Hank Card talks music, ‘fresh and fun’ line-up as Austin Lounge Lizards head west
The Texas-based Austin Lounge Lizards have been blazing a wickedly funny musical trail through topics as varied as politics, love, popular culture, and how to handle long-winded barflies for over 35 years, using bluegrass, country and Texas swing as the backdrop for their humorous lyrics.
When the Lizards head west to California and Nevada this week, founding members Hank Card and Conrad Deisler will be joined by former Lizards Tim Wilson and Kirk Williams, both of whom recently rejoined the band.
“The Lizards started out as a four-piece band in 1980,” said singer and guitarist Card, “then Tim joined us not long thereafter, I guess in 1981, as our first mandolin/fiddle player. Our first gig as a five-piece was a bluegrass band contest at Kerrville (which we won!). He recorded on our first album, “Creatures from the Black Saloon,” then left to join The Special Consensus, one of the great bluegrass bands, out of Chicago. After several years of touring, though, Tim got tired of it and moved back to Austin. Kirk’s from the Beaumont area of Texas, and has played with all sorts of bands, mostly rock and roll. He originally came in on playing bass on the second album (“Highway Café of the Damned”).
“They are both excellent singers, so we have some serious vocal firepower with them, if I do say so myself,” Card said, adding that this tour is the first time this line-up will play in California.
With fully half the band turning over, was it hard to get things up to speed?
“It’s really fresh and fun,” said Card. “They slotted in very easily – we were working with them as subs for times when Darcie (Deaville) and Bruce (Jones) had other commitments. We’d even started a separate band, The Medlers, that plays medleys of cover songs, usually thematically based around more obscure Lizard tunes. We’re still playing as The Medlers sometimes and do a little of that repertoire at the Lizard gigs.”
While there’s been flux in the line-up over the years, the Lizards’ humorous and whip-smart take on country and progressive bluegrass music is a constant. Whether it’s a comedic retelling of the mundane (“Hey, Little Minivan”), warped versions of the expected (“This Godforsaken Hellhole I Call Home”), clever send-ups of American culture and politics (“Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers On Drugs,” “Jesus Loves Me, But He Can’t Stand You”), or the outright fancifully bizarre (“Highway Café of the Damned”), the Lizards aren’t afraid to leap into the fray.
“We try to be funny and witty,” said Card. “We enjoy tight three- or four-part harmonies and try to feature Conrad and Tim on instrumentals. Not all our stuff is political, but as you can imagine, that sort of song has become more popular.”
Card and guitarist, mandolinist and singer Deisler are the group’s primary writers. Card said it’s “kind of tough” to say exactly where the Lizards’ songs spring from, explaining that there’s a whole range of sources. Citing a few examples, he said, “‘Highway Café’ was inspired by the old Red Clay Ramblers’ song ‘Merchants’ Lunch.’ I don’t remember what inspired ‘Rocky Byways,’ [a hard-driving bluegrass song about a chicken’s showbiz career] except for the bluegrass road songs. We wrote ‘That Godforsaken Hellhole I Call Home’ on a driving trip that passes through Cline’s Corner, New Mexico. And there’s an ‘Old Blevins’ road on I-35 between Austin and Dallas. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”
The irreverent fruits of that devil’s workshop ripen on the Lizards’ 10 albums, and spark into vivid life during performances.
The Lizards’ Friday show at The Palms Playhouse in Winters will be the band’s first time back since the venue changed hands and reopened in January – but far from the first time time they’ll play the club. Card said, “I asked Conrad, who remembers these things, and he said we first played The Palms in 1988. Palms audiences are very attentive and like to participate, which works for us.”
For more information, austinlizards.com and the venues’ websites.
Austin Lounge Lizards’ upcoming shows:
June 28: Freight & Salvage Coffee House, Berkeley, Calif., 7 p.m., $20
June 29: Don Quixote’s, Felton, Calif., 7 p.m., $20
June 30: The Palms Playhouse, Winters, Calif., 8 p.m., $20
July 1: Piper’s Opera House, Virginia City, Nev., 7:30 p.m., $25