bad-ass: (l-r) Persico, Morris, Lipscomb, Morse,
and Future Kings
By Erik Hage
members of CPK return to the alt-country throne as the
Sidewinders, a ·bar band· playing Americana
music for the love of it
is a bar band·with a pedigree. I·m with
them in a rented space off Central Avenue. As far as rehearsal
rooms go, it·s fairly prototypical: cramped, with
shoddy equipment, funky green carpet sprawled across the
floor and fluorescent lights kicking out a stark Kremlin
glare. There·s some cologne and beer in the air
where I·m sitting (on the floor, back against the
wall), I get the full lay of the land: dirty carpet, boot
toe on guitar pedal, green beer bottles and all.
predominant mode here is country music in bold tones,
with a gritty rock feel. As they work their way through
a song, guitarist Larry Winchester·s twang and
crunch cuts against pedal-steel man Rick Morse·s
flashing alchemy of notes.
two have shared leads for years, and their playing speaks
to that synergy: Winchester, with shirttails out and sleeves
rolled to the elbow, juts his elbow upward, bending notes,
wrenching the guts from the red SG. Morse sits zenlike
before his steel, working pedals, hands registering casual,
and Winchester share time and space, dual peals of twang
curling at each other, challenging, often getting wound
up together in an inseparable tangle of notes.
founder George Lipscomb, perched behind the drum kit wearing
a Johnny Cash T-shirt and a baseball cap with a beaver
on it, is rock-solid and deeply seasoned from his numerous
decades in the Albany scene (from his punk roots onward).
Mike Persico holds down a corner of the room on five-string
bass while Charlie Morris, wearing an acoustic, sings
across the fray in a Steve Earle-like tomcat snarl.
goal was to be a bar band, but these guys aren·t
your garden-variety group of honky-tonkers. The set list
reads like a study in offbeat, quality, insider Americana.
There·s Johnny Cash, sure, and there·s Buck
Owens too. And there·s some Wilco and Steve Earle
for the discerning modernists.
there·s also the acidic ·Up Against the
Wall, Redneck Mother,· by outsider Texan hipster
Ray Wylie Hubbard, and ·My Drinking Days are Over,·
by cultish, relative youngster of Americana, Slaid Cleaves.
The Sidewinders have dug deep and dug richly for their
covers·it·s like a listening list for a
Ph.D. in quality Americana.
·You could call it ·American Music,·
· Lipscomb says. ·Because you have the traditional
stuff there, you have some roots rock there and you have
the alternative-country element.· He has been the
driving force behind the group, which he founded last
summer. ·This thing was in my head after Coal Palace
[Kings]. . . . The idea was just to get together without
a lot of . . . conditions, you know?
Morse and Winchester were together in the late, lamented,
local alt- country group Coal Palace Kings for a few years.
·I could have called this band the Bastard Sons
of the Coal Palace Kings,· laughs Lipscomb.
CPK, the three toured the United States and got a bit
of recognition beyond the Capital Region borders. In fact,
it often seems like I·m having the same conversation
about country music with these guys year after year: I·ve
written pieces about them for two different publications.
(There·s a pattern to our exchanges: We get wrapped
up in chatting about songs and artists we love, crack
a few jokes, and invariably Winchester and I end up in
a corner pondering the schematics of his Gibson, an instrument
rarely used for this kind of music·but one from
which he wrenches some dead-right sturm and twang.)
the three former colleagues had no intention of picking
up together again. Lipscomb got the other two members,
Persico and Morris, on board early, but he remembers,
·We had a guitar player·a young kid·and
it just didn·t work out. It was his first band
Morse came on board soon after, and he was hoping they·d
land a guitarist who had a feel for sharing the stage
with a pedal steel. ·With Larry, I always think
of him as a steel player [rather than a guitarist],·
the time Larry was pretty busy,· Lipscomb frets.
But both he and Morse knew Winchester was the ideal player
for the task. ·I didn·t push it, but in
the back of my head I said, ·I·ll give him
a little time.· And pretty much Larry came around.·
Morse recalls, ·He said he·d do one gig
and see what it sounded like.·
·Sons of bitches!· laughs Winchester in
his own defense. ·I·m like, ·What·s
the scoop on this? A bunch of guys that don·t have
the common sense to stop playing?··
So what·s different for the three this time around?
·Everybody has their say here,· Lipscomb
claims. ·It·s everybody·s band.·
The aspirations are different as well. ·I think
·bar band· is really it,· Winchester
says. ·All I wanted to do was play guitar again.
I missed playing guitar.·
·And it·s not like a novelty,· shoots
Lipscomb. ·This is a fucking real band. It·s
a good band. And it·s fun.·
·This is the kind of band I·d like to think
you·d see in a bar scene in a movie,· he
cracks. ·All we need is some barbed wire.·
·I don·t think you·ll find anyone
else doing what we·re doing,· adds Morse,
pointing to the group·s way-beyond-the-mainstream
repertoire, which Lipscomb sums up with a smattering of
aphorisms: ·Heartfelt, outlaw country. Hell-bent
rock & roll. Good times.·
Winchester points out, ·Some of the best times
we·ve ever had in the past was playing the Garden
Grill or Artie·s or something. You play these small
local bars and you get a different crowd of people.·
Morris agrees: ·I·ve never had so many people
sing the words back to me for songs I figured no one would
know anyway. I figured five people would know these songs,
and four of them are in the audience.· He laughs,
·Granted, it·s a sausage party. But they·re
really into it.·
As for the group name, Lipscomb says simply, ·I
like Westerns and Cowboy movies·Gene Autry, John
Wayne, all that. And if you watch cowboy movies, the sidewinder
always comes up in the script.· He·s more
than aware of the ·80s alternative group of the
same name (from Arizona), but, he edgily points out, ·Until
we get some legal documentation in the mail, it·s
The Sidewinders will perform at the Ale House (680 River
St., Troy) on May 20 at 9 PM.