite. I find it unlistenable. I could blame the record company or producer but in the end, it was our fault. We lost focus and fell prey to the age-old rock ‘n’ roll demons of drugs, alcohol, egos, poor judgment, and bad attitudes. There are a few good songs, but overall the songwriting, production, direction, and musicianship is flawed. We all failed on that one, me included.
Ginger: There was no way any band could improve on an album as strong as Lost & Found, but kicking off with Golden Ball And Chain promised a spirited attempt. And while, as a collection of songs, the album doesn’t scale the mighty heights of its predecessor there’s still gold to find in them hills. Crashing Down is classic JATS, Good Things Come To Those Who Wait is sublime and their version of 19th Nervous Breakdown is, in my mind, superior to the Stones original.
Thunder And Fire (1989)
It felt like the band was slipping away by this album. Their profile was lower than ever and it seemed like maybe they’d decided themselves that the uphill battle wasn’t worth the fight. As there are no albums in the Scorchers’ catalogue that are less than excellent, again there are rich picking here in this often-overlooked gem. The key tracks are ‘My Kingdom For A Car’ and ‘Bible And a Gun’.
Jason: When The Angels Cry, Bible And A Gun, Close Up The Road, and My Kingdom For A Car are the high points on this release. Warner’s guitar playing is astounding on those tracks, and Perry was at the top of his game as a drummer all across this record. Barry Beckett's production is flawless- Muscle Shoals meets Nashville rock ‘n’ roll.
Ginger: Featuring not one but two new members, I was taken aback at what I imagined was the most stable band in rock’n’roll. I mean who would want to leave Jason & The Scorchers? But I love the sound of this album, and the double guitar attack serves songs like When The Angels Cry and Find You, while You Gotta Way With Me is pure slide guitar heaven and the gorgeous Close Up The Road reminds the listener that JATS – as well as rocking the teeth out of most bands heads – write some of the most beautiful ballads ever laid down to tape.
A Blazing Grace (1995)
Six years is a long time between releases – although they’d top that interval in 2010 – and this album came as a bolt from the blue. The band had lost none of their fire or song writing chops, as ‘Cry By Night Operator’ and ‘One More Day Of Weekend’ will confirm. Their cover of John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ reinvents it in much the same way as they kicked ‘’Sweet Marie’ up the ass. The song is now their own.
Jason: I really like some of the forgotten songs on this one, especially Where Bridges Never Burn. Perry sang so beautifully on those verses. His harmony singing never ceases to move me. It shined especially bright on A Blazing Grace.
Ginger: After a seemingly endless wait, this album was less than I’d hoped it would be. Still, it features the rollicking Why Baby Why and the utterly beautiful Somewhere Within, two of JATS' most memorable tracks. And they attempt and admirable stab at Take Me Home Country Roads, which would go on to become a solid live favourite.
Clear Impetuous Morning (1996)
Straight back into the fray with this one. ‘Kick Me Down’ sounds like a defiant battle cry and ‘Self Sabotage’ sounded like a cut from ‘Lost And Found'. The band’s quality control never slackens off for a minute.
Jason: Many longtime JATS fans love this one. I rarely listen to it but understand why folks do like it. At the time, I really felt it was going to break us into the ‘big time’, given the popularity of ‘alt-country’ back then, which we helped pioneer. I was crushed when that didn’t happen and came pretty close to a mental collapse while in France touring behind that record. So, given all that, I am not really qualified to give an accurate assessment of Clear Impetuous Morning...
Ginger: Storming in with Self Sabotage, CIM is a blazing return to form. Cappuccino Rosie is one of my absolute favourite tracks, ticking off all the boxes than only JATS can tick. Drugstore Truck Drivin’ Man always confused the hell out of me, when it sings “he’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan” and then “he’s been like a father to me”. Still baffles me to this day, but I guess Gram Parson took the explanation to the grave with him. The slightly ‘metal’ sounding guitar gets a little tiring after a while but you can’t stay mad at an album’s production for long when it ends with the glorious I’m Sticking With You.
Halcyon Times (2010)
The album fans never expected to see after 14 years since the last studio album. Sadly, also the last Scorchers album to date – nine years and counting! With input from Ginger Wildheart, this is an album worthy of the band’s previous catalogue. ‘Gettin’ Nowhere Fast’, ‘Better Than This’ and ‘When Did It Get So Easy To Lie To Me’ are the go-to tracks for me.
Jason: This record rocks from top to bottom. We sound like a pack of hungry wolves, even more impressive given we were in our 50s when we made it. Crazy old fools indeed!
We had a dynamite team of great writers and musicians helping us with this one: Dan Baird, Arty Hill, Brad Jones, Richard Fagan, and of course the wondrous talent that is Ginger Wildheart. Ginger spent three weeks with us in Nashville writing the songs. He was on fire. Every time we got together, we nailed a great song. I have written with some of the finest songwriters in the world, and Ginger ranks at the very top.
The musicianship on the record is as good as anything we have ever recorded. Simply put, Warner’s guitar work is out of this world. The sounds, approach, and sparkling nuances of his guitar parts are a pleasure to experience. Also, the new rhythm section of Pontus Snibb (drums) and Al Collins (bass) grooves like crazy all over the record. The high points for me are Mona Lee and Beat On The Mountain. Both songs had Perry doing harmonies, which I believe were the last harmonies he sang on this Earth.
Ginger: I was honoured to be invited to co-write with the guys on this album, and delighted when it garnered the best reviews I’d seen for the band in a very long time.
Like Michael Monroe, I came from the position of being a fan, so I knew what kind of album I wanted to hear them make. The rest was just an amazing band playing some suitably rocking songs. I eagerly await the next album with baited lugs and an open heart.
Live Albums and Compilations
There have been quite a few retrospectives over the years – the best are:
Midnight Roads And Stages Seen (1998): Although there have been numerous bootleg and semi-official Scorchers live albums this is the first officially sanctioned release.
A satisfying set of classics ripped through in classic Scorchers all-out assault – hard-core fans will probably already own some of the classic bootlegs – check out the Uptown Theatre Kansas City set if you can find it which even included the aforementioned alternate lyric versions of the songs that appeared on Still Standing.
Wildfires And Misfires (2001): Essential gap-filler collection if only for the usual Scorchers’ ownership-taking cover of the old Kenny Rogers weepie Ruby Don’t Take You Love To Town. There are demos and alternate versions here and even a cameo appearance from Link Wray.
Interview: Ginger Wildheart
You’ve done something that I’ve often wondered about: getting a chance to play in one of your favourite bands. On the one hand fantastic it's wish fulfilment, on the other hand it means that part of the reason you liked the band so much isn’t there anymore! Like stepping in for Keith in the Stones. Was that the way it felt?
It was an idea that Warner came up with, totally out of the blue. Jason couldn't make the tour and I was asked to step up in his place. I was going through a "say yes to everything" phase, so I agreed. As soon as I had done so I regretted it massively. I mean, you don't just jump into Jason Ringenberg's cowboy boots. Even as I walked into rehearsals, I was shitting myself. I mean proper 'I am way out of my depth' shitting myself. I still have no idea why I agreed to it. But it was an incredible honour, and an even more incredible memory.
I know you’d been championing the Scorchers for years before that – what was your first exposure to the band?
I first saw the band on The Old Grey Whistle Test, where they played White Lies and Broken Whiskey Glass. I was working a dead-end job in a pizza place at the time, feeling really stuck down in South Shields. Once I saw them blast through these songs, I instantly believed that bands could mix and match styles with amazing effect.
I left work the next day, moved to London and started dreaming about a band called The Wildhearts, who mixed rock and punk with melodies and thrash riffs. I doubt I'd have made the decision without Jason & the Scorchers.
To call them a country band seriously stretches the boundaries of that definition. But anyway, were you a fan of the genre at all prior to The Scorchers?
I'd grown up listening to Dolly Parton and Jim Reeves, and had always loved country music on the radio, eventually leaning towards mavericks like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. The close harmonies and major chords played a massive part in my love of music, and my writing style to that point.
I already loved punk too, so when I saw Jason & the Scorchers mix the two genres together, while paying full respect to both, I was hooked like a huge fish. After getting into Jason & the Scorchers, I started finding out more about crossover country like The Long Ryders and Lone Justice, and soon it became a huge passion of mine, where I collected anything that mixed heavy guitars or punk spirit with country.
Whose idea was it to team up as Ginger & The Scorchers?
It was originally Warner's idea, but I wouldn't have even considered the offer if Jason hadn't given his absolute support, which he did. They're both incredibly supportive men.
What was the prep like for that?
There was only one rehearsal, maybe two. It was all done so quickly, but those guys knew exactly what they were doing, and I already had the songs embedded in my DNA, so I had very little to actually learn.
How was the set list picked? Did you fight to get anything in that they didn’t normally do live etc?
Warner allowed me to pick the set list. Can you imagine it? Any Scorchers songs from their entire catalogue! I chose some songs that they'd never played live before, but by the time we got into a room Warner and the guys had them all down perfect.
Warner is old school, he knows exactly what's going on, and what everyone needs to bring to the party. I guess he was happy enough with my choices and my skills in performing them.
You were part of the writing process for the last studio album Halcyon Times. Had you been doing any writing with the band at all during your time as Ginger/Scorchers?
No, I would never have presumed that they'd want me to write with them. As far as I was concerned, they'd already written some of the best songs of all time. Why would they ever need me? As you can imagine, I was deeply honoured when Jason and Warner invited me to write Halcyon Times in Nashville with them.
Have you written stuff subsequently that you thought would be a good fit for them, or was all of the writing done in the prep process for that album?
No, I remember the first thing I wrote with them was sitting with Jason in Warner's living room. It was easy for me; I knew exactly what sort of songs they would want to play. As a huge fan, I probably knew their style better than they did!
The writing was done quickly, and the recording just as quick. I was on tour with The Wildhearts when recording took place, so I couldn't appear on the album, but Dan Baird had also been writing with us, so he played rhythm guitar on the recording session. Man, what an insanely cool team of people!
I can’t believe that in this age of crowd funding it's been so long since the last album. Should they record another album, are you armed and ready with a few ideas for further collaborations?
I can't imagine they will need anyone's help in writing new songs for the next album. I'm just honoured and amazed that they chose me to join the writing team for their comeback album.
Cheesy question – what are your favourite Scorchers tracks?
I still love Broken Whiskey Glass, and I consider White Lies to be one of the greatest songs ever written, but they've penned some exceptional stuff over the years.
Crashin' Down, Help There's A Fire, Harvest Moon, Shop It Around, Close Up The Road, Why Baby Why, Somewhere Within, I'm Stickin' With You, You Gotta Way With Me... as you can tell, I could go on and on but I'd still never cover every one of my favourites. Jason and the Scorchers have more great songs than any band has any right to compose!