It's been a pretty good year or two for the band Satchel's Pawnshop. They sold out of their debut release Left Canine Magic; they were interviewed for and featured in the acclaimed Americana magazine No Depression; they are regular openers at Headliners in Louisville, one of the city's best music venues; they have been touted as one of the best unsigned bands in Louisville by various local industry insiders; they are in regular rotation on the AAA format radio station WFPK FM and last Monday they were all set to head into the studio again to begin work on a new CD release.
At least, that was the plan before the tape shortage.
"Did you hear our saga with the studio? We have no tape," lamented Dave Nofsinger, the band's guitarist over pub plates and beer at Shenanigans.
"Curses on analog tape," added Willie MacLean, the band's bassist, blowing a thick cloud of cigarette smoke into the air.
Despite the setback; however, the band seemed downright cheerful. After examining my meatloaf special and deciding that was what they all should have ordered, they settled back comfortably into an hour of conversation, one-liners and beer to dispel some of the band's mystery and explain the appeal of Louisville's best-known unknown band.
First of all, there's that name: Satchel's Pawnshop. Where did that come from, anyway?
"I went to a pawn shop in the West End of Louisville," explained Dave Porter, the band's other guitarist/vocalist, "and I couldn't find anything, so I was headed out and as I passed the cash register I noticed a big black-and-white photo of Satchel Paige back on the wall. So I asked the owner ‘how much will you take for that photo up there?' and he said ‘that's not for sale.' So I offered him so much more, and he said ‘No, I don't want to sell it. He watches out over this place and it's his place, so I'm just going to keep it here'. So I thought about that - ‘Satchel's Pawnshop' - and I thought that was kind of cool…and the rest is history."
"Hey, I've never heard that version before," Nofsinger noted with interest.
"That's my story and I'm sticking to it," said Porter.
Okay, so maybe that's where some of the mystery comes from: it's a bit difficult to get a straight answer to a question from these guys. In LEO's recent annual music guide, for instance, the band claimed to lip-synch every show. That same music guide also described their music as ranging from "traditional country to Exile-era Rolling Stones with a nod to the Beat Farmers," which caused me to wonder exactly what genre the band considered themselves to be.
"I like to go back to that roots rock-n-roll thing," said MacLean, "we never really classified ourselves as the ‘new alternative country' the way some people might because I think that term is a bunch of crock."
"Yeah, we're just basically a roots band," confirmed Nofsinger.
"You've got to be something," added MacLean philosophically, "you can't worry about it that much. It's a lot easier to give something a name than to try to refer to the band as a ‘punk-rock-blues-country-hardcore mix with poetic singer-songwriter techno-pop'. "
Punk-rock-blues-country-hardcore-poetic-singer-songwriter-techno-pop is, believe it or not, actually a pretty accurate description. When I asked about their common musical influences, their responses made their enigmatic genre choice a bit more logical. At first, they all denied having any musical influence in common, then as they thought about it, they were finally able to agree on a few albums.
"I always thought the common bond between us was Exile-era Stones," Nofsinger commented after thinking about it for a few moments.
"Yeah, and Motown and country music maybe…" ruminated MacLean., "and AC/DC."
"Ian is our purveyor of old-time country music," Nofsinger revealed.
The band started on their road to genre-inclusive music three years ago in Lexington.
"Our first show was September 19 — three years ago?" Nofsinger queried, looking at the others for confirmation.
"Three of four…" mused MacLean.
"Maybe four?" wondered Howerton, the band's drummer.
"Isn't it three?" asked Porter.
"Yeah, it's three," confirmed Nofsinger.
He went on to explain that he, Porter, and Ian Thomas, the band's steel guitarist/dobro player/trombone player went to Transylvania University together, although they didn't play together as a band at that time. Thomas was playing with a band in Lexington, Porter was playing with Howerton and MacLean in the Louisville band Black Angus. Eventually Porter, Nofsinger and Thomas joined with Porter's bandmates to form Satchel's Pawnshop in 1995. They pressed 500 copies of a self-produced and recorded CD in May of 1997, and quickly sold out.
"We're holding on to like, four or five copies we're not sure what to do with," Nofsinger revealed.
"We underestimated the number of family and friends we had to give it away to," MacLean deadpanned.
Part of the success of their first CD was due to their interview with the magazine No Depression. That [interview] did a lot for us," Nofsinger said, "we probably sold 100 or 200 CDs through their mail order catalog." He went on to explain how the band came to be interviewed by the nationally known magazine. "We had sent tapes around trying to get labels to pick us up, and no one picked us up," he related, "but we did get this call back from a guy who worked for Hightone Records who was interested in our stuff and he gave us the names of a couple of guys who might help us out and one of them was the guy who writes for No Depression. He called us up and did a phone interview, and hooked us up with the guys from Miles of Music, our distributor."
When I asked if the interview had increased the band's national reputation, I discovered another key to why the buzz about the band remains so silent: nobody can find them.
"Well, it's hard to say [how the interview affected us]," MacLean answered, "first of all, the mailing address on our first CD is wrong. So we might have gotten a lot of attention, but we don't know."
"We had a post office box that was discontinued unbeknownst to Nofsinger," explained Porter.
"So we have a lot of fans, we just don't know about them," added Nofsinger. "But actually we did get invited to play the High Sierra Festival in California, but we couldn't play because we couldn't get off work. And we are going to have four songs on a movie soundtrack."
"Yakima, Wash." announced Howerton.
"Coming soon to a theater near you," intoned Porter.
"Coming to late-night cable in your hometown — maybe," laughed Nofsinger. "It's an independent release. You might recognize a few faces. Somebody out there who had our CD was in touch with this girl who selected the music for the film and he recommended us to her. She gave us a call, and decided to use four of our songs. But we don't know when it will come out, or where…"
"Hopefully we'll get a copy," MacLean commented.
"Where they put the songs in the movie is very appropriate, very deep," Porter added, "they choreographed it very well."
"What are they — all bar scenes?" asked Thomas.
"There's three bar scenes, and then one of the songs is played when they're on their way to commit a criminal act," confirmed Porter.
Which (indirectly) brings us to another reason for their success: the band's raucous live shows where pretty much anything can happen. My first experience of Satchel's live was at Kiwi's on Bardstown Road, and the 300-plus members of the audience were yelling their approval of the band's loud roots-rock stylings, threatening to bring down several of the suspicious-looking boxer shorts strung across the club's ceiling onto my head. Despite my threatened death-by-underwear, I was impressed by the band's energy and rapport with the crowd. I mentioned this rare ability to pack a club in Louisville's oversaturated live music scene to them during our interview.
"You saw us pack out a free show," said Nofsinger, as if that solved the mystery of a sold-out house. "No, wait a second — you were at a show that cost money!," he remembered, marveling.
"Yeah," MacLean deadpanned, "we have also packed out Twice Told Coffeehouse."
"We also unpacked Twice Told," joked Nofsinger, "we can do that at will."
But despite the band's wrong address, self-deprecating humor, various bizarre venues (which have ranged from weddings to playing sleazy bars protected only by a thin layer of chicken wire) and day jobs that interfere with their ability to play as much as they'd like, they've generated enough of a buzz around town to get a slot in this year's Harvest Showcase (in which they performed live last month on the Belvedere and have a song featured on this year's Harvest CD), and attract the attention of WFPK deejay and Headliner's booking agent Scott Mullins.
Mullins first heard about the band when he and Laura Shine put Left Canine Magic into rotation on their morning show on WFPK and the latter proclaimed that release to be the "Best Local Release of 1997." He also snagged the band to perform a cover on a compilation tribute CD for Jimmie Logsdon, a well-known county/rockabilly artist and songwriter.
"Scott's been a great benefactor for us," said Nofsinger.
The combination of Mullins and Satchel's Pawnshop was successful enough in their work on the Logsdon tribute to be repeated as the band gets to work on putting out their new release. I asked the band to tell me a bit about the new project, which is currently untitled.
"We have in the neighborhood of fourteen songs lying around right now," Nofsinger told me, "and we might do some cover songs, so we might need to cut down…"
"Cut down? C'mon guys, it's going to be a double album," laughed Porter.
"A double album -- that's right," Nofsinger rejoined.
"We're going to cover "In-A-Gadda-De-Vida," Porter confided.
"That'll be side three," agreed Nofsinger.
"Along with the transcribed version of "Oaklahoma," added MacLean, "Seriously, we've got a bunch of songs ready, which is basically all we can do. I think this [CD] is going to be a little more rock-and-roll oriented than the previous one."
The album is being recorded at Alfresco Studios — once that darned analog tape gets here.