What do Leonard Cohen, Rasputin, Jesus, Nirvana and surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel have in common? The answer is that you might hear songs about all of them Saturday evening at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center when the Austin Lounge Lizards stop by on its tour of the United States and Canada.
The Austin Lounge Lizards, for the uninitiated, is a country/bluegrass band with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, combining dazzling musicianship with offbeat, satirical humor. With lyrics that range from scathing to just plain corny and five musicians who appear to be virtuosos on any instrument you care to mention, the Lizards’ career has spanned two decades and eight albums. The latest, “Never an Adult Moment,” was released in 2000 on top bluegrass label Sugar Hill Records.
The band that is proudly known as “The Most Laughable Band in Show Business” has its roots in, of all places, Princeton University It was there that guitarists Hank Card and Conrad Deisler first met and became friends. Both ended up relocating to Austin to study law at the University of Texas, Where they met philosophy student Tom Pittman, and the Austin Lounge Lizards was born.
The band took up a residency at Maggie Mae’s in Austin, playing each week to a steadily growing audience. Pittman recalled: “I never expected it to become a full-time job. The whole time we were getting together, Hank and Conrad were in law school and the assumption was that they were going to pick up law careers.”
However, this was not to be. One determining event in this was the arrival of bassist Boo Resnick to replace the departing Kirk Williams. A veteran of both bluegrass and rock bands, Resnick had a gift for writing satirical songs. Gradually the men found themselves writing more material in this vein, and in 1983 they won the Kerrville Bluegrass Band Competition.
Since then, the Austin Lounge Lizards has carved out a unique niche for itself With songs like “Jesus Loves Me (But He Can’t Stand You),” “Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers On Drugs” and “Forty Years Old And I’m Livin’ In My Mom’s Garage,” it has delighted audiences across the country and has played at venues as prestigious as the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Many factors have contributed to the band’s success, according to the members. Two important ones have been always keeping the material clean and maintaining quality “That’s what keeps people coming back is the music,”
Pittman said. “You hear a joke one time, and you don’t need to hear it again. But if you can tell it real well, then people want to hear it again.”
For Saturday’s show, the band’s newest member, fiddler Eamon McLoughlin, joins Card, Deisler, Pittman and Resnick. If you’ve never heard the Austin Lounge Lizards before, give it a try. Once you’ve heard it, you’ll probably want to keep coming back, too.
First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, December 12, 2002
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