Once upon a time around ten years ago, I ran an audition notice for plaidophiles in Dale "Psychotronic" Ashmun's "Spare Parts" column in New Orleans' monthly entertainment rag Offbeat. (And to think that these stiffs would eventually share the cover of Offbeat with Frankie "Sea Cruise" Ford.) Explaining that Pendleton flannels were favored by The Beach Boys, I referred said sartorial cultists to Mike Hurtt, a man with a mission from beyond. Beyond what, I'm not sure.
Mike Hurtt cultivates more than a slight resemblance to Eddie "Summertime Blues" Cochran. He is always impeccably dressed in vintage threads with two-tone shoes and nary a hair of his blond ducktail out of place. No mousse or gel for this greaser; it's got to be either Brylcreme or Brilliantine. Mike and his brother Eric grew up in South Bend, Indiana where their father is an architecture professor at Notre Dame University. Little did the elder Hurtt know what gargoyles would loom in his sons' future.
An early incarnation of The Royal Pendletons included bassist Kevin O'Brien and the mysterious Dr. Wolf on drums. Like Hurtt himself, the former was an Indiana transplant trying to juggle another band called Bim Bom and a job as a librarian at LSU Medical Center while the latter was a successful surgeon. Such a lineup was bound to be doomed, but Sir Michael looked onward and upward for truly royal blood to fulfill the Pendletons' duly-appointed destiny.
His prayers were answered in the unlikely form of King Louie the 69th, whose lineage included thrashmongers Paralysis and The Clickums--the dumbest band in the land fronted by Joe "Pestilence" Phillips of Legion of Decency and Atomic Jefferson who now reigns as one of Portland's Silver Kings yclept after a Mexican wrestling team. How dumb were they? They even did a song called "Surfin' Dog"--can you imagine--"poppa oom bow wow!" And had the nerve to follow it up with "Clickum Nocturne" to a beat that would make even Mike Hammer cringe. Joe Pest also played with Hurtt on the incredible Emulsifiers session on Rampart Street next to Louis Armstrong Park produced by Alex Chilton of The Boxtops and Big Star. (OK, so what if Alex only pushed the button on the boombox!)
With him Louie Bankston brought bassist John West, erstwhile roadie for N'awlins New Wavers The Normals. That's right, kids, as in Your Punk Heritage--available from Airline 61 Records, POB 1265, Metairie, LA 70004. (As in "God told Abraham, 'Go kill me a son!' down on Highway 61.") John's songs included "Sex on Drugs"--uncannily foreshadowing his eventual demise. This lineup was billed as The Royal Pendletons when they played with another great Airline 61 artist Eugene "Shockabilly" Chadbourne at The Howlin' Wolf but continued as The Dirt Boys and finally recorded "Jailbait" ("I went to jail, but it was worth it/All they gave me was community service") as The Harahan Crack Combo. (For whose corny name, yours truly must take the blame.)
The Dirt Boys' brief moment of glory included headlining at The F&M Patio Bar block party, which was coincidentally across the street from the domain of none other than bassist West. This minor triumph could only be matched by their becoming house band at the notorious RC Bridge Lounge on Magazine Street next to The Bridge House rehab center and The Abstract halfway house. You had to be a diehard fan or stone cold reprobate to hear The Dirt Boys practice every night on a PA pieced together from five different amps and cabinets. But wail they did on numbers like "Saw Her in a Mustang (Whole Lotta Poontang)" to The Dictators' anthem "Stay with Me" from Bloodbrothers. John West proceeded to fall of the wagon after his marriage to mercurichrome-maned Leesa Browning, who made dolls for the Voodoo Museum down in the French Quarter. (I'm sorry I introduced them.) John had the kick, but he got the boot.
Time to regroup, and what a group! King Louie brought in former Clickum Barry Gubler on bass, a man with his ups and downs, well befitting an elevator operator at the Maison Blanche building on Canal Street. If that wasn't enough, lo! forth from Indiana came renowned Modoc axman Matt Uhlman. (Modoc's "Hot Rod Dissertation" is still on The Pendleton's playlist.) And from Michigan's Monarchs sojourned Tommy Oliver with his not-so-secret weapon, a Farfisa Compact with matching speaker cabinet. Yes, an organ legendary since Sir Douglas attempted to woo his long lost teenybopper back to Mendecino. Other influences include Sam the Sham, who is honored in "Sheep Suit," and Suzi Quatro's "What A Way To Die." The Pendletons even brought the composer of "Losing Hand" out of retirement for a special guest appearance.
Ah, what tales could be told of the debassed Sir Barry and his dark lady Melva, but that would require a diving helmet, a gorilla suit and the mandatory Billy Barty reference. ("I must, yet I cannot!") Ah, what tales of Sir Eric with The Hurtt Brothers and The Swamis. (Looks like a Shriner's fez to me, folks.) Ah, what tales of King Louie's alliance with what would become the MacGillicuddy clan in Gerry & the Bastardmakers and The Funny Boys. And don't forget The Persuaders and "Lick My Tattoo" by Christy's Padded Toilet Seat. (So drop the king a line at Ask King Louie on the Goner Records website.)
Ah, what tales of The Royal Pendletons' shows with Impala at Checkpoint Charlie's, with Ready Teddy at Pepina's Cafe, with The Oblivians at Beachball Benny's, with Mr. Quintron in Las Vegas, with ? and the Mysterians at The House of Blues.
Ah, what tales indeed of their several mighty seven inchers!
And what about those movie soundtracks? First, New Orleans' own Zombie vs. Mardi Gras produced at Anagram Studios by Mike Lyddon, Will Frank and Karl Demolay. Oh yeah baby, they're tapping kegs with the living dead. There's King Louie in Matt's red and white motocross jacket barely alive on stage at the RC Bridge Lounge with the usual gang of idiots front and center giving him the high sign.
Then The Royal Pendletons did the theme song and a cameo appearance in The Sore Losers. This saga of reckless rockabillies unstuck in time was produced by Tupelo-born and Memphis-based filmmaker J.M. McCarthy, director of Gorotica, Damselvis, Teenage Tupelo and Apocalypse Meow featuring Louie's ex-wife Ashley. The Sore Losers stars Jack Oblivian and features a special guest appearance by Japan's own lords of leather Guitar Wolf. Unfortunately, all Japanese dialogue had to be overdubbed, so this flick's got the kung fu factor, too. But the sonic dislocation is all right because the movie is about being out of sync with what everyone else is doing.
Their Sympathy for the Record Industry CD Oh Yeah Baby was produced by Alex Chilton with the same frantic fervor he put into The Cramps' first two records. The Pendletons also appear on the Blood Red Battle Royal compilation with The Fleshtones, The Woggles and Girl Trouble. King Louie has moved to Portland to join Joe Pest in The Silver Kings. Mike and Matt have reformed The Royal Pendletons with Big Daddy Kane on organ and the drummer from The Ramparts. You can catch Matt during Carnival season with his Mardi Gras side project The Rex Pistols. The late John West finally learned what it means to "Pay the Chinaman."
And that is part of what it means to be a Pendleton man. It means to follow your own tastes rather than latching onto fads. These guys listen to obscure garage relics such as The Monks and Downliners Sect. Their suits come from Goodwill and Thrift City. They eat at Clover Grill on Bourbon Street and The Hummingbird Hotel on skid row. Royalty in exile, forsooth and/or for sure!
But not for long. Soon The Royal Pendletons may be coming to your town, and you will live happily ever after.
For bookings contact Mike Hurtt at (504) 822-3199