The summary description on iTunes calls it, “The best forgotten gem of its time.”
In 1997, The Refreshments, one of Tempe, Arizona’s most beloved bands, released their second – and final – major label album, The Bottle & Fresh Horses. The 13 song effort came on the heels of the band’s most popular release, 1996’s Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy – an album of crunching guitars, irreverent lyrics and frat boy party fun mixed with Southwestern hooks, Mexico and tequila – that fell just short of platinum status but is spoken of even today with a high degree of reverence among fans.
During that time period for The Bottle & Fresh Horses, not only were big changes being made within the front office of The Refreshments’ record label, but the band members themselves were going through their own evolutions and growth.
The band was also imploding.
Lead singer/songwriter Roger Clyne said the band was already starting their eventual break-up while writing the album so by the time they walked off the stage of their final show on May 5, 1998, they were done.
“I remember it was chaos writing it and recording (The Bottle & Fresh Horses),” Clyne said earlier this week from his home in Tempe.
Despite the chaos, TBFH turned out to be a very, very good album – a true forgotten gem that over time, many have rediscovered.
In a couple of weeks, the album will turn 15. This Saturday night in Las Vegas at the House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay, Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers – the group formed from the ashes of The Refreshments – will revisit The Bottle & Fresh Horses and play the entire album from start to finish, something that has never been done.
For fans of The Refreshments and RCPM, this show is as close to a “Can. Not. Miss.” event as they’ve ever done.
This will be the fifth year in a row, Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers have played the House of Blues during Labor Day Weekend. Last year, they played Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy in its entirety for the first time.
This year, Clyne decided it was time to give The Bottle & Fresh Horses – an album he admits he hadn’t thought about as a whole for many years – another shot.
“It’s definitely different than Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy, both in tone and in content,” he said, reflecting on the album. “That (time period) was when my life started to get really busy, when my commitments and choices started to sort of congeal and solidify and momentum started to happen and I started to get traction in a lot of things in my efforts towards being an artist and a father and a husband and citizenship. I was still trying to have fun but it was really chaotic. When I listen back on that album I see myself on that path having to step up the pace a little bit.”
Time has mended many of the feelings Clyne had about the album and that time period in general. Rather than a step-child, Clyne said he can look at The Bottle & Fresh Horses today and acknowledge the band wrote quality songs.
“I don’t look back in anger now. Irrespective of the pettiness and the bad feelings we had between us, I think we made a good album. I feel really sort of proud that it would be called a ‘forgotten gem,’ or if so, revered by those who really love our music,” Clyne said.
A few of the songs off TBFH have been in heavy rotation at RCPM shows since the band started, such as the upbeat “Preacher’s Daughter” and “Wanted,” a song Clyne wrote before Fizzy, Fuzzy when he still had a “day job” as a dishwasher at a club in Tempe.
The album contains several fan favorites including the feisty “Dolly” and “Broken Record,” and the more somber “Sin Nombre.”
The opening track, “Tributary Otis,” is a tribute to one of Clyne’s favorite albums, River Otis by another popular Arizona band, Dead Hot Workshop. After a hard day, Clyne said he would come home and crank that CD as a kind of emotional release. That feeling is reflected in the chorus, “So I lay down on the floor, turn up my radio, c’mon River Otis make me cry.”
“That album could heal me in a way, and sometimes the best healing is letting it all go,” Clyne said.
One song Clyne is not looking forward to revisiting, however, is “Good Year.”
“I still sort of wince at the thought of playing ‘Good Year’ because I know it was written as a B-side. It became part of the album not by our choice,” he said.
It was during the writing and recording of TBFH that Mercury Records, who had been so supportive of The Refreshments’ first album, was bought out. Clyne said with the new label he lost all artistic control. The result, he said, was the record label “strongly suggesting” the band quickly write a B-side, “Good Year.”
That B-side, however, ended up being released as the first single against the band’s will. A video for MTV was even made for the song.
“Good Year” is one of three songs that Clyne has not played off the album since The Refreshments broke up. The other two being “Heaven and the Highway Out of Town” and “Birds Sing.” Two of the songs were penned by Blush, the other by bassist Art “Buddy” Edwards. Fans have speculated over the years the reason Clyne hasn’t played them in concert is because he didn’t write them.
But Clyne said his decision was based on the songs themselves, not the songwriters.
“Brian wrote ‘Good Year’ and he wrote it quickly, and he wrote it without trying to mind too much substance, and that’s what I hear,” Clyne said. “I don’t think they’re as good as the other material. Period. There are plenty of songs I didn’t write that I think are amazing, great songs, but those aren’t amongst them. It has nothing to do with bad blood.”
Clyne admitted he probably doesn’t have the same perspective listening to those songs as some fans might. But he says he simply doesn’t identify with them. Likewise, Clyne said there are songs that he did write that he doesn’t relish playing anymore either, such as “Tow Chain.”
As for whether the songs will be played again after Saturday night, “It’s going to be a working experiment,” Clyne admitted.
Over the summer, RCPM did another first, booking a week’s worth of shows in the backyards of fans. The Backyard BBQ Tour turned out to be an enormous hit.
“It is something I’d do again and probably will next year. It was just a blast,” Clyne said. “It didn’t feel like our theatre or club work at all. And our Peacemakers’ fans, I don’t think I’ve ever met one I can’t hang out with. We were just surrounded by cool people in their own habitat. It felt like the music really belonged there.”
During those shows, fans were allowed to write the set list for the evening. At one show, “Buy American” off the TBFH was selected. It’s another song that could be counted on one hand the number of times Clyne has played since The Refreshments broke up, with a few fingers left over.
But after revisiting it, Clyne said he had a reconnection with the song and feels differently about it now. He said he’ll see if the same thing happens with the other songs on TBFH after Saturday.
“I’m going to allow the same possibility to happen with these tunes. I only have plans right now to play them in Vegas. But if we are so moved, I’m going to say they may show up on other set lists in other cities.”
After Las Vegas, Clyne said he and Naffah will get back to writing new material along with lead guitarist Jim Dalton and bass player Nick Scropos and hope to have new music to release either late this year or early in 2013. The band has also been continuously working on a DVD recording of their annual Circus Mexicus concert in Rocky Point, Mexico in 2011. One of the disadvantages of being an independent band, however, is Clyne said no one in the band is a natural editor. Thus, the much delayed DVD has taken longer than expected to complete, but Clyne promised they were really close and expected it to be released soon.
Tickets for Saturday’s show in Las Vegas can be purchased here.