The last thing you want to do is piss off Henry Rollins. The guy’s as thick as tank armor. But when Bobby Bare Jr. was a young punk growing up in Nashville, he almost felt the full force of Hank’s fist. It was at an early Black Flag show—so early, Rollins still had his metal hair. Bare was right up front, slamming around in the pit. He pointed at Rollins—sort of a “you’re-the-man” salute.
“He thought I was giving him the bird,” Bare says. “He grabbed my arm and said, ‘If you don’t fucking quit it, I’m going to fight you.’ I was like, ‘Don’t hurt me.’ He looked just like Charles Manson back then. I was scared as hell.”
Fifteen years later, Bare’s the one onstage getting vocal with the crowd. As the leader of the dirty country-fried rock outfit Bare Jr., he’s gotten a rep as one of the most obnoxious, gritty rockers around. The band’s drunken antics rival The Replacements. The music matches the attitude: Think The Supersuckers, with a broken heart and a serious addiction to sarcasm. “A lot of my songs are really just desperate cries,” Bare admits. “But if you can get a room full of people to giggle along, it makes it all seem a little less heavy.”
“Besides,” he continues, “this is rock & roll. You shouldn’t take yourself too seriously. If you do, that’s ridiculous.”
Bare was born to be a Nashville rebel. The son of country outlaw Bobby Bare, he grew up watching his father push the limits of country music while still managing to score more hits than Frasier got on Ali. He sat in the corner watching dad lay down tracks. He hit the road with the family band, watching dad from the merchandise booth every night. “I’ve sold T-shirts in every single honky-tonk in America at least twice,” he says with pride. It was like going to school, with Bobby Bare Jr. taking mental notes on everything: songwriting, structure, stage swagger.
But that was only half of the younger Bare’s education. He learned his other lessons in the grimy punk clubs of Nashville—yes, they exist. Like fellow country heir Hank Williams III, Bobby Bare Jr. immersed himself in the nastiest rock he could find. “People don’t understand that you can buy a Fugazi record in Nashville,” he jokes. “They think we all walk out of Tower Records with George Strait CDs. We do have rock bands here, I swear.”
It all became the basis for Bare Jr., the band. Daddy’s twang and subtle style bangs up against walls of feedback. Southern charm tempers any whiskey-fueled angst—like straight bourbon with a mint julep chaser. The band’s sophomore disc, Brainwasher (Immortal/Virgin), is exactly the kind of rootsy, tobacco-stained rock you’d expect from the country capital of the world, right down to the fuzzed-out dulcimer. Songs like “God” and the title track come off like Steve Earle after a Butch Vig production makeover. “Why Do I Need a Job” is the millennial slacker anthem that trailer-park punks have been dreaming about. And then, out of nowhere, come wrenching songs like “You Never Knew (I Lied),” with Bare showing his soft side as quickly as a flasher in Central Park. Bare says he’s just trying to follow in his dad’s footsteps, stretching the definitions of rock and country whenever he can.
“All of my songs are written as straight-up country, then we just try to pervert it,” Bare admits. “It’s tough to break new ground, though. That’s what rock is supposed to be about. But I just wrote this song about how we need some new fertilizer, because everything has been done. All the good songs have been written. All the good ideas have been done. I just hope in some way we’re doing something that hasn’t been done before, something you can remember after the show is over and the record’s stopped playing.”
And if the music doesn’t stick with you, then the band’s website (BareJr.net) will, if only for the bizarre comic strip. It was put together by drummer Keith Brogdon and guitarist Teel. Touted as the adventures of “Brainwasher,” the serial strip chronicles the Bare’s quest for his true love, Felicity, and his transformation into Chickenman—don’t ask. “I love that thing. But people keep asking me why, if I turned into a chicken, would I still be eating a bloody chicken. Who knows? It’s the product of a lot of pot, that’s all I can say.”
Yet, like most of Bare Jr.’s jokes, there’s a definite serious side—go figure—to the “Brainwasher” strip. “There’ve been several Felicities in my life,” Bare says, suddenly getting a little somber. “Everyone has one of those girls that control everything in your life and make you feel like a passenger. I’ve had my share of mine.” Um, OK.
Depressing confessions aside, Bare has some other issues he has to deal with at the moment. The group has gigs booked for the rest of the summer. Bare also has to crank out songs for a new album. Not that he’s worried. It’s the perfect excuse for him to sit around, slam a few beer and do what he was raised to do.
“My dad always said that musicians are musicians because they’re too lazy to do anything else,” Bare says. “I can tell ya, that’s me to a tee.”
The Reverend Horton Heat with Bare Jr. DV8, 115 S. West Temple (539-8400), Thursday July 12, 8 p.m.