Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene A Living Thing

By Michael McCall

NOVEMBER 3, 1997:  Talk to a fan of Jason & the Scorchers, and the conversation usually rotates around the band's extraordinary concert performances. Full of blowtorch ferocity and blazing heart and soul, Scorchers shows are the stuff of rock 'n' roll legend. Fans may argue passionately about the merits of various albums, but they'll all agree that no studio recording can capture the volatile energy of this quartet when they click onstage.

Such conversations eventually get around to the inevitable question: Where's the live album? To put an end to the query, the Scorchers finally plan to release a live collection in the spring of 1998. The material will come from upcoming performances at the Exit/In, including two consecutive shows Nov. 7 and 8. (The band will also record one night without an audience.)

While many fans will be thrilled at the news, some can't help but ask, why now? "I wish there was an easy answer to that," singer Jason Ringenberg says. "It's an instinctive thing for us. It just feels like the right time."

One reason for the timing concerns outside influences: Record companies frown on live collections since radio rarely plays concert cuts anymore, especially by a band that hasn't garnered much airplay in the first place. The closest the Scorchers ever came to breaking through with a national hit came in 1984 with their initial single, a rambunctious cover of Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie." Since then, record labels have encouraged the band to keep trying to come up with a hit single. Live albums weren't likely to provide such a breakthrough song.

At the same time, Ringenberg contends that the band didn't feel ready to document its live show until now. "We're as good as we've ever been right now," he says. "We've had 15 years of experience, so we're a better band. We're also putting on these really high-energy shows still. From the start, our shows have been either really good or disappointing. There's not much in-between for us. The good has always outweighed the bad, and we're having more good ones now than ever. We've really been in a groove, and that's exciting."

Ringenberg also credits the strength of the band's recent studio album, Clear Impetuous Morning, as another motivation for cutting the live album. For years, he says, the Scorchers' live shows have drawn primarily from two early albums, 1984's Fervor and 1985's Lost and Found. "We basically did the same set for years because those were our best songs," he says. "With Clear Impetuous Morning, the songs were so strong that we were able to change the show. It shows the band moving forward, and that's important for doing a live album."

A year ago, the Scorchers replaced founding member Jeff Johnson with a new bassist, Kenny Ames, who is now fully integrated into the band. That's not an easy task for a new musician, Ringenberg points out, since guitarist Warner Hodges and drummer Perry Baggs are both unconventional players. "Kenny's really a monster player," he says. "And he's as high-energy as the rest of us."

Hodges will produce the album, and Mike Janus will engineer the live recordings. A mobile recording truck is being brought in from Austin, Texas, to tape the shows. Both nights will feature entirely different set lists, Ringenberg says.

As for the location, the band chose the Exit/In because it has been the site of two of the quartet's most memorable performances: a 1983 show celebrating the release of Fervor and a 1995 Nashville Entertainment Association Extravaganza concert celebrating their signing to Mammoth Records. "The Exit/In has a very historic place in our hearts," Ringenberg says.

Needless to say, the Scorchers vocalist is looking forward to writing another chapter of that history. "Fan energy is such an important part of what we do," he says. "We've tried everything in the studio to recreate what we do onstage. We've recorded live; we've shined spotlights and set up a PA and pretended it was a show. But without those 400 people in front of you giving that energy, it's not the same. Everybody in this band is a born performer. That's what brings out the best in us."

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