“We’re the band of outlaws…call us THC.” So begins the first song on Texas Hippie Coalitions’s latest album, Peacemaker. An intriguing blend of Southern rock and screaming metal, THC is led by Big Dad Ritch, an imposing, tattooed hulk of a man who looks like a menacing cross between a football lineman and a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang. In speaking with him, however, the image is deceiving: Ritch is polite, articulate, thoughtful….the prototypical Southern gentleman, if you will. Texas Hippie Coalition may be unfamiliar to most, but get ready–Peacemaker is the rare type of album that will hook you from the first listen. It’s the kind of album that you want to turn up for two reasons: One, it’s so damn good is has to be played loud, and two, with music this aggressive, ain’t it fun to piss the neighbors off?
Ritch began THC with a very specific goal in mind. “A lot of bands, I’m sure, begin by just jamming with other musicians,” he says with a casual Southern drawl. “This band here, I really knew exactly what I wanted to do. I knew how I wanted to market the band, how I wanted to promote the band, and where I wanted to be at musically. So this band really formed at a business table rather than a jam room. I actually contacted some of the best musicians I knew around our little area here, we call it the Red River Valley. It’s right on the border between Texas and Oklahoma, and we jump back and forth depending on which state is chasing us from time to time.” Ritch makes that remark with a straight face, leading one to believe that while he’s polite and respectful, he’s the kind of guy you don’t want to piss off; getting on his bad side could definitely be hazardous to your health. “When I was young, my dad could hand me an album by Van Halen, or Bad Company, or Nazareth, and there was a lot of good stuff like that. It seems like that was lacking at the time I put this band together. It’s almost like Bruce Wayne looking down on Gotham City and saying ‘My God, this place needs something,’ and what it needed was a Batman. I’m not saying that I’m trying to put on a mask and be a hero for music, but I definitely wanted to leave behind something for this generation, I wanted them to have something to sink their teeth into like I did. Like Lynyrd Skynyrd, like ZZ Top, like Bad Company. I actually thought we might never make it out of this little Podunk town in Texas, but it seemed like the rest of the world had an appetite, a hunger for this kind of music with this kind of attitude.”
And so, THC was began. The current lineup consists of Ritch on vocals, Randy Cooper and Wes Wallace on guitars, John Exall on bass and Timmy Braun on drums. However, just as the new album was being completed, the band was dealt a serious blow when Cooper developed a medical issue that will leave him unable to play guitar for close to a year. “Randy has two cysts underneath his arm, and they’ve wrapped around his tendons, and he can only play guitar for about five to fifteen minutes because of the pain. We’re not gonna leave our brother behind. We’ve got a lot of great, fantastic guitar players out there who have offered their services to this band, but we can’t promise something that belongs to someone else, and that spot belongs to Randy. So, we’re going to continue as a four-piece. We were hoping that Randy was going to be better and be able to go on tour with us, but it’s not going to happen. We went ahead and did the video [to the first single Turn It Up] with Randy.” In looking at the band’s website and Facebook page, all the promotional photos for Peacemaker have been done without Cooper, leading to concern and criticism among some of the fans. Ritch explains why that was necessary. “I feel like if we promoted the band as a five-piece and then go on tour as a four-piece, some people would think ‘false advertising.’ We might even have legal issues with promoters. Randy will have to have surgery and a long recovery period, and we’re hoping to have him back by the beginning of next year. It’s a hard subject…it’s a tough subject for us, because we’re all family.”
The album was produced by Bob Marlette, a hard-rock specialist who has produced records by such noted artists as Alice Cooper, Seether, Sebastian Bach and Filter. Asked what it was like to work with a producer with that kind of reputation, Ritch pauses for a second, and utters a single word. “Amazing.” He continues, “When you work with someone like that, you wish that you yourself were more talented. We would write a song on acoustic guitar and bring it to him, and I would tell him ‘I don’t know if this is going to the right place I want it to go.’ And he would say ‘This song is going to get there, just work with me.’ Bob’s canvas is a very large canvas. And he’s got a lot of paint in there. And when he gets to paintin’, he already knows what the picture is going to look like. A lot of us, we see the blank canvas, and we’re trying to figure out where we’re going. Bob already knows when he starts that song, he already has the complete vision. It was hard trusting him in the beginning of our relationship, but as it grew, I was like ‘Oh man, this guy’s a genius.’ When it comes to music, he’s just super-talented.”
One of the standout songs on the album is 8 Seconds, which is written from the perspective of a rodeo bull. “We go to a lot of rodeos down here in Tex-Oma land. I have a lot of respect for the cowboys, but I always thought ‘What if I was a bull?’ We started writing that song, and I thought that I should write it from the bull’s perspective. When I got done with that song I was so happy with it, because even though it’s from the bull’s perspective, it’s kind of where I’m at in my feelings and emotions. If I was an old red bull, I’d knock that cowboy right out of his boots, I guarantee that. Nobody be ridin’ me for eight seconds!”
Another unique tune is Paw Paw Hill. It starts out with a lazy fingerpicking acoustic guitar, lulling you into thinking it’s going to be a mellow change of pace, when suddenly the band explodes in a musical sonic boom. Based on a true story from his childhood, Ritch explains. “We had family in the backwoods of Oklahoma that we would go and visit, and there was a tree line you weren’t supposed to go past, and if you did, you would get in trouble. Growin’ up, they would tell you ‘There’s a Sasquatch in them woods, there’s a monster in them woods’, and you would think the most horrible things. The actual threat was not that there was anything bad in the woods–that’s where Grandpa’s moonshine was being brewed! So when I told that story to Wes–me and him wrote that song–he told me what he was thinking, and I told him he was spot on.”
Ritch is on a roll now, so it seems a good time to ask him a question about the band’s name. Is it just by happenstance that the initials of Texas Hippie Coalition spell out THC? “Purely coincidental,” he says straight-faced, until he can no longer contain himself, and lets out a great belly laugh. “We’re very proud to be from the great state of Texas, known as God’s Country. Both the U.S. flag and ours are red, white and blue. The ‘Hippie’ is actually a dedication to my parents. They were two very young teenagers when I was born, and I grew up with that laid-back, hippie-type atmosphere. The ‘Coalition’ is to bring in the family. We want the fans to be a part of what we are. If you ever come to a Coalition show, you’ll see our fans showing up with plates and plates of food. We have a big ‘ol gigantic eat ‘n greet, and we don’t charge anybody, all you’ve got to do is bring a plate of food. It’s just an awesome thing to have fans like this. They’re more than fans, they’re family members . As a matter of fact, we played this bar not too long ago and this cowboy came up to me and said ‘There are college kids in here. There are hippies in here. There are cowboys in here. There are one-percenters in here. There are everyday people in here. And there ain’t been one fight all night. Everyone’s having such a good time partying, how you got all these people to follow you, I’ll never know.’ And I told him, it’s because I named my band ‘Coalition.’ It’s not for one group of people, it’s for us all.”
Ritch has been gracious with his time, but it’s a warm Friday summer evening in Texas, and he no doubt has places to go and people to see. Asked if he would like to say anything in closing, with a twinkle in his eye he replies “Everybody test positive for THC.”