CINE-WEEN: Put Some Terror on Your Turntable With Pig Baby’s Deadbolt reissues

The scary and eerie voodoobilly sounds of Deadbolt have been emanating from southern California for well over two decades now, but until this past March, very little of the band’s output has been available on vinyl. Aside from a few split singles and 7-inch releases, the music from “scariest band in the world” has only ever been released on compact disc.

It’s an impressive discography, full of concept albums about murderous vagabonds (Hobo Babylon), a group of contract killers (Tijuana Hit Squad), and mysterious drivers on the highway (Voodoo Trucker), among others. The way in which Deadbolt combines dark surf-rock twang with the deeply-resonant vocals of frontman Harley Davidson creates an atmosphere well-suited to unfiltered cigarettes and late-night whiskey-drinking while black and white monster movies flicker on the TV.

So, it was quite a pleasure to find that the team at Pig Baby Records had gotten together with the band to remaster the band’s catalog for vinyl and begin reissuing it. The first release was the band’s 1999 album, Tijuana Hit Squad, and the next, Voodoo Trucker, goes on pre-sale today, to ship in mid-November.

The releases are pretty amazing. While the music of Deadbolt has always been really creepy, the lo-fi production means the CDs have always sounded a little less-than. The songs are there, and the music’s good, but the mixing and mastering have always left a little to be desired. No more on the vinyl, though — from the instant the needle dropped on “El Perversio,” it sounded a hundred times more full than the disc I’ve had kicking around since my early 20s. The way you can hear Harley quietly snarl, “I’ll put a bullet in you” on “Conductor” right before the guitar kicks back in is menacing beyond belief, as well.

The work that went into the reissues extended to the art, as well. The jacket artwork is exactly what adorned the CDs when they first released nearly twenty years ago, and while I’ve seen quite a few CD-to-LP reproductions turn out pixelated or blurry, these look absolutely aces. Voodoo Trucker, especially, with the Ed “Big Daddy” Roth takeoff, is exactly the kind of album cover you need to have one of those LP jacket displays next to your turntable.

Plus, there are gloriously perfect liner notes about the making of the records from Davidson, and they are perfectly deadpan mythmaking. I’m not sure if Tijuana Hit Squad was, in fact, recorded for $1200, with the remaining $3800 of the advance going to “steak and lobster dinners at the Red Fox Room, fine wine and bourbon, and endless packs of Camel unfiltered cigarettes,” but the fact that I could believe it probably says something about the band.

These are absolutely necessary reissues. Seriously, what better music is there to soundtrack your Halloween party than a band like Deadbolt? The creepy CB chatter all over Voodoo Trucker is a brilliant way to counterpoint any visuals you might have on the TV while your shindig’s swinging. Might I suggest Duel as your cinematic counterpoint? You won’t regret it.

I spoke via email with Pig Baby’s “Head Nacho,” Mr. Boss Hog (who runs the label along with Sassy Boy, Frontline, Flame Throwin’ Bandito, Golden Baby Doll Warrior and newcomer, Diamond Billy Jim), about how the Deadbolt reissue series came to be.

When did the label start?

Pig Baby Records officially started in March of 2017 with our first release — the Schizophonics EP, Ooga Booga — and as I type this, we are now working on our 11th release, a record by the Woolly Bushmen.

How did Pig Baby come to work with Deadbolt?

Gary — aka “3rd Degree” — Burns is one of my best friends. About 10 years ago, we were in a record shop together and the clerk behind the counter said to Gary, “You know what the biggest problem with Deadbolt is? None of your classic records are on vinyl.” That comment always stuck in my head, because he was right. If ever a band was made for vinyl, it’s Deadbolt, so when the label got going and we got distribution, it made sense to work with them. There were some challenges in the beginning, as we had to track down the former label owner, who now runs a bicycle company. Once we did and got his blessing, things started to happen pretty quickly.

Have you been a fan of the band for a while, and how’d you first come by their music?

I’m a huge Rocket From the Crypt and Swami John Reis fan and had seen Deadbolt a few times play with Rocket. You know, it’s weird: I always liked them and me and 3rd Degree Burns are great friends, but I didn’t really become a huge fan, until I started working with them and listening to their records several times.

Their sound is different, and Harley A Davidson —  jeez, that guy is something else with his lyrics. They’re the type of band that make me nervous when you start to listen to them. There’s only a handful of bands that have ever given me that feeling — Suicide and early Black Flag are two others that come to mind. It just makes you feel real uneasy. Deadbolt does that for me and I like it, ha ha.

Is the reissue campaign doing the albums in a certain order? It seems like you’re kind of going in order of popularity?

No, not in specific order nor by popularity. The first one I picked which was Tijuana Hit Squad, and I picked that one, because it was the first CD cover by them I ever saw and I never forgot that cover. It’s just so awesome: that’s my favorite.

Voodoo Trucker is out November 9, and that has two of my favorite songs: “Billy’s Dead” and “Truck Drivin S.O.B.”  After this one will be Zulu Death Mask. That’s Harley and 3rd Degree’s personal favorite. Maybe we’ll reach out to the fans on social media and ask them which one they want after that.

What’s the remastering process been like? The albums were always kind of lo-fi, to begin with.

Well, quality is extremely important to me. As a record collector myself, there is nothing worse than buying a reissue and it looks and sounds like total crap. I didn’t want to do it unless it would be quality. I took the project idea to Dave Gardner at Infrasonic Sound, who does really great work and has mastered some of my favorite records.

We started listening to a few songs and started talking, and I asked him what he thought. He just gave me this smirk and said, “Oh yeah: we’re gonna make this sound a lot better,” and he really has. The band has really loved his work so far. To all the fellow record geeks out there, Deadbolt’s vinyl is being cut on the old RCA vinyl lathe that cut Elvis and Kinks records.

Has the response been solid, so far?

It’s really been great: people have written me from all over the world asking us about the next reissue. I got an email this morning from someone in Germany, thanking us for doing this.  

Obviously, based on the liner notes for Tijuana Hit Squad, you’ve been working with Harley Davidson on these reissues, but how closely is he involved?

He’s extremely involved and he will be writing the liner notes for all the reissues. 3rd Degree Burns has been extremely involved, as well, and was very instrumental in getting this project off the ground. They both approve everything before it goes to press and print.

Any plans to reissue the Strangers 1800 record?

Ha, that’s a great question, you must be a fan as well — those are deep cuts. I would hope so, at some point. I was talking with Harley last week and we talked about them going into the studio soon to do a new record next year, as well. I guess we’ll just take it one record at a time.

You can buy Tijuana Hit Squad from the Pig Baby online store, and pre-orders for Voodoo Trucker begin October 1.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
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