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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.
The Asylum Street Spankers, formed in Austin, Texas in 1994, was a band whose music was rooted in early 20th century American musical forms.
In 2006, the band's satirical anti-war video "Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV" surpassed 1 million hits in two months on YouTube. In January 2011 the band won The 10th Annual Independent Music Awards in the Gospel category for God's Favorite Band. The band dissolved after a final tour in spring 2011.Cite error: The named reference stick was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference one was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference kickstart was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
ContentsHistory1.1 Founding1.2 Lineup changes, studio albums1.3 Breakup, farewell tour
Founded by Christina Marrs, Wammo and Guy Forsyth after a party at the Dabbs Hotel along the Llano River in Texas in 1994. The band began by busking on the streets of Austin and playing for tips in bars. In their earliest days, the Spankers' repertoire consisted almost entirely of country, blues, jazz, swing and Tin Pan Alley songs dating from the 1890s to the 1950s with a particular emphasis on the 1920s and 1930s. The band developed a raucous and irreverent sound, focusing on musicianship and theatricality. Several early members were actors and nearly all members have been multi-instrumentalists. Until 2004 they played most of their concerts without any amplification. This resulted in a heightened theatricality to the shows.
The band derived its name from Austin's Guadalupe Street, where they would often busk and where they played a number of their early shows. At one time Guadalupe Street was nicknamed "Asylum Street" because it led to a state psychiatric hospital. The term "spanker" is an old musician's term for "one who plays his instrument vigorously and proficiently".
Lineup changes, studio albums
With the departure of Guy Forsyth in 1997 the Spankers began playing more original songs, most written in the roots styles the band was familiar with. By 1999 only Marrs and Wammo remained of the original line-up. Reconstructing the band, Marrs and Wammo began including more cross-genre experimentation, intricate arrangements and vocal harmonies, and humorous songs, sometimes with pointed social and cultural commentary. Also in 1999, Marrs and Wammo founded Spanks-a-Lot Records to release their music. With complete creative control, the band began increasing the frequency of their sales and profits. Spanks-a-Lot has released two DVDs documenting the group's live show.
In fall 2006, the band's anti-war satire video "Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV", directed by Morgan Higby Night garnered 1,054,743 views on YouTube within the first two months of its release.
In January 2008 the group premiered its stage show "What? And Give Up Show Biz?" off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theatre. In January 2011, Asylum Street Spankers won The 10th Annual Independent Music Awards in the Gospel category for God's Favorite Band.
Breakup, farewell tour
After the band broke up in 2010, the remaining members announced one last tour, 9 months in 50 cities: "Spanks for the Memories! The Farewell Tour." Down to one founding member, the band built a new show around Marrs, Newman, and returning member Charlie King. The "Spanks for Everything" Farewell Tour concluded with a series of final shows in Austin on April 20–23, 2011.
In March 2011, the band raised over $20,000 from fans in order to create a DVD retrospective and documentary centered around their final performances in Austin.
In April 2014 an album with previous unreleased recordings of their last shows "The Last Laugh" was released.Cite error: The named reference ferrs was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference sanantonio was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference sounding_off was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference kirby was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference stick was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference one was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference kickstart was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
Many of their albums from 1999 on have been thematic. Spanker Madness, primarily country blues music about drug use, is generally pro-marijuana, but several songs examine the negative side of drug use and incisively criticize the War on Drugs. They have also released A Christmas Spanking; Mercurial, an album recorded live using technology and techniques of 1940s vintage; My Favorite Record, an album about their love of music; X-rated EPs; and Mommy Says No!, an album of songs about children and childhood heavily inspired by Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak.
The Spankers have covered songs by diverse artists such as Prince, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Beastie Boys, The B-52's, Black Flag, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Harry Nilsson, The Jazz Butcher, The Violent Femmes, George Jones, Nirvana, Nina Simone, Nine Inch Nails, Otis Redding, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Johnny Cash. They are also known for throwing snatches of familiar songs into musical montages.Cite error: The named reference home was invoked but never defined (see the help page).