This weekend’s performance by John Paul Keith won’t be the only homecoming set of the weekend, or even at Pilot Light. Bob McCluskey, former singer/guitarist/songwriter for the Taoist Cowboys and the Estradas, will be playing his first Knoxville show in several years as the opener for Keith and his Memphis band, the One Four Fives. McCluskey will be backed by ex-Taoist Cowboys drummer Jeff Bills and Westside Daredevils Jeff Caudill, Brett Cassidy, and Brandon Smith.
The Taoist Cowboys—McCluskey and Bills, along with guitarist Scott Carpenter and bassist Brad Deaton—were among the most admired Knoxville bands of the late 1980s and early ’90s, part of the first wave of local indie rockers, and contemporaries of the Judybats, Smokin’ Dave and the Premo Dopes, and The Swamis. In the 2003 anthology Cumberland Ave. Revisited, Metro Pulse editor Coury Turczyn described them as “a melting pot of not-necessarily-commercial musical ideas” set off by McCluskey’s songwriting personality, “equal parts naive and knowing—boyish in the face of certain defeat.” (McCluskey’s musical career was put on temporary hold in the late ’90s when he suffered a brain aneurysm, and then moved to West Tennessee to be with his family.)
Both the Cowboys’ debut, Cholo, and McCluskey’s later solo record, Emergency Lunchbox (“perhaps the most intimate and honest release ever recorded in Knoxville,” according to Todd Steed) were picked by MP in 1999 as two of the best Knoxville records ever. (The Cowboys’ 1992 album Punt and Emergency Lunchbox are both available for download—for free! with art!—at Bills’ lynnpoint.com.)