In John Steinbeck’s travel narrative, Travels with Charley, he states “Texas is a state of mind.” By reputation, that often equates to ruggedness, oil, and gargantuan ambition, which is partly true, but shortsighted. On the night when I came to a peaceful coexistence with the great nation of Texas, The Boys Named Sue taught me that this state of mind encompasses more ordinary, visceral elements, drink being prominent among them.
It was a spring evening at Adair’s Saloon, and I was there with my brother to see The Boys Named Sue for the first time. The band began making their customary plea for Tuaca early into the first set. My brother and I tended to our own beveraging, topping off glasses from our second pitcher of Shiner. The Sues played on, shots of liquor now navigating their blood, which apparently did nothing to mitigate their instinctive talent. My brother and I drank more Shiner, people crammed the dance floor, a young lady slid herself into my booth and pulled me in for a kiss. That was the moment of the epiphany, of “Texas,” a sort of Shiner-soaked zen. Beer, music, and women: I felt the State, and I had come to an understanding, an enlightenment, and I floated a river of alcohol to arrive there.
I discovered that experience is not isolated. After a recent performance by The Boys Named Sue at La Grange, I had a conversation with the venue’s bartender who claimed the bar take nearly quadrupled during The Boys Named Sue as compared to other sets. It makes sense. “Sue-ay” – aka John Pedigo, lead singer/guitarist – often invites the crowd to raise their glasses with him in a unified salute. Implicit in these toasts is the cult of Texas. Who among the crowd wants to be caught raising an empty hand? So the beer and whiskey are poured en masse to insure that all have a chance to participate in that one simple, egalitarian gesture.
I sat down with John Pedigo to discuss the phenomenon: the correlation between The Boys Named Sues and bountiful libations. Pedigo shrugged and offered, “We make people real thirsty.” He eventually admitted to forming the band as a way to score free drinks, giving no thought to future accolades like being voted Dallas’s favorite country act (although he did admit to using their growing prominence as justification for an unsuccessful attempt to obtain sponsorship from Tuaca Liqueur). Surveying the Sues’ original catalog, which includes songs like “Light Beers Away,” “Whiskey Talkin’,” and “Tuaca Two Step,” it is obvious that The Boys Named Sue want you to throw one back.
Pedigo calls The Boys Named Sue, “The layman’s country band.” It is true that The Boys Named Sue do not cater exclusively to country purists, who might appreciate a flawlessly rendered set of Jimmie Rodgers or Hank Williams. Their sets include original songs and covers, Hank Sr. being among them, but they also cast their Country & Western net wide enough to include Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Billy Joe Shaver. The band is perhaps most known for their ambitious medleys, marrying partners as incongruous as Hank Williams and Eminem, Bob Wills and 2 Live Crew, Burl Ives and Ray Parker Jr., and the Honkey Tonk Time Machine which includes an unfortunate stop at Good Charlotte circa 2003.
The Boys Named Sues run like a high-octane country engine, eliciting liberal dancing and drinking like some kind of Baptist nightmare. Pedigo does not find accidental. In terms exclusive to Texas, he refers to the phenomenon of the “coldbeer” [sic]. “Texas, especially East Texas, is about the only place you hear ‘coldbeer,’” he explains. “There’s always room for one. It’s always accepted and ok. ‘The weather’s nice…let’s have a beer.’” The heat, the friendliness, the lively, prankish music, they are all hallmarks of Texas that lend themselves easily to boozy largesse.
Along with his enthusiasm for country music – a love wrought from his few, homesick years in Boston – Pedigo offered up a wealth of drinking insight: the best Texas beer is Real Ale’s Firemans #4; one can drink five thousand Pearl Lights and still maintain a girlish figure; and Tuaca is the best on-stage option for liquor. “[Tuaca] lasts about half hour. It jolts you awake, but it still has alcohol, so it keeps you loosey goosey. And, besides the horrible hangover, it’s delicious.”
The Boys Named Sue remain one of Dallas’s most entertaining acts and one of Texas’s most effective ambassadors, making country fans out of hipsters and highlighting notable Texas holidays like “Cinco De Drinko” and “Texas/OsUes Weekend.” They are debatably the most talented country band in Dallas with enough energy for a never-waning four hour set. And as far as the alcohol goes, John Pedigo remains unapologetic: “Let’s be real; drinking is a lot of fun and we’re pretty good at it.”
Photo: Casey Kinney (Courtesy of The Boys Named Sue).