Just who are The Hangdogs?
It's a question that's been asked in barrooms across America, though the phrasing usually goes something like "Who the fuck are these guys?"
The New York-based Hangdogs rock & roll band is a big ball of leftish anger, equal parts punk, honky-tonk, Edward Hopper and Bill Hicks. Strong words from biased biographers, to be sure, but there is corroboration. A few intrepid voices have attempted to answer the question by defining what The Dogs do. No Depression magazine wrote that the band "charts the uneasy commerce between the personal, social and political realms that simultaneously spawns horrors and offers solutions." Country Standard Time observed: "There is a troubling friction between now and history, and between the coldness of isolation and the inescapable reality that we are all part of something we did not choose and cannot design. The Hangdogs understand this irony, and have made it their art." And the Ottawa Citizen said: "Snarling their way through the subdivisions, board rooms and political offices of America, the boys tear into pretense and greed like Cujo with a hangover. Gen-Xers have rarely had more articulate spokesmen."
Admittedly, these paeans to The Hangdogs' most recent record, 2000's Beware
of Dog, represent the least eviscerating of the field, but this is the point
of a bio after all. Slogging through seven years in the music industry's
underbelly, where bars become the churches of the downsized and put-upon,
The Dogs have never rated the blessed attentions of rarified musical
arbiters--Rolling Stone, Spin, VH1, goddamn Clear Channel--but have made their marks in more obscure quarters where people deign to listen. Because
listening is understanding, that people's movements start from the street, that words mean more in context of stories, that revolution only occurs where there is no hope left and that drunks are far more predisposed to rock than MTV-addled teens and investment bankers who own Eric Clapton box-sets.
Formed as a means to subvert the prevalent oligarchy, The Hangdogs have settled for the occasional one-night insurrection and free beers across the U.S., from their base at New York's Rodeo Bar to perennial rock palaces such as Dallas' Sons of Hermann Hall and Minneapolis' Lee's Liquor Lounge. Along the way they have sold their three critically adored records--Same Old Story, East of Yesterday and the aforementioned Beware of Dog--to thousands of world-weary bar patrons enlightened by the rage and fire of their renowned live shows, or simply too drunk to discern. Compared, favorably, to Steve Earle, REM, the Bottle Rockets, and Minneapolis' late, great Gear Daddies, once written up on the front page of the USA Today's "Life" section, even having managed to lure dreamy starlet Janeane Garofalo into a co-starring role their lone, largely unseen video "Hey Janeane"--The Hangdogs have nevertheless barely managed to stay afloat, even when buoyed by a two-year
relationship with New Jersey's Shanachie Records--but still the struggle goes on.
Older now and possibly even more culturally irrelevant in the current
jingoist climate, Hangdogs vocalist/ primary songwriter/rhythm guitarist
Matthew Grimm, guitarist/keyboardist Texas Tex, guitarist/pedal steel-player
Automatic Slim, bassist Rob Gottstein and drummer Kevin Baier have among
them penned literally tens of new songs intended to delight and inspire, but mostly to coalesce and vent collective anger. Following up on last year's largely stop-gap release of Something Left to Sell: Live Crap 1995-2000, these songs grace a new studio CD, Wallace '48, promising to take The Hangdogs into a new epoch in their rock & roll careers, because, frankly, they never thought they'd be doing this shit this long.
BYTE ME! What a bunch of smart people said about
The Hangdogs' Beware of Dog:
"Snarling their way through the subdivisions, board rooms and political
offices of America, the boys tear into pretense and greed like Cujo with a
hangover. Gen-Xers have rarely had more articulate spokesmen." >>The Ottawa
Citizen, 2000 Top 10 selection
"While Faith and Shania are busy selling their "new country" souls to
cosmetic companies, The Hangdogs are busy making music--and not the white-washed brand of drivel that constitutes contemporary country music... The Hangdogs bring the alternative
country genre to a new height in a kind of Lemonheads-meet- The-Outlaws explosion of brilliance... The band's hard-edged sense of humor is intelligent and articulate, and despite two-stepping with thought-provoking subject matter, the Hangdogs never give the slightest indication of taking themselves too seriously." >>The Hartford Weekly, 2000 Top 10 Staff Pick
Courtesy of David Pittman, Irving, TX
"Fired by rage and compassion, cynicism and a flicker of hope, the New York-based Hangdogs hold the mirror up to contemporary life in America, reflecting the dog's breakfast of puerile political images, pitiless capitalism and inherited disenfranchisement. With
fiction and reality continually at each other's throats, the band charts the uneasy commerce
between the personal, social and political realms that simultaneously spawns horrors and offers solutions.">>No Depression
Archie, courtesy of Alexandra Anderson
"There was a time, (not too many years ago), when great melodic roots-rock bands like the Hangdogs would be heard on commercial radio alongside bands like Gin Blossoms and The BoDeans. The Hangdogs, from New York City, share that city's rawness and no-frills attitude when they pull out their loud yet twangy guitars. Singer/songwriter Matthew Grimm's voice is perfectly suited to his intelligent
songs which frequently feature a sense of humor or some
social commentary. Fans of the Bottle Rockets will love these guys. Great stuff all the way through!" >>Freight Train Boogie, "Best of 2000" Top 10
Bender, courtesy of Kevin Grazul, Sayre, PA
"What makes the Hangdogs stand out among the many Americana acts fighting for recognition is Grimm's subject matter. Grimm... demystifies the U.S. economy ("Out There"), American history ("Anacostia"), military strength ("The World Is Yours"), and handgun culture ("The Gun Song"). That's not to say that this is soapbox rock--Grimm tells plenty of stories that don't become didactic. "St. Claire of Cedar Rapids" compares favorably to quintessential
Americana artists such as Steve Earle, the Beat Farmers, and Jason & the Scorchers. Their urban roots notwithstanding, Beware solidifies the Hangdogs' place as one of the leading lights of the contemporary Americana movement." >>Cleveland Scene
Dutchess, courtesy of Brad Fornal, TX
"This band has far more in common with the pan-genre, spot-welded, bar-band ethos of such '80s groundbreakers as Lone Justice, the Long Ryders, Jason & the Scorchers, and even Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham's True Believers than with the recent swarm of reverent, post-Uncle Tupelo rocking chairs... Beware of Dog effectively and
powerfully defends its cynicism, and--by never quite yielding to resignation--serves as a provocative, literate and welcome alert. Good dogs. Stay." >>CDNow
Tanner, courtesy of Penny Hallin,
"There is a troubling friction between now and history, and between the coldness of isolation and the inescapable reality that we are all part of something we did not choose and cannot design. The Hangdogs understand this irony, and have made it their art." >>Country Standard Time