Pat Kincaid, frontman for Denver's Foggy Mountain Fuckers, first encountered country music at age seven. "I had this babysitter who I'd stay with, and she was really into country," he says. "Every day for about a year, she played the live Waylon Jennings-Willie Nelson record, so all those songs were burned into my brain."
These days Kincaid is thankful for that subconscious musical baptism. He and his comrades (guitarists Robert Blue and Christian James, bassist Aaron Rettich, drummer Graham Haworth and harmonica player Tony Mustoffa) have become fresh horses on the local y'all-ternative express, playing the sort of raw-boned Seventies "outlaw" country made famous by David Allen Coe, Johnny Cash and, of course, Waylon and Willie.
One of the keys to the band's rising popularity, strangely enough, has been its rather jarring moniker. A reference to the Foggy Mountain Boys that simultaneously acknowledges and rejects the act's musical forebears, the name has attracted listeners who might otherwise have been reluctant to admit to a hankering for gutbucket country. "It says a lot about what we're doing," Kincaid allows. "We have the country style, but we also have a wilder thing going, too."
Indeed, all of the group's members are veterans of the local punk scene: Kincaid and James were in Full Pull; Rettich is late of the La Donnas; Blue played bass with Humanure; Haworth beats the skins with both Fatwater and Denver Joe; and Mustoffa (a founder of the pioneering jug-band combo Trainshine) manages the Lion's Lair. It's no surprise, then, that the Foggers' charming brand of country is decidedly raw, edgy and heavy on stomp. But the players insist that their love of country is sincere. Kincaid lauds the work of Hank Williams Sr., while his mates sing the praises of Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn and a select list of C&W heavies. Moreover, they all see plenty of comparisons between country and punk.
"The biggest connection would probably be--and this would be more for early punk than Green Day or anything like that--that it's music that people made for themselves," Kincaid says. "It wasn't anything that was mass-marketed. It was friends getting together and just playing.
"It's really a kick in the ass to play this music. It's fun stuff," he continues. "People say, 'Country music's too slow and too boring.' I say listen to Flatts & Scruggs. These guys are playing a million miles an hour, and they're amazing musicians." He adds that, like punk, country features songwriting that's "about things that everybody knows about--feelings and emotions, women and drinking. It's almost exactly the same. It's amazing how the two parallel each other."
Kincaid and James discovered many of these links a couple of years ago, when they were roommates. "We'd sit around drinking and listening to country," Kincaid recalls, "and we were like, 'You know, we really ought to start something up and play some of this.' But it wasn't real serious at first. We weren't thinking, 'Let's start a country band.'"
Remnants of this attitude lingered until Kincaid, James and Mustoffa christened themselves the Foggy Mountain Fuckers and decided to appear live. As Kincaid tells it, their first show, at the Lion's Lair, was as much a recruiting move as a gig. "We were hoping that maybe somebody would see us and want to play bass with us," he recalls. "But the way we played that night, nobody would want to."
Despite this rough debut, Rettich, Blue and Haworth ultimately came aboard. "It started out as just a fun thing, but it developed into something else," Blue notes. "All of a sudden we had twelve songs, and we could play them pretty well." Once the complete lineup began playing out, Kincaid elaborates, "it just grew from there. After almost every show we had, people asked us to do another. So it just took off."
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The group's appeal was readily apparent at a recent Bluebird Theater date. Kicking off the show with their standard opener, an original called "The Story As I Was Told," the Foggers called to mind Johnny Paycheck jacked up on Spanish coffees. Haworth, in buzz cut and overalls, pounded out a rock-solid two-step; Rettich, grinning sheepishly, kept the required tick-tock bass line in place; James, a country gent in a ten-gallon chapeau and a Western shirt, strummed out a speedy acoustic rhythm; Mustoffa blew an amplified harp that hovered on the brink of feedback; and Blue, beanpole-thin in jeans and a crooked cowboy hat, provided the necessary Stratocaster sting to Kincaid's lyrical message. "If you can't hold your whiskey," he sang in a muscular, twangy bray, "you shouldn't hold a gun."
At song's end, Kincaid's statement to the audience--"Thanks a lot. We're the Foggy Mountain Fuckers"--drew giggles from listeners who seemed unsure if these guys were for real. But the next thirty minutes, during which the musicians championed guts and grit over chops and cohesion, erased any doubts. The set included several nicely crafted originals, a rocking version of an old jug-band cover ("Mama Don't Allow") and a liquored-up rendition of Jennings's "Luckenbach, Texas."
It's doubtful that the earthy approach taken with this last tune would thrill dancers at the Grizzly Rose, a venue where the Foggers say they dream of playing; a C&W dive in Commerce City is more like it. Still, the Foggers offer an emphatic "Hell, no!" when asked if they'd like to achieve note-for-note perfection. "That's part of our whole philosophy," Haworth reveals. "We don't want to sound too polished or too rehearsed."
By the same token, Kincaid doesn't want anyone to think that his band, which appears May 10 at the Lair, is merely a novelty. "It's not a joke," he says sternly. "I mean, we wouldn't spend the time we spend on this if it were. We like this music, we like country, and we want it to be pure. We're not trying to be 'cowpunk' or whatever. We're a country-and-Western band, and that's it.