Tag Archives: johnson city music

Day 9 – A Song that You Can Dance to: “Lizard Song”

“Lizard Song” – Brian & the Nightmares

Smith, Relleva, Hagardorn

I should change the title of this one to “A Song that You Will Dance to … and dare anyone to stop you!” Brian & the Nightmares were the band I worshipped during my undergrad days at ETSU. They were an incredible live band with something rare, at the time, among roots-based guitar bands: great songs. They held their own in sweaty dance clubs and listening rooms, in auditoriums and pool halls. They’d play a James Brown tune, turn around into a Cramps cover, then rip off four of their own excellent songs — two from Brian, two from guitarist Kurt Hagardorn — then, before you could catch your breath from hooting and hollering, knock you flat with a revved-up version of an old classic like “Stack ‘o Lee” or “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” By the way, “Lizard Song” is one of my all-time faves: great riff, cool lyrics, awesome lead breaks. And I will dance along with it, in a darkened club, with a bunch of other sweaty rock kids dressed in black, to my heart’s content!

Brian & the Nightmares … the beat goes on

Some of you may have read the remembrance of Brian and the Nightmares I wrote for their reunion get-together (originally in the local entertainment paper and more recently posted to this blog) in 2002. Very recently, another Nightmares fan posted video –originally shot for a local cable show — of that gig to YouTube. As a public service, I’ve assemble it below.

If you remember the Nightmares, this is a great reminder of their unique energy and musicianship. If you weren’t around or didn’t get the chance to see them during their late 80’s heyday, do yourself a favor and catch a sampling below.

I can honestly say that I’ve never been in a band, post-1988, that I didn’t in some way compare, unfavorably, to the focus and energy of the ‘Mares: it’s a goal that I’ve always shot for, and whenever someone has said to me, “man, your band is tight,” I’ve always wanted to say, “then you never saw Brian & the Nightmares!”

“Bored Games”

“Easy Way Out”

“Desperate Highway”

“Lizard Song”

“Primitive Rose”

“Keep on Walkin'”

“She’s So Tall”

“Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” (Standells cover)

“I Am A Rock” (Simon & Garfunkel cover)

“Can’t Touch an Angel”

“Little Bit of You”

“Route 66”

“All You Want to Do Is Sin”

And from way back in 1989 … Brian, Kurt, John and Mark doing “Warm California Sun” (Rivieras/Ramones/Dictators) and “New Kind of Kick” (The Cramps)

Brian and the Nightmares Remembered

It’s 10 o’clock on a chilly, November night. You cross the street to the tiny barbeque joint and from the curb you can already feel the energy inside. You’re excited, but you approach the doorman with reticence – you’ve been told that your name is “on the list,” but if it’s not you’re out of luck, because you aren’t legal, you’re only 18.

At last, you squeeze through the door. Bodies are already packed to the point of having to breathe and move as one. You somehow make your way into the middle of the crowd, wedged between a couple of girls with long, dyed black hair and a red-faced guy wearing a dirty John Deere cap. On stage are the musicians – they have to be onstage, because there is literally nowhere else for them to be. Even on that small stage, bathed in the meager glow of a few track lights pointed in their direction, they look larger than life.

Before you have the chance to really register what’s going on, the drummer, whose long, lank hair reinforces his resemblance to an un-permed Tommy Lee, strikes the count on his hi-hats – “one, two, three …!” You feel, more than hear, the music as it rolls through the room. You’d dance, if there was any room to do so; instead, you move with the crowd as it responds to the bass and drums, locked together in a ferocious 4/4 assault. The singer, miraculously, cuts through the wall of sound with a baritone that is both Hank Williams-thin and Springsteen-powerful. With his black hair, hat, coat, boots, and faded black pants, he looks like some sort of nineteenth-century “medicine show” barker. He stands at the microphone, his big, hollow-bodied Rickenbaker guitar in hand, singing and blowing harmonica like a preacher delivering a hellfire and damnation sermon while cursed with the knowledge that he has some serious sins of his own to pay for.

To his left is his foil, his black, shaggy hair bouncing, by turns smiling and frowning, playing his worn Telecaster with a speed, fervor and accuracy that betrays many nights holed-up alone in his bedroom with a guitar, surrounded by records. He seems to be in a world of his own, and when he comes forward to take the microphone, he sings with a sincerity and emotion that makes even his most humorous lyrics seem heartfelt. On the opposite side of the stage the bassist stands stock-still, impervious to the chaos going on around him. All that seems to move are his hands and fingers; his only flourish is his right wrist snapping to emphasize a chord change or to follow the song’s dynamics. In contrast, the drummer is all movement, playing hard and fast, digging into the beat, staying inside the music while keeping it right on the precarious edge between order and confusion.

You are watching Brian and The Nightmares, circa 1988: Brian Relleva, Kurt Hagardorn, John Smith, and Mark Ryalls. You are where I stood on that chilly November night at Quarterback’s Barbeque, the night that changed my life, the night I was saved by rock and roll.