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Guitar Hero heroes
Graveyard BBQ score a videogame hit

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Graveyard BBQ, "Cheat on the Church" (MP3)

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Graveyard BBQ on Guitar Hero

Graveyard BBQ come from Waltham. But their twisted roots are planted deep in the swampy South. They like to boast that back when they formed, in 2003, they traveled to a certain crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to sell their souls. And they know that once the Devil claims his due, they’ll be roasting on the same hot coals they now use to grill steaks. Until then, they will rock. It’s a shtick that’s become more serious than anyone in the band could have predicted.

Their music fuses the death-metal slash of Slayer with the burn of Robert Johnson’s primal blues. Their supercharged riffs create a backdrop for feverish screams mixed with guttural growls. Their ratty beards are fake, their yellowed buckteeth rubbery, but the stars on their Confederate stars ’n’ bars really are pentagrams. They call their sound "Dirtcore," and under its banner, lead singer Rev. T.W. Brixx, guitar slinger Brownbag Johnson, bassist Bud Black, and drummer Billy Z. Bub do their best to kick up an unholy noise.

The band began as a goof, but of late they’ve had reason to become more serious about their career. Greatest Hits, Volume I was the title of their 2004 debut. A Volume 2 is on its way. The Discovery Channel show American Chopper has featured their music, and a new fishing show on NESN is planning to do the same. Most recently, their scorching jeremiad "Cheat the Church" beat out thousands of other songs in a national contest and will be featured alongside tracks by the likes of Motörhead and Ozzy in the new Guitar Hero video game for Playstation 2. The BBQ boys will celebrate this Saturday with a gig at Harpers Ferry.

When we meet up at BBQ headquarters (a living room decorated with life-size cutouts of Elvis, President Bush, and Rob Zombie), Rev. Brixx does offer a hefty tug of high-proof moonshine — a gift from Hank Williams III — with a Jack Daniel’s chaser. I accept, hoping it will give me the Dutch courage I need to try my hand at Guitar Hero’s tricky, fast-paced fretwork. I pick what I hope will be an easy song, the Ramones’ "I Wanna Be Sedated," then my character, mohawked punk Johnny Napalm, and a virtual Gibson SG. I grab the plastic guitar-shaped controller and, as the first chords set in, try to hit the right-colored button on my fret board as the same-colored dot streams downward on the screen. When in synch, the dots merge, exploding like mines, and the power chords play where they should. More often I miss: notes sound out of tune or else just drop out entirely. The computer-animated crowd hits me with a chorus of boos.

The band members laugh. Then Bud Black, lanky in a Hustler wifebeater, his eyes shaded by a Stetson hat, and Brownbag Johnson (his Randy Rhodes T-shirt hinting at his Guitar Hero prowess) take the controls. They cue "Cheat on the Church" and turn the volume up. A diabolic organ fugue rises, followed by a pounding rhythm pierced by peals of stuck-pig guitar and more cowbell than in "Don’t Fear the Reaper." Brownbag and Black stare at the TV intently, hunched in battle-ready pose, heads bobbing to the sledgehammer downbeat, fingers fretting in lockstep. The song ends. The crowd goes nuts. The points rack up.

Graveyard BBQ’s mixture of zombie-redneck cheek and the song’s raw power fit Guitar Hero’s æsthetic perfectly. Rev. Brixx is honored but not too surprised it made the cut. "They said it was the craziest fuckin’ song, and it had the sickest guitar riffs around. They said, ‘This song kicks ass.’ "

Downstairs in a dungeon-like basement practice space, it’s time to play some real guitar. Loud. Billy Z. Bub, sporting a straw cowboy hat, lays down a muscular, deep-pocketed beat while Bud Black, his bass strap an uncomfortable-looking steel chain, chokes out short, staccato bursts. Brownbag Johnson attacks his guitar, stomping on a floorful of effects pedals as he unleashes lightning-fast leads. Rev. Brixx shakes and crouches and struts, wrapping himself in the mike cord as he screams like a fire-eyed Pentecostal preacher. They roar through some unrecorded songs and pound out some familiar chestnuts. "The Road That Lies Ahead" starts off as steamy Delta blues before kicking viciously into a roiling psychobilly romp.

Back upstairs, the BBQ boys recall their first show — "when we were a joke band" — at Jake’s Dixie Roadhouse. They sold the place out, sold the bar out of whiskey, and broke a record for booze sales. They boast of how they outdrew the Misfits at Mark’s Showplace on a recent Sunday night, then admit they felt really bad about it. Not only because they love the Misfits but because Jerry Only was "wicked nice" and gave them a bunch of free guitar strings. "Who are we to steal a show from Jerry?" asks Billy Z. Bub.

As the night winds down, we put in a Howlin’ Wolf documentary. The bluesman licks the neck of his guitar, shaking his head with a feral grin. "That’s where Brownbag gets his dirty licks," says Brixx. A few minutes later, Son House is banging out "John the Revelator." "That’s where the stomping BBQ drumbeat started," Brixx says.

A clip from Shindig! comes on, showing Mick Jagger and Brian Jones sitting reverently at Wolf’s feet. Brownbag Johnson shakes his head ruefully. "They inspired all these musicians. And they all died poor as shit."

Once you get past the fake beards, Graveyard BBQ’s love for the blues is legit. So is their love for metal. And punk. And all things redneck. It’s a potent mix.

"We’re growin’ like an epidemic!" says Brixx. "We’re bringin’ back substance and conviction to Americana roots music. We’re havin’ a good time, and kickin’ ass. And anything that gets in our way, I feel sorry for you. If you ain’t with us, you’re against us."

Graveyard BBQ + the Acro-bats + Count Zero | Harpers Ferry, 156 Brighton Ave, Allston | Dec 10 | 617.254.9743


Issue Date: December 9 - 15, 2005
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