by: Thomas D. Mooney
In 1967, there was a band in Levelland called The Sparkles. Various versions and eras of the band had played and recorded music from as far back as 1958. They’d done a recording in Clovis, New Mexico with famed music producer Norman Petty. They’d release a handful of singles here and there every few years. By the fourth lineup rolled around, a young guitar player by the name of Gary P. Nunn would be playing with them. Yes, that Gary P. Nunn.
’67 rolls around. You could easily call it their biggest year in existence. They release two singles in particular that’d end up being minor hits and secure their place in psychedelic rock cult folklore. “Ain’t No Friend of Mine” and “Hipsville 29 B.C.“
A screeching rumble of static and feedback pierces the room. It must be an unsettling sound that finds it way to outstretched patio of Chimy’s down the block at it rattles their glasses and pricks their ears. The front room of Bar PM is packed with a mishmash of twenty-year-olds holding onto PBR cans and glasses of stout whiskey Cokes. Dry Heeves are squeezed in the corner.
The feedback and static creep into distorted chords with a yelp and their off to the races. Nothing clears a room of yuppie-a-likes like Dry Heeves. It’s the bulging of the eyes and the forcing down of once sipped on beer bottles. It’s the head nods towards the other room or towards the door that scream louder than vocalist Dylan Davis ever dreamed of.
Two pushed together round tables clear and are immediately taken over by those unafraid of the psychedelic surf rock chasms happening fifteen feet in front of them. They settle around the tables like pack of hyenas on an abandoned corpse of your favorite Savannah grazer.
The path to the door becomes less apparent. People come and go towards the front where some are letting themselves go and hitching a ride into the chaos. Dancing of sorts, but it’s mostly head nods with the drums with the ever occasional air guitar motion.
Dry Heeves are punk songs dripping with reverb. They’re oozing with reverb. Possibly too much reverb. In between the three-minute songs, they go back with feedback and static. It’s a bit of a trademark by this point. By all means, it’s just noise between songs, but the Heeves show that there are some who still have a genuine talent for it.
Cigarette smoke acts as a smog that gets pushed around by the on blast ceiling fans above. Girls light up with a matchbook advertising a local bondsman. Look up and blow. Guys hunch over lighting their Parliaments and Kools with today’s Bic lighter.
Dry Heeves continue on with the occasional echoing thank you. Bleach blonde hair and button-ups walk in after showing their ID. Five minutes later, they’re making their way back down Broadway.
Rattlesnake Milk and Dry Heeves begin switching spots. People make their way out the door for a breath of fresh air. The warm summer air is still cooler than inside. It’s refreshing. Rejuvenating. Through the front bay windows, equipment switches.
Lou Lewis and company begin plugging in and finding that sweet spot between legibility and echoing vocals. Guitars are strummed. Levels checked. Yada yada yada.
Lewis–and Rattlesnake Milk in general–is Lubbock’s hidden gem. Lewis potentially is the best songwriter currently residing in the Panhandle. His songwriting is undoubtedly West Texas to the core. There’s a resounding amount of lonesome restlessness that lingers within his simple, forthright lyrics. His vocals–both with RM and solo–have a room silencing Hank Williams eeriness that demands the attention of most in attendance.
There’s an unwavering pulse that flows through the Rattlesnake Milk formula. There’s a chug of an engine that lies beneath. Flowing and farming fields. Driving down that Amarillo Highway. It’s in there.
In a way, guitarist Andrew Chavez is constantly telling his own stories amongst the ones Lewis is singing. His guitar playing is a side story of sorts.
Like the song “Death.” Lewis is the mortal man questioning life who knows his ultimate fate: death. Chavez’ guitar picking is that song of death creeping behind Lewis at every moment just waiting for his moment to pounce. There’s a frightening crawl to tone and grit within the groove of that song.
Snake, rattle, and roll. Lewis and company go through the majority of songs from their only album. A couple comes in. Lewis welcomes them noting on their matching attire. They walk back out mid song with a couple of chuckles, shrugs, and smiles from the four-piece.
They go into “White Freight Liner Blues.” It’s right in their wheelhouse. It’s obviously a little more piercing and lively than the Townes Van Zandt original–and to be perfectly honest–probably better than any of the bare bones live recordings of the song Van Zandt ever did.
It’s nearing 1:15 AM and Rattlesnake Milk has another song or two in them. A half-assed “One More Song” chant begins; an encore does not. The rattle of tossing car keys begins as a handful of folks shuffle out the exit and walk into the night.