It seemed an impossible dream as little as seven years ago, but The Texas Hippie Coalition has worked and toiled to build their momentum into a surging longhorn stampede that is giving the people what they want and knocking on the door of metal's elite. As the red dawn of their new album "Dark Side of Black" approaches, Big Dad Ritch sat down with us to talk his band, his direction, the group's chemistry, and barbecue.
D.M: Let’s talk your new record – what’s new and different on this one?
BIG DAD RITCH: I think it’s just a darker approach than previous albums. We always stay true to ourselves and where we come from, from a Texas attitude and red dirt ways. But we have really turned up the heavy a notch, you know what I mean? Try to make this album a little bit heavier than previous albums.
D.M: New producer for this record, too, now working with a guy who used to produce Pantera, what’s that like?
BDR: Oh, it’s freaking awesome. You know, me and Sterling [Whitfield] have known each other a few years, know each other from a few places, having mutual friends, somebody we can reach out to whenever we need something. I always wanted to work with Sterling, just in the previous albums, with the label, I wasn’t privy to picking my own producer, they always picked up two or three and sent me down that path. ‘Pick one of these guys.’ This time around, I just looked straight up and down and said ‘this is who I want to work with,’ and they made it happen for me.
D.M: When people hear Texas Hippie Coalition, their automatic name association is with Pantera – do you resent that connection? Is it a bad thing that your bands are so closely associated and people might overlook you?
BDR: If it could be a relationship like Waylon [Jennings] and Willie [Nelson], that would be awesome. I think that the fact that I am most definitely influenced by Phil [Anselmo] and by all things Pantera – I really do think that many of the songs that we write Pantera wouldn’t venture to write. It’s the attitude that we bring, and also my lyrical styling is a little bit different than Phil’s. I think the things we do have in common is the true realness of Texas and that real power groove that you can’t escape. If you listen to the albums in their entirety, people will say ‘oh, I heard a little ZZ Top in there,’ or ‘I heard Pantera there.’ It’s always good to hear those things because those are people you aspire to be like. But it’s also good when you hear people say ‘I heard some black, dark, kinda Johnny Cash stuff in there.’ That’s when you know that everybody’s getting everything you’re putting into the chili, you know what I mean?
D.M: To that end, your love of Johnny and Hank and Waylon and Willie and all of them is very public, but on the heavy side, who are you looking to for inspiration?
BDR: Inspiration really can come from everywhere. I can be inspired by a country song, a hip-hop song or really most anything, but mostly lyrics come from life. When it comes to writing lyrics, I draw from a lot of people, Bob Marlette, Michael Hayes, Cord Pool, you never know what I’m going to pull out of my hat. That’s how you get stuff like “Knee Deep” which represents the southern red dirt country feel that we have. Then you get songs like “Hit it Again” which are definitely representative of the southern rock vibe, rock and roll, southern rock. You get into the heavy stuff, the power groove, you can tell where some of our influences come from. You listen to me lyrically, you can definitely tell that my influences come from some of the greats, and some of the best out there today. Like Clutch. I love Clutch. I’ve seen Pantera probably thirty-five times I know for sure. I’ve seen Clutch about twenty times as well. Anytime somebody says ‘hey, Clutch has got a show, you guys wanna open for them?’ I never even try to find out what I’m getting paid, I just say yes. I will do that show for the price of the ticket. Being out on Mayhem [Festival,] there were a lot of great bands the year we were out, we got to see a lot of the heavier side of the music field. I think all of them, Mushroomhead, Ice T, all of them had a little bit of impact on us, there’s something to this movement, and we don’t have to confine ourselves. We can become free-roaming. That’s the great thing about being in this band, we can lend ourselves to a country tone, a red dirt tone, a rock and roll, let’s get out and party Motley Crue-type vibe, and then also get out there and throw the heavy stuff on you that may have been from Black Label Society, Danzig or Korn. A lot of people try to get on one channel, we’re trying to tune it all in.
D.M: You mentioned Mayhem – you guys were out there, it increased your exposure, there were a lot of people who may have been there for other bands but got tuned in to you – were you disappointed to hear about the death of Mayhem? How did it help your band?
BDR: When I left [Mayhem] I went to speak with John Reese. People often say that we’re hard to work with. Man, if you go to a club and speak with them and the people in the front of the house, they’re gonna let you know that we’re one of the easiest people to work with. In the moment, we are easy. The one thing that’s hard is that we don’t pay to play. And we won’t go on your tour and get paid nothing just to go on your tour. We’re not young kids with parents taking care of everything. Every bill that’s being paid, we’re paying that bill. And that was one thing John Reese said, we kept pushing and pushing and pushing and he did purchase us. He said one of the reason people may perceive us as being difficult or hard to work with is because we’re no pushovers. And we’re really not pushovers. We stand strong for what we believe in, and what we believe in is the almighty dollar [laughs]. John Reese came out to a bunch of the shows, and a lot of the bands on the tour would be surrounding our stage, on our stage and be there with us during our set. All coming out and even getting in our prayer circle, our positive energy circle, just loving what we do. John Reese told me ‘I’m so glad I got you guys, because these Mayhem fans are loving you guys, and I’m so glad I got to introduce you to larger crowds.’ At the end of everything, I went to his office and his people and I told him that up until this tour, everything we are to this point, we’d done it on our own. But everything we do from this point forward, John Reese and Mayhem definitely played a role in what Texas Hippie Coalition is becoming and will become. They definitely deserve our respect and our gratitude.
D.M: A quick aside – ten, fifteen years ago, did you ever say to yourself ‘someday I’m going to hang out with Ice T?
BDR: [Laughs] Never! I never did. I love Body Count. I have this thing about one-man empires, which is something I aspire to one day be, the likes of Rob Zombie, the likes of Ice T, the likes of Ozzy Osbourne. Those are my idols and the people I look up to. Quite often when people talk about me and the people I look up to, it’s Nikki Sixx, bass player, not a frontman. Pepper Keenan, guitar player, not a frontman. The people that inspire me to be better like Vinnie Paul. He’s a drummer, but he has his hands in so many different things and he’s just growing his brand, expanding his name. When I met Ice T, the day that I first met him at the first [Mayhem] show in California, I stepped off stage and at the bottom of the stairs is Ice T and his son, and he looks up at me and he says ‘man, I just wanted to tell you, you are one bad ass mutha fucker.’ And I said, ‘damn it, Ice T, if we could take the stage and I could give you this mic and you could announce that to all these people, ‘cause I have been telling them for many years now that I am a badass.’ [laughs] ‘And I believe that a lot of them believe me, but if you go up there and back my claim, I know damn sure they’re gonna believe me.’
D.M: Bending back to your new record – what’s your writing process for an album and was it different this time?
BDR: You know, I am constantly writing lyrics in my head. I never write anything down on paper until I go into the room to sing. And then I really only use it for reference, so I know the difference between when I’m saying ‘yes, we will’ and ‘you know we will.’ [laughs] Just to make sure I’m not tripping over words. I always keep all that gathered up, and when I officially started putting songs together for this album, I wanted a darker approach. The process with each and every song writer I work with, we either go to their place or I bring them to my lake house, we work on songs. This album was all written and produced very quickly. Fastest I’ve ever done an album. I wanted to make sure this album was not seamless, that this album wasn’t perfect. I wanted the seams to show, I wanted there to be imperfection, I wanted there to be a feeling of rawness.
D.M: Cord Pool – when he first joined the band he was super young. Now that he’s had a few years to settle in, as you watch him, how has he progressed?
BDR: When he first got in the band, my bass player, John Exall, said ‘this guy is not the guy.’ I told that this was the guy who was going to get us down to one guitar player. This guy is that good, he will one day be revered the same way [Eddie] Van Halen is revered. He said you’re crazy, it’s never gonna happen, we need to find somebody already in the business, already knows the business, is mature. Now, my bass player’s like ‘dude, if ever in my life I was wrong and you were right, this is the time, because Cord Pool is the man!’ I said ‘damn it, John, he’s a dang guitar hero and he just doesn’t know it yet.’ And that’s the best kind. Most of these guys think they’re guitar heroes and they’re just average guitar players. That’s one of the main reasons I went after Sterling Winfield, was to have someone who was used to working with a great guitar player, but could still pull something immaculate out of someone who already thought they were the best. We all know Dime[bag Darrell] not only thought he was the best, but he was the best. Cord is starting to come into his own, he started helping me write some of the songs on this album. Up to this point he’d only written one song in the past, and on this album he’s a contributing factor on three or four and the complete contributing factor on two. His mechanical styling throughout the album is on point, with the rhythms, but where he steps above on this album is in his leads. They are immaculate. I can honestly say on almost every album I’ve ever made, I am the high point. I just say that because I’m cocky, I’m arrogant, I’m a dickhead. On this album, there are times I say Cord shines above all, and when there’s someone in the band who can do that, especially when I think so highly of myself, that’s a mountainous thing. Cord is a bad boy, and he’s going to be a bad man very soon.
D.M: Is he old enough to drink yet?
BDR: He is! [Laughs] He is, but he don’t like us to say anything about his drinking in case his mama finds out.
D.M: You and John Exall are the last remaining originals in the band, what’s your relationship with him and are you two the heart and soul of the Texas Hippie Coaltion?
BDR: From the very beginning when I wanted to start this band, I was a fishing guy and I had a company called Five Time Productions where we put on UFC-like fights, we had cages. I used to say if it starts with an ‘F’, I do it, I fuck, I fight, I fish. When I wanted to start a band, John was the first guy I talked to. He said let’s do it. Ever since the beginning, if there’s fixing to be a gunfight, John is the guy that he’s not waiting for you to ask him to join you in the street to fight these guys, he’s already got his guns on and is handing you your belt with your guns in it and is saying ‘let’s go shoot ‘em.’ [Laughs] He is ready to go to war, anytime, it doesn’t matter. When it comes to this cause, which is Texas Hippie Coalition, I am always about it, but in the same breath, John fights for this cause every bit as hard as I do, every minute of every day.
D.M: Getting to the important stuff – who makes the best barbecue in Texas?
BDR: Probably me. Right now, I’ll tell you, I don’t eat steaks anywhere but at my house, because nobody can cook a steak better than me. And I don’t very often eat barbecue abroad unless somebody says there’s a great joint. I do have a little barbecue joint in my hometown called Randy’s, used to be Lou’s, I go down there and I get me some brisket every now and then. But I never take his barbecue sauce, and I think he gets offended, but you know me, I don’t care. That’s because my barbecue sauce, Red River Red, is the best sauce in the nation. You can’t keep it bottled, we sell five hundred gallon vats.
D.M: You’ve been all over the country, have you found anyplace that compares to Texas barbecue?
BDR: Yeah. Kansas barbecue is a little too sweet for me, Tennessee is just getting something wrong in their barbecue. Down in Georgia though, every now and then I can get a good dry rub down in Georgia, once in a while I can get some good sauces in Georgia. They’re very competitive in that market, but I would have to say that Texas is the home of the best bbq.
D.M: I recently was down in Texas and had the whole boot culture explained to me. So, who is your boot ‘guy’?
BDR: Whatever’s on sale. You know, I ain’t like those girls out there, I can handle just taking whatever’s on sale. As long as it’s got real cowhide.
D.M: Does that go for your hats as well?
BDR: Actually, Jason Aldean gives me all my hats.
D.M: Other important stuff – should the Cowboys go get Johnny Manziel?
BDR: [Laughs] Man, I like Johnny Football. I really do. I even like his cockiness at A&M. He kinda reminds me of, well, not every highway patrolman, because there are a lot of good highway patrolman, but he’s kinda like that one highway patrolman who’s just a little too proud to be behind that badge. Even if that’s kinda conflicting with what I like or dislike, if we only had to go to him three or four games a year, since it seems apparent that if Romo’s in he’s not gonna play a full sixteen games, why not have somebody with the fire of Manziel? Or hell, if we can pay him very little money, I’ll take Tim Tebow back there, because I think if Romo was out for four-game skid, I think they could at least get us two of those four. [Laughs] I’d rather spend the money on defense, definitely defense. We’ve got one of the greatest offensive lines in the NFL, so we just need to find that running back who can take it to the next level with the running back, because you could see without Murray it hurt us.
D.M: A lot of people’s first exposure to the Texas Hippie Coalition was years ago when you appeared, of all places, on the Jerry Springer show. How did that happen?
BDR: Man, it was just weird. Jerry Springer’s bodyguards are all Chicago police. If you know anything about Chicago, you know Chicago police have one of the hardest jobs on the planet. Those guys gave us a holler about doing some stuff with them, we were all about it. Across the United States, it seems like the alpha male types really like to work out to Texas Hippie Coalition. In New York we get police escorts, in Philadelphia we get police escorts, in Florida the police pull us over [laughs]. Out in Arizona, the SWAT team always sends us messages from out there, all those guys send us stuff about how much they love THC. I always tell people that if we’re playing in Tulsa, you should rob a bank that night, because every police officer will be at that show [laughs]. Whenever, Pete is his name, he gave us a holler, said hey, why don’t you come do the ‘Jerry Springer’ show, Jerry would love to have you. So we did the show and did one pay-per-view as well. It was hilarious fun. As you know I was a bodyguard in the TV one, and I dang near got thrown down to the ground by a big ole’ girl. It was one of the funniest things in my life. Springer, when he was talking about how the guy couldn’t keep his pants up, the guy said ‘well, I’m a big guy, I can’t keep my pants up,’ and Jerry asked me to stand up and said ‘he’s a big guy and his pants are up and you can’t see his underwear,’ so I told him that’s because I don’t wear any. The crowd started chanting ‘show us!’ so, it’s not on the TV show, but right to Jerry’s face, I said ‘it’s my goal in life that more people see my ass than see your face, Jerry, so here we go’ and I dropped trou and let everybody see my ass! [Laughs]
D.M: We’ll get you out of here on this – as you said, you’re not kids, you have some perspective and experience. Dating back to the beginning of your band, what’s something you could do differently if you could, and what’s your advice to young bands out there?
BDR: I probably wouldn’t do anything differently. One thing I might do is realize a little bit earlier is that every guy you take the stage with the first time is not going to be there the hundredth time. And that every guy you take the stage with the hundredth time is not going to be there the three hundredth time. In this band, we’ve seen guys – Wes Wallace left and came back, Timmy Braun has left and come back, The Kid [Ryan Bennett] left and came back. We’ve got a lot of good friends we’ve made along the way, but everybody’s gotta follow their own career path. Some guys just couldn’t ride the bull for the full eight seconds, so they left for that reason. Other guys just couldn’t keep their nose to the grindstone and pay attention to what’s important in the task at hand. If you go out there every night thinking you gotta do drugs with everyone that offers, of if you gotta go drink with everyone that offers to buy you a drink, the next day when you go to take the stage, you won’t be a hundred percent. And those people in the audience are paying for the hundred percent show, they’re not paying for the eighty-five percent show. So, in life, I wish that at an early age I would have understood that I am gonna hurt relationships and I am gonna lose friends. I wish I would have realized at an early point that I don’t have to drag all this on until the point that it becomes painful for everyone. My advice to anyone out there with music is that listen, you’ve got a band. There’s four of ya. One of you quits, that’s doesn’t mean the other three have to quit. There’s another guy out there. That drummer quits, believe me, there’s another drummer out there who wants that spot, who wants to be in that band. Go get him. Get him in there and keep on going. If you don’t think a band can go on going through endless amounts of people, Fleetwood Mac’s one of the biggest bands ever in the history of music, and they’ve had over sixteen band members. [Laughs]