BYLINE: joe o'connell
DATE: December 9, 1999
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
The night Steamboat closed, the Uranium Savages were on the edge again, belting out such classics as ``Idi Amin Is My Yardman,'' ``Massage Parlor Blues'' and the perfect Austin anthem, ``Stranded in the '60s.'' The band's non-musical contingent and pseudo-fraternal organization, the Shrovinovers, waved giant artificial phalluses at every audience member (pun intended) who got in their way, including actress Sandra Bullock, who was innocently waiting for her favorite band, the Scabs, to perform. On stage, the Savages rocked like it was 1974, like it was shiny and new.
Since Dec. 12, 1974, the Savages have stretched the bounds of sanity. As with any family, there have been squabbles. Founding member David Arnsberger, famed as the man behind Spamarama, even sued in a struggle over the band name. But current members say they still consider him a card-carrying member of the Savage fraternity. Tonight they celebrate their 25th birthday with a show at the Continental Club and a proclamation from the mayor, but this band measures time in riots, not years.
A handful of current band members sat down to recollect the history of the self-proclaimed ``band that was too dumb to die": Guitarist Kent Temple, head Shrovinover and band historian Artly Snuff. lead jokester, singer and accomplished poster artist Kerry Awn, bassist Tom Clarkson and horn player David Perkoff. It's a game of table tennis with too many balls and no table.
Kent: I can't imagine playing with anybody else where I can laugh the entire time. The guys are so talented, and Kerry in particular is so damn funny. Sometimes I have to stop playing. And this is after doing the same thing for 20 years, the same songs.
Kerry: Go ahead, blame it on me. Artly: Kerry was the first Funniest Guy in Austin and hasn't quit since.
Kent: It's an outlet for expression even beyond the parodies and satires we do. It's incredibly funny.
Kerry: A big in-joke. To us, at least.
Kent: I think we're like a weird fraternity.
Kerry: Boys' choir.
Artly: Boys' club
Kerry: Boys' club? Men's club.
David: Boys' town. Artly: We just keep commenting on the Austin music scene.
Tom: And the news too.
Artly: If a mastodon bone is found, we'll comment on it.
Tom: We had a whole set on the O.J. stuff. (sings) Last day for a white waiter. . .
Kent: And the eternal ``Wife Stabber."
Artly: By the O'Jays.
Kent: I will say that lately we've been doing songs about old people.
David: Oh yeah, lately we've got a whole geezer set.
Kerry: (sings) Yeah, we're going to Sun City. Two divorcees for everyone.
It began with a challenge from Ritz Theater house band the Plumbers, which included Clifford Antone on bass, to a battle of the bands. Three bands, the Sons of Coyote, Gypsy Savage and the Uranium Clods joined together to create the Sons of Uranium Savages. (The name was later shortened.)
Kerry: We thought the only way we could beat them was to get as much chaos as possible. We got girls on stage, an on-stage bartender, as many guitar players as we could get.
Artly: We pumped pot smoke into the audience.
Kerry: They were a traditional blues band. We said we want to play first. We had a plan to go on and have all of this crazy stuff, girls, costumes, blowing smoke into the audience, giving away stuff, surfboards on stage. Then when they got on stage, we'd pull the plug.
Why the Savages no longer perform at Symphony Square (where no one else plays anymore either).
Kerry: The last year we played . . . What year was it, Artly?
Artly: It was right after Reagan was shot, 1981.
Kerry: The place was packed. We threw a couple of TVs in (Waller Creek) for ``Kill Your TV.'' A surfer girl came down and surfed on the creek.
Tom: We did a song called ``Young Republicans.''
Artly: To David Bowie's ``Young Americans.''
Tom: One of the guys comes out in Ronnie's head.
Artly: A rubber mask.
Tom: But Artly had somehow gotten down to the creek from a block away and comes slithering up. He whips out a starter's pistol and starts shooting Ronnie.
Artly: It was right after the assassination attempt.
Kerry: After the show the president of the symphony came backstage and said I want to speak to you, come up to my office. I thought, oh boy, he's going to congratulate us. Everyone was so happy. We get up there and he goes, DON'T EVER DO THAT AGAIN. You'll never play here again! I'm like, don't do what? Don't throw the TVs in? The big dildos? I said, what did we do? He said, You shot the president! I started cracking up. (The booking agent) got a call that night. Mike! There's a problem. The Savages have shot the president!
Why crowds now walk in circles on Sixth Street every Halloween.
Artly: Jim Franklin did a pumpkin stomp every year since he first invented art. So we're playing the Ritz Theater on Halloween of 1982.
Kerry: He'd say Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, get on a ladder, throw a pumpkin down and everybody would stomp on it. This time we got on the marquee of the Ritz. Here's Franklin in his garb. Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater and he'd throw that pumpkin in the street, and everybody would cheer. After a while, people said, let's throw these pumpkins back at all of these people, 20 or 30, who shouldn't be on the marquee anyway.
Artly: They started throwing whiskey bottles and broke all of the neon on the Ritz sign. We had to flee for our lives. We happened to have a U.S. Army smoke grenade. Why mention names.
Kerry: No names.
Artly: It's been seven years (the statute of limitations) and he's not in the band anymore. We were very fire conscious and set out an upside-down washtub and on top of that the smoke grenade was put. Smoke is heavier that air so it was like a curtain that poured off the marquee like water. They did stop throwing things at us, but the smoke went into the Ritz Theater as well. Somebody called fire in the theater.
Kerry: Don't ever do that, I've heard.
Artly: They called the fire station, which was one block away. They could not get there because of the mob of people. The next year they realized they had to do something in case of emergencies, so the barricades went up. That's why everybody walks in circles on Halloween.
Kerry: Or at least that's our version of it. We'll take responsibility.
Artly: About 100 people have come through the band.
David: We all have artificial knees.
Kent: Not to mention prostates the size of grapefruits.
Kerry: Most of us don't live together now. We all have our own homes.
Kent: My two sons are now sitting in with the band, so it's truly a generational thing. The sax player (son) got his girlfriend from sitting in with us.
Kerry: They understand the concept.
Kent: Be in the band, meet girls, be with the girls.
Kerry: How old is she? Is she one of our 45-year-old stragglers? You're cute, sonny. Come here. Can I buy you a little whiskey?
A few days after that final gig at Steamboat, a gimme-capped college student who is younger in years than the Uranium Savages have been a band, spotted Kerry Awn out and about in Austin. His eyes widened as he recognized the wild man from the stage. ``We were just cracking up,'' this newest fan said. ``Y'all are much dirtier than the Scabs!''