Normally I would be playing in tonight’s edition of I Love You So Much at The Hideout Theatre; but it’s one of my ‘weeks off’ in our nine-week run.
But yet, I’m going to tonight’s show. So that I can watch Pops Bayless play the ukulele.
Pops is a musician who played semi-regularly with The Asylum Street Spankers, and the Asylum Street Spankers are one of the links to the Austin, Texas, that I first came to know and love when I moved here.
Don’t worry, there is an improv lesson in here somewhere. And I’m not about to get all glassy-eyed for the “Austin that was.” I won’t wax bucolic about the quaint college town nestled in the rolling verdancy of Central Texas—mostly because Austin was already beginning to bloat when I first arrived here to attend college in 1997. But, true or not, my memories of those first few years—from ’97 through about 2002—have Austin as a bit cooler than it is now. Not just “cooler,” but more “accessibly cool.”
But for me, the Spankers represent my magical time, my memory of Austin back then. And Pops Bayless, who’s playing several ukulele songs throughout the show tonight (and only tonight), is a bit of a talisman for those lost years, that lost Austin.
Back to the Spankers: They were a large band. They had a few core members, and a large rotating cast of musicians who’d sit in. They played around Austin, and eventually the world, quite often. They played a mixture of blues and jazz standards (sung by the indelible Christina Marrs) and quirky and catchy original pieces—like this song, entitled perfectly Beer:
(That’s Wammo, by the way. Wammo was The Spankers’ lead singer and creative force. He also happens to be the guy who brought weekly poetry slams to Austin in 1994, which is how I came to meet him and The Spankers in 1998.)
The Improv Lesson (I Told You There’d Be One)
The Spankers were like a really good improv troupe. The best troupes that I’ve seen—The Frank Mills, Heather and Miles, PGraph, Get Up, etc.—are collaborative. No single voice seems to dominate. They achieve an ideal give-and-take. They listen to each other. They are both very focused and playful detached. It’s impressive as hell, and it’s hard to achieve without a lot of practice and a little luck.
Such were The Spankers. Here’s some proof. (Pops comes in at 3:35 on the banjo.)
I’m not sure they make bands like The Spankers anymore. (They broke up in 2010.) They were talented and tireless artists. They were collaborative. They were theatrical. They put on a show.
I probably saw Pops Bayless play with them only two or three times with the Spankers. But when I see him tonight, I might just poop myself with sentimentality.