Not a whole lot of folks stop in Neosho, Missouri, unless of course you're Lucero, and your trusty van decides this small Midwest town that skirts the western edge of the Ozarks is as good as any to call it quits.
"A pulley came loose and the belts didn't break, but they came right off. All the lights in the van turn off and then it overheats, and you're all, 'Oh, shit, the van just died!'" So says guitarist Brian Venable, who knows a thing or two about the woes of a tired touring vehicle, seeing how the Lucero boys spend the majority of their days on the road, flirting with 200 shows a year, or as was the case last year, 250. "We've been real lucky," he adds. "But that's just part of it, we're rough on the van and eventually it just breaks."
It's a Zen attitude to take, especially for four blue-collar Southern boys who call Memphis home. Formed in the tail end of the '90s by rough-voiced frontman Ben Nichols, Lucero are, as Venable so accurately puts it, a "whiskey rock 'n' roll band." Nursing a sound that bleeds red, white, and blue—sans the rah-rah patriotism of being a no-nonsense band whose home lies beneath the stars and bars of the Mason-Dixon line—Lucero has made a career of singing distorted American folk anthems similar to those of the Boss, plus they harness the same charming boozy rowdiness that once belonged to storied acts like the Replacements, or even the Pogues.
Last year's Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers (produced by David Lowery of Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven) shows that the band (thankfully) hasn't veered too far from their tried-and-true platform of drunken postcards from the side of the open road, slurred tales of love lost and found (but mostly lost), and stories about rebellious young men who linger too long on the wrong side of the Memphis tracks. Their imagery shuns modern characters; instead, a Lucero protagonist has a Jim Stärk rebellious streak, the inebriated poetics of Hank Chinaski, and it's all held together with the Southern romanticism of William Faulkner.
Their vivid songwriting imagery is capped off by the pained vocals of Nichols, whose shredded vocal chords sound like they've developed a bronchial infection that's been impossible to kick. As Venable laughingly puts it, "He's harmony-proof," which is fine, considering that the band's persona for knocking back rounds will always trump clean living, Throat Coat Tea, and vocal scale exercises. Drinking bands have always been a beacon for drinking fans, and Lucero's loyal following is no exception, happily treating the group to many an onstage shot, even if they aren't always interested.
"What's funny is when you don't take the shots people buy for you," says Venable. "I've had nights when I look over and see eight shots just sitting on my amp." Now if they can just find a way to get that amp, and the rest of the band, in the van and escape Neosho, Missouri, that would definitely be something worthy of a celebratory drink. Or two.