Back to Back Bar, Bossier City, Louisiana: Sometimes, it’s the whole experience that will make a show you’ll never forget as opposed to just a fantastic performance on stage. Luckily, I was in for both when I walked into the Back to Back Bar to check out Jackson Taylor and the Sinners for the first time.
The place was the very definition of a dive. It’s a converted Chinese restaurant, attached to a budget hotel, across the street from a casino. We arrived a few minutes before the announced show time, and as usually happens with a bar show, the opening act was just in the process of setting up, so we were looking at an hour or more to kill, but we did snag a good table.
Given the description, the place had more atmosphere than you’d think, created in large part by the pre-show musical selections rolling through the speakers. It was almost like they had hooked my shuffle up to the sound system. Mel Tillis, Willie Nelson and Hank Jr. mingled with Pantera, Ozzy Osbourne and The Cult, with Skynyrd and AC/DC providing a sort of bridge. It was kind of fitting for the show that was to come, which featured Lafayette, Louisiana-based metal outfit White Light Cemetery opening for the rocking, honky tonk country of the Sinners.
There were also a wide range of folks waiting on the show. A large complement of bikers looked like they called the place home, but scattered amongst the crowd were long-haired guys in death metal tees, country fans in Western shirts and even some polos and slacks. Though there was no tension or animosity in the room at all, it still reminded me of the line in David Allan Coe’s “Long-Haired Redneck”: “Bikers stare at cowboys who are laughing at the hippies, who are praying they’ll get out of here alive.” (That song, by the way, was also part of the pre-show music.)
Finally, White Light Cemetery took the stage to get things started, and the metal crowd gathered toward the front of the bar. There were a few people scattered around the room who came to see a country band and looked a bit distressed as the roaring, distorted guitars rang out, but most rolled with it. White Light Cemetery made that easy to do with a great performance. The band took the sludgy, New Orleans-style metal of acts like Down and Crowbar and mixed it with more of a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll attitude. I was hooked from the first song, and by the end of the set, their catchy, grooving songs won even the few early holdouts in the crowd over.
Jackson Taylor made his appearance about halfway through the opening set, coming in a side door, sporting a White Light Cemetery T-shirt and his signature white cowboy hat. He spent some time at the bar, and circulated through the room, signing a few items, chatting with fans and making time for a hello or handshake with anyone that approached him.
When it was time for him to take the stage, Taylor stormed it with a three-piece version of the Sinners and, despite a few technical problems, attacked an hour and a half set of country rockers with punk-like energy, beginning with the driving party tune “Long Legs and Longnecks.” With little banter or chat between songs, he mowed through sing-along fan favorites from his catalog, like “No Show,” “Blue Agave,” “Bare Feet on the Dash” and, of course, “Whiskey Drinking Song” from last year’s Crazy Again. The faster part of that last tune even brought what appeared to be a hotel employee in a suit rushing the stage to dance and sing along.
The set also included its share of covers, notably from one of Taylor’s heroes, Billy Joe Shaver. The band gave the Sinners treatment to “Georgia on a Fast Train” and “Honky Tonk Heroes” from Shaver along the way. Also on tap was their latest single, a rowdy cover of Emmylou Harris’ “Two More Bottles of Wine.” But one of the best moments of the night came from a rendition of George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” that morphed into Prince’s “Purple Rain” before circling back around to the Possum’s famous ballad. It sounds like a train wreck on paper, but was fantastic in execution, giving the folks in front of the stage one of the few chances of the show to pull each other close and slow dance.
Showing respect for the opening band, Taylor invited the metal guys to join him on stage a couple of times for backing and lead vocals. White Light Cemetery singer Shea Bearden also proved himself a pretty good country singer in one of those moments.
Finally, Taylor and the band rounded out the planned set with “Cocaine” from their Aces and Eights album, a tune that fans in the crowd had been calling for literally since the first notes of the show. The Sinners got the place cranked to the max with that song, before taking a side trip into the Doors’ version of “Back Door Man” and finishing strong with the end of “Cocaine.”
But the end of the official set was really where the fun started. By that point, Taylor, who had been shooting Jim Beam most of the night, was feeling good. The crowd was feeling good. Most folks didn’t want to go home yet, and Taylor didn’t want to make them. So he started a second set with a medley of “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Got Stripes” and “That’s Alright Mama.” That was followed with an on-the-fly cover of “Never Been to Spain,” dedicated to Elvis guitarist and hometown hero James Burton.
Then Taylor opened the floor for requests, and the first one was an interesting one — “The Girl with Auburn Hair.” Taylor joked with the crowd that he never played the song because “it brings back bad memories,” but said he’d do it for the requester since it was her birthday. The frenetic, cowpunk-flavored number tells a story, which Taylor claims to be true, of an unfortunate encounter with a transvestite in New York City. I think it’s best if we just leave it at that.
During this unofficial second set, the banter came out a little more as Taylor loosened up from the tight first set, joked with the crowd and had some good-natured words with a guy who appeared to possibly be more inebriated than Jackson himself. At one point, Taylor announced that he wanted to make sure everyone heard the song they wanted to hear before leaving the stage, then turned to guitar player Rance Cox (whose parents were also in attendance, leading to several jokes about the guitarist), asking him if he had played the song he wanted to hear.
A few more requests came in, which provided the crowd with Taylor’s version of Social Distortion’s “Highway 101,” a spirited performance of “No Apologies” from The Whiskey Sessions and a downright vicious version of Taylor’s jab at commercial country music — “Country Song” — in which the singer pulled no punches. The evening was rounded off with a crowd sing-along version of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz,” which considering the spirit and what had come before, was a nearly perfect finish.
When it was all said and done, Jackson Taylor had accomplished what he wanted by making the show feel less like a concert and more like a party where he just happened to be singing. It definitely wasn’t the largest venue or crowd that Jackson Taylor and the Sinners have played for, but the folks in attendance got more than their money’s worth, and I can’t wait for the Sinners to roll through again. It was one hell of a good time.