“Hugh Gaskins and the G String Daddies: San Diego’s Best Unknown Rock/Blues, Neo Punk/Rockabilly Band” – San Diego Troubadour
It seems that time has flown since I reviewed and raved about Hugh Gaskins and the G String Daddies' CDs for the San Diego Troubadour. Although I thoroughly enjoyed their CDs, I had the mistaken opinion that these musicians just played a "guys-only" misogynistic music. After many emails between Hugh and myself, it became clear that only a live listen would give this testosterone-riddled, bar-hardened band of performers the musical justice they deserve. Luckily, I recently got to hear the band live on stage to give them their well-deserved chance to set the musical record straight.
As I drove to our musical summit, I took in the scenery on my way to meet the band at Humphrey's Backstage Lounge on Shelter Island at a benefit gig called Rock for MS. I realized I hadn't attended a live rock ‘n' roll concert and heard amped guitars, the pounding, penetrative sounds of a bass drum, and the backbeat bass since I attended concerts at New York's Fillmore East in the 1960s. As I strolled up the front steps, Hugh greeted me, somehow picking me out of the folks ambling into the concert. What had given me away, I wondered? We'd never met before. The vulnerability of my advanced years set in as I clutched my pen and writing pad. I had entered a musical time warp. I felt I was greeting a musical time traveler with many years of saloon singing that fed his rockabilly-blues heart and "been there" smile. Hugh was wearing a black cowboy shirt covered in roses and skulls. He just extended his hand, we shook, and Hugh said, "Let's talk!"
Humphrey's Backstage Lounge could best be described as a fern bar/juke joint.
Hugh and the G Strings fit the juke joint vibe well. A Corona in hand and several empties still on the table, Hugh introduced me to the rest of the band members. They are Hugh Gaskins, who plays acoustic, electric, and slide guitar, does the vocals, and possess his harmonica; Charles Gordon, who envelops his electric bass and whose tattoos reflect his rock ‘n' roll image, having once played on the sound track for Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising; and Dan Renwick, an attorney who drives the band's heartbeat with his drum sticks like a lawyer prying open a defendant on the witness stand. Hugh held an old Troubadour in his hand, with one of the reviews I had written. I felt the air getting sucked out of the conversation as I was gearing up for a defensive remark to Hugh's negative critique of my review, but what I got instead was a big thank you. Critics are really fickle, cautious people, and I laughed at myself, realizing how exposed I felt then for a seemingly long moment.
We got right into talking about music, the tools of our trade, strings, and the real reason the band was called the G String Daddies. Dan spilled the beans about their name. It wasn't about a Victoria's Secret fantasy; it was about Hugh's tendency to break the G string on his guitar! These guys wanted to talk, to get others to see their relevance to and reverence for the old stuff: blues, early rock, and rockabilly. The band's sound evolved from early 1950s country with rock roots to a quasi-neo punk sound, light years distant from just a grown-up garage band. The original Hugh Gaskins Band was renamed the G String Daddies four years ago.
Hugh has been playing in San Diego since the early 1970s when he did solo acoustic gigs. He's a good old North Carolina boy, raised within the sounds of old southern churches where he got the musical spirit around the age of seven. He still gets excited when he tells of his joy at discovering the sounds of gospel as he recalls the Sunday church services and the music that created his childhood curiosity and wonderment.
Our conversation took us to the usual band tales of lost gigs, biker shows, bars, saloons, wood-shedding times, and the one constant - the band's ongoing need to keep music alive throughout their performances. These boys have a sense of history, a sense of the music they play, and a love of performing no matter the audience size or concert setting. As we discussed the local music scene, the band's stories sounded like déjà vu to me, especially when it came to their stories about inept bar owners, closed clubs, smoke-choked rooms, and patrons more into their beer than the music. Dan talked about finally getting a gig at a certain club only to discover that the club's ownership had changed overnight. We also talked about the San Diego music scene over the last 30 years that saw some really talented musicians get stuck sometimes and fight hard musically to survive. We talked right into their sound check.
The band is still hungry to play and stays active for the sake of the music and their audience. The G String Daddies' music is the glue that holds this band together. Hugh writes the band's material, using his life, his friends, their relationships, and slice of life themes as the basis for their songs. Naturally, much of the original material was about girlfriends and a musician's worldly views. Humor, fantasy, sex, women - and always remaining current and sticking to your traditional Americana roots - are what Hugh Gaskins and the G String Daddies have conveyed throughout their musical journey.
Before the benefit started, I recalled why in the earlier CD reviews I'd written that Gaskins' music should be experienced with a warning to hang on to your bar stool, hold on to your church key, and fasten your seat belt as you drive home alone, having lost out on some midnight love. The G String Daddies' music was born in late-night noisy saloons, juke joints, and blues jams, and fathered by long gone Border Radio's mega-kilowatt antennas, along with the sounds of Wolfman Jack, 1950s Chicago blues, rockabilly, country western, T-Bone Walker, Arthur Crudup, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash, Ronnie Hawkins, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, and countless girl-driven musical fantasies.
The sound check took 30 seconds and suddenly Hugh was singing full out, picking in his manic style on his Gibson J-200 guitar open-tuned to E with heavy-gauge strings. Suddenly, as if fed by some invisible energy source, the band was in full gear. Charles, feet planted firmly with bass in hand, playing like a fine-tuned metronome; Dan, drum sticks pounding the drum kit as if he were driving home a legal challenge; and Hugh singing in tongues that seemed to soar over the band's solid foundation of rhythm, as if in a musical moment of stuttering possession. The performance was a solid, up front, tongue-in-cheek revisiting of what rock ‘n' roll was invented for: namely, good times, macho boasting, chasing girls, driving your parents bonkers, and being a star in your own fantasy garage band. The songs ran the full timeline of rock ‘n' roll plus 1950s Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins with hints of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Hugh's Little Walter harmonica style blowing, feasting on gutbucket blues, double entendres, teenage seductions, and a healthy, non-misogynistic fixation on women. In the middle of the performance, the band traveled through time, reviving the Sun Records studio sounds in 1950s Memphis to the 1970s heavy bass bottom sounds of Grand Funk Railroad, to the free form, on the edge, screech of punk, and then shifted gears back home to the country blues sound of Johnny Cash doing "Folsom Prison Blues." The G Strings are a one of a kind, no nonsense, one foot still in the garage band, let's shake the rafters trio of guys who have played every dive in town and partied hard, all while burning the candle at both ends and rocking and rolling the blues with their full boogie beat, totally driven by a need to keep it real.