One hit wonder. Not being able to outshine your most well known song is a trap that befalls many a musician. Some roll with it and wear it as a badge of honor (Sir Mix-A-Lot), while others try to shake it off like a bad habit (A Flock of Seagulls). Some artists are completely justified in not living up to their own hype (Vanilla Ice), while others continue to have successful careers without the support of a second hit (Devo). Nevertheless, they all seem to slip from the public consciousness at some point, dragging down their whole catalogue with them. Luckily, every once in a while they’ll be dug up and resurge themselves, proving they have more to offer than just one song. It is because of this that I am writing about the Toadies.
The Toadies formed in 1989 in Fort Worth,Texas by singer, guitarist and songwriter Todd Lewis, who has been the nucleus of the band since day one. Members have been coming and going since the band’s infancy, but the classic lineup consists of Lewis, drummer Mark Reznicek, guitarist Clark Vogeler, and bassist Lisa Umbarger. Their influences are pretty easy to pick out, but they don’t incorporate them as much as they swallow and regurgitate them, tying them into knots in their throat. Heavily influenced by the Pixies, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Led Zeppelin, the Toadies sound utilized squealing guitars, offbeat timing and screaming vocals similar to that of Robert Plant and Chris Cornell. Their lyrics along with their sound conjure images of dingy swamplands and hellish murders not wet committed. Nowhere is this more evident in their signature tune, “Possum Kingdom”.
Normally I don’t talk about individual songs in these articles, but since this is more likely than not the only song by this band you’ve heard, I thought I’d make an exception. But this turned out to not be such a bad decision, since “Possum Kingdom” is a great culmination of the Toadies’ sound as a whole. The guitars switch back and forth from sneaky riffs to long squeals of reverb. Todd Lewis’s voice gives off a hushed growl that may or may not be a threat, but raises into a mad howl at its climax when the threat is fully realized. All the while the drums and bass provide a solid back rhythm, giving the song steady ground to plant its feet in. The lyrics themselves allude to Possum Kingdom Lake near the band’s home town, and some of the urban legends surrounding it. Some say it’s about a serial killer who lures women in with his charm, some say it’s about the devil, some even say it’s about a vampire (I strongly support the last theory), but regardless, it gives the song a real dark edge that only adds to its appeal.
“Possum Kingdom” dominated the rock charts in 1995, and helped the Toadies’ debut album, “Rubberneck”, go platinum. But that’s not to say that’s all it has to offer. Truth be told, Rubberneck is without a doubt one of the most underrated records of the 90’s. While “Possum Kingdom” is definitely the stand out track, each song plays its own role and they’re all potential singles. From the bluesy “I Come From the Water” to the lurking “Tyler” (which was also inspired by events surrounding Possum Kingdom Lake) to the slow burning hellfire of “I Burn”, it’s a solid album from top to bottom that doesn’t get half the credit and recognition it deserves.
For a good chunk of the 90’s the Toadies toured relentlessly in support of Rubberneck, playing festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, and opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Butthole Surfers, White Zombie, and Bush. They hit the studio in 1997 to record their follow-up, “Feeler”, but Interscope didn’t like the final product and the album was shelved. They returned to the studio in 2000 and released “Hell Below/Stars Above”, which contained salvaged tracks from the Feeler sessions. Songs on “Hell Below/Stars Above” featured psychedelic heavy metal influence akin to Soundgarden as opposed to their previous copping of the Pixies, particularly on songs like “Little Sin”, “Heel”, and the self titled track, the latter of which featured Elliot Smith on piano. Five months after its released, Lisa Umbarger called it quits, and the rest of the band followed suit, announcing their break-up in 2002.
But they couldn’t keep off the road for long. The Toadies officially reunited in 2006, playing their first performance at the Greenville St. Patrick’s Day parade and embarking on a mini tour ofTexas. They signed with Kirtland Records and in 2008 released “No Deliverance” which continued the down tempo sludge metal kick of “Hell Below/Stars Above”. Those still hungry for another “Rubberneck” got what they called for when they announced the long awaited release of “Feeler” in 2011.
Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you should not judge a musician on just one song. The Toadies have proven that there’s more to them than their big hit, even if their success doesn’t reflect it. If you’re in for music to tread muddy waters to, or if you have a craving for something that will put a little grit in your throat, any song by this band should do the trick. The Toadies are currently on tour with Social Distortion. For tour dates and other info, check out this website. http://thetoadies.com/ This has been Left of the Dial, I bring you the music because the radio won’t.