By Al Kaufman
The Asylum Street Spankers have been a band … scratch that … The Asylum Street Spankers have been a musical experience for over 16 years now. Born out of a chemically enhanced after party at the Dabbs Hotel in Llano, Texas, the Spankers have been doing whatever they’ve felt like doing ever since. They’ve gone through over 40 musicians, and just as many musical genres during that time, but no matter what they play or who plays it, they have been as entertaining as they come.
It will all come to an end this year as the Spankers go their separate ways forge their own respective lives, rear their respective kids, take their respective drugs, and see if there is indeed life after playing in a band that has broken every musical boundary known to man. This is a band that can write songs such as “The Scrotum Song” and “(If You Love Me) You’ll Sleep on the Wet Spot,” and then put out a brilliant kids’ album (Mommy Says “No”). This is a band that put out an homage to drugs and alcohol (Spanker Madness) and also an album of spirituals and gospel tunes (God’s Favorite Band). This is a band that can turn the angry Nine Inch Nails anthem “Closer” into a bluegrass tune, complete with animal sounds. Nothing is beyond their scope.
Throughout their years, many of the finest musicians Austin, Texas has to offer has sat in with the group, but the band has had two constants; Christina Marrs and Wammo. Marrs is the jazzy blues mama of the group. She can make you weep with her torch songs, move onto a Betty Boop hiccup, then break into the world’s raunchiest version of “Shave ‘em Dry.” For kicks, she’ll break out a saw for a beautiful version of “Silent Night” (did I mention their Christmas album, A Christmas Spanking?). Wammo, the big, burly, former poetry slam regular with heavy metal tendencies, enjoys mixing genres such hip-hop with country murder ballads (“Hick Hop”), and throwing in some punk, comedy, odes to Pabst Blue Ribbon, and general laments about leaf blowers and people who can’t appreciate a good toke once in a while. He also plays a mean washboard and and even meaner blues harp.
Then these two surround themselves with accomplished guitarists, stand-up bass players, drummers, violinists, jazz clarinetists and general performance artists. The result is a Vaudevillian treat as imagined by John Waters and Rob Zombie. Everybody in this band knows they’re brilliant musicians. But what’s more important to them is that everyone, band included, have fun. There is a sort of Frank Zappa impishness about them that cannot be denied. They are not above a line dance or a rubber chicken if it means somebody laughs, but their comedy can also be frighteningly poignant, such as on “My Baby’s in the CIA” and “Stick Magnetic Ribbons (on Your SUV).”
For years, the band touted themselves as playing “music the way God intended, with no demon electricity.” The fact that they could get hundreds of drunk people in a smoke-filled bar to shut up and listen to what they guys were doing on stage is testament to their greatness. But, like we all tend to do in the end, the band eventually gave into their demons and now perform with some microphones. The first time they did this at Smith’s Olde Bar, the reaction was almost the same as the first time Bob Dylan pulled out an electric guitar. But, like Dylan, they eventually won over the masses.
It’s a damn shame this band has decided to break-up. Like the cast of Seinfeld, it is highly unlikely that as individuals they will ever reach the creative success they had as a band, but we wish them the best of luck in trying.
The Asylum Street Spankers play Smith’s Olde Bar as part of their “Spanks for Everything” farewell tour on Saturday, October 9.