If you're wondering what's the big deal about the Gibson Bros. reuniting for the Columbus Music Co-op's fifth annual Here Comes Your Weekend Parking Lot Blowout, well, the Gibson Bros. are wondering, too.
"The band was a band that played to like 50 or 100 people for a couple years in Columbus. It's not like Procol Harum," said guitarist Don Howland, late of the Bassholes and Wooden Tit.
"We were about the only ones playing weird old music," Howland added. "I don't think we were influential too much at all, just torchbearers, you know?"
Howland is too modest, of course. It's true that even in the band's native Columbus, their primitive, twisted brand of country blues remains an obscure curiosity. But this is a band that toured coast to coast, recorded for the influential labels Homestead and Sympathy for the Record Industry and helped to inspire a new generation of twangy punk freaks. They ain't exactly nobodies.
"They kind of made the Cramps look like some kind of cartoon act or something I loved them a lot," said New Bomb Turks singer Eric Davidson, whose own legendary but defunct band will also play Saturday in the Surly Girl Saloon parking lot, joining Scrawl to complete a powerful reunion triumvirate.
The band began in 1985 with Jeff Evans and Dan Dow playing ramshackle covers of old rockabilly and country songs by the likes of Doc Watts and Charlie Feathers. Both players used Gibson guitars, hence the name.
Soon Howland joined on drums. When he insisted on switching to guitar, the band added Evans' girlfriend Ellen Hoover, a first-time drummer whose amateurish take helped cement the Gibsons' sound as, in Howland's words, "a teetering and potentially semi-dangerous junk heap."
"I was always waiting to be replaced with a real drummer," said Hoover, now a web designer for Ohio State University.
On stage and in lo-fi recordings, the band burned through classic and esoteric covers and unhinged originals, Evans leading the way with deranged howls and hillbilly narration.
"We weren't totally reverential to the music," Howland said. "It sounds like we were abusing it."
Added Dow, longtime owner of Used Kids Records: "I think what we kind of represented was the whole being greater than the sum of its parts."
By 1989, Dow and Hoover exited, eventually to be replaced by Pussy Galore's Jon Spencer and Christina Martinez among other players. Evans moved to Memphis the following year, but the band kept touring and recording up through 1992.
Spencer, whose Blues Explosion was a major player in '90s underground rock, played a big part in disseminating the Gibsons' influence.
"In hearing his stuff and seeing him around that time, it was uncanny how he seemed to co-opt Jeff's stage persona," Dow said.
Evans considers the imitation a form of flattery: "If I were to borrow something from someone else, I would do it because I was a fan."
Years passed, and whenever the Gibsons' minor cult following would clamor for a reunion, Evans would balk, preferring to focus on newer projects like 68 Comeback and Monsieur Jeffrey Evans and His Southern Aces.
He finally warmed up to the idea this spring after the deaths of prominent Memphis musicians Jim Dickinson, Jay Reatard and Alex Chilton.
"I think it was Don who said we ought to do this while we're all still alive, which was an interesting argument," Evans said.
So that's what they'll do Saturday at the Parking Lot Blowout, 25 years after first sharing the stage. After protesting so much, Evans is excited. Still, he cautioned that his voice is "two octaves lower" and he lacks the "youthful exuberance" that fueled so much of the Gibsons' charm.
"I don't know it will hold up with people who had not seen us in the day," he said.
Once he agreed to play, the ornery frontman found it ironic that after all the hype, Gibson Bros. weren't even listed as the headliners. They're second on the bill after Scrawl.
"One of the things I used to say was, 'Well, we're just priming the pump for the big entertainers,'" Evans said. "This seems to be no different 25 years later."
That's not keeping Evans, Howland, Dow and Hoover from looking forward to one more go-round.
"It's more about us as individuals and friends getting back together," Dow said. "I think the funnest part is actually going to be practicing and joking. It's not to relive this alleged legacy."