by Kevin Crowe
Before laying out the philosophy that drives local act Ross th' Boss, Chris â“Hollywoodâ” Rusk takes a few ruminative sips of beer. â“Guys can spoil themselves, too,â” he declares, after a brief silence. There's never a dull moment with Rusk, the eclectic drummer who seems to be in just about every Knoxville band that's worth writing about, from Dixie Dirt to Royal Bangs to The Cheat to Midnight Bomber. He adds, â“There's intimacy between bros.â”
For nearly 30 years now, Knoxvillians have been pampered and styled under the watchful eye of Ross R. Badgett III, better known as Ross the Boss, the owner of 17 beauty salons and the Reuben-Allen College of cosmetology. Slowly, the grizzled men of Appalachia have gone soft, trading their grimy machismo for a softer, more presentable kind of manhood. It's this softening of mankind that fuels Ross th' Boss' music.
â“Manhood has taken a strange turn in this decade,â” Rusk goes on. â“You have guys who are very into their manhoodâ"you can call them brosâ"they're very masculine, but at the same time they like to take care of themselves.
â“It's important to look good. A man in our generation needs to look good, and we support that through our songs.â”
Rusk and Ryan Schaffer, two high school chums who give Ross th' Boss a dual-drum backbone, met bassist Nick Huinker at a bathhouse in an â“unspecified location,â” according to Rusk, who adds: â“Not many people know that.â”
With the two drums and Huinker's bass, Ross th' Boss is capable of something fierce, of glorious caterwauls each time they begin one of their odes to modern man. It's a spectacle, sure, every time this trio of bros comes to the stage. Kids bring 12-packs of Mountain Dew, all of which gets passed around the crowd, and the manic celebration of mankind continues.
â“In the morning, rise to meet the day,â” they sing. â“I got good skin care on the brain/Apricot scrub cleaning out my pores/Rise, repeat, then I'm out the door.â”
â“I guess you could call it â‘bro-ing out,'â” Rusk explains. â“Is there a wrong way to bro out? I think all guys have a different way of bro-ing out. I support all forms of bro-ing out, as long as you do it cautiously, as long as you're safe, as long as you're with people you trust.â”
If you ask the guys of Ross th' Boss, they'll most likely tell you that this is the music of revolution. â“I don't think there's anything wrong with the current state of man,â” Rusk continues, â“but at the same time I don't think there's anything right with it. It just is.â”
So they sing: â“ We can drink Mountain Dew all night/I'll get you diet if you want it/This is your special night/We'll do crunches and benchpresses 'till our muscles are sore/Go relax in the Jacuzzi and weight lift some more.â”
"No, I'm not excited about a rock band using my name,â” says Ross the Boss himself during a recent phone interview. â“What they're doing is getting some benefit from the advertising dollars I've spent over the last 30 years.
â“I'm assuming based on what I've heard of rock music that it's not family-friendly.â”
Nevertheless, Rusk feels that the message of Ross th' Boss is an important one, because each time he sees dozens of fansâ"each holding a can of Mountain Dew and sloughing off their inhibitionsâ"it's a rush, a testament to all the hours spent in rehearsal.
â“I guess you could say that Ross th' Boss is a philosophical band,â” he says. â“You could probably say that our message is up there with Socrates. You could probably say that, and it's probably trueâ. It's not a stretch to compare Socrates and Ross th' Boss.â”
But the future of Ross th' Boss is uncertain, especially with Ross Badgett's patent lawyer calling the Metro Pulse offices and demanding the names, phone numbers, and home addresses of these musicians. Where there's a spark of idealism, there's always resistance, yet the showâ"and perhaps the revolutionâ"must go on. These songs are, of course, just for men.
â“In order to break down these boundariesâ"it's sad, but we gotta be exclusive,â” Rusk says. â“We gotta focus on manhood. We gotta focus on the people who are directly involved. We can't be disturbed, y'know, this is our fight.
â“But if no one's there to fuel the fire, it'll die out. That's gonna be decided on September 7.â”
â“I think you can be really assured that I will not be there,â” Badgett says when asked if he'll take part in the revolution. â“I don't even know what the Pilot Light is.â”
Rusk finishes with a cogent rejoinder, a brief summary of his burgeoning ideology: â“Some men get kind of weird about being intimate with another dude. But there's intimacy between bros, and sometimes that scares a man. That's why we say, â‘Hold your hand brother, don't be scared/We're just two dudes that got something to share.'
â“Let's just break down the boundaries, and go for it.â”
WHO: Ross th' Boss and Elevado WHEN: Friday, September 7, 10 p.m. WHERE: Pilot Light
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