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The Return of Joe Buck
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
Joe Buck must like us. We certainly seem to like him. Buck returns to the Brass Rail on October 6 for his… umm, we’re not sure. Fourth show? Fifth show? We’re not sure. And when you’re that good, it doesn’t really matter. Having first gained notoriety as a member of both Th’ Legendary Shackshakers and Hank III’s band (an impressive pedigree if ever there was one), Buck has gone on to have a successful solo career as a one-man band, and tours under the name Joe Buck Yourself.
In my first real interview with a non-local artist since taking over this column, Buck and I discussed his philosophies on music, culture, and society, his upbringing in the church, and how he is trying to carry on the legacy of such greats as Hank Williams Sr. and Robert Johnson.
The first thing I asked Buck was, if he was forced at gunpoint to describe his sound in concrete terms, how he would do so. What was the answer? Dead silence, and I thought to myself “great, awesome job, Ben. Way to screw the pooch right out of the gate.” However, after a few seconds he said “oh man, and this is at gunpoint, right? I don’t know; what do you think?” Well, after I blabbed something mostly incoherent about garage-blues-punk-country, he said “yeah, it’s all based in blues and old country music. Now I realize it’s 2009, but I love old music.” And there it was; the floodgates had opened, and I hardly had to say another word the whole interview. That’s the thing about Joe Buck — anything you want to know is probably already on the tip of his tongue to begin with; you only need to let him have the floor, and he will tell you everything you want to know.
When I asked him about major influences, Buck immediately went right to Hank Williams Sr., whose impact on young Joe cannot be understated. “Hank Sr. is king to me,” Buck said. “For American music it all came together with him, string music, Texas honkey-tonk, blues, hillbilly music, and country music. . . Jimmy Rogers was country music, and the Carter Family was string music. Robert Johnson obviously was blues.” Not only did Hank Williams tie all of these different styles together, Buck said, but he was also responsible for introducing him to all of these other artists.
Aside from the obvious musical influence these early recording artists had on Buck, the philosophy they inspired has stayed with him over the years, and is the reason he chose the career path that he did. “I still believe in the power of music,” he said, “when it’s art, it’s born of pure motives. It’s not a thing that’s being manufactured to be sold to a demographic. . . We’re a society of consumers, and [many people] just consume music instead of letting it fulfill their lives.” This is exactly what Buck is trying to get away from. In regards to the people he tries to reach, he said “I speak in a language that they understand,” meaning the language of whiskey, cigarettes, and general rowdiness. This is also why Buck decided to not become a preacher, which, having grown up with the Church as a massive part of his life, was the only career choice for him other than musician. “I’m an entertainer. That’s what I do. God doesn’t need flashing lights to amuse the flock.”
In his own way, though, Joe Buck has become a preacher of sorts. That being said, his message isn’t as overt as a preacher’s, or as wildly complicated a full of malarky as a politician’s. Put simply, Joe Buck is preaching the gospel of humility. “Where [society] is at right now, everybody feels that they are so deserved of everything. If you earn something, you’ll have it for the rest of your life. A hundred years ago, families used to sit around their family meal and pray ‘thank you Lord for this meal,’ because they were grateful . . . they knew without it they would die . . . We don’t need demigods. We need humility.” This mentality applies to his stage show, as well. “Sometimes I’ll just set up on the floor, and I’ll realize that the kids are looking down at me, and I’m looking up at them,” he said as an example of how he likes to keep his persona as far away as possible from that of a “rockstar.”
One other thing that Buck is vehement about in his beliefs is his distaste for the misrepresentation of southern culture. “The only person you can take a shot at in any media form is me. The redneck, buck-toothed racist idiot. And they do.” A lot of this, according to Buck, has to do with how much southerners have been dumbed down by both the corporate and entertainment industries. “This is a hard-working people who built this country, and now our people have become the scum of the Earth, living in their trailers, making meth, invaded by corporate America . . . it’s turned them to a waddling, obese, ignorant life.” So, in his own way, Buck is trying to take back southern culture from those who would minimize it as the domain of the uneducated redneck.
Lastly, we spent a little time discussing the DIY approach to music, and how Buck much prefers to play the smaller towns. “I know these rock stars who say ‘oh, you know, we just played Detroit, Chicago, New York,’ and I say ‘man, there’s a lot more towns than that in America.”’ He also went on to say how much he loves playing Fort Wayne. When I asked why that was, he said “the kids are taking the situation into their own hands. This is the new wave of punk rock.” He clarified that last statement by pointing out that people here understand that nothing is going to happen if they don’t make it happen themselves. “No one’s gonna do it for you, and they know that.”
So that’s Joe Buck. Outspoken ideologue. Purist. Nice fellah. He’ll be playing the Brass Rail on Thursday, October 6, with support from Those Poor Bastards