To attempt to describe Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers in one article is an errand for a fool or a charlatan. All I will attempt is to tell you what one evening at the end of a scorching day on the southside of this city felt like.
20 years ago The Peacemakers rose from the Arizona ashes of an outfit that was called the Refreshments to become one of the most important and enduring bands of the 21st century. The start was a simple, sometimes sorted story told by the men who lived it, on the stage at Off Broadway Tuesday Night. Roger Clyne and P.H. Naffah have been bandmates for almost three decades, and these guys truly love each other. They aren’t blood, but they are brothers. Together they told the story of every song on one of the most influential records of my life, Honky Tonk Union.
Two Guys, Three Cracked Ribs, and One Desert Hike
The creation of Honky Tonk Union started after Clyne healed for three weeks from a few broken ribs suffered on stage, and he and Naffah decided to hike into the Arizona desert, camp, and find the new songs for their new band under some ancient stars. Like most of the best laid plans of these two…it didn’t go exactly as prescribed, but somehow worked out and they lived to tell the tale.
Honky Tonk Union is a near perfect piece of rock n’ roll, and hearing the stories behind its creation make it even more vibrant, funny, endearing, and flat out rocking. The record opens with “Beautiful Disaster”, a song that remains in my Top 10 all-time rock songs to this day, then moves to the ballad of “City Girls” about love found, lost, and recovered…ending in “their children feeding Velveeta Cheese to stock fish” somewhere in the Arizona desert. Every single story was a wandering tale of friendship, heartbreak, mushrooms, childhood divorce, Arizona State, and sometimes even Cracker Barrel. Each both funny and undeniably true.
I knew nothing of Roger Clyne’s father going into this night…and now I only want to know more. Doc supplied the memories that gave Roger the song “Tell Your Momma” and was part of the insanely bizarre half naked run with a pack of dogs that was only one part of the many that lead to the writing of “My Heart is a U.F.O.“ I have a father with some insane stories from his youth, so I feel the simultaneous love, embarrassment, and amazement that Roger Clyne seems to feel for his dad. I can’t do the stories justice, but I can tell you that even as these tales stretched to 15 minutes, every single member of the audience wanted more.
This is my personal Naffah story that will stay with me till they scatter my ashes in the Mississippi. After The Peacemakers released Americano they came through my old stomping grounds of Columbia, MO. I was able to check one off of the bucket list and open for them. Instead of tearing down drums and switching out for ours after sound check, P.H. wanted us to share his kit. We did not ask, he offered. There I am, on stage, with my favorite drummer on the planet. Naffah then went on for almost ten minutes about his kit. He was genuinely excited about his new kick, “22” not the standard 24”” if my memory serves me right. He was so excited, warm, funny, and welcoming. As a band we were nowhere near The Peacemakers league, but he treated us like family, musical family, and made sure everything we needed that he could give, he did.
Last night, 15 years on, thousands of shows, millions of miles, and a few shots of Mexican Moonshine later, he had the same smile on his face, the same look of excitement and wonder in his eyes, and was still in full command of musical chops that few to grace the rock n’ roll road have ever possessed.
I’ve seen the Peacemakers maybe 10 times live, and this was the most relaxed Clyne ever looked on stage. Just a stool, an acoustic, and his best buddy stage left. He’s still got that mischievous glint in his eye, the cocky 20 something grin, and a set of pipes that have not lost an ounce of honesty or emotion. He smiled, sighed, laughed, and almost cried through the course of the tales of Honky Tonk Union. He went back and forth with the crowd, took a few pulls from a flask, and just had a blast with his best buddy on a Tuesday night a thousand miles from home.
What Clyne and Naffah gave everyone in attendance was a true glimpse into their history, friendship, and love for each other and the music. Their relationship is a testament to what can be created when two people fall in love with rock n’ roll and give every drop of belief they have to each other and the songs. 20 years gone…and god and the devil willing…another 20 lay ahead.
Follow Sauls on Twitter @Will_ArchCity