hat's in a name? Apparently quite a bit to the existing members of Buddy Holly's band, The Crickets.
So when a five-piece San Antonio band with thematic ties to the sound that Holly pioneered called themselves the Dead Crickets and built up a strong regional following, it created a problem. Crickets (live, not dead) drummer Jerry Allison requested the band change its moniker.
Kevin Geil, the lead singer for this San Antonio band, found inspiration for a new name in his driveway, a 1956 Cadillac. So after a six-year run as the Dead Crickets, the band became Two Tons of Steel in 1997.
The inspiration for the band's sound dates back much further. "I was about 13 or 14, and I had a guitar," says Geil in a phone interview from his San Antonio home, shortly before the release of the band's new disc, "Vegas" on the indie Palo Duro label.
"I saw the film 'This Is Elvis' with Kurt Russell. I had heard of Elvis, but I didn't know about his Sun Records stuff. I learned to play 'Blue Moon of Kentucky' on my acoustic guitar. It was something I could play. It wasn't like trying to create Led Zeppelin, which would have meant getting a few more guys. It was then I decided this was the music I wanted to play."
The group was formed in 1991. The current lineup includes Ric Ramirez on upright bass, Dennis Fallon on electric guitar, Chris Dodds on drums and Denny Mathis on steel guitar.
Nailing down the band members is easier than defining the sound. "It's a cross between country music and rockabilly," says Geil. He calls it "countrybilly."
It hasn't been easy plowing the way through the city better known for a recent NBA Championship than for its healthy music scene. Comparing his city with Austin was easy for Geil. "There is a music scene in Austin," he says. "There is none in San Antonio. In the area, there are probably more fans of this music than there are in Austin. But there are really only one or two places to play here."
One of those places is Gruene Hall.
"I'd been trying to get us into there for years," says Geil. "Pat Malack, who runs the place, heard us and asked us if we wanted to play on Tuesdays, which is the worst day of the week to play. They probably figured they had nothing to lose. We started drawing and drawing and drawing."
For the past 10 years, the group has played Two Tons Tuesdays there. It started as just in June. Now it has grown into June, July and August. Just recently two different Tuesdays in that run were recorded for both DVD and CD releases this fall. The event regularly draws over 12,000 fans. For eight years, Two Tons of Steel has been voted Best Country Band by San Antonio's weekly newspaper, The Current.
The band's newest outing in the studio is "Vegas," with Lloyd Maines producing. Finally the band is getting captured on disc the sound that has made the group such a live attraction.
"It was tricky until we started working with Lloyd," says Geil of the well-regarded producer. "When you go into the studio, you know it's got to be just right. When you've got to get it right, you lose the edge. We just went in and laid down the tracks. Some of the vocals are this disc are the rough ones we put down first. A few of the songs were unfinished until we got into the studio. 'Unglued' only had lyrics when we got there."
All but four of the tunes on the new disc were written by Geil, including the title cut. Yet a couple of the covers are certainly prime examples of the good-time spirit of the group.
One of the familiar songs is Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man."
"It was Lloyd who persuaded us to do that song," says Geil. "If you don't do a song like that right, they will tear you up."
Another is The Ramones' classic "I Wanna Be Sedated."
"We started doing that one live, and we got such good response from it," says Geil. "A lot of people who hear it and like it don't even know who The Ramones were, and that's a shame. When I like something, I want to play it. That's the way I decide what covers to do.""Vegas" is the sixth album released as Two Tons of Steel and the first for the Palo Duro label. Four of the albums remain in print.
The band's influences aren't far from what would be expected in rockabilly. "Buddy Holly was obviously a big influence," says Geil. "He was the most refined in what he was doing those days. He was far ahead of his time. Certainly Elvis, Robert Gordon and Link Wray were also people I listened to a lot."
While much of the rockabilly scene seems tied to nostalgia and shows that are throwbacks to the scene of the 1950s, Two Tons of Steel aren't really part of that feel.
"This is about the music we like," says Geil. "We're not into the 50's clothes or any of that. We just dress the way we dress and not for any certain time period."