So what to make of ostentatious Knoxville rockers the Bad Dudes, who dress up like a B-movie street gang and adopt stage names like Precious Robinson and Hollywood Tate? When Robinson yowls lines like "We looove getting loaded/I drank so much my eyes exploded," as he does within the first 30 seconds of the band's new record, Mammas Hide Your Daughters, is it a joke? Or is it possible that even bothering to process it as a "joke" is overthinking it a bit?
Bad Dudes guitarist Vivian Knight attributes it to rock' n' roll bacchanalia having fallen out of fashion over the past 20 years.
"Think about Quiet Riot or AC/DC," Knight says. "Listen to these songs. Listen to David Lee Roth! These guys are pretty f--king goofy, but at the same time, the music's real, and you can tell they're having a good time, and it translates. No one's questioning their material, their subject matter."
That rationale, let alone the comparisons bundled into it, would be harder to swallow if the Bad Dudes weren't so sincere about the project and what it means to them. When the group first formed in 2006 (splitting one memorable bill with Royal Bangs hair-metal side project Powersnake, the very model of an honest-to-god joke band), most involved had spent years paying dues in local punk bands, and a gag between friends became the means to an end.
"Some kid got a Bad Dudes tattoo, a really terrible tattoo," Knight says. "It looked absolutely godawful. So we kinda had no choice but to pull it together then, right? We had, like, seven songs in a week. And it came easier than the more serious stuff we were involved in, just to make simple, fun music with your friends. And we had, like, nine members we'd swap out."
After a year or so the group went dormant. Then last summer Robinson, Knight, and Tate decided they couldn't do without Bad Dudes in their lives, rounded out the lineup with drummer Mikki Magnum and lead guitarist Billy Bunny, and began putting together material for their debut, recorded with producer John Puckett this spring and available following their CD release show at the Cider House on Oct. 6.
The record's songs are deliberately straightforward, heavy with power chords, pinch harmonics, and revelry. Precious Robinson is as convincing a rock-star figure as anyone else currently playing at it, and leads the band through hooky shout-alongs about all the requisite topics: drinking, fighting, sex. (Mostly sex.) It's not hard to hear the band members' background in hardcore and second-wave emo, but it's never pastiche; if nothing else, Bunny's leads typically tether the Bad Dudes' sound to something suggesting a redneck Judas Priest.
That's not a bad place to land for a group that draws on the pure id of rock 'n' roll as inspiration, but they still find themselves pigeonholed, for better or worse.
"You look at venue websites, they'll list us as, like, '80s rock," Knight says grudgingly. "Or the sound guy at one of our first shows back was, like, ‘Yeah dude, cock rock, all right.' And that's fine, but that's not how we're thinking of it. Every song's different enough on its own terms, and the thing in common is that it's loud-ass rock 'n' roll."
Still, it's understandable. There's a pageantry to the Bad Dudes' live show—though Knight argues they toned down the "really goofy stuff" pretty early on—that can be misread as ironic distance or cover-band play-acting. But Robinson insists that audiences invariably come around to the simplicity of the Bad Dudes' onstage agenda. Even, in fact, people outside the building.
"After our last show at Patrick Sullivan's, this guy comes up, his eyes are wobbling all around, and he's like ‘Who the f--k are you guys?'," he says. "He was walking down the street and heard us and I guess he went into several different bars looking before he ended up on the third floor of Sullivan's, and caught one song. He waited for us to get off stage just to tell us he hadn't heard shit like that in 20 years."
"And there's not a lot of other bands around like us, so we end up on bills with all sorts of metal bands, or indie bands, or any type of stuff," Knight adds. "And it's fun to be able to win over all those different audiences, even to spot some dude back by the concession stand just going nuts. And that's what we want—we're having fun playing, the audience is feeling it and letting go. Our main point is that everybody's got a little bad dude in them."