Just four months shy of their 10th year in action, Hank Flamingo is calling it quits. The Middle Tennessee sextet, which appeared to be on the verge of stardom four years ago, was sidetracked by a label deal that went sour at the height of their popularity. Now fiddle player Stuart E. Stuart is moving to Kansas to be near his family, and his bandmates no longer wish to continue the band without him.
“It wouldn’t be Hank Flamingo,” says lead singer Trent Lee Summar, who says the split is entirely amicable and the bandmates remain best friends. “It’ll never be the same again. It’s not a sad thing; it’s just the way it is.”
The hard-rocking country band grew out of the ashes of the Murfreesboro group Blind Farmers From Hell, who in the late 1980s threw annual parties every Halloween at their “Blind Farm” in Lascassas. At the 1988 party, Blind Farmers bassist Ben Northern and drummer Roy Watts hooked up with Summar, a lanky redheaded singer who’d recently returned from Knoxville. The band’s lineup solidified with Stuart, Eddie Grigg on lead guitar, and Philip Wallace on rhythm guitar.
Stoked by 90-mph covers of George Jones and Lefty Frizzellnot to mention originals like “Redneck Martians Stole My Baby”Hank Flamingo toured so doggedly that it developed a fan base throughout the Southeast. In 1993 the band signed with Giant Recordsa move the members eventually regretted. The group’s self-titled 1994 LP on Giant led to a slot on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and the video for its single “Gooseneck Trailer” became a CMT favorite. Nevertheless, Summar says, Giant couldn’t make any of the band’s singles happen, and after much hemming and hawing, the label finally canceled the group’s follow-up LP.
The band licked its wounds by playing steady club dates for years afterward. Of late, they’d finished up 16 songs in the studio with Farmer Not So John’s Richard McLaurin. But with Stuart leaving and the bandmates raising their own families, they didn’t feel like continuing the group. After nearly 10 years, Summar says that will leave a peculiar void in his life. “As undependable as it’s been sometimes, it was always something I could count on, if that makes any sense. I don’t know how I’m gonna feel without it. It’s always been there.”
To end Hank Flamingo with a bang, the group has booked the Garage across from 12th & Porter for a farewell show Friday night. Opening will be Pumpskully, whom Summar describes as “the future of young country.” And to place even more emotional baggage on the evening, the show functions as Philip Wallace’s bachelor party. The guitarist is getting married the next day, and he and Summar are coming straight to the show from the rehearsal dinner.
If Summar is sorry about anything, it’s that his bandmates never got to build on their crack at the big time. “All those guys are such gentlemen,” he says wistfully. “They really deserved a shot.” But he doesn’t rule out the possibility that the remaining members might play together as a different band at some point.
In the meantime, he and the rest of Hank Flamingo are excited about their last show. “It’s a last chance for our fans to see the whole band, and for us to say goodbye,” he says. Apart from that, he predicts only that it’ll be “really intense and pretty loud.” Show time is 9 p.m.; admission is $5.
Mark your calendar now for one of the year’s gotta-see shows: the long-awaited return of The Kaisers June 22 at the Sutler. The Scottish foursome claims the Beatles as its main inspiration, but not the studio-sequestered, fame-besotted, post-Shea Stadium Beatles; they revere the Fab Four that played punk-fast R&B covers for sailors and hookers on the Reeperbahn. Two years ago, with their instruments raised to sternum level, the Kaisers played to a full room at the Captain’s Table in Printer’s Alley. After they delivered 90 minutes of gems like “Money” and “Soldier of Love” with blitzkrieg ferocity and tightness, hardcore Beatlemaniacs were pounding on tables. Yet the Kaisers aren’t some cheesy recreation; they’re more like Beatles contemporaries who were somehow time-warped 35 years ahead. Whatever. Just go see ’em; it’ll be the best $6 you ever spent. Psychotronic rockers Thee Phantom 5ivewhose guitarist, Todd Williams, organized the showare the opening act.
In a recent lengthy interview with Tom T. Hall, the 62-year-old songwriting great brought up a topic he thought needed some attention. “I’ve got one more story I have to tell you,” he said on a recent misty morning, as cocks crowed and ducks quacked on the dirt lane outside his office, situated in a converted barn in Franklin. “It’s about Nashville today. I want you to tell me if you’ve ever heard of anything like this, ’cause it kind of surprised me, I have to tell you.”
Seems Hallwhose bluntly literate, one-of-a-kind songs helped raise the art of country songwriting in the ’70srecently sent a few new songs to a major music publisher on Music Row. He wanted them set in larger type, so he could read them during a recording session. When the songs returned, Hall perused one, only to discover a few typos. “I thought maybe they got entered into a computer and got kicked out wrong,” Hall says.
But when he went to record the songs, he noticed that the words to all of his songs had been changed. He scratched his head and wondered, “Who in the hell is tangling with my lyrics?”
So the writer of such classics as “Harper Valley P.T.A.” and “Ballad of Forty Bucks” contacted the publishing company. What he heard astounded him: The firm had hired an employee with a master’s degree in English from Radcliffe College to edit song lyrics submitted by the company’s writers.
“I said, ‘You know, when I write a song, it’s pretty much carved in stone.’ ” As he talked to a company executive, he grew more incensed. “I told them, and I know this sounds awfully big of me, but I told them, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m a poet. I don’t care what this woman thinks of my songs. All I wanted was a larger font so I could read the words while I was recording. What I was looking for was a typist, and this person is monumentally overqualified for the job.’ ”
Once he hung up, the implications of what had occurred began to obsess Hall. “I got to thinking, when a major country writer brings in a song now, do we have to get out a style book from, I don’t know, The Boston Globe, and fix the song? This is terrible! Am I being naive? To me, lyrics are important. There’s nothing incidental in there. I know what I’m trying to say, and I know how I’m trying to say it. To take it into somebody and say, ‘Would you edit this please?,’ as if it were a piece of advertising copy...well, that just blows me away. I still can’t believe it. Is that what songwriters do today? Do they hand their songs to a secretary and say, ‘Can you edit this?’ What would Hank Williams say about that? What would Billy Joe Shaver say?”
As Hall inquired about the situation with people he knew at the publishing company, the answers he received only offended him further. “I was told that, as for my songs, that they don’t use words like that anymore, that it wasn’t current,” he said. “I said, ‘Who doesn’t? I’m still alive! I’m here on the planet, and I use words like that. What would this person say if they heard ‘Once Upon a Midnight Clear?’ Would they say it had too much alliteration, that people don’t talk like that anymore?”
But Hall, being the way he is, started to see the humor in the situation. “I finally just asked them, ‘Look, have you ever heard that classic song, “I Am Not Misbehavin’?” ’ They told me no, they hadn’t heard of it. I said, ‘That’s my point.’ ”
Elliptical dispatches: Stacey Earle, Doug Hoekstra, and Ned Massey join forces for an in-the-round show this Friday night at the After Hours Theatre above Bongo Java. At least one of these acts is expected to sign with a label soon. Show time is 8:30 p.m.; cover is $5....
Thanks to a computer error, we printed the wrong day for last Friday’s Sleaze Fest at Victor/Victoria’s, which has now been officially converted to a drag bar. (Bands will play in the renovated house next door.) Our apologies to organizer Kathy Brady and her sleazy participants.
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