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Track By Track: Todd Snider’s ‘Eastside Bulldog’

Dean Budnick | November 04, 2016

“Steve Fishell has this academy, and he had asked me to play in front of his students so that they could learn how to record,” Todd Snider explains, while detailing the origins of his new album, Eastside Bulldog. “But that didn’t happen. We got them drunk and high and we made this album.”

The result was an all-night session that extended past dawn, during which Snider and some area players ad-libbed an entire album’s worth of material while adopting a new identity, creating songs on the fly that harkened back to the early days of rock.

Snider then sat on the results for a few years. “Every once in a while my manager would say, ‘You know, that came out good.’ In my mind, I was like, ‘How could it? I hardly remember it.’ I don’t think anyone who was there remembers it. So I wouldn’t want to listen to it. But at some point I did, and I thought that I was able to get to an honest place that I don’t get to when I try too hard.”

He clarifies, in his inimitable style: “My obsession with music started with the alphabet and all that I thought it could bring to music, so when I realized the alphabet was a hoax perpetuated by the Freemasons to trick me into thinking I could make sounds with my face that would improve my life, I was completely at odds with myself and my life’s work. All at once, it occurred to me that even Bob Dylan knows that, lyrically, he can’t touch “wop-bop-a-loobop” or “sh-boom sh-boom” or “shama-lama-ding-dong.” Those sounds actually indicate the exasperation of wanting to be loved or understood. I grew up around lyrics like that and, up to that point, had seen them as trite. I grew up around the music of The Kingsmen and Paul Revere & The Raiders. It’s sort of in my DNA. I have never been a great guitar player, but I have never stopped working at it either, and I have gotten to where I could play lead in one of those bands.

“So one night—in a fit of self-loathing, after having just finished an EP and an album of word songs, but knowing I thought words, in general, were useless as conveyors of emotions and ideas—it occurred to me how important the word ‘baby’ was in rockand-roll and that I only wanted to sing about fucking or fighting or y car or my town and my music. So I decided Todd Snider was dead to me and I would become a guy named Elmo Buzz.

“I wrote a whole backstory on him. He grew up in East Nashville and he formed a band based on his obsession with Bocephus [Hank Williams Jr.] and partying and rocking and just kicking ass in general. The band rehearsed for 12 years before they ever auditioned and, when they finally auditioned, they got the gig. Right when they get the gig, East Nashville is just becoming this Americana-y town, and this Todd Snider character comes into town. At Elmo’s fir t gig, he had this hat on with fl wers on it. He was kind of dressed the way I dress now. I saw this guy’s band, and I thought, ‘They’re just terrible. No one’s ever going to see these guys,’ so I stole his look, thinking, ‘Who the fuck would ever know?’ I got more popular around town and he eventually realized that I’d stolen his look and he got really angry about that.

“So now there’s this band Elmo Buzz & The Eastside Bulldogs who refuse to play anywhere other than East Nashville, and they sing songs about chicks and cars and partying hard. The guy hates me and you never see us in the same place because he told me if I ever saw him, I should run—so I do. He talks shit about me constantly and about how Todd Snider ruined East Nashville with all the fingerpicking and the folk bullshit and the beer song when it used to be a kick-ass, party-hardy rock town.

“Elmo’s answer to the question: ‘How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?’ is ‘Stop whining. I’m going to have a good time tonight if it fucking kills me. Are you with me or not? And Todd Snider still walks around acting like Dylan was being deep when he sang all that bullshit.’”

HEY PRETTY BOY

We went out, started playing and the fir t words that came out of my mouth were: “Nobody cares about the music business” because, to me, that’s East Nashville. In my mind, as East Nashville got hipper, the music business people would come over and hang out in the bar, and they would ask you how things were going at work and who your lawyer was, but nobody over there cares about any of that.

The guitar solo—that’s me. It’s the first solo I’ve ever taken. I play “take-off” guitar on the whole album and being that this is Relix, how should I say this? Neal, Derek, Trey [Casal, Trucks, Anastasio]—I hope they’re going to be OK. Especially on this one, my use of the one note really shows my lack of talent and dexterity as an expression of soul.

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So now, we had one song and it was time to make up the next one. I just yelled, “Hey, baby, let’s rock-and-roll!” You can’t say anything better than that. And then I just kept going with that thought, so I sang, “It’s alright if you lose control; everybody’s trying to get their kicks.” Then I yelled out our area code, and to make up a chorus, I just took all those lines and sang them backward.

Then, we just started rocking and Dennis Taylor, who has since passed away but was the sax guy for Delbert [McClinton], took a solo. And then I came in and I played my solo, which I’ve played for Neal and, when I did, I had to talk him off the top of the hotel for two hours. They asked me, “Please play lead for the band [Hard Working Americans]” but I told them that I couldn’t. I was too humble to do that.

To be very serious for a second, my leads are almost comical. They’re funnier than “Beer Run.” I don’t know why I like them, but I’m proud of them and I can’t believe I did them in front of people. It makes me want to play guitar.

The truth is that, for as bad as I am, I play all goddamn day. I don’t have the rhythm to play with my own band—I can do stuff, but I can’t do it with the drummer consistently. It really fucks up the live groove if somebody’s not locked in.