The Asylum Street Spankers, from Austin, TX, are a unique band led by vocalist/washboard player/poet Wammo and vocalist Christina Marrs. They're finding a growing cult following for their unique brand of acoustic blues and early jazz. While much of their material is blues from the 1920s and '30s, the Asylum Street Spankers also perform original songs in their live shows and on their debut album for Watermelon Records, Spanks for the Memories. The band's live shows are performed without amplifiers or microphones, usually including tunes from Bessie Smith and Robert Johnson along with other standard and traditional blues tunes.
In addition to Wammo and Marrs, bandmembers have included guitarist Colonel Josh Arnson, guitarist Jeff Ross, banjo and mandolin player Pops Bayless, drummer Jimmie Dean, guitarist and saw player Olivier Giraud, kazoo player Mysterious John, guitarist and singer/songwriter Guy Forsyth, and bassist Kevin Smith. The genesis of the band occurred in the early '90s at a hotel outside of Austin. After an all-night acoustic tune swap, the musicians realized they were onto something, getting back to basics and playing acoustic music. After several phone calls and circulated tapes, the band met again for a rehearsal, and the chemistry took over from there.
The Asylum Street Spankers began attracting growing crowds after playing steady Wednesdays at the Electric Lounge, a bar in Austin, and from that following, they took the next step and recorded their debut album for the local Watermelon label. While many of the melodies and progressions on Spanks for the Memories are old, some of the band's lyrics are straight out of contemporary America. Songs like "Funny Cigarette," "Trade Winds," "Lee Harvey," and "Hometown Boy" are funny and entertaining to most audiences. This was proven by the following live album, which chronicled a 1996 show and showcased their charm and charisma in a live setting. The Nasty Novelties EP provided fans with one great song title, "Rotten Cocksucker's Ball," but it was the following year's full-length Hot Lunch that brought the real goods. Another fine set of old-fashioned pop, the record won rave reviews and set them apart from other, more gimmick-oriented revivalists.
The next year, Spanker Madness took fans by surprise with its hootenanny-style structure and heavy cast of guest musicians. Every song revolved around the merits of marijuana, and the humorous approach and loose vibe drafted a new set of fans who were enticed by the band's liberal politics. A clever Christmas album and an EP of more dirty songs (highlighted by the hilarious "Everybody's Fucking But Me") held over fans until 2002, when My Favorite Record was released on their own Spanks-a-Lot Records. Mercurial, a typically eclectic outing that included a cover of the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere" and a hoedown version of Black Flag's "TV Party," was released in 2004, and Re-Assembly arrived in 2006. The Spankers came out with a bouncy, family-oriented album called Mommy Says No! the following year. ~ Richard Skelly & Bradley Torreano