I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

Knoxville's long-running honky-tonk heroes start the year off right

This weekend the Lonesome Coyotes, Knoxville's premier purveyors of face-down-in-the-parking-lot, barbed wire-around-your-heart honky-tonk music, will reprise a tradition that's been a staple for the band since they reunited in 2002. Their performance at the Knoxville Museum of Art's Alive After Five series will be the fourth time in a row they've played the year's first set in the series, and if it's anything like the last three, there won't be enough beer or booze to last the whole evening. "We've never reformed," says singer Steve Horton.

"The first time we played that first-show-of-the-year slot, it snowed. We had just reunited and didn't know what to expect. To our amazement, we had Coyote fans lined out the door and the KMA ran out of alcohol. The latter condition happens every time we play Alive After Five."

The Coyotes are probably the only Strip-club band from the 1970s to have survived the centrifuge of that time and place intact, or at least to have pieced themselves back together. They originally had a 10-year off-and-on run, interrupted by one or two break-ups, from 1975 to 1985, and spent the summer of 1982 as the house band at the Budweiser Pavilion at the World's Fair. They got back together in 2002 for a benefit show at the Bijou Theatre. It was supposed to be a one-time performance, but they're still at it almost six years later—a stretch that marks the longest unbroken period they've been together.

For the band—Horton and Maggie Longmire, whose male-female vocal interplay is the band's signature; lead guitarist Hector Qirko; steel guitarist Jay Barron; drummer Doug Klein; and bassist Stan Turner—to have persisted, matured, and actually improved over the years required a fairly simple alchemy: they became family. They've also kept growing creatively. Qirko, Longmire, and Horton are all active with other bands and solo projects. And in addition to their archive of truck-stop jukebox classics, the Lonesome Coyote's repertoire is steadily accruing an hour's worth of original material by band members and songs from friends like R.B. Morris and Jim Rector.

"River Rat," an original Horton usually sings in a duet with Longmire, is on the set list for Friday, but, for the most part, the show will be a clinic in essential honky tonk: some Merle Haggard, some Ray Price, maybe some Johnny Horton, and, outside the bounds of country, maybe even the Fats Waller song "Ain't Misbehavin'." A scheduling conflict precludes La Longmire's presence, so, without the songstress' filigree as part of the overall sound, the boys will be relying purely on their knack for Longbranch- and Yosemite Sam's-era musical shit-kicking.

In Maggie's absence, drummer Klein will help Horton and Qirko fill out the vocals. (Collectors of Coyote minutiae take heed: Klein's turns at the microphone can be counted on one hand without using a thumb.) Barron will probably be coaxed into his beguiling version of Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken." Turner ("the Quiet One") isn't expected to say much, but if he does, it will be worth repeating at a party later. Rumor has it the enigmatic bassist will present his bandmates with some sort of totemic object during Friday's show, something evocative of the group's guiding spirit animal.

Longmire fans won't have to wait long for a dose of the Lily of LaFollette; she's scheduled a February release for her new CD. Qirko's solo acoustic exercise, Wherever You Go, is getting critical raves and a new record by the HQ Band is about two months away. The Coyotes have two recordings: Just Like New, from 2005, is indicative of the band's growing interest in original songs, and 8202, a self-produced collection of barroom favorites released soon after the band's 2002 revival, is a faithful reproduction of the band's original honky-tonk roots. Expect a little bit of both this weekend.

Oh, and memo to KMA: Lay in plenty of beer.