They’re the self-proclaimed Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World, and they’re coming to a stage near you.
The Supersuckers have been dishing out their one-of-a-kind blend of straight-up rock and outlaw country since Seattle’s grunge heyday, spent time on the iconic Sub Pop label, toured the world’s dive bars, fought cancer, beat it, acted as Willie Nelson’s backing band, and released 10 fine albums of high-octane rock and roll music.
Founded in 1988 by bassist Eddie Spaghetti, guitarists Dan “Thunder” Bolton and Rontrose Heathman, drummer Dancing Eagle, and lead vocalist Eric Martin as The Black Supersuckers, the band’s lineup has shifted over the years.
When Martin left the band and Spaghetti took over vocal duties, he became a beloved voice of the underground, a hero for up-and-coming bands, and icon in his own right.
The Supersuckers’ roots are in Tucson, Arizona, but the group headed to Seattle a year after forming and discovered a thriving rock scene. Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Mudhoney ruled and grunge was rising. Supersuckers, however, created songs that were distinctly un-Seattle: their brazen embrace of trashy rock ‘n’ roll, a hard-partying attitude, and tongue-in-cheek sense of humor was a stark contrast to the seriousness and brooding nature of their city’s hottest acts.
Supersuckers’ sound made them a peculiar fit on Sub Pop, but their first album with the label, The Smoke of Hell, produced “Coattail Rider,” a song that would announce the Supersuckers to the rock lovin’ world with anthemic choruses, four-letter words, devilish guitar licks, and furious drumming.
1994 saw the release of the fan favorite album La Mano Cornuda; that record produced set list essentials “Creepy Jackalope Eye” and “She’s My Bitch.”
The rollicking The Sacriligious Sounds of the Supersuckers, produced by the Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary, followed in 1995—track two, “Born With a Tail,” became a Supersuckers classic.
In 1997, the band threw fans for a loop with Must’ve Been High, a full-on country record. They even got Willie Nelson to contribute vocals to a song, and released an EP at the same time with country singer-songwriter legend Steve Earle fronting the Supersuckers.
Though his stylistic range goes from pedal-to-the-medal rock to traditional country, Spaghetti clings to the classic Harlan Howard adage for songwriting.
“They’re all just three chords and the truth,” he says. “And that’s the bottom line. If the song’s good, it doesn’t matter if it’s a country song, rock song, pop song. If it’s good, I like it.”
It wasn’t until later in life that Spaghetti came around to the country sound.
“I was kind of a new wave kid when I first got turned onto music,” he shares. “It was Blondie, the Knack, The Cars, that sort of vibe. Then I got older, I got into hard rock and finally embraced country. They say once you stay around rock ‘n’ roll long enough, you get there!”
2015’s Holdin’ the Bag gave country music a full embrace. The band’s always had a little honky-tonk in ‘em, but from Holdin’ the Bag’s first wistful harmonica strains, it’s clear that Spaghetti’s black cowboy hat is more than just a signature look.
From the hooky lead single “Let’s Bounce” to the album’s closer, a fitting cover of Hank Williams Jr.’s classic “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down),” the record’s saturated in twang and boot-scuffed glory.
The band even invited two leaders of the anti-country radio country music movement, Hayes Carll and Lydia Loveless, to collaborate on the songs “This Life...With You” and “I Can’t Cry” respectively.
“It seems like there are a lot of cool country artists right now,” Spaghetti observes. “It’s a cool thing. There are lots of good artists out there anyway—we see new bands almost every night, and they don’t always suck!”
Holdin’ the Bag was Supersuckers’ first recording as a trio. Spaghetti, bassist Edward Daly, and drummer Chris Chango brought in many guests to contribute to the album in-studio and took an additional member on the road when they toured the record. Since then, tours have been done as a three-piece.
The year that Holdin’ the Bag was released, Spaghetti discovered a lump on his neck and was diagnosed with stage three cancer of the oropharynx. Touring was halted and the Supersuckers’ devoted fan base stepped up, pitching in to the Eddie Spaghetti Cancer Fight Fund.
Old pals like Eddie Vedder and Mudhoney donated their support and encouragement to the fight, too. Eight months later, after surgery and radiation treatments, Spaghetti’s family, friends, and fans rejoiced: he was declared cancer-free.
Right now, Supersuckers are working on new material and hope to release a record next year. After 30 years, life on the road isn’t that different than the early days.
“The shit holes are the same,” Spaghetti laughs. “But life is about the same. It hasn’t changed that much.”
It’s a much different time for music, however. When asked what advice he’d give up-and-coming bands, Spaghetti, who’s inspired countless musicians and bands over the years, laughs and declares, “Give up!”
“I couldn’t imagine starting a band now,” he says. “First of all, there’s no real reason to get together with dudes to play anymore, because you can hear anything in the computer at home, put your song ideas together at home, so why even bother messing with other personalities?”
“That’s my hopeful, positive advice,” he chuckles. “If you’re really going to do it, you have to have something special to offer. You have to have someone in the band be a really good songwriter. We still do it—it’s not like the world needs another song, but it’s a worthwhile pursuit.”
Throughout the years, Spaghetti still finds it rewarding to hit the stage and deliver an unforgettable rock ‘n’ roll show.
“I still get a kick out of making up a song and hearing people react positively,” Spaghetti says. “It always feels good. It’s a good job, and I’m lucky to have it.”