“If there was a race from Earth to the heavens, and if how close you would get to God was determined on how fast you shot from Earth to heaven, wouldn’t it be strange to see a lot of us long-haired, tattooed hippie freaks rising faster than those preachers.” James Richard Anderson, better known as Big Dad Ritch (or simply BDR) is speaking about I Am The One, a song on Ride On, Texas Hippie Coalition’s latest album. Truth be told, the statement could equally apply to Ritch himself. An imposing, hulking mountain of a man, Ritch cuts a menacing figure, particularly when viewing the scowling, tattooed visage peering forth from the band’s publicity photographs. However, calling in from his home in Texas, he is soft-spoken, unfailingly polite, and laughs readily. He even admits to a fondness for sushi and pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) while on the road. Clearly, there’s a lot more to the man than meets the eye.
Ritch is hoping that Ride On will be the album that brings THC (gotta love those initials) to the next level. He and bass player John Exall have a tight bond, and the two have been there from the beginning in 2008 when the band released Pride of Texas as an independent. After being signed to Carved Records, they subsequently put out Rollin’ in 2010 and Peacemaker last summer. Drummer Timmy Braun came on board with Peacemaker, and guitarist Cord Pool makes his debut with Ride On. The new album is also a big change for THC as for the first time they are a one-guitar band, which is huge deal for a band that up to now has had a two-guitar attack.
Asked about that, you can almost picture Ritch stroking his beard in thought before answering with his deep Southern drawl. “I don’t know what the deal is with me and guitar players. It just seems that we don’t hit it off too well. We were getting rid of one guitar player and adding another right before the recording of Peacemaker. We were indecisive about what we were going to do, me and John, being the ones who were making decisions, and we finally made the decision to release one of the guitar players. Moving forward we felt like one of the guitar players we had with us, Les Wallace, who was a contributing writer on Peacemaker, he was worried about his strengths and being to be able to carry the band as a single guitar player. I went out and started to search, and I actually had about 3000 guitar players send in videos and stuff, and me and John were laughing—we thought we would maybe look at 20. We got it narrowed down to four. I called Cord Pool up to hang with me…the kid was just a wonderful person! It’s just where I am in my career right now…I’ve been removing dark clouds for the last three or four years, trying to make Texas Hippie Coalition a household name. Cord just makes everything easy; he smiles all the time, he’s always happy, he puts a smile on my face, he makes me happy, he’s easy to get along with, hell of a songwriter, helped me to write a lot of this new album, he’s a major contributing factor, his stylings and sound make Ride On keeping with the THC tradition. He has that great Southern feel, we had lots of talks about ‘what band would you be in if you could be in any band’ and he’s like ‘I’d be in this band’ [laughs] so that makes me feel good. To be able to get Cord in there, everything just started to go so smoothly. John and I decided that Cord was a strong enough guitar player that we could be a four-piece if we wanted to. We’ve had a lot of great musicians in this band, but we’ve never had the likes of the talent of young Cord Pool.”
Listening to Ride On, Pool absolutely explodes with his guitar work. He really is a rookie phenom, to borrow a baseball term, which makes it all the more interesting to look at the publicity photos on the band’s website. You have Big Dad Rich looking like a bruising locomotive in front, and John Exall and Timmy Braun with their “I’ll break your face” grimaces. Then you see Cord Pool looking like a 16-year old kid with not a whisker on his face, unable to suppress a grin. He’s wearing sunglasses in an attempt to look tough, but…it just ain’t working. “When we were shooting those shots that you were talking about I kept tellin’ him it’s OK to smile. But he watched me and John and Timmy do our photos first and when he got in there, trying to be tough and I was like ‘Cord, you’re almost making me laugh trying to look tough.’ I tell you, Cord’s a sweetheart, but he’s tough. We were playing tackle football one day and he was clotheslining everybody! He was killing people! Yeah, Cord’s got a mean streak in him [laughs]. But yeah, actually I’m the one who put the sunglasses on him. [laughs even harder]. You know John looks so intimidating; Timmy always looks like he’s ready to slap a smile off your face. My dad told me even when I go to church I look like an imposing threat,“ says Ritch, which makes the contrast in the photos a study in rock ‘n roll dichotomy.
Putting aside the images, Pool proved a great fit as a songwriting partner from the get-go. “We first started writing with Bob Marlette [producer of Peacemaker] out in California, and me and Cord wanted to see how we structured our songs and our songwriting, then after that me and Cord went to my lake house and locked ourselves in there for a week and wrote more songs and went up to Nashville and met up with Skidd Mills [producer of Ride On] and wrote some more songs, so Cord was a part of everything, all of the way. Cord probably spent more time in the studio than any of us. Just having him there helped us to make a great album. I really think that he and John and Timmy have many strengths, each one a powerhouse in his position, but we were missing something in this band, and what we were missing was Cord Pool. Having him with us now, I think it’s the reason this album is going to be a leap. It’s like when you’re going up the stairs when you’re a little kid and you’re taking one step at a time, then you get a little older and you want to skip a step, and then a little older two steps, is seems that with this album this band might have leaped over eight steps. That big leap was due to Cord and his guitar work.”
“This album, it’s one of my favorite albums since Pride of Texas, which was an independently released album before the label. I think it just took a couple of albums until…you come in on that first album with the label and you’re on the stagecoach but you don’t have the reins, and the next one I felt like I was on the stagecoach, maybe riding shotgun, but I still didn’t have the reins. On this album I felt like we hooked up a couple of extra horses to the coach and I took the reins and took that sucker out. If you go back and listen to Pride of Texas and listen to Ride On, you can tell there are some songs that are formatted in the old THC format, which I’ve always loved. We’re just trying to bring the beginning to where we are now and trying to stay true to where we came from, and at the same time grow in this band.”
The conversation then turns to some of the songs on Ride On. One of the heaviest songs on the record is Splinter, the lyrics of which are obliquely about a person who hits as hard as a tornado. Not coincidentally the music itself pounds like a twister. “I had had the idea for that song in my head for oh…a little while. It actually derives from when I was a little kid, my grandma used to call me her little Texas tornado. She called me that because she said there wasn’t anything I couldn’t splinter. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since the day I was born. Breakin’ shit. And that’s basically what Splinter is about.”
Then there’s the song Go Pro. No, it’s not about what you think. “Man, you know what’s funny? I’ve had that song for two years. I don’t know when the GoPro camera came out, but I didn’t know about the camera until somebody brought it up to me. They said ‘you guys ought to approach GoPro with this song’ and I said I didn’t know what GoPro is and when they told me I was ‘Wow! That is awesome!’ When I was in athletics, and now when I’m working out with my trainer, the song was actually derived from ‘One more. Give me one more. Come on, Anderson, one more. Pump it up, push it up. One more.’ That’s how the song got started. Then I started thinking that I wanted the song to be about the band, Texas Hippie Coalition. Peacemaker came out right around July or August of last year, right before football season. I was watching football and thinking all these thoughts about rookies turning pro and I was thinking ‘man, that’s what my band needs to do. Amateurs, collegiate level whatever. This band needs to go pro. That’s great! We need to go pro!’ That was my way of letting the listeners out there know you’ve got your great ones, you’ve got your champions, but you’re about to get one more. It’s just letting everyone know that Texas Hippie Coalition is about to go pro. We’re about to be in your face all the time, we’re fixin’ to be the ones people talk about.”
Gene Simmons of KISS stirred up quite the controversy recently when he declared that rock ‘n roll is dead. Buried. Finished. Not surprisingly, Ritch has a reply to that. “Rock aint’ dead–it’s just in rehab.”
Last summer Texas Hippie Coalition toured in support of Peacemaker on their Highway Robbery tour with opening act Eve To Adam, and Ritch struck up a friendship with ETA drummer Alex Sassaris. “Yeah, Alex and I talk all the time. When I was writing Rock Ain’t Dead me and him would talk about the so-called death of rock n’ roll, and when Gene Simmons stated recently that rock ‘n roll is dead, Alex called me and said ‘you’re right on point with this rock ain’t dead stuff.’ I sure hope so, because I’m fixing to play some rock ‘n roll for people! Hopefully rock ain’t dead and it will hit someone in the face. I hope Nikki Sixx hears it!”
The final track on the album is I Am The End, which is a song lamenting the loss of a love. A sample of the lyrics: “Here’s a little something I thought you should know, I’m sure having trouble just letting go. You stole my heart and you took my soul. Thank the Lord above I’ve got my rock ‘n roll. All I wanted, all I needed, all I loved was you!” Now, rock songs about love are obviously neither new nor unique. Since the dawn of the genre, countless songs about love gained and love lost have been written and recorded. That said, the last thing one would expect from Big Dad Ritch would be to hear him singing a song with such tender lyrics. On the flip side, human emotions are universal. Just because someone is an intimidating looking biker dude doesn’t mean he is immune to feelings. When that comment is made, Ritch responds “I hear exactly what you’re saying here.”
“People always ask us, on the last album we had Think of Me, [a ballad] and on this album we kinda had a song like that in I Am The End; it’s just expressed a little differently. A little bit heavier. I always want to do something that’s out of the box like that, and I really like that song a whole lot. What’s weird is that I keep having different favorites. Right now I’m absorbed with Bottom Of The Bottle, but at one time I Am The End was one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s kind of an emotionally distraught song.”
“As a young kid, this doesn’t carry a lot of weight, but as you get older you realize that a tattooed freak who looks like he might be a drug addict or gangster, the shadow he casts might actually be angel wings and a halo. Some man who has a long coat on and looks like he’s ready for church, perfectly prim and proper, viewed as a pillar to the community, the shadow he casts could be the devil’s talon and horns. He could be one of the most evil men on the planet. It’s not always how you are perceived, it’s who you are on the inside. That has a lot of weight. It means a lot to me.”
With a new album comes a new tour. “We just came off Mayhem [the Mayhem Festival], and it was our hopes that we would have the album out in the summer, to be pushed by Mayhem, but there were a few things about the album that I wasn’t happy with and me and Skidd had to take some time to fix them, once we got that all worked out it just set it up that we probably wouldn’t be able to release the album until the middle of August, and because the band and the label has had such strong connections with Caroline and Capitol, they’re just helping us out so much that it would be better to have everything set up in advance to release on October 7, and then have that push. Right now we are in talks with so many bands…so many good bands about going out and touring with. I can’t really talk about it now for obvious reasons. Hopefully the right thing will happen and Big Dad and John Exall and Timmy Braun and Cord Pool will be on a big stage kicking everybody’s ass.”
BDR has been gracious with his time, but it’s a Saturday afternoon in Texas and there’s barbequing to be done. “I love sushi. I love anything hot. I have my own hot sauce, I have my own salsa, and I love wasabi. I also eat a lot of pho when I’m on tour. I really watch what I eat when I’m on tour. I don’t eat that much beef. I eat a lot of pho, a lot of sushi, a lot of fish. I’m very particular about what I take in before I hit the stage that night. Of course, on days off I’m eatin’ ribs, and brisket, just like here at home I’ve got my grill out back and I’m grilling almost every day. My girl’s like ‘you’re cooking a 20 pound brisket for a four person family.’ Believe me, I’m a big beef eater. Me and my boy are actually cooking steaks today. My youngest boy is learning to be a backyard chef himself, so we’re gonna grill some steaks this afternoon. However, one thing I won’t eat is quiche.”
This fall, when Texas Hippie Coalition comes to your town, don’t be surprised if you’re having dinner at the local sushi bar or Vietnamese restaurant and you find yourself rubbing elbows with Big Dad Ritch. Unless, of course, your choice of pre-concert meals is a French restaurant and you’re nibbling on a bite of quiche. Knowing the type of guy he is, Ritch would probably get in your face, look you square in the eye, and with that deep Southern growl quote a famous line from the movie Dirty Harry: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”