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"Most rockabilly bands don't really like us," says Rex Moser, guitarist and lead warbler for the Denver-based punkabilly trio known as the Throttlemen.
Given the threesome's irreverent passion for grafting traditional rockabilly riffs onto accelerated punk-rock tempos, it's not surprising that many local rockabilly disciples have a problem with them. After all, Moser and his bandmates (stand-up bassist Craig Berry and drummer Mike Minnick) don't even look like your typical rockabilly cats. They prefer T-shirts and Converse tennis shoes to Creepers and hairspray--and, as Berry notes, most of the act's followers have a stronger kinship with the Sex Pistols than they do with the Stray Cats. "We do a lot better at punk-rock shows than we do at rockabilly shows," he explains. "I really don't consider what we do rockabilly. I'd say it's more like country-and-western punk rock."
Mixing twangy country melodies with souped-up punk energy comes naturally to the Throttlemen, since all three members are veterans of Denver's underground music scene. Berry, for example, was once a member of Jux County, while Minnick currently splits his time between the Throttlemen and his other band, Aggression. Moser's roots in the music community penetrate even deeper: Prior to forming the Throttlemen with Berry last year, the lanky guitarist did time with several of the region's more popular alternative acts, including the Pink, an Eighties new-wave sensation, and the roots-rock combo called the Flatlanders. According to Moser, the Throttlemen are, in part, an extension of both of these groups. "I was always into playing this type of music," he elaborates. "I wanted to play rhythm guitar and sing while the other guys in the band played stand-up bass and drums. We wanted to get in touch with [rockabilly's roots] without really getting into the whole rockabilly format."
Judging from the band's live performances, Moser and his colleagues have more than succeeded. Five parts rockabilly rebellion and ninety five parts pure, uncut adrenaline, the Throttlemen churn out roadhouse ditties with the intensity of a 600 Ford Kong firing on all cylinders. A typical set finds the trio mixing high-stepping originals such as "Cowboy Rock" and "Dodge City" ("I'm here in Dodge City/And I've got a brand new gun/I'm going to shoot up this town/Just to have some fun") with tried-and-true country classics served up Throttlemen style. Among the band's favorite covers is "Mule Skinner Blues," a song that Moser describes as "an old classic. I've got a recording of Jimmy Rodgers doing that tune in the Thirties, but I think it's even older than that."
The Throttlemen also essay several instrumental surf-guitar numbers, including a rather catchy interpretation of the theme song from Hawaii Five-O. Although these driving, Link Wray-style crossovers blend in effortlessly with the rest of the Throttlemen's frantically paced material, Moser says they haven't pleased the Eddie Cochrane crowd. "We like to play the surf stuff," he says, "but that kind of goes against us sometimes. The rockabilly purists hear us and they think, `[These guys] are just playing surf tunes.'"
In spite of the disdain of the rockabilly militia, the Throttlemen have earned bookings at small clubs all over Denver since playing their first gig last December. Still, Berry is quick to point out that not every date has gone swimmingly. "We've had some pretty good gigs in the last few months," he says, "but we've had some real bad ones, too--like this time we played a benefit for the Anarchist's Society. We had to play for all these beatniks that were, like, reading all this crazy poetry and stuff. Babihed played right before us, and they had totally cleared the room before we got there. By the time we were on stage, I think my brother was the only one there."
Lately, however, sparsely attended shows have been rare. The Throttlemen have a particularly rabid following among customers at the Lion's Lair, one of the band's favorite alternative hangouts. Berry says the listeners who come to hear them at the Lair range from hardcore punk-rock enthusiasts to "people that like to yell and drink a lot of beer."
"I like playing with punk-rock players because that's where I came from," he adds. "My mom was a punk rocker. I think it's a lot of fun.