I was sitting at Lefty's a few weeks back and the subject of the upcoming show with the Wood Chickens came up and I said, "They're Cowpunk." This brought more than a few blank stares from those around me. A few of which I knew were fans of Nine Pound Hammer, Hank III, and the countless modern versions of Cowpunk. Yet this term meant not a thing. So, I moved on to naming bands, Blood on the Saddle and Tex and the Horseheads first came to mind followed by the Knitters. still nothing.
Cowpunk like a lot of strange combinations of music started in Southern California. In a lot of ways LA music and especially LA Punk Rock has always been a melting pot of cultures. This is the case because of the number of ethnic groups that made the area their home. Punk rock in the area was greatly influenced by the cultures that the members came from. X brought their love of Country and Rockabilly to their music, The Plugz their Latino background to the party. The Blasters made Rockabilly Punk. Gun Club brought Blues into the mixture. And out of all this came a high breed called Cowpunk.
The sound combined Country with Punk, Blues, Rockabilly and then sped it up to a break neck speed and Alt. Country, Alt. Roots and the Traditional Americana movement was started. Sorry the name keeps changing so often it's hard to pin point it but many of the bands like Los Lobos, Dwight Yoakam and others would define and build this new style that was often truer to the roots than the mainstream version. The movement has in many ways reclaimed the heritage and spirit of the culture and art.
Now Cowpunk was only a small part of this overall movement and a short lived one. Hitting it's height in the mid 80s leaving a only a few to carry on. Often in a way that was a little more campy and often a little more over the top. Being over the Top was part of the fun, from the 7 day weekend of the glam sprinkled Tex and the Horseheads to the full on camp of the Beat Farmers to the blazing picking of Blood on the Saddle to the tongue to cheek of the Vandals, it was all about having a good time.
It would have been just a foot note if it hadn't created an ever evolving musical movement that has been marketed as everything from Roots to Nu Americana to Alt. Country. What I have on this list is what I consider the heart of the movement and some of the best examples of what has came after. I was disappointed that there wasn't better representations of bands like Tex and the Horsehead. If there was any piece of LA musical history that deserves a reissue it's their self titled record and Life's So Cool. All that is on Spotify was the singles released in the early 2010s. Thus I included Junkyard's version of Clean the Dirt.
Luckily, Blood on the Saddle released New Blood in 1995 but it is missing many of the early tracks and it would be great to have all of that see the light of day again. While bands like Screamin' Sirens only have a one song on Spotify though they did appear on a few soundtracks and in the movie The Runnin' Kind sort of.
Bands that aren't really Cowpunk that should made be on the list include: X, The Blasters, The Gun Club, and the Cadillac Tramps. They weren't really Cowpunk but they either were a huge influence on the movement or were part of the same early scene.