For Joey Killingsworth, "Quittin' Time" was just the beginning. The Memphian wrote the song and got radio airplay before forming his namesake band, Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre.
"I was doing some stuff with John Pickle for his movie The Importance of Being Russell, and I came up with a wacky song called 'Quittin' Time,' which got played on Rock 103, so I thought I ought to put a band together," Killingsworth explains of the X-rated update of Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It."
(Country music runs in the family. Joey's father, Bobby Killingsworth, has played guitar with Eddie Bond for more than four decades.)
"Originally, I had two separate groups in mind," admits Killingsworth, who launched the stripped-down Joecephus and the White Lightnin' Band around the same time. "Then Hank III became my inspiration: He combines country music and heavier stuff, so I decided I could combine country and hardcore. I love Black Flag and Waylon [Jennings]-era country, so I tried to blend it. We did some acoustic shows, then our first electric show was with Shooter Jennings, Waylon's son."
In a recent snapshot, Killingsworth poses shirtless in the middle of Sun Studio, showing off the tattoos that further testify to his affinity for both country and punk rock. A heavily inked symbol for the experimental noise group Einsturzende Neubauten sits high on one shoulder blade, dwarfed by a brilliant caricature of Jim Marshall's iconic Johnny Cash portrait.
The song "Jerk U Off My Mind" has garnered more than 7,000 plays on Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre's MySpace page (MySpace.com/JoeyKillingsworth). That song and tunes such as the speed-metal-inspired cow-punk anthem "Going Back to Memphis" and the country boogie "Honky Tonk Night Time" have brought Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre national exposure. In April, the group contributed a cover of "Death Comes Ripping" to a Misfits tribute CD. And next month, they'll hit the road to open shows for Reckless Kelly and Unknown Hinson.
"[As of] this month, we'll have been at it two years," Killingsworth, a veteran of '90s-era indie band Grendel Crane, notes of Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre. "When we started, we'd have gigs every weekend or every other weekend, and we'd make $20 apiece. Somehow we started networking, and we've been opening for everybody from Southern Culture on the Skids in New Orleans to David Allan Coe in Knoxville.
"I had to turn down a gig playing with The Bottle Rockets last weekend, because the band couldn't do it," Killingsworth says, explaining that he's resorted to running a classified ad with the hopes of finding a permanent rhythm section.
"Right now, it's me on guitar, Richard Wagor on bass, and either Don Mayall or Brett Broadway on drums, but I'm trying to find a core group, a permanent lineup that can get on the road and tour," he says.
Last month, Killingsworth was tapped to perform with the late Waylon Jennings' band at the prestigious Spirit of the Outlaws monthly concert series, held at Douglas Corner in Nashville. He also found time to put the finishing touches on his band's second full-length CD, Smothered and Covered.
Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre will celebrate the release of Smothered and Covered with local reggae group Soul Enforcers at The Buccaneer this Saturday night.
"We'd go into the studio whenever we had a song ready," Killingsworth says of the album's marathon-long recording sessions. "We'd have some drinks, knock it out, and really have fun with it."
It sounds like ol' Hank might've done it that way too, but even so, Killingsworth is cautious about the group's potential with stereotypical country-music fans.
"With whatever [the mainstream country-music industry] hypes as the new outlaw thing, they might wear big hats, but they're not really doing anything different," he says. "Luckily, there's an undercurrent with these Spirit of the Outlaws shows and with people like Hank III and Dale Watson, who are just too rowdy for the establishment."
Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre play the Buccaneer on Saturday, July 21st. Showtime is 10 p.m. $5 cover.