Deep Cuts: Dash Rip Rock, "Endeavor" (1987)

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Much of the soundtrack to my college years was set to the tune of Dash Rip Rock, one of Louisiana’s premier party bands. It’s unfortunate that every time I mention the band to someone not from Louisiana or the surrounding states, I’m usually met by a blank stare, or maybe a Flintstones or Beverly Hillbillies reference.

If there’s a poster child for the band that should have made it but didn’t, it’s Dash Rip Rock. They certainly had the personality and energy. Their live performances could be electrifying. I remember seeing them for the first time in a little dive bar/washateria named the Fun O Mat a few blocks from the Louisiana Tech campus in my freshman year. There was barely enough room to fit a hundred or so of us in there, and truth be told, the fire marshal probably would have had a stroke if he’d seen the place that night. The band took the stage like they were playing in front of a packed Superdome and tore the roof off the joint. For weeks afterward, I told everyone I knew that this band was going to be huge — and that was after drummer and general wildman Fred LeBlanc left the band to form Cowboy Mouth. I can only imagine what the earlier shows were like.

Unfortunately, my predicted mega-stardom for them never came to pass. If folks outside the South know Dash Rip Rock, it’s for their minor 1996 novelty hit “Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot,” a parody of “At the Hop.” LeBlanc has had a bit more widespread success with Cowboy Mouth, scoring a hit with “Jenny Says,” originally recorded on the 1989 Dash album Ace of Clubs. But, for some reason, what Dash did never translated to a wider audience.

Maybe it was because they were a little too interested in goofing off, having fun and writing songs that falling down drunk frat boys couldn’t resist yelling along with. That, of course, was part of the charm of the band, and songs like “DMZ,” “Big Daddy Like Whiskey,” “Johnny Ace” and “Bum For Egypt” (the title for the back of the album cover only) are still among my favorite party tunes. But the trio could write a really good serious song when they took a mind to. Take “Endeavor” from their self-titled 1987 record for example.

For all of the drinking along that I did to their wilder numbers, this tune has always been one of, if not my favorite song from Dash Rip Rock. It’s not exactly an unusual song for the band. They’ve written quite a few more somber and melodic numbers that tend to get overlooked in favor of the party songs. It starts off with a quiet strumming pattern from singer/guitarist Bill Davis that ends in a couple of hard-struck G chords. (At least they’re G chords when I play it. I won’t vouch for my musical skills here.) On the second time around, LeBlanc punctuates those two chords with a couple of pops on the drums. Then bassist Ned “Hoaky” Hickel comes in laying down a thumping country-style bass line and doing, well, whatever it is that Hoaky did, which was often in question.

Then there’s that first verse, particularly the first two lines. “Breathe a Southern wind/Talk of who I am.” For some reason, that lyric always spoke to me, particularly on the final verse, when they return to it with LeBlanc doubling up behind Davis. It’s a simple line, and I don’t want to sound corny here, but the first time I heard it, it was almost like it sliced to the core of my very Southern being. It remains one of my favorite opening verses from any song, Dash Rip Rock or otherwise.

In theory, “Endeavor” is a country song. The strumming is twangy enough, and certainly the rhythm section fits the country mold. But at the same time, there’s an edge hidden in the song, waiting in the wings like a caged beast, ready to break out into a punk rocking barroom bruiser of a tune. It never does, of course, but it’s no less effective for its restraint. Perhaps that’s even part of the endearing nature of the song.

These days LeBlanc still does Cowboy Mouth and the occasional solo show. Hoaky Hickel was holed up on a boat in Florida the last I heard, retired from the music biz and working as a marine surveyor. Dash Rip Rock, of course, has continued over the years, with Davis bringing on hired guns on bass and drums, touring and continuing to record. Their most recent album Call of the Wild was released in 2010. I regret to say that I haven’t yet heard it, though their 2007 record Hee Haw Hell was actually quite good, and their 2008 effort Country Girlfriend wasn’t bad. But they’ve never been able to match, at least on record, the lineup of Davis, LeBlanc and Hickel. Despite a brief reunion tour a decade or so ago and LeBlanc coming on board to produce a Dash record here and there, a full-on reunion has never happened. Without that dynamic, the band has never really lived up to the potential those first few records hinted at, and perhaps, there lies the reason why they never quite made it.

Or, maybe, all they really wanted to do was party.

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