Featured Music: Wednesday, August 15, 2002
Vietnam Jams

The moody Ho Chi Men prepare an assault on the Metroplex.


Reggie Rueffer is a virtuoso bassplayer and fiddler who leaves his Arlington home for Nashville or Branson a few times a year to perform with marquee country stars (Charlie Pride is one). He’s done session work for local artists like Sara Hickman, David Garza, Todd Deatherage, Killbilly, Slick 57, and Eleven Hundred Springs. He’s also the mastermind behind the Ho Chi Men, a band that plays a dense and dark, but melodic, form of rock.

The Ho Chi Men recently expanded to a four-piece, with Reggie’s brother Chad, who left high-octane honkytonk band Speedtrucker six months ago, joining Ed McMahon on guitar. The group is preparing to record a second album and looking to increase its frequency of live activity around the Metroplex. Of the band’s last visit to Ridglea Theater in January, Rueffer said, “we had kids giving us their socks, but we haven’t been able to get back since then. I think Fort Worth audiences are a little more hip, and the youngsters come out more because that’s who digs our tunes the most.”

Rueffer started playing rock in high school with a band called the Electric Farmboys. In college, he formed Mildred, which he describes as “kitchen-sink rock, not in terms of instruments, more in terms of arrangements. We Yes-ed and XTC-ed it to death.” The band released a c.d., hailed as the “best new release” in the region by the Dallas Observer, before breaking up.

Back in 1995, the Rueffer brothers were the nucleus of alternative rock band Spot, which released an album on the Ardent label out of Memphis and had a song, “Moon June Spoon,” that garnered the band national attention — perhaps not to the same extent as certain songs have for the Toadies or Tripping Daisy, but significant nonetheless. Spot signed to Ardent through the efforts of a booking agent whom the band shared with the Denton jazz-art-political-rock outfit Ten Hands. “We jumped in with both feet and later signed a contract that probably wasn’t in our best interests, but we didn’t care,” Rueffer said. “So we toured the country with that for a couple of years.” It ended with the collapse of Ardent. “They lost a lot of money and started firing everybody that worked for us. Then they tried to work a deal with Interscope, but that just fizzled.”

The Ho Chi Men started in 1998 because Rueffer “was desperate. I had songs I wanted to sing, and I didn’t want to do it solo. Chad and [Brave Combo drummer] Mitch Marine came over and we thrashed out three or four tunes. Then Chad moved to California. I was playing violin with [Ten Hands leader] Paul Slavens, and Pete Young was playing drums. I loved his style and panache. I’d spent eight years playing rock with my brother, and I wanted to work with some different people. So we got together, started jamming, and eventually got a gig at Dan’s Bar in Denton.”

The cover of the Ho Chi Men’s self-released 2001 c.d., Totenlieder, shows grotesque jack-o-lantern faces superimposed beneath the familiar moptops of the Liverpudlian lads from Meet the Beatles, and the same kind of twisted pop sensibility informs the music. “This is definitely the darkest I’ve ever gotten,” said Rueffer. “I guess Spot was lighter because Chad is more of a melodicist. Ed McMahon comes from more of a jazz background, and he listens to a lot darker, heavier music — Rage Against the Machine-style stuff, Incubus.”

When it came time to record Totenlieder, Rueffer said, “We kept it Spartan. We didn’t do a lot of double-tracking. I really wanted to do it quick and sound just like we do live.” A common thread unifying the album is the religious imagery in songs like “The Funeral Gig,” “God Is a Flower,” “My Baby Died Today,” and “60-40.” Rueffer explained: “I was a Bible-thumping Methodist for a long time, all the way through Mildred. Spot was less that, because in the early ’90s, I started getting away from that and started reading Nietzsche. I had a great deal of angst about it, because I was writing songs about the death of God in my life and, in my opinion, the death of God in general. So I guess that would make it a dark album, too.”

Rueffer’s vocals are reminiscent of experimental rocker Adrian Belew’s, and in live performance, the band sometimes veers into King Crimson territory. Rueffer’s bass is solid and driving, and his songs betray a variety of influences, from the Beatles and the Police to “Brit bands of the ’80s like Echo and the Bunnymen and the Smiths.”

Contemplating the future, Rueffer said, “I feel good about the tunes, and I think we could be a plausible entity if we put a little bit more business effort into it. David Mitchell, who plays with Speedtrucker, is doing some booking for us, and he’s working on getting us into the Wreck Room.”

We shall see.

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