“I’ve witnessed those one-night stands, must have played in a thousand bands, but I’m just here tonight, tomorrow I’ll be gone…”—Jackson Browne
Whether it was a “one-night stand” band, a “month on the road” band, or a “brothers for life” band, all had at least a few things in common. First, they all had names, and musicians have spent many a long day, night or both trying to come up with a catchy handle for the next “combo.” Sometimes it just falls into place. Sometimes it’s all-out war. I’ve seen bands break up, over the name, before they played one single gig. This is outrageously funny to me, but it’s a true story.
Growing up playing in bands myself, I noticed that many of the bands I heard on the radio had names from the animal kingdom. The Beatles, The Crickets, The Byrds, The Turtles, The Eagles, Country Joe and the Fish, and yes, even The Animals. That was back in the days when you could still find an animal that wasn’t already taken. I mean the cool ones. Those days are long gone. There may be a band called the Three-Toed Sloths, but have you heard of them?
There you go.
I also always had a fondness for what was once called “soul” and “funk.” Back in those days, rhythm-and-blues had a different sound than today. Bands with names like the Chi-Lites, The Commodores, and the Stylistics. Bands with names that sounded silky smooth and harmonious, like the music that they played. Those names were like magic to me, a young musician who, rhapsodizing at the mic all about love, had yet to hold hands with a girl.
Some bands opted, intentionally or otherwise, for names related to food. You may remember bands like Strawberry Alarm Clock, Moby Grape, Vanilla Fudge, Electric Prunes, The Raspberries, The Cranberries, Tangerine Dream, and Smashing Pumpkins.
I’m laughing as I write this. And getting hungry.
Then there were the geographically-named bands, who, from the ’60s on, seemed to stake out their personal territory. Chicago, Kansas, Boston, shoot, even America! I always wondered where that would stop, but then along came Europe and Asia, so now I’m waiting to see if there will be a band named Earth. Probably already is. I am just too lazy to research it.
A certain category of band names defies classification. I’m thinking of oddball, memorable names like Psychedelic Furs, Souxsie and the Banshees, Flaming Lips, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Limp Bizkit, Mott The Hoople, Procul Harem, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, and Velvet Underground.
The Amarillo music scene is no stranger to colorful band names. I just had a talk with my longtime friend and musical virtuoso Chuck Alexander. Chuck’s current band, Insufficient Funds, is not only a knockout bunch of people, but in possession of a monster band name. I think of that name as a tribute to the road bands we have all been in over years past, living on foil-wrapped burritos, playing sometimes for gas money, praying equally to get to the next gig, and for that last check to clear. Chuck’s former band associations include names like Strawdogs, Sixpoint, and the beloved KRAKT. Chuck and I have been known to play together occasionally in a band called Slim Jim and the Heavy Duties. It didn’t take long for us to come up with that one. Jimmy Doche weighs a buck 40 on a good day, and the rest of us are, as they say, “big old boys.”
Amarillo’s other great band names, in my opinion, include The Blue Johnnies, Underground Press, The Flying Elbows, The Dancing Baptists, and of course, the Naked Floydadians.
My first band with an actual bass player and a drummer was called Blueberry Orchestra. This was for a single high school talent show performance. We had exactly one song in our repertoire: Heart of Gold by Neil Young. We played the hound out of it. Still owe Neil 13 cents for that royalty, I guess. My friends, The Fireballs (Sugar Shack, Bottle of Wine, and others), started the very same way, with a single cover song (Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis) at their high school talent show in Raton, New Mexico. They won the show, got asked up for an encore, and repeated the same song. George Tomsco told me, “It was the only song we knew!” For the record, that song gave them their name.
As I continued on my long, strange trip, I played in bands like The Fretmeisters, The Space Gauchos, The Peach Orchard Boars, The Dust Bowl Daredevils, and my beloved 66 Nomads, among others. Some were road bands, some were garage bands, some were just noisemakers.
But we all had that spark, and we all spent time coming up with a name to fit that time we shared.