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Big Ass Conflict!

The Flyer music editor descends into all-out corruption.

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My band is playing. You should go.

When I met my bosses at the Flyer, I mentioned that I play music and that eventually there might be a conflict of interest. Well, the mother of all conflicts of interest is here. I play bass in three groups right now. Two of them, Big Ass Truck and Alicja Trout, are playing with Sons of Mudboy on Thursday night at Minglewood Hall to commemorate the local run of Meanwhile in Memphis, a documentary film about the local music scene. You should go.

Big Ass Truck began in the winter of 1992. I left in 1995. But most of the others didn't. They soldiered on through the rest of the decade. In doing so, Big Ass Truck released five records and developed a fan base that spanned the country. The quality of the recordings and the high level of musicianship spoke to a lot of people over the years. Younger people revere the band in ways that still amaze me. Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT has cited Big Ass Truck and Steve Selvidge as influences. Half of the members of my other extremely cool band, the Knights Arnold, were fans of Big Ass Truck and would probably not play with me if I had not been a member.

Steve started it. Selvidge had a gig at the Antenna and no band to back him. He was a kid. And, as guitar shaman Rod Norwood will tell you, exactly the type of punk to hoodwink Antenna boss Mark McGehee into giving him a spot even though he was a bandless child.

Steve had the good sense to call Alex Greene, who had played keyboards with smart, important people like Tav Falco and Alex Chilton. Robert Barnett had played drums with eventual Grammy nominee Stephan Crump and founding member of Galactic Rob Gowen. Steve also demonstrated the family brains in getting his friend and creative supervolcano Robby Grant to come on board.

I met Steve a year earlier in a since-destroyed building across from Midtown Huey's. Winston Eggleston invited me to jam with Steve and Senegal-based math whiz/synthesizer maniac Shelby Bryant. Was it instant magic? I can't remember. But I'm glad Steve called me a few months later.

Steve's next move was his Black Swan. Colin Butler is a DJ. But he's a special sort of DJ: He has a sense of Memphis and a sense of humor that set us apart. He and Greene added dimension that defined our sound and was essential to our success. Any critical references to soul or hip-hop stem from the turntables and the keyboards. They gave us the bigger sound and wider palette we heard from Al Green at Royal Studios and the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal records.

That first night at the Antenna was terrifying. We played some covers and jammed. I can't recall any reaction from the audience. But we were fun people with lots of friends, so we were a draw. That got us more gigs and kept us practicing.

Those Antenna shows and the early days in our second home at Proud Larry's in Oxford are fond memories of really fun times. While bands like the Grifters were being aesthetically brilliant, we were having unmitigated, shirtless (sometimes pantless) fun on stage and around the country. That bothered some serious-minded people. But plenty of people were into the party. Big Ass Truck was a hardworking good-times A-team.

Andria Lisle and Gina Barker (now married to Bryant) ran a record label called Sugar Ditch out of Shangri-La Records. They agreed to put out an EP. Steve led us over to Sam Phillips Recording, where we had the privilege of working with Roland Janes. I'm still proud of those recordings. We liked recording and started experimenting in production with help from Paul Ringger, Posey Hedges, and Ross Rice.

Greene introduced us to the writer Robert Gordon, who had the sense, initiative, and connections to get us a record deal. I remember sitting on the porch of Harry's across from Ardent with Jake Guralnick saying we could make a real album. That was a special night.

In 1994, I was working at Ardent Studios as a cat dung removal specialist. The studio gave us a deal, and we settled in for a week with Rice, Erik Flettrich, and Pete Matthews. The result was Kent, our first full-length album. We named it Kent after a friend. His name is Kent.

That album represents something of a lost art. We didn't use computers. Tape is a taskmaster. I remember one grueling dawn when Ross was cajoling me to stay awake during the overdubs of Chris Parker's "Thermopolis." We put everything we had into that record.

When Kent came out, we went on the road. I hated touring; so I quit. Within a month, I got fired from Ardent and went back to school. For the next few years it was hard to watch as the band started touring in glamorous places: They played Red Rocks in Colorado and appeared on MTV, which is a thing that used to put music programs on the television set.

The Big Ass Truck bassist job became the Spinal Tap-drummer thing: Subsequent bassists included Lucero's John Stubblefield, Paul Taylor, Jon Griffin, Dros Liposcak, and Robby's brother, Grayson Grant.

Big Ass Truck made three more records and amassed a network of fans and friends from coast to coast. Our bandmate and road manager Mike Smith got so good at touring that he went on to manage tour logistics for Widespread Panic. We never would have made it out of the Antenna with out Mike.

But, really, we're all old and gross now. So we're grateful that Meanwhile directors Robert Allen Parker and Nan Hackman asked us to play. I'm appreciative of the work the others did and thankful the band called me. It's not as easy as it was 20 years ago: I can't remember the songs, my hands are numb, and I can't wear cool shoes for any extended period.

It's been fun connecting with old friends and hearing from people who shared our good times. I'm sure the other members have things to say, but they are not the music editor of this paper. Plus, I need to use the remaining space to brag about the Knights Arnold. We are the next big deal. Trust me.

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