Abbie Hoffman (1936 – 1989) – 60’s radical and co-founder of the Yippies, a counter-culture organization. At the center of most of the political and social tumult of the sixties, and master media manipulator; thought by many to be the inventor of the sound bite. Said, “Never do anything for fame or money… Only do things ’cause they’re fun or good…” Whether his suicide met either criterion is unclear.
QUOTE: “Last night I dreamt of you, Abbie Hoffman peddling your books…” – “Desperate Times”
Apostrophe – Why is it “Old 97’s” and not “Old 97s”? Are the Old 97’s confused about the rules of grammar? No. “Do any of you have Webster’s grammar books? If you do, look up the section on apostrophes. You will find that it’s OK, in order to prevent confusion, to add an apostrophe before an ‘s’ when making something plural. For instance, if Johnny comes home from school and says, ‘I got two F’s today in attitude’, then he’s at least right grammatically. It would be confusing if he said, ‘Fs’. Get it? So five years ago we decided to invoke the rule and be ‘Old 97’s’ rather than ‘Old 97s’. Or ‘Old Nine-Seven-Ess’, as we would have probably be called. If you have ever seen our original demo, you’ll probably notice that we were ‘The Old 97’s’. I don’t remember why we changed. We just did.” – Ken Bethea (1998)
Athenia – On September 3, 1939, two days after the invasion of Poland and just hours after Britain declared war on Germany, 112 passengers were killed when the British liner, S.S. Athenia, was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and thus became the famous first of thousands of ships to be sunk during WWII. After first working to save others, one of the Athenia’s passengers, an 18 year-old Dallas schoolgirl named Betty Jane Stewart, was finally ordered off the ship by its Captain. As she began her descent down a rope ladder, the lifeboat below washed away, leaving her hanging off the side of the fast-sinking ship. Eventually she did make her way onto a lifeboat, where she would spend long hours awaiting rescue. Years later, Betty Stewart married Giles Miller. One of their sons, Randy Miller, would in turn have a son named Stewart Ransom Miller II, who grew up to become the lead singer for the Old 97’s. Betty Miller passed away in March, 2000.
QUOTE: “Wouldn’t be here if the Athenia hadn’t sunk…” – “Rollerskate Skinny”
Buick City Complex – Refers to the General Motors manufacturing facility in Flint, Michigan, that was shuttered in 1999. A visit to the area inspired Rhett to imagine the adventures of a soon-to-be-unemployed man contemplating the status of his love life — and whether or not he can consummate that relationship — in the face of the plant’s imminent closing. (via Clay Billman)
Was in the running to be a single from Satellite Rides but the idea was shot down by label folks who thought the title would confuse people. (via Jefe)
QUOTE: “They’re tearing the Buick City Complex Down. I think we’re the only people left in town. Where are you gonna move? Where are you gonna move? Do you wanna mess around?” – “Buick City Complex”
Boiler Room – Dive bar on Elm Street in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood where Old 97’s began. (via Greg Ziegler)
QUOTE: “I’ve been lightin’ matches in the Boiler Room…” – “Bel Air”
Buzz – Shortlived Rhett Miller band (circa 1991) featuring Murry Hammond and drummer David “End Over End, Pleasant Grove” Mabry. (Thanks to the Lil’ Rhino Gazette – f.e.)
Celeste – Now 21 year-old step-daughter of K. Bethea’s friend – no hanky panky involved. After R. Miller had earlier forgotten to dedicate a song to her, he used her name in “Timebomb” instead.
Charlie – The name of a cat belonging to a former roommate of Rhett Miller during his full-time stay in L.A. One day Charlie ran off, prompting a frantic, guilt-ridden search, and turmoil. And songwriting. And the Old 97’s first radio hit.
QUOTE:“And the whole damn complicated situation could’ve been avoided if I’d only shut the window…” – “Murder (Or A Heart Attack)”
P.S. – Charlie came home.
Doreen – According to Miller, song is named after Killbilly’s number one fan. Doreen, also ref. “a girl saying ‘come clean’…” – “Busted Afternoon.”
see also: Killbilly
Easy Way – From 1944 to 1985, the Easy Way Cafe was a beloved fixture of the Dallas BBQ scene: down-home hospitality, lip-smacking barbecue, and vintage jukeboxes stationed table-side. The cafe is long-gone, but still fondly remembered by our favorite band. (via David Welsh)
QUOTE: “One buck in the jukebox gets you two… meet me at the Easy Way” — “Easy Way”
Elm Street – Namesake to a former Dallas “freedmans’ town,” Deep Ellum, which – along with Elm Street – now comprise Dallas’ main nightclub district.
QUOTE: “Tanked up out on Elm Street, looking for a ride…” – “St. Ignatius”
Empty Bottle – Chicago night club. Also, only valid reason to leave to leave the room during a 97’s show.
QUOTE: “The Empty Bottle was half empty, tide was low, and I was thirsty…” – “Barrier Reef”
Fina – For all those who don’t live in the south, it’s an oil company. Actually, it’s an oil company for all those who do live in the south.
QUOTE: “There’s a Fina off the highway with a phone…” – “Doreen”
504 – New Orleans area code and Hitchhike To Rhome staple.
Fredericksburg – Yet another small Texas town where one can do lots of antique shopping. Yummy peaches.
QUOTE: “Hitchhike to Rhome, take a Greyhound to Fredericksburg…” – “Stoned”
Good Times Van™ – Garishly painted panel van (Silver base with large purple, orange, and yellow stripes. Also featured smoked, Lexan bubble windows) sold by Ford in the mid 1970’s. Named after the mysteriously popular CBS sitcom of the same name and era, starring J.J. “Kid Dyno-Mite” Walker.
QUOTE: “What’s so good about a Good Times Van?…” – “Barrier Reef”
Heisman – The trophy awarded annually to college football’s top player, the “Heisman” is a stiff-arm pose imitating the well-known statue. Referenced in the original version of “Won’t Be Home No More” when the protagonist “helps” his ex-girlfriend out of his car during a rather spirited break-up. The recorded version found on Drag It Up replaced “Heisman” with “pavement.” (via Clay Billman)
QUOTE: “I’m pulling off the road, I’m opening the door. I’m giving you the Heisman, I’m telling you what for…” – “WoBeHoNoMo”
Holy Cross Electric Association – A rural utility co-op that derives its name from a unique geologic feature on a majestic Rocky Mountain peak that resembles a white cross when covered in snow. Located near Minturn, Colorado, the Mount of the Holy Cross is the northernmost 14,000-ft. peak in the Sawatch Range. The company changed its name to Holy Cross Energy in 1998.
The song (one of Rhett’s Mom’s favorites) tells the tragic story of a Holy Cross employee who died in a head-on crash. Recorded in the Too Far To Care sessions, it first appeared on a Summer Break Records compilation CD called Sunny Teriyaki Hamburger Breakfast in 2003. The accident left at least one man dead and one thermos homeless. (via Clay Billman; reference)
QUOTE: “Holy Cross Electric Association. Oh, it’s more than a job. It’s more like a damnation.” – “Holy Cross”
I-35 – (a.k.a. “35”, “The NAFTA Highway”, “That Nasty Highway”, “World’s Longest Parking Lot”) U.S. Interstate Hwy. 35, running from the Texas – Oklahoma border in the north, through Denton, Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, to its southern terminus in Laredo, TX. Actually, I-35 is rumored to extend north of the Texas border.
QUOTE: “You take 35 south towards Laredo…” – “The Other Shoe”
“I Won’t Be Home No More” – 1953 posthumous hit by Hank Williams, Sr.; starts with the brilliant line “Well, you’re just in time to be too late” and just gets better from there. (via Sandi Kennedy)
Quote: “And the very first song that the radio sang was ‘I Won’t Be Home No More’…” – “WoBeHoNoMo”
Killbilly – Bluegrass band once featuring R. Miller and M. Hammond.
“Look at me” – Two of the Old 97’s and Ranchero’s finest covers begin with these same three words. “Cryin’ But My Tears Are Fare Away” (orig. Knitters) also “I’d Be Lonesome” (orig. Robbie Fulks) Question: Will “Misty” (orig. Johnny Mathis) be next?
Marble Falls – One of many Texas towns name-checked by the Old 97’s, this little burg of 7,000+ is located in the Texas Hill Country northwest of Austin. We’ll never know if the mayor’s daughter was a fan of prescription pharmaceuticals, but we are grateful for her memorable appearance in “Valium Waltz.” (via David Welsh)
QUOTE: “And it’s written all over the face of the daughter of the mayor of Marble Falls…” – “Valium Waltz”
Marquita – Instrumental initiated by Ken, recorded for The Grand Theatre Vol. 2. (via Julie Strehle)
“Oh yeah, why is it called “Marquita?” It’s the name of the street where I met Rhett and Murry and we started the band. We lived in a brownstone called Marquita Courts. Murry and I were “fronties” and Rhett was a “backie.” We fronties considered ourselves a bit more sophisticated than the backies. We drank martinis, listened to jazz and paid our bills on time. The backies stayed up all night eating cereal, playing Genesis Hockey and smoking. It was a great place and time to start a band.” – Ken Bethea (2011)
Melt – Predecessor of Dallas’ now-defunct Funland band, itself a predecessor of Centro-Matic, as well as the Toadies and Legendary Crystal Chandelier, among others. -ref: “Melt Show”
Names (Fake Band) – Over the years, the Old 97’s have held “secret shows” where they were billed under fake band names. Among them, “Satellite Riders,” the “Very Soft Boys” (billed as the “V.S.B.’s” when opening for former Soft Boy, Robyn Hitchcock), and “Hermit’s Hermanns” (for a Sons of Hermann gig after a long lay-off, just before Fight Songs. And on at least one occasion, the Ranchero Brothers were on the bill, but the Old 97’s showed up too.
Navarone – Greek island, whose WWII German gun emplacements inspired the 1961 Gregory Peck war flick, The Guns of Navarone, which is itself occasionally presented as the late show on Dallas’ UHF Channel 21, KTXA-TV.
QUOTE: “I hear we had mighty guns, like the ones from Navarone last night on Channel 21…” – “If My Heart Was A Car”
Niteclub – “Yesterday I wrote the majority of a song called ‘Burn the Nightclub Down’ which was about kind of driving into Cleveland full of dread at the prospect of playing at this night club and actually just the night before I had called my girlfriend whose birthday it was. And it’s her birthday and here I am on the road in some hellhole in Ann Arbor in Michigan.” – Rhett Miller (November, 1995)
QUOTE: “1800 miles from this old nightclub, a girl is turning 22 today…” – “Niteclub”
Ol’ Dan – Popular name for a horse prevalent in western lore, literature, music and movies. The moniker “Ol’ Dan” stems from traditional folk ballads of the 1800’s, which were brought from the campfire to the mainstream by Tex Ritter’s “A-Ridin’ Old Paint” from 1933 (“I Ride an Old Paint” as Roy Rogers, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger and many others recorded it) and featured in his 1937 movie Mystery of the Hooded Horseman.
I ride an old paint, I lead an old dan
I’m goin’ to Montana to throw the hoolihan
They feed in the coulees, they water in the draw
Their tails are all matted, their backs are all raw
The horse is perhaps most famously found in Bob Nolan’s “Cool Water” (performed by his Sons of the Pioneers in 1936, along with Hank Williams, Marty Robbins and scores of artists to follow).
The name is also immortalized in vintage “Old Dan” cigar labels featuring an illustrated horse. Not surprisingly, generations of equine lovers have grown up riding horses of that popular name. (via Clay Billman)
QUOTE: “Scorpio’s up, a leadin’ ol’ Dan to pasture…” – “Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue”
One, The – Highway 1 runs along much of the California coastline and boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in all of America. The jaw-dropping vistas of spectacularly steep cliffs crashing into fog-shrouded surf would be the perfect backdrop for a victory lap after signing your first major-label contract with visions of rock-and-roll stardom dancing in your heads! (via David Welsh)
QUOTE: “Take the money and run, but what’s the rush… let’s take The One” – “The One”
Paco and Flaco – Pseudonyms of Rhett Miller (Paco) and Murry Hammond (Flaco) when performing under the stage name “The Ranchero Brothers.” Often accompanied by witty repartee by Rhett Miller that “he is Paco…or am I Flaco?” when introducing himself and Murry. (via John Vrsalovich)
Pepe Lopez – 1. 80-proof premium tequila, available in Oro (Gold) and Superior Silver (White) labels.
2. Professional wrestler (born: Rueben Rodriguez) of 60’s and 70’s. Died 1976, age 39.
3. Brazilian ex-surfer and World Hang Gliding Champion. Died hang gliding in Japan, 1991.
4. Guitarist and lead vocalist for the late great Dallas band, Loco Gringos, notorious for their “FUCK YOU: WE’RE FROM TEXAS” t-shirts. Said to be a sweet soul and “all around great guy,” Lopez (born: Tom Foote) died in June, 1990 of an overdose. Unverified but juicy rumor: “May have dated the same girl as Murry at one point.”
QUOTE: “Last night I dreamt of you, Pepe Lopez strung out on a stage…” – “Desperate Times”
Pickwood Bowl – A bowling facility located in Burbank, CA. Hence, the bowling reference of knock nine (bowling pins) down and leave one in the hole (standing). Almost a strike, but just falling short of the mark… not performing to desired expectations. (via Jeff Sargen)
QUOTE: “Do you want to meet up at the Pickwood Bowl? We could knock nine down and leave one in the hole…” – “Rollerskate Skinny”
Predecessors – Peyote Cowboys, Scarlett’s Garden, Redbird Experiment, Insanity Circus, Mythologies, Smeg Wentfields, Sleepy Heroes, Buzz, Rhett’s Exploding, Retablo, Killbilly, The Waterling Wheel
Rhome – Small north Texas town located five miles east of Boyd, the hometown of bassist Murry Hammond.
QUOTE: “Hitchhike to Rhome, take a Greyhound to Fredericksburg…” – “Stoned”
Robert (Jenkins) -Childhood friend of R. Miller, sometimes found manning the concession counter at Old 97’s shows. Once claimed Miller was “going straight to hell…” (“Drowning in the Days.”) Jenkins’ father has also been known to issue apocalyptic warnings.
QUOTE: “If Robert’s dad is right, we might not make it through the night…” – “Big Brown Eyes”
Robert (Thomas) – Lead singer of mega-selling mall-rat pinups, Matchbox 20, who despite his own musical miscues, rarely misses an opportunity to say nice things about the Old 97’s.
Rollerskate Skinny – In J.D. Salinger’s 1951 classic, Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caufield’s sister was described by Holden as being “roller-skate skinny.”
Ryan Adams – Amazingly talented, if formerly self-destructive former lead singer of Whiskeytown. Once a nasty drunk who engaged in sporadic feud/mud-slinging with Rhett & Co.; now one half of a mutual admiration society that includes the Old 97’s. Old conventional wisdon: Will defy odds if he lives to see 30. New conventional wisdom: Like Dylan, will be cranking out albums at 60. Unverified but juicy rumor: Was inspiration for and/or target of “Crash On The Barrelhead.”
Salome – Biblical character: Herodias’ daughter who danced the dance of the seven veils for stepdad/uncle (Herod). He was so happy, he told her to ask for whatever she wanted. She asked for John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter. After giving it to her, he killed her as well. Or something like that.
Seventeen – Title of American teeny-bopper magazine, which featured a story on Miller in June 1990, while he and Hammond were still with Sleepy Heroes. Story included this timeless Miller quote about his primary requirement in a girl, comprising three words which will likely haunt him until his last breath: “Grooviness is essential.”
Sleepy Heroes – Dallas based band circa 1990, featured acoustic-tinged alterna-pop from ex-teen folkie Rhett Miller, ex-Peyote Cowboy Murry Hammond, and drummer Benjamin Warrenfells. Their lone album, Under a Radio Sun, was released in limited quantities and coincided with the band’s break-up. Hammond and Miller went on to play in Old 97’s, whose album, Fight Songs was called a return to a Sleepy Heroes pop sound.
Southern P – Nickname of the former Southern Pacific Railroad (1865 – 1996). Operating primarily in western states, the S.P. was merged into the Union Pacific on 9/11/96.
QUOTE: “Well the Southern P moved her family down…” – “Curtain Calls”
Supremes (Dianna Ross & the) – Motown recording artists (1963 – 1970) to whom R. Miller referred when he supposedly exclaimed to K. Bethea upon hearing one bit of playback during the Too Far sessions, “Oh man, that one riff that sounds just like ‘I Hear A Symphony!’”
Teeth (Hydra) – A direct lyrical lift from T-Rex’s 1971 “Get It On (Bang a Gong),” itself an allusion to the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, wherein when sewn like seed, the Hydra’s teeth would turn into an army of the dead. Cooooooool.
QUOTE: “You got the teeth of the hydra upon you…” – “Singular Girl”
Victoria – Alias of an ex-girlfriend of one Rhett Miller. Actual name: Vivian
Wish the Worst – Hitchhike To Rhome staple most likely to invoke mass sing-alongs at Old 97’s live shows, and the only 97’s album track on which Ken Bethea does not play lead guitar. Clark Vogeler (ex-Funland, now Toadies) played the first break, while ex-Killbilly and HHTR producer Alan Wooley got the second.
Wreck Your Life – The first Old 97’s album whose title was not drawn from lyrics of and Old 97’s related song. (The second: Fight Songs) Instead the title comes from a old bumper sticker from the Texas Department of Transportation which read “Don’t Wreck Your Life.” Philip had one, cut off the “Don’t,” and stuck it on the 97’s van. Later, the guys agreed it would make a swell album title. It does.
Wuzza – Setlist abbreviation for fan-favorite, yet seldom played “If My Heart Was A Car” from Hitchhike to Rhome. Served as show closer during the band’s very early days before “Timebomb.” According to Ken Bethea, “Wuzza” closed the band’s first out-of-Dallas experience at a show in Denton, sparking a raucous dancing frenzy of college students that gave the 97’s cause to believe there might be a future beyond Big D. (via Greg Ziegler)