Although not a huge name in the rock world, veteran punk/metal band Rancid Vat has enjoyed a small but enthusiastic cult following and has outlived a lot of other punk-minded outfits. Rancid Vat (not to be confused with Rancid) has been around since 1981, when bassist Phil Irwin, aka the Whiskey Rebel, and his wife, Marla Vee (who has played bass and guitar as well as drums) formed the band's first lineup in Portland, OR, and recruited lead singer Steve Wilson. Over the years, Rancid Vat has had more than a few personnel changes, but Irwin and Vee (who got married in 1977) have always been the core of the band. And whatever lineup was in place, Rancid Vat has had a reputation for being rude, crude, loud, offensive, sneering, and totally in-your-face -- no one has ever accused Rancid Vat's songs of being polite or subtle. While many other punk-minded bands have had a serious sociopolitical agenda, Irwin and Vee were mainly interested in raucous, over-the-top fun -- and they never shied away from shock value and warped, twisted humor. Rancid Vat's early song titles included "(I Woke Up This Morning With) Puke on My Face," "Premature Ejaculator," "The Frozen Dead," and "Cranium Casserole."
Rancid Vat wasn't the first band that Vee and Irwin belonged to; in 1980, they played alongside bassist Brad Davidson in a Portland punk unit called the Spaztics. But the short-lived Spaztics didn't have nearly the longevity of Rancid Vat, whose original lineup had only been together a few months when members of the band Smegma gave them a chance to record. Smegma's members (originally from L.A.) had a studio in their Portland basement, and in 1981, Rancid Vat recorded their debut EP, Stampeding Cattle, for Smegma's small Pig Face label. In 1982, Eric Larsen (rhythm guitar) was added to the lineup, and in 1984, Rancid Vat started recording the LP Burger Belsen (which didn't come out until 1986).
During Rancid Vat's first four years, the combo remained in Portland. Then, in 1985, Rancid Vat moved to Seattle and spent a year there before moving to Los Angeles in 1986. In L.A., Ace Farron Ford (known for his vocals with the Child Molesters) came on board as a bassist. After spending a year in L.A., Rancid Vat returned to Portland in 1987; Ford left the band and remained in Southern California. Rancid Vat spent seven more years in Portland; then in 1994, Irwin and Vee left the West Coast altogether and moved across the United States to Philadelphia. Opting to remain on the West Coast, Wilson left the band. Relocating to Philly meant that Irwin and Vee needed to hire some new members; the newcomers who came on board during Rancid Vat's Philly period included the Cosmic Commander of Wrestling, aka Cosmo (lead vocals), Jimmy Satan (guitar), and Eric Perfect (drums). Eight years before he joined Rancid Vat, Cosmo had been with a band called Fat Howard's Army -- between Fat Howard's Army and Rancid Vat, the singer had spent much of his time managing professional wrestlers. Cosmo's vocals added a lot to Rancid Vat, and many of the band's followers insist that Irwin and Vee did some of their best work during their seven years in Philly.
While Philly-based, Rancid Vat put out three CDs independently: Radio Rampage '96, 31 Flavors of Hostility, and The Darkest Souls in Rock and Roll. It was in 2000 that Hammerlock -- a risk-taking Bay Area band that combines alternative metal with country-fried Southern rock and punk -- paid tribute to Irwin on a humorous song titled "Whiskey Rebel" (which Hammerlock has recorded twice -- first on 2000's Anthems for Outlaws, then on 2001's Barefoot and Pregnant). During the Summer of 2001, Perfect left Rancid Vat to join Limecell, and he was replaced by Dick Flawless.
Rancid Vat's stay in Philly ended in late 2001, when Irwin and Vee decided to move once again -- this time to San Marcos, TX. Relocating to the Lone Star State meant parting company with Cosmo, Satan, and Flawless (all of whom remained in Philly), and it meant putting together yet another Rancid Vat lineup. In San Marcos, Irwin and Vee recruited D. Mise (rhythm guitar) and Bobo (drums). In 2002, the Philly-based Steel Cage Records released The Cheesesteak Years, a collection of material that Rancid Vat had recorded during its Philly period. ~ Alex Henderson