The painting on the cover of Bloodshot Records' new CD, Hell-Bent: Insurgent Country, shows a stern, emaciated Hank Williams Sr. riddled with arrows. "We come to exhume Hank, not to canonize him," proclaim the liner notes. "Unbury him . . . from beneath the mounds of gutless swill which pass for his legacy, the suffocating spew of the Nashville hit factories." The words, in white, are superimposed over a sepia-toned 1940s-era photo of an ecstatic woman holding a snake at a religious revival.
Bloodshot Records is the brainchild of Nan Warshaw, a band publicist and longtime country music deejay; Rob Miller, a house painter and former drummer; and Eric Babcock, veteran of several roots record labels. The three share a dislike of slick Nashville bands. Warshaw met Miller while spinning country records at Crash Palace (they now spin Wednesday nights at Delilah's), and her work as publicist for the seminal thrash-grass band Killbilly brought her into contact with Babcock, who works for Flying Fish Records. Warshaw introduced the two at a bar late in 1993. They hit it off, and Bloodshot Records was born. Hell-Bent is the label's second collection of non-U.S. 99 country bands and includes a diverse range of songs, from the World Famous Blue Jays' rig rock "Mad Flap Boogie" to the Bottle Rockets' soulful "Get Down." Babcock, who helped coin the term insurgent country, describes the music that Bloodshot Records promotes as "too much twang for indie rock and too much attitude for country."
"I've been a fan of this music since the early 1980s," says Miller, the cynical one who wears a T-shirt that says Indie Rock Must Die. "But it seemed to pop up brushfire fashion. There were bands like the early Meat Puppets and the Cattle--these weird fucked up country bands that came up out of punk scenes."
Bloodshot released its first compilation of Chicago bands, For a Life of Sin, in 1994. But there was a market for more. Babcock, the realistic one, says, "People who know of us typically know other people who fit in with what we're doing. It's just sharing information basically, on a grassroots kind of level, and developing it from there." The label has put out several singles, and there are plans for more releases this summer, including albums by the Waco Brothers and Moonshine Willy.
But is the music country or rock? Babcock says he was at Best Buy recently, where Hell-Bent is usually filed in the country bin. "I was looking for something in "various artists' in the rock section, and there it was," he recalls. "Someone had reracked it there. We got lucky and someone knew what it was and what to do with it. So I put it right in front."
"Your average country fan will hate this stuff," says Miller. "It doesn't speak to anything they're getting out of it. They're getting the show with the capital "S,' the smoke machine, the pablum, the formula songwriting."
That's why Bloodshot books its bands at venues like Lounge Ax and Empty Bottle rather than Whiskey River. "Most alternative rock fans who think that they hate country music will often like the stuff that we're doing, especially live," says Warshaw, the optimist.
Eight Hell-Bent bands play this weekend at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western. Earl C. Whitehead & the Grievous Angels, World Famous Blue Jays & the Rig Rock Revue, Fugitive Kind, and the Volebeats play Saturday. The Old 97's, Starkweathers, Robby Fulks, and the Inbreds will perform on Sunday. Ten bucks will get you in to both shows. Call 248-8709 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Cynthia Howe.