30 Years of the Uranium Savages
by Artly Snuff
In December of 1974, Willie Nelson still had short hair. Gerald R. Ford was President of the United States and American armed forces were fighting and dying in Viet Nam. There was no MTV or CNN. Carol Keeton Strayhorn was Carol Keeton McClellan and was still a Democrat (really!). Austin City Limits was just a sign on the edge of town and not yet a television series on PBS.
The public saga of the Uranium Savages started on December 12, 1974 on Sixth Street in downtown Austin. Our city’s growing music scene was in the throes of the Progressive Country Music Experiment and the big touring acts of America were lining up to take the stage at the Armadillo World Headquarters down on Barton Springs Road. Sixth Street was a long way from becoming the Entertainment Mecca that it is today. Esther’s Follies was still 2 years away from forming and the street was a hodgepodge of small businesses, porno joints, peep shows and a few dark bars (like the Green Spot and the infamous JJJ Tavern) that catered to a shady older clientele. There were a few small cafes in the area that offered BBQ or soul food – you could get some of the best Ox-Tail Soup in town down there. College students mostly avoided that most dangerous part of downtown Austin after dark, as odd as that may seem now.
The Ritz Theatre had been opened as a music venue by Austin artist Jim Franklin and silkscreen master Bill Livingood just 2 months previously and would only stay open for another 8 months, but while open, it was a strong magnet for the young, hip and cool crowd of hippies and cowboys that thought of themselves as society’s outlaws. Everyone from Doug Sahm to Little Richard played there at the Ritz during that time because it was the premier semi-small venue in Austin.
The Uranium Savages had started performing the same year as Saturday Night Live began and it been pointed out that there is a more than superficial commonality between these 2 comedic troupes. Both organizations celebrate American popular music, both employ satire and often black humor, both bring on comic characters in flamboyant costumes that impersonate public figures in the news and both of them still regularly lampoon American social, religious and political values and positions that they feel deserve comedic reflection and their special irreverent treatment. As an example of this point, the Uranium Savages are the only known band in America that regularly features TWO Elvis impersonators and even a Doctor Nick impersonator.
The Uranium Savages first performance at the Ritz was a most crucial contest: a Battle of the Bands with the Marsh Mongrels, a tested and very competent group of blues-oriented musicians that would go on to play at a club called Antone’s, that was founded by their bass player – a guy named Clifford. It was a head-to-head joust with the prize being the winning band given the opening slot on New Year’s Eve 1975 onstage at the Ritz behind Ramon, Ramon and the Four Daddios, a group who is still regarded as one of the All-time Classic Austin Bands. It was the most sought after prize among Austin’s primordial music scene in 1974 and the competition between these 2 young bands was fierce. Both groups of musicians pulled out all the stops to win this rare and treasured prize in order to showcase their skills at a premier event in front of a packed and frenzied crowd on New Year’s Eve.
The Marsh Mongrels band included the plumbers that had helped to build the Ritz Theatre into a fresh, new and cutting-edge music hall, but the Uranium Savages came in as an Art Band that sported the artists that had decorated the Ritz with the images that would soon resonate Austin’s poster scene to come. The interior walls of the Ritz were covered in an airbrushed cloud scene by Rick Turner, a founding member of the Uranium Savages and who now is a painter in New York City. This seminal Battle of the Bands has gone down in Austin’s musical history as a crucial confrontation of some of the true heavy hitters that helped to form the early templates of our recent musical heritage that evolved during the final decades of the 20th century.
Although this was the very first public performance of the Uranium Savages, it was not the initial appearance of these musicians upon a stage, because this musical group had evolved out of 3 extant bands – all which had formed in the southwest part of Houston in the early 1970’s. These 3 bands were: the Sons of Coyote, the Uranium Clods and the Gypsy Savages. For their first 18 shows, the band was known as “The Sons of Uranium Savages” until a reorientation of band membership and a tightening up of the band name in May of 1975.
But I digress…
On December 12, 1974, knowing that if they lost the Battle of the Bands to the more veteran Marsh Mongrels, that they might never play again, the Uranium Savages nervously took the stage of the Ritz Theatre first that cold night 30 years ago, complete with their accompanying skits, their colorful costuming and a hovering band security force known as the Shrovinovers dressed entirely in white with red fezzes and matching red sashes to protect and serve the Uranium Savages should any problems arise. Their first song was accompanied by 27 rhythm guitar players and female dancers that called themselves “The Ritzettes”. Some dazed audience members still adamantly claim that the Uranium Savages pumped massive clouds of marijuana smoke out through the air conditioning system (employing a technique known as “Hot Knives”) during the Savages performance to influence the response of the large crowd that evening but, 3 decades later, no reporter can confirm the truth of these claims. After finishing their set, the Savages left the stage to their archrivals, the Marsh Mongrels; they were exhausted and hopeful about their chances to win the Battle of the Bands. Fortunately for the Savages that night, shortly after the Marsh Mongrels began playing, the stage very mysteriously lost all its’ power and their music could not be heard so the Savages won the Battle of the Bands by default.
The Uranium Savages won that night and went on to open at the Ritz on New Year’s Eve 1975 and have kept on playing – to blindly go where no band has gone before – until today, 3 decades later, when they remain…..”The band to dumb to die “.
In the next 23 years, the Uranium Savages played at the Ritz 14 times, thus making the Ritz the 8th ranking club in the list of clubs played by the Savages. The club played in the most by the Savages was easily Soap Creek Saloon, where the Savages became a crowd favorite and the house band from their first show in January of 1975 until the club closed on Halloween of 1985 – a total of 113 shows. Although Soap Creek Saloon did not have the national reputation of the Armadillo World Headquarters (where the Savages played 6 times), it was the place where the Austin “In crowd“ went because of its’ isolated location outside of town in the hills and because it served mixed drinks, while the AWHQ only served beer, wine and those nachos. Also, Soap Creek Saloon was the preferred venue for all the local Austin groups in the rising music scene and saw regular performances by Marcia Ball, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doug Sahm, Alvin Crow and many others.
Soap Creek Saloon moved twice so it was located in 3 separate locations throughout its legendary career. The second location was off of North Lamar in the same old building that the Skyline Club used during the 1950’s. In the 1950’s it showcased all the great touring country stars and even booked Elvis Presley. It was the home of the final show ever performed by Johnny Horton and the home of the last show ever performed by Hank Williams, Senior…but when the Uranium Savages played there in the same building, the club closed forever. Go figure.
On March 27th, 1975 the Uranium Savages played for an Easter weekend crowd at the Port Isabel Pavilion located at the very southern tip of the state of Texas. It was the first time that the band had played out of Austin and the beginning of their statewide reputation, soon to spread into nationwide magazine reviews.
On May 4th, 1975, the Uranium Savage played at the Too Bitter, making this the first of many shows to be performed in San Marcos.
On August 28th, 1975, the Uranium Savages played a show out on the Lakes at Lake Austin lodges for the 5th anniversary of a local and infamous record store called Inner Sanctum and run by the equally infamous Joe Bryson that was located at 24th and San Antonio Streets next to the café Les Amis just a block away from the University of Texas campus. The opening band was Steam Heat (later to become Extreme Heat) and Stevie Ray Vaughan sat in with the Savages during their last set that night.
On February 8th, 1976, the Uranium Savages played the Armadillo World Headquarters for the first of their six shows at that venerated music hall. It was a benefit for the People’s Community Clinic, located then in the basement of the church that was next to the Austintatious Mural on 23rd Street right off of Guadalupe Street. The band Balcones Fault was also the bill that night, as was street magician Harry Anderson, prior to his starring in the hit television comedy, Night Court. The Master of Ceremonies was Austin Mayor Jeff Friedman.
On April 20th, 1976, the Uranium Savages played their first regular gig with the acclaimed Dos Saxes, a partnership that lasted for more than a decade, at the Boondocks Club, located behind the old Bus Station at 4th and Congress. This is the location that turned into Club Foot, one of the big Austin Clubs catering to the Punk/New Wave music scene. It was an unusual venue; the dressing rooms were downstairs from the stage and you could still see old bullets lodged in the massive wooden pillars that supported the floor above the dark basement and all you could do was to speculate about what events precipitated the firing of weapons down there so many years before the band started playing there. The most unusual event of that evening occurred late after the show when the Savages got paid for performing their show. The cash money came out of a locked valise from a shady fellow in the back seat of a Cadillac in a dark parking lot with a large bodyguard standing and hovering right next to the band close to 3am in the morning before the Caddie drove back to Houston. After the Boondocks Club management, Club Foot was a comfortable and relaxing place to play music.
The 100th performance of the band was on May 12th, 1978 at the Paramount Theater when they played for the second annual anniversary party to celebrate The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This was the first time the band played at the Paramount and was the first time the boys in the band had played at a Opera House; it would not be their last such performance.
On August 23rd, 1976, the Uranium Savages played at KLRN Studios on behalf of an Austin City Limits fundraiser. This was a live event that aired locally before any of the Austin City Limits shows aired nationwide and thus became the very first broadcast of any ACL show from the ACL stage with the ACL backdrop. There were five local bands featured, and they were, in order of appearance, Alvin Crow, the Uranium Savages, Marcia Ball, the Geezenslaw Brothers and Ray Campi. All these bands came out of the Soap Creek Saloon stable run and managed by Carlyn Majer.
And so the Uranium Savages became the second all-time band ever to play on an Austin City Limits Show and that night (preserved on old and rare videotape) went down in television infamy. Among the songs performed in the Savages first set was a tune called “The Gates of Gold”, which featured an appearance by Jesus Christ himself, wearing a toga and a carpenter’s belt, talking about Heaven to a drunk in bed trying to deal with the Spins after a night of hard drinking. The toga slipped off during the live broadcast, sending an image of a topless Jesus to the many small towns surrounding Austin watching the fundraiser. One technician later described the phone bank as “lighting up like a Christmas Tree” with complaints about a topless Jesus appearing on PBS. Before their second live set, the Savages were told by KLRN management to “cut your set in half and clean it up”. However, the band lead off the second set with a tribute to Maurice Chevalier and his famous ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’ by sending out a singer dressed only in a raincoat, straw boater and socks with a bulging wig stuffed into his undershorts who proceeded to thank all the supporters of ‘pubic’ television for watching him.
The Uranium Savages were the only band of the original five on that KRLN fundraiser NOT invited to appear of any of their nationwide broadcasts and the Savages became the ONLY band to appear on their Austin City Limits shows that were left out of the official ACL history.
On September 17, 1977, the Uranium Savages in their 39th show at Soap Creek Saloon gave the first (and only) performance of their second rock opera “Captain Savage”. It was well received by the boisterous and inebriated fandom that had gathered there out in the hills west of Austin, but the surprise hit of that evening was the appearance of the San Francisco porn star Serena, who was on a coast to coast crotchless panty tour of the United States to promote her latest sexcapade flick. She had been dancing in her crotchless panties at an adult movie house at the corner of South Congress and Live Oak earlier that evening and had somehow found her way to the stage of Soap Creek Saloon while the Savages were performing and brought her wide mouthed ways onto the live stage there and then.
It was either good or bad luck that a nationally connected photographer using the name of Ken Hose happened to be there that night with a single lens reflex camera and using low light film with his flash. He sent those pictures that he took of Serena romping with the Savages away and they were published within the year in the pages of a men’s magazine called Oui in their ‘Best of Sex’ Issue showing Serena in seeming rapture between 2 members of the Savages sporting 3 foot long strap-on Penises – just a set of props that the band used for one of their signature tunes…a song called ‘Get Laid’, which was built around the lyric ”I just got paid and I want to get laid”. It was exactly this kind of radical prop usage that had helped to build the reputation of the Uranium Savages as the Show Band of Texas and had set them apart from ANY other band ever seen by the concert going public. There had never been any other band like the Savages before in the history of Texas’ performances and that is why the word of what they did spread so fast among musiclovers. There is a very thin line between Contemporary Satire and that of Bad Taste and the Savages always did their very best to cross that thin line.
April Fool’s Day of 1978 was the day that the Uranium Savages started an event that still stands today as one of the most exciting annual festivals in the history of Austin – the Spamarama! It was a small event held during the day that preceded the Savages show that evening but it has grown every year in spite of itself and is now an hour-long special telecast regularly on the Food Channel as part of their All-American Festivals series. It features a Spam cook-off, a Spam Olympics and a Spam Jam, which always has some of the very best musicians in Austin playing their hearts out. Come and see it at Waterloo Park every spring or check out the details of the event at www.spamarama.com .
In Halloween of 1978, at the Savages 56th show at Soap Creek Saloon, it was the last show of founding member Sonny Carl Davis, one of the 5 singers that acted as front men for the original lineup of the Savages. He moved out to the Los Angeles area, where he has appeared in such films as ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ and ‘Thelma and Louise’. He is now a screenwriter (among other projects); his latest script is being filmed this fall here in Texas and stars another musician called …Willie Nelson.
On May 5th, 1979, the Uranium Savages played their first show in Houston, Texas. They went on to perform many times in the ‘City by the Bayou’, mostly at Rockefeller’s on Washington Street (8 times during 6 months in 1980) and at Fitzgerald’s in the Heights (22 times between 1980 and 1985), but no performance in Houston lived up to the genuine weirdness and full-blown surrealism of this, the very first gig by the Uranium Savages for their fans in Houston. It was a private party held on Cinco de Mayo, but with a special theme… and that is why it was known as the Porno de Mayo. It was held at a private studio in the inner city; some of Houston’s most lawless elements attended and combined their efforts to make this event a memorable one indeed. The band showed up in the late afternoon to set up and get oriented to the stage area and the surrounding building as best they could, but found it difficult to even get into the grounds since all the streets near the stage area were controlled by a motorcycle gang that had closed all the public streets nearby to set up a quarter-mile racetrack that they could use for one on one racing between the members of their ‘club’. It took almost an hour to get through the security lines that the bikers had set up and start loading the bands gear onto the stage because the bikers had set up their own territory and did not want anybody to enter what they considered their space, even though their space was comprised entirely of the city streets within Houston proper.
There were no further problems faced by the Savages once they were able to breach the bikers’ perimeter and finish the setting up of their amplifiers and musical instruments on top of the flatbed trailer that had been wheeled in to comprise the band’s stage. The members of the band snacked and waited for the time of their agreed start while events around them at the Porno de Mayo got farther and farther out of their control. As darkness approached, the participants got drunker – a LOT drunker. The bikers started throwing empty beer and whiskey bottles at partygoers they disapproved of and spent most of their time loudly revving their motorcycle engines and trying to stay upright while staging 2-man bike races down the quarter-mile of Public Street that they had commandeered just outside of the Porno de Mayo party where the band was soon due to play. The local residents chafed at the fact that they could not use their own streets where they lived and began to call in to the Houston Police Department early that day.
Inside the compound where the event was located, all social mores were abandoned by the participants as darkness fell. Women walked around the event clad in nothing but oil and feathers. A young-looking 13 year old boy dressed only in a Bowler hat was throwing craps without being commented upon by surrounding adults while taking big swigs out of a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. When the Savages took the stage to do their most risqué song list, to the right of their flatbed trailer was a giant movie screen that showed porno films that all featured animals as their star attraction. No one in the band, although wise to the world and its’ aberrances, had EVER seen such a complete showing of human decadence, much less having it shown all around them so completely. Everyone in the band was slack-jawed by their decadent surroundings and played mostly by rote as they gazed at the Fellini-esque scene unfolding on all sides, thinking that their music was the least interesting part of the tableau that evening.
And that was the moment that the engine of the old car on one of the sealed-off streets right behind the stage exploded. It was a tremendous noise although no one inside of the Porno de Mayo compound seemed to take much notice of it. The flames the burning car towered above the nearby trees and when the Houston Fire Department showed up to douse the flames, they were turned away by the bikers that were so territorial about the streets that they had decided to take over for their need to race. The Houston Fire Department quickly called the Houston Police Department and told them of their inability to get to the exploding car in question and requested help, which was quickly provided.
The first Police officer that came into the backstage area behind the Uranium Savages flatbed trailer was not a regular officer. He had a regular police uniform on but he wore a brimmed cap that was solid white with gold braid upon it and he gave off the look of someone that was used to having his every word obeyed. The first words out of his mouth to a backstage bandmember were “This party is hereby closed and shut down!”
And he was entirely correct in his assessment. Everyone fled the party and the Savages packed up their equipment and returned to Austin.
The Uranium Savages always enjoyed celebrating the many and various holiday events that America is known for and uses to define the character of out nation (such as Easter and the Fourth of July and Halloween and even Veteran’s Day) their crowds kept turning out in greater number for these special event, thus encouraging the performers in that direction; their were even large turnouts for the celebration of Armed Forces Day.
Among the greatest crowd turnouts were always the New Year’s shows, and perhaps the most memorable was the performance at Soap Creek Saloon of December 31st, 1979, to mark the end of the decadent 1970’s and the beginning of the turbulent 1980’s. To truly commemorate the change in decades and all that it meant, the Uranium Savages collected the most important items from the Band and from the audience that evening and placed them with a nuclear shipping container that was welded up into a Time Capsule on the Soap Creek stage that very evening while the crowd watched (without protection from the welding torch used on stage). The audience knew of the collection being gathered for the Savage Time Capsule and had been all asked to bring the artifacts that they each considered to be the most important items that represented the 1970’s to each of them. At the first set break, the audience was invited to form a line and to parade slowly by the stage and deposit these important items into the Time Capsule to be welded tight into their special delivery into the future – into a Time Capsule that would be buried by a Bobcat in the parking lot of Soap Creek Saloon off of North Lamar in Austin and was not due to be opened for another 709 years.
In was a typically rowdy New Year’s Eve crowd that had been attuned to the Savage’s point of view and they had come prepared to donate the things that they held of import from the previous decade. As observers watched the slow donation line of 1970’s artifacts, they saw people put in Texas Instrument Calculators that had only four (!) calculating functions with very large buttons on them, they saw ‘Nixon’s The One’ buttons and they saw disco accoutrements, but the largest numbers of items placed into the Savage Time Capsule consisted of joints and pills and women’s undergarments (seemingly fresh from the women in the crowd). One donator placed a hit of acid and a Quaalude into the Capsule because, to him “that symbolized the 1970’s in a nutshell” and a bandmember who had not gotten a haircut at all during the previous decade, cut off his ponytail onstage and placed it into the Capsule as his contribution.
After the Time Capsule was filled with these important symbols of the culture that was passing away before everyone’s eyes, it was welded forever shut by the keyboard player of the Uranium Savages, who had experience in the welding of Nuclear Shipping Containers, but who generated many complaints from the gathered audience in letters to the Editor of the Austin American-Statesman because of the use of a unshielded welding torch on stage in front of hundreds of drunken revelers at a nightclub.
As a bit of a footnote, this Time Capsule did not stay buried for 709 years, or 709 months, or 709 weeks or even 709 days. That location of Soap Creek Saloon closed within a few months and became a hangout for transients and other nere-do-wells. Someone - parties unknown - came back with that Bobcat and dug up the Time Capsule late one night and took it to an unknown location and welded it open to obtain the drugs within it. Rumors say that the unwelding process destroyed and burned up all the drugs within the sacred Capsule and released the smell of burning hair and the remains were buried somewhere else in a landfill to conceal their crime against humanity and the Uranium Savages.
On May30th, 1981, the Uranium Savages traveled down to do a gig at the Corpus Christi Country Club for a debutant coming-out party for a young lady named Betsy with the (not inappropriate) title of ‘Heavens to Betsy’; it was a private party headlined by Chubby Checker and the Savages and also featuring a 12-piece Soul band from North Carolina. The Soul band was at the far end of a series of interconnected rooms at the CC Country Club where the ceiling had been expensively adorned with cloud-like decorations and in a room where the waitresses wore Angel wings and the white napkins under the gratis drink glasses were embossed with gold letters that said ‘Heavens to Betsy’.
Chubby Checker was playing on the big stage in the middle room.
The Uranium Savages were stuck in a little bar at the other end of the series of rooms that were decorated to represent Hell. The waitresses there wore black and the napkins were black with red lettering that said ’The Devil Made Me Do It’. The people at the CC Country Club did not know that the Savages were a band that required electrical power until we told them. On either side of the Savages stage were giant cauldrons that had fans in the bottoms blowing red crepe paper strips upwards to simulate the flames of Hell.
The members of the Savages got to change costumes in the men’s locker room of the CC Country Club with the members of Chubby Checker’s band and it was there that they learned the reason why Chubby was not so chubby for the show that night: Chubby had done so many white crosses (speed) for the cross country tour that he had lost a lot of weight and had become ‘Slim’ Checker because of all the pills that he had eaten. But they told the Savages in the men’s locker room of the CC Country Club that Chubby Checker still felt that his version of ‘Do the Twist’ was one of the top 5 songs EVER performed by any man in all of musical history. The Savages could not confirm this from Chubby himself because he insisted on remaining upon his bus and not mingling with the members of the other bands appearing with him at the CC Country Club.
In 1982, the Uranium Savages returned to the Ritz on Sixth Street to do their now-famous Halloween show, and because of what happened that night, all of Austin has to walk in circles on Sixth Street every Halloween night since then. The Savages had gathered that night with Jim Franklin to perform the annual Pumpkin Stomp, a ritual that involved the tossing of pumpkins down onto the asphalt. There were no barricades and no police presence back then and the drunken crowd got out of hand and started thrown back the pieces of pumpkin and also throwing beer and whiskey bottles. It turned nasty and all of the neon of the giant Ritz sign was broken out by hurled objects. To break up an obviously unruly crowd (and having no help from Austin Police Department), one of the band members set off a US Army smoke grenade that he always carried with him for moments like this. Some of the smoke drifted into the Ritz, where many people started crying “Fire” in the crowded theater. Fortunately the place was NOT on fire, but the Austin Fire Department realized when it tried to respond to the fire alarm that it could not get an engine to the Ritz from its’ downtown fire station only 3 blocks away and so, starting the next year, for obvious reasons of public safety, Sixth Street was blockaded off and the Police presence became ubiquitous for every Halloween to follow.
And that is why everybody in costume down on Sixth Street every Halloween since the Uranium Savages show in 1982 has been forced to walk in a slow circle with armed Police officers inspecting them from behind protective sawhorses – all because of a simple U.S. Army smoke grenade used by the Uranium Savages in a small attempt at crowd control all those long years ago.
On August 25th, 1984, at the historic site of Symphony Square in downtown Austin on Red River Street, the Savages played their final show of all time there. It was a warm and clear night and the audience truly enjoyed the performance of the band and showed their appreciation by called for an encore but the Republican management at Symphony Square was rather put off by a short skit during which the band recreated the shooting of President Reagan by Hinckley and the band was told that they “would never, ever play at Symphony Square ever again!” And that prediction is still true today. Some people said it put the Phony in Sym-Phony, but others thought that it was because they were just too Square.
The Urine Ball was held on December 5th, 1986. The Uranium Savages returned to the Ritz Theater to host the festivities at the first and only Urine Ball in conjunction with the bands 12th Anniversary concert. The idea behind the Urine Ball was to publicize the introduction of a clean powdered urine product (like taken from people in Old Folk’s homes) that could be used to fool employers during the drug tests which had just gained popularity in the business community. This event was taped and that tape was eventually shown on the Number One show on Japanese television. The show was a cross between ’60 Minutes’ and ‘The Price is Right ‘. The hosts of the show would be talking about how it was now strangely possible in the United States to acquire packages of clean powdered urine and then the show would suddenly be halted and a celebrity panel would be asked to guess exactly how much it cost for 5 packets of powdered urine. Why would they have a show like that? Who can say: it is a lot like a foreign country over there in Japan.
On New Years Eve of 1988, at Liberty Lunch, the Uranium Savages played a show with Joe Ely and Timbuk 3. Timbuk 3 had already released their nationwide hit record “My Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” and in response the Savages put out their only 45rpm vinyl record (now an extremely rare collector’s item) with their version of that tune called “My Future’s So Bleak, I Think I got AIDS”. It is quite possibly the rarest 45rpm record ever to come out of the Austin music scene.
Between July 11th and Halloween of 1990, 14 of the Savages 15 performances were for the kind people that hired shows at Scholz’s Beir Garden and the Sangarunde Hall on San Jacinto Street, the oldest Beer Hall in Austin. Their 400th show was during this period on August 8th and many videos were made because of all the new songs that debuted during this especially creative period. During this time, they first performed classics such as “Two Live Jews”, ”Judge David Souter”, “Rowdy Saudi” and “Beer Sucking Ilk”. This period was when the Savages first truly developed their Iraqi-bashing personae, so popular with the drunks of that period and, for some reason, still popular in today’s market.
Austin’s Aqua Fest of 1991 featured the Uranium Savages on the 10th of August onstage with the Leroi Brothers opening for the great Ben E. King. It was a tremendously fun gig for this aging group, and they were given their own backstage mobile home trailer complete with trays of snacks and edibles. There was a wind storm that blew through Austin during the middle of that show which entailed that the superstructure above the stage along Town Lake that held up the lighting and sound system had to be lowered by the 4 corner hydraulic system for the stage during the height of the strongest winds, making this show the first time that the entire stage area was lowered to half-mast when the Savages took the stage to play.
The Uranium Savage achieved a personal dream by finally playing their first show at the venerable Broken Spoke dancehall on South Lamar in South Austin on May 21st of 1992 while opening for Joe Ely and his band. The Broken Spoke is not only an Austin tradition and a Texas Tradition, but known nationally as one of the premier honky-tonks from the old school of Texas roadhouse music halls. The Savages have continued to play there for Broken Spoke owner/manager Mr. James White, whom they all admire, with their latest show being on June 30th of 2004 for the 60th Birthday of John Kelso, columnist for the Austin American-Statesman.
On April 8th of 1994, the Uranium Savages went on nationwide television on the ABC-TV network while playing on Auditorium Shores along the banks of Austin’s Town Lake and being interviewed by Gordon Elliot, a really tall man now found only on Food-TV. The band was enthusiastically promoting their performance 4 days away of their 16th annual Spamarama with Steve Frumholtz at La Zona Rosa and was well received by a national crowd new to the unique sound of the Savages.
Speaking of the Spamarama, an event that the Savages originated and that continues to get more popular every year in spite of itself and the pseudo-meat that it celebrates, in September of1996 the Uranium Savages took the annual outside of Austin to the Deep Ellum District of Dallas. They played at the Cockeyed Parrot on Spam Eve and then climbed aboard a flatbed trailer on the streets of Deep Ellum to bring the sound of Spam to the populace of that culturally wanting city. There is NO other band in the known Universe that has more songs about Spam than the Uranium Savages. At last count, this group had well over 100 tunes about this mystery meat, with songs along the lines of “You Might as well Face It, You’re Addicted to Spam”, with apologies to Robert Palmer. The list of Spam song descriptions could easily go on much longer than this tiny band history that you are now reading.
In 1999, the Uranium Savages helped to close two more major nightclubs, an odd reoccurrence that seems to continue happening to the Savages. Since the band has been around now for 30 years and the average life of any given nightclub or music hall is far less, it is far more likely that the Savages will be present at the end of a clubs life than vice-versa. Such was the case twice in 1999, when the Savages closed out both the esteemed Liberty Lunch in July (where the band had played 42 times - second only to their number of shows at Soap Creek - since July of 1977) and also helped to close Steamboat Springs down on Sixth street in September (where the band had played 18 times since January of 1977) when the Savages opened for the Scabs with Bob Schneider. The final Steamboat show was especially fun since the audience included Bob’s then girlfriend, an actress called Sandra Bullock, who was a good sport when the Savages ran into the crowd and placed their giant strap-on penises in the region of her face. Three months later the Savages celebrated their 25th anniversary gig at the Continental Club, a regular favorite of the Savages where they have played since 1980.
In this, the 21st century, the Savages have kept on playing their tunes for appreciative audiences and have surely earned their title of “The Band to Dumb to Die”. A few other Austin bands have been around slightly longer, but they are all built around a single front person, such as Willie Nelson or Alvin Crow or Marcia Ball. There is no other or older Austin band built as a group performing troupe than the Uranium Savages, and they performed their 500th show at Gino’s down in deep South Austin on August 23rd. 2004.
Over these last three decades, the Uranium Savages have played with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dr. Hook, Darryl Rhoades and his HahaVishnu Orchestra, the Austin Lounge Lizards, Joe Ely Jerry Jeff Walker, Timbuk 3, Omar and the Howlers the Rhythm Rats, Doug Sahm, the Sons of Sahm, Augie Myers, Marsha Ball, Ray Campi, Alvin Crow, the Geezenslaw Brothers, Steve Fromholtz, Steam/Extreme Heat, Harry Anderson, Chubby Checker, Balcones Fault, the Big Boys, Bubble Puppy, Shiva’s Head Band, Greezy Wheels, Wavy Gravy, Texoid, John Kelso, Joe ‘King” Carrasco. The Explosives, Esther’s Follies, the Next, Ponty Bone, Beto y los Fairlanes, Ro-tel and the Hot Tomatoes, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Bugs Henderson, Rusty Wier, Tex Thomas, Ben E. King, the Leroi Brothers, Ray Benson, the Texana Dames, the Tailgators, the Cherry-Poppin’ Daddies, Willie Nelsons …and dozens of other wonderful groups.
The Savages have so far as yet only played in the towns of Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Amarillo, South Padre Island, Corpus Christi, Fredericksburg, Nacogdoches, Manor Downs, San Marcos, Luchenbach and Creedmoor. They look forward after their first 30 years to finally playing out of the state of Texas. There have been over 100 of Austin’s finest musicians that have played in the Uranium Savages group - a list to long to enumerate here – but everyone in the Uranium Savages still is proud of the award given to them in the year 2000 by the Austin Chronicle…”The Uranium Savages - The Best Proof That Drugs Don’t Kill You!”