Featured Music: Wednesday, August 8, 2002
Bastards Out of Texas

You may not know country-rockers Jasper Stone now — but you will.


It’s Saturday night at the Black Dog Tavern, and Jasper Stone is playing its rollicking brand of rowdy, rootsy country-rock for an audience of friends and fans. Saturday’s not a big night at the Dog, but the atmosphere is relaxed and the band well oiled, thanks to some admirers who are keeping a steady flow of drinks headed toward the bandstand.

Frontman Ed Voyles stomps his way around the stage, declaiming his story-songs in a raspy voice, thrashing away at an acoustic guitar or a thinline Telecaster, and making humorous observations — like the one about body piercing: if it has trickled down to the girl working the drive-through at Dairy Queen in Azle (where Voyles lives and spend his days building furniture), then the fad must definitely be over.

Jasper Stone is quite a spectacle. Voyles is a skinny Costello to bassist Dan Stewart’s Abbott — the lanky bass player strikes a variety of rockstar poses, anchors the sound with well-articulated lines and a huge tone reminiscent of the late John Entwistle, and chimes in on harmony vocals. Drummer Henry “Hank” Meyer lays down a solid, spare four-on-the-floor beat, while newest member Ron Geida alternates swarming, clawing, chicken-picked country licks with full-on, ripping rock solos.

Although the band’s been together for more than four years, so far it’s achieved more fame overseas than it has closer to home. That’s a situation Voyles and company are anxious to correct. With a sheaf of new songs ready to be recorded and a new axe-slinger able to lend a harder, rockier edge to the band’s sound, Jasper Stone is planning on increasing its visibility on local stages.

The Fort Worth-Dallas rock scene is a long way from “the sticks,” where Voyles grew up, listening to country. Today, he cites artists as diverse as Billy Joe Shaver, the Bottle Rockets, Paul Westerberg, John Lennon, Steve Earle, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and AC/DC as “people we like to steal from.”

He and Meyer met 13 years ago while working in a record store and formed a band called Justice Frog, an unwieldy six-piece that played a mix of covers and Voyles originals. Stewart signed on a couple of years later. In the early 1990s, all three played in a reggae/ska/funk outfit called the Trying Season. After that, said Voyles, “I was just kind of playing hootenannies and stuff by myself, and these guys were playing around in bands together. We hadn’t seen each other in four or five years when I called them up and said, ‘I’ve written some new material and I’d like for you guys to hear it.’ When I told them it was kind of country, they didn’t know what to think.”

They came together as Jasper Stone with guitarist Nate Fowler (ex-American Fuse, soon replaced by Tommy Ware) in 1997. Early on, they were determined to be more than just a garden-variety local band, so with a mere dozen shows under their belts, they ventured down to Austin for a South By Southwest showcase that led to contacts with promoters in Sweden and the Netherlands.

“It was a whirlwind six months. We recorded the first album about six, eight weeks after we got together,” Meyer recalled. Added Voyles: “We were just going to do a four-song demo to get some club dates. We recorded four songs in one day and mixed it, then we thought, ‘Dude, two more days and it’s a record!’ ” That 1998 debut disc, the raw and raucous Shoot the Moon, bore signature tunes like “Bastard Out of Texas,” “Azle Barrel Ride,” “Handful of Change,” and the surf/Ennio Morricone-ish hoedown “Mexican Vampire Truck Drivin’ Girl.” It was picked up for distribution by Hoedown Entertainment in Austin — a deal that proved to be a mixed blessing after Hoedown’s collapse held the band in legal limbo for a spell.

On the follow-up, Let ’Er Smoke, Brett Boggs replaced Ware on guitar, and the disc featured a more expansive sound, sweetened by the addition of Will Brumley’s fiddle, Voyles’ mandolin, and Stewart’s harmonica. Voyles said he sees the sophomore disc as “the defining record. We had a few more ideas. We also knew a bit more about what we were doing in the studio and spent a little more time on it. I’ve always been a singer by default, and now I feel like I’m getting more into my style. It’s a process, especially doing your own stuff. It takes a good while to say, ‘That’s my voice.’ ”

They’re currently preparing to return to the studio in the fall to record a third disc. “We’re working on new material now and planning to record in November,” said Voyles. “We’ve got 15 or 16 good songs we want to include.”

New guitarist Geida is a native of Springfield, Mass., and a veteran of rock and blues bands including the Civilians. He joined Jasper Stone in time for an April 2002 tour of the Netherlands and Belgium, including a performance in front of 15,000 people at the Moulin festival. “We feel real comfortable with Ron,” said Voyles. “It’s a really different vibe, and now we can really work on our live show. I haven’t felt comfortable in the past doing that with hired guns.”

The band has fond memories of the tour. “Over there, we felt like rock ’n’ roll royalty,” said Voyles. “The first gig we played, we had a pre-meal, then two cases of Heineken, then a post-meal. And I’m thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got two meals from one gig? I’d better steal all the remaining sandwiches!’ And then we go to the next show, and there’s more sandwiches! And I’m thinking, ‘Man, maybe I’ve reached that point as a musician where I no longer have to steal food.’ ”

To build their recognition locally, Meyer said, “We’d like to play in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at least twice a month. We don’t really look at trying to play every weekend. We have our fan base, and they love to come see us play, but the more you play, the less of an event it is when you do.”

Meyer called the band “a great hobby that has fringe benefits. We get to do things we love. We spend money on it. If the money comes back, then that’s great. If it doesn’t, we still had a damn good time. We’re interested in having a good time, playing out, talking to people, connecting with people onstage.”

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