June , 1992
By Lisa L. Rollins
Jason Scorches a Trail of Hillbilly Funk
For one reason or another, Bob Dylan has a way of making fellow musicians sit up and take note.
After all, here's a guy who first began shaping a generation with his folk-rock amblings in the '60s and 70s. Then, in 1984, he assisted a slew of do-good musicmakers (along with the noteworthy aid of MTV) in do ing their part to help feed Ethiopia's starving masses through the highly publicized and star-studded "We Are the World" recording and video.
So, when music's best-known Bob mentioned to Jason Ringenberg -- also known as the leader of Rock 'n' roll's Jason and The Scorchers -- that he could tell the latter had an inner hankerin' to return to his hillbilly musical roots, Jason took those words to heart.
"You know, (Dylan) is an old guy (who) can kind of sense and see those kinds of things," remarked Jason, whose rock band spent its last year of existence as Dylan's opening act. "He's an experienced guy, of course, and so when he said I should maybe try to do things a little more true to my roots, that kind of got the wheels rolling — in my head, anyway."
With said wheels in motion, Jason — who dismisses his surname, because "it's sort of this long, unpronounceable German name" — opted to go solo via his roots. And reknowned country producer Jerry Crutchfield, who is credited with discovering and molding the career of singer Tanya Tucker, was more than ready to lend a hand.
Of course, the fact that Crutchfield is a Liberty Records/ Nashville executive didn't hurt, either, admits Jason, 33, whose debut solo offering, One Foot In The Honky Tonk, was released May 19 beneath the Liberty umbrella, formerly known as Capitol Records.
"I took my time with it," he said, regarding his 1990 label choice. "We were talkin' to a lot of folks at the time and we could've had a deal, probably, just right off the bat. But I had a feeling about Jerry. He just seemed to have areal attitude about where I needed to go (with my sound)."
And just exactly what is Jason's solo sound?
Why, it's "really super-charged country rock," of course, he replied, proudly adding that critically acclaimed songwriter-singer Kevin Welch has given him the official OK to join Welch's esteemed corps of "western beat" artists, also known as country misfits, such as Rosie Flores, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, to name a few.
Nevertheless, Jason's acceptance into the coveted "western beat" circle is not the first time he has been a popular force in making music that's just outside the edge of widespread popular appeal.
In fact, it's the kind of foundation that Jason and The Scorchers thrived on, beginning in 1981 when the band released Reckless Country Soul and Fervor, two now-collector EPs for the Praxis label, before recording Lost and Found and StillStanding for in 1985 and '86, respectively. Then, in '89, the band scored its biggest career victory with the hit 'Tellin' White Lies," contained on the group's only album for A&M Records, Thunder and Fire.
"We didn't commercially accomplishwhat we wanted to, but creatively we did, so we felt, after four records, it was time for a change," remembered Jason of The Scorchers project. "I was still sort of in the roots attitude musically — country and old rock 'n' roll -- and the rest of the guys were increasingly getting more and more into hard rock."
In turn, on One Foot In The Hanky Tank producer Crutchfield conspired with Jason to preserve the singer's natural sense of urgency and his grassroots honesty, and he seems to have succeeded. But don't expect to hear any of Jason's trademark blues harp from The Scorchers heyday, because he's more concerned with opening the country-music door as of late.
He didn't write as much this time around, either, taking time to co-ink only "Hardluck Boy" and 'The Life of the Party" on his first solo LP. But there's a reason to his rhyme.
"Songwriting had gotten where it wasn't fun anymore. I was taking it too seriously and everyone was relying on me to write all The Scorchers stuff," he said. "But now I write a few songs for fun and I'm tryin' some of these outside songs by other writers."
"I used to be just a serious, heavy songwriter, but lately I just do it for fun and if I get a few songs (on the album), great, and if not, it's not that big a deal, (because) there are so many songs in Nashville. Everybody writes."
With his `ah-shucks' demeanor, a five-man band of "young and hungry" players and a spankin' new single and music video for his new LP's title song, the black-hatted Jason is doing his best to make it in the music world with his self-coined hillbilly funk that, now and again, echoes of Buddy Holly-meets-Ricky Nelson.
In spite of the fact that country's borders have never been more blurred, one must wonder if fans of the genre can readily accept the lanky Illinois native who is not as smooth as, say, Ricky Van Shelton and more rockin' than Dwight Yoakam or, gasp, perhaps even Garth?
'The initial reactions look good, but there's such a long way to go," confesses Jason. "But my first goal is that people take me seriously in the country world, (because) we have to have that happen to make my career work."
As for his newfound tag as a country music maker, Jason concedes he still scratches his head in amazement now and again.
"In the early days, I never would have dreamed that I would have actually been going through the country channels to get my record out and promoted, but here we are," he said, with a smile. "It's happening."