Andy Grooms has been having trouble with drunks, and the former Pawtuckets member -- whose 2003 solo effort, Grateful To Burn, finally celebrates its official release this month -- doesn't know if he can take it anymore.
"Let's talk about why there are bad drunks. Why are there bad drunks? Why?" Grooms asks. "And why is it that the people who are bad drunks -- the worst drunks you can imagine -- are the ones who are always drunk? They sure annoy me. Now I can be a decent drunk. I speak my mind but I hold demeanor. But then there are all the other drunks who speak their mind but who don't hold demeanor. Those are the drunks I'm talking about."
A particularly annoying drunk once told Grooms he looked like Ron Jeremy, the portly porn star who's hairy physique earned him the nickname "Hedgehog."
"Look over there," Grooms slurs in imitation. "Hey you. You look like somebody I know. You look just like Ron Jeremy.
"Then," Grooms continues, "there's the kind of drunk who, if there's any girl at the bar he's like, 'Oh dude, I have just gotta go talk to her.' And he runs her off. And then he runs all the other girls off. And then there are no girls at the bar anymore. It's just me and the damn drunk and it's like, thanks a lot, asshole, you just ran off all the girls!"
Grooms knows his drunks. By day, he's the proprietor of the Corkscrew, a fine wine and spirits shop on South Front downtown. By night, he's a wild-haired tramp of a piano man singing his unique brand of psychedelic folk.
Grooms was born in Nashville, the son of a traveling Baptist music minister. As a kid, he moved often. He came to Memphis in 1984.
"My dad had a mid-life crisis, or something like that, and so he dropped the rest of my family here and went off to figure out whatever it was he had to figure out," Grooms says.
"I never did want to play rock-and-roll. I was a boy soprano. I sang with the Austin City Orchestra when I was 11 and 12. I play stride piano, mostly gospel stuff. I'd like to try to do more electronica, but right now I'm having a really hard time getting out of the 1960s.
"I wish there was a really cool twist to my life story," Grooms says. "Like I was thrown into the ghetto and I became a rapper, or something of that nature, but it didn't happen. I didn't get to have a regular kind of childhood. I had a lot of responsibilities."
Both Grooms' mother and brother were diabetic.
"So with two diabetics in the house and my dad gone I was always doing things with my family. I didn't get to hang out and play instruments with my friends," Grooms says. "I didn't have a chance to listen to music really. There just wasn't time for it. And that's why musically, I feel like I'm 10 or 12 years behind all of my peers."
When Grooms refers to his music he still calls it alt-country, but beyond a bit of bucolic imagery, there's nothing honky-tonky about Grateful To Burn. Grooms' piano suggests Tom Waits, Bach, music boxes, and rolling thunder, all riding on a psychedelic wave of violins, horns, and samples.
"I guess I'm sort of stuck in this '60s psychedelic thing right now," Grooms says, but even when he cops lyrics like "love the one you're with," his music never seems particularly retro.
"A lot of the sound we got [on Grateful To Burn] I owe to [former Pawtuckets bandmate] Kevin Cubbins. He called me one day and said to come down to the studio. And I was late and when I got there he had musicians. Everything was ready to go. None of the guys had played any of these songs before, but we just went with it."
Andy Grooms has been having trouble with drunks lately, but he suspects that without them he might be out of business.
"Music and [liquor]," he says. "I guess they just go together."