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Despite their hard-living, honky-tonk-rebel image, the Road Kill Kings are actually charming, garrulous good ol’ boys. Formed four years ago, their crowd- and beer-friendly shows sizzle and smoke like a Robert Earl Keen barbecue/jamfest. Guitarist Gary Riley and drummer Ric Kavin will have your ears ringing for days, while Randy Cochran’s bass and Mike Stave’s fiddle sawing provide the perfect counterpoint. And fronting it all, Darren Ellis belts out bluegrass anthems, heartbreaking ballads, and feisty covers of Hank III and George Jones. The Road Kill Kings’ 13-song eponymous album has helped land them more than 200 shows in the past two years. With cigarettes in one hand and Shock Top bottles in the other, they banter and joke and reminisce about their days on the road: booze, boobs and their Condor RV hangout.
OC Weekly: How did the band come about?
Darren Ellis: The band blossomed out of another project that Mike and I worked on called the James Theroux Band, which self-imploded. We looked at each other and asked, “What the fuck do we do now?” Out of the ashes came the Road Kill Kings.
Mike Stave: We started playing on the sidewalk in Main Street, Huntington Beach for 30 to 40 bucks a night in tips. This bar kicked out some Hawaiian band and invited us to play after.
Ric Kavin: Oh, was it that gay bar? [Laughs]
Ellis: Our bluegrass roots came from playing on the streets. We developed our signature sound: uptempo, really rowdy bluegrass music. We added the rest of the band mates a few years later. There’s about three degrees of separation between all of us.
You have a lot of upcoming shows, including at Mother’s Tavern. What is your motivation to keep playing after all these years?
Kavin: We don’t ever rehearse. That’s why we are the Road Kill Kings—we’re raw and fun.
Riley: We play, and it just clicks. The group feel comfortable with one another, and that’s important.
Ellis: We are able to do whatever the hell we want, and for some reason, we get away with it. We play to get away from our girlfriends, to hang out with our other girlfriends.
Do you think country music is growing in OC, or did it fizzle out a long time ago?
Ellis: There has always been a strong country scene here. It comes and goes.
Cochran: The [original] Crazy Horse in Irvine Spectrum used to be a mecca for country music, but it’s long gone.
Stave: The punk rockers are getting older now, and they are embracing the country-music scene to have an outlet.
Ellis: We don’t play a lot of popular cover songs, but sometimes people come up to us and say, “You know, we don’t listen to country music, but you guys are good.” That keeps us going. At least we don’t have girls asking us to play “Brown Eyed Girl.”
How do you feel about playing with David Allan Coe?
Ellis: I hope he’s still alive. We’re banking that he doesn’t show up so we can play the entire night.
Cochran: Regardless of what the rest of the band think, he has been my idol for a long time.
Ellis: As much as it is an honor, it’s a challenge. We’ll have him work that much harder to kick our ass.
The Road Kill Kings perform with the Galway Hooker Band and David Allan Coe at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Sat., 8 p.m. $25. All ages. For more info on Road Kill Kings, visit www.myspace.com/roadkillkings.
Hey, Orange County/Long Beach musicians and bands! Mail your music, contact info, high-res photos and impending show dates for possible review to: Locals Only, OC Weekly, 2975 Red Hill Ave., Ste 150, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Or e-mail your link to: email@example.com.
This column appeared in print as "They Ain’t Playin’ Possum."