The Gibson Bros came howling out of Columbus, Ohio with a reckless, feckless brand of semi-competent minimalist American roots revisionism, twisting blues, hillbilly and gospel gems — as well as their own already bent tunes — dementedly passionate, loosely played music that never stooped to gimmicks or camp. The quartet, which included rock-critic-turned-drummer-turned-guitarist-and- singer Don Howland (ex-Great Plains), did their level best to put their town on the map. Although often compared to the Cramps (also from Ohio, as it happens), the Gibsons cast a wider musical net, digging their wildly reverbed guitars, super-simple drumming and Jeff Evans’ frantic vocals into obscure blues and hillbilly tunes, gospel classics and derivative originals (where the lyrics can get pretty bizarre), all with equal fervor. Not always focused — or tuned up — enough to be enjoyable, the willfully hapless Gibson Bros were still capable of deep wit and high excitement.
Big Pine Boogie boasts the hysterical mantra of “Bo Diddley Pulled a Boner,” while Dedicated Fool (on which the group dispenses with bass and has a guest saxman on two songs) has clearer crappy production and reveals a taste for rock’n’roll (“Tight Capris,” Elvis Presley’s “Trying to Get to You,” Alice Cooper’s “Caught in a Dream”) amid the blues (“No Way to Get Along”), gospel (“Lone Wild Bird”) and junkabilly (“Poor White Trash”).
After that, however, the quartet splintered, with guitarist (and OKra Records founder) Dan Dow and drummer Ellen Hoover leaving Evans and Howland to carry on the family name. On The Man Who Loved Couch Dancing, they explore unlikely new approaches while maintaining the Gibson Bros’ tradition of good-natured obnoxiousness. The first half consists of home recordings made with Memphis guitarist Brent Stokesberry and drummer Ross Johnson, punctuated with a wacky assortment of samples and spoken- word tomfoolery; the music is even more casual than usual but has its moments. Side Two consists of sporadically absorbing live tracks recorded by a short-lived foursome with Pussy Galore/Boss Hog twins Jon Spencer (guitar) and Cristina Martinez (drums).
Howland and Evans (who’d moved to Memphis in 1990) recorded the enjoyable if only sporadically inspired Memphis Sol Today! at the legendary Sun studio. In contrast to the authentically unhinged The Man Who Loved Couch Dancing, it’s a relatively straightforward — and, by Gibson standards, well recorded — session concentrating largely on the band’s demented idea of rockabilly, with Evans and Howland joined by Jon Spencer (guitar, vocals and organ) and drummer Rich Lillash. Couch Dancing drummer Ross Johnson drops by to sing his own “Naked Party.”
Evans and Howland subsequently parted ways. The former convened ’68 Comeback, a five-piece with Peggy O’Neill of the Gories on drums, and set about releasing a burbling stream of lo-fi/all-fun singles. (“Willie and the Hand Jive” b/w “16 Tons,” billed importantly as Great Million Sellers Volume 1, is typical.) Howland, meanwhile, formed the Bassholes.
The last stand of the original Gibson Bros lineup was on 1990’s Punk Rock Truck Drivin’ Song of a Gun, a casually well executed collaboration with kindred spirits Workdogs, the New York-area duo of bassist/singer Rob Kennedy and drummer Scott Jarvis (who’d previously worked on their own and with Half Japanese, the Velvet Monkeys, Tav Falco’s Panther Burns and Purple Geezus). Their rhythmic skills manage to make the Gibsons sound almost professional for the first (and only) time in their existence. Gathering up enough 18-wheeler songs to justify the album title, the Gibdogs also rev up a version of “Shakin’ All Over” and such originals as “Talk Italian to Me.”
Left to their own devices, the Workdogs — importing a colorful assortment of guests — play a largely improvised, uncategorizably peculiar style of mutant gutter- roots music, anchored to a solid clock. Along with its epic title suite, a desolate sixteen-and-a-half-minute murder ballad, Roberta has such lighthearted shorter tracks as the ironically jaunty “Rob K’s Money Crazy Boogie” and the unlikely feminist anthem “A Woman Is More Than a Box We Come In.”
The self-described “blues opera” Workdogs in Hell, which comes complete with liner notes proclaiming the band’s supposed demise, is actually an entertaining pastiche for which Kennedy and Jarvis invited an array of musician friends (including Moe Tucker, Jad Fair, Jim Foetus, Lydia Lunch and Jeff Evans) to mail in vocal and instrumental contributions, which the twosome then added to their formidable rhythm tracks. The result is surprisingly cohesive, a nightmarish journey through all manner of sin and degradation, culminating in a wholly appropriate rendition of the Louvin Brothers’ “Satan Is Real.”
Without a central conceptual gimmick to hang its greasy hat on, Old is the Workdogs’ most conventional and accessible effort to date. Despite its title, the album (with Jon Spencer, Railroad Jerk’s Marcellus Hall and Chrome Cranks’ Jerry Teel among its guest guitarists) is an ironically upbeat effort that balances the darker implications of songs like “Back in the Days,” “Painting the Devil’s Office Again” and “Robert Kennedy Blues” with a playfully humorous edge.