The names may not ring as familiar as Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards, but Jason Ringenberg and Warner Hodges rightfully sit among music’s great tandems. The foundation of Jason & The Scorchers—a band that has blended a searing mix of rock and country into an imitable style for nearly 30 years—Ringenberg and Hodges are still fronting the quartet despite lineup changes and ongoing outside projects. To the delight of its diehard fan base, Jason & The Scorchers released Halcyon Times, the band’s first album of new material since 1996, earlier this year.
“The new record’s pretty badass, isn’t it?” Hodges asks with a hearty laugh, speaking by phone from his Nashville home.
I mention that fans and critics alike are placing the album alongside the band’s best work. “People are saying that, but it really ain’t for me to decide,” Hodges offers. “But I do really appreciate the fact that everybody’s talking about the record that way and comparing it to the best stuff we ever did. Every time you do a record, theoretically it’s going to be the best one you ever did. It doesn’t pan out that way, but that’s the way you approach it. This time, the stars lined up. For us to be this deep in our career and do a record that people are comparing to our best is pretty cool.”
Ringenberg echoes Hodges’ enthusiasm for Halcyon Times and readily compares it to the band’s back catalog.
“I’m quite surprised that it came out as good as it did given our age,” he says, also speaking by phone from Nashville. “Usually when bands get back together after so many years, it’s not very good. But this is as good a record as we’ve made—it’s right up there with (previous releases) Lost & Found and Fervor.”
On Saturday, October 9, Jason & The Scorchers will return to Birmingham for a 10 p.m. performance at Zydeco. Currently, the band is on a three-week run of Southeast and Midwest shows.
Given it took 14 years for new songs to surface, the obvious question to ask is—why was now the right time to record? Unfortunately, pieces of the answer lie in the misfortunes of one member and the departure of another. Bassist Jeff Johnson departed in 1997 while poor health forced drummer Perry Baggs to leave the band. The band’s current lineup includes bassist Al Collins and Swedish drummer Pontus Snibb “Quite honestly, as Perry got more and more ill, we didn’t break the band up—we just came to a halt,” Hodges recalls. “Our original drummer just got to where he couldn’t do it and there just didn’t seem to be a way to carry on without him. He had been an integral part of the band for 25 years at that point. Jason had not seen a way to carry on and I understood that. But in 2008 we got offered a few festivals in Europe and I contacted Jason about it. He said if I put together a band, he’d go play a few shows. Pontus (Snibb) had substituted for Perry earlier in the decade and I had been playing with (bassist) Al Collins and I knew Al was the right kind of guy—one thing led to another.”
With a stable lineup back in place, Ringenberg and Hodges felt the time was right to create new material and re-enter a recording studio. Despite years of writing songs together, the two did not pull from old demos and past ideas for Halcyon Times.
“Not a single song was sitting around before we started,” Ringenberg offers. “We started writing in December and it was recorded in March, so all of it was written in a three-month period. We record pretty fast because of the laws of economics—you have to record quickly. We did a lot of creating in the studio and had a strong team of people helping us and that made for a creative experience in the studio. Warner deserves a lot of credit because he pushed hard to do this new record. We were able to find the money, the right team of people and the time to do it.”
But while fans will welcome the new material, there will always be a demand for the Scorchers’ well-worn classics. I ask Hodges how a song (“White Lies” is an example I give) still stays fresh many years later.
“As long as there are folks that want to hear it, it’s fun,” he says. “I’ve got to admit that I don’t sit around practicing ‘White Lies’ and I don’t want to play it at soundcheck, but it’s one of those tunes that people want to hear. I play with (Georgia Satellites frontman) Dan Baird and every night we do ‘Keep Your Hands To Yourself.’ Mauro Magellan, the drummer from the Satellites, is also in the band and they would just as soon never play that song for the rest of their lives, but it’s been good for them and that’s the way I feel about some of our old stuff, too. In the heat of the moment, they’re fun to play. We’re glad that we’ve done something that somebody wants to hear.”
While the band’s sound is best known for Ringenberg’s twangy vocals and Hodges’ blistering guitar parts, Hodges cautions that we shouldn’t be too quick to typecast he and his longtime musical partner.
“For years, everybody thought I was the rock guy and Jason was the country guy and it’s probably the other way around,” he says. “On the new record, Jason wanted to rock and he wasn’t interested in slowing down much.”
Ringenberg agrees that the differences among the two are ultimately the strengths of the band.
“We’re a real band, so anybody brings what he has to the table,” he says. “You won’t find anybody more different than me and Warner, but we bring the best elements of what we are.”
Tickets to the 18+ show are $10 - $12 day of the show—and can be purchased at www.zydecobirmingham.com or by calling (205) 933-1032.
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.