New Label Lifts Spirits Of 'No Depression' Co- Founder

When it comes to alternative country music, label owner Eric Babcock has gone

from "No Depression" to what some might call "No Bullshit."

As a co-founder of Bloodshot Records, one of the labels which first exposed the

"No Depression" alternative country movement, Babcock made a name for

himself bringing a new brand of progressive country rock to fans. Now,

determined to return to the roots of what country is all about, he is looking to

expose yet another underdeveloped sound.

Babcock parted company with partners Nan Warshaw and Rob Miller in May to

form Checkered Past Records, a indie label he wants to use to record "more

traditional and rootsy sounding artists." And that's just what he has started to do,

signing such obscure and backwoods artists as Lonesome Bob and Tom


"I called it Checkered Past because I thought it sounded mysterious, something

you would want to look into, much like the artists I am putting out," Babcock said.

"Some people ask if it has anything to do with my time at Bloodshot Records,

but it really doesn't."

And while its name is the same, Checkered Past also has nothing to do with a

certain all-star rock band of a few years back, Babcock said. "Apparently, there

was a group a few years back called Checkered Past that had some guys from

The Sex Pistols and Blondie in it. And apparently they were pretty bad. A lot of

people ask me if it has anything to do with them or if I'm working with them or

whatever. It has nothing to do with them. The last thing I want my label

associated with is some stinky band that no one likes."

While he purposely made his new label's name enigmatic, he is very clear

about why he parted company with Bloodshot Records. "Ever since the

beginning of Bloodshot, I was more into the country music, the more rootsy stuff,

and Nan and Rob were into the more punk sounding stuff."

Back when Babcock was at Bloodshot, the label put Tom House on a Nashville

compilation which featured numerous obscure artists, he said. While some at

the label thought House too traditional sounding, Babcock was convinced he

was onto something great. After the release, Babcock got to hear more of

House's music. "I didn't want to fight about putting it out. So, I started to think

about putting it out somewhere else with a better scene."

So, he began forming Checkered Past in March of this year while still working at

Bloodshot Records. Working for both labels (from March through May),

however, proved too much of a drain on Babcock. In turn, he parted ways with

alternative country and set out on his own.

The split raised the heads of those in the alternative country community who

were not already in the know about the inner workings of Bloodshot Records.

For others, the move made sense. "Most everyone who knows the three of us

are not too surprised, just based on our tastes in music. Some people are sort of

shocked, basically because they see Bloodshot as the leaders of a cause.

Others don't seem to care at all. In a lot of the alternative country circles, I get

people telling me 'I will listen to any music put out by someone I respect.' So,

that's nice to hear."

For their part, Warshaw and Miller have been nice about the split, telling

Country Standard Time that things at the label "...will now be a bit more

efficient and streamlined. I don't think it's going to be a noticeable difference to

anybody outside of Bloodshot. Having one partner to communicate with is a lot

easier than two."

Babcock also bears no ill will toward his former partners, preferring to focus on

the positive. And he doesn't consider his former label a competitor. "I mean,

how small do you want to make your umbrella? Neither of us are mainstream

country at all. But, like I said before, the kind of music I'm interested in is closer

to traditional sounding country music than the stuff Bloodshot usually puts out.

However, it's not like either of us are dealing with artists who are getting

attention from radio... I don't really see us competing to sign the same artists."

Checkered Past currently has a small stable of artists. They've re-released the

Old Joe Clarks' Town Of Ten, a 1996 indie release by the San

Francisco-by-way-of-Kansas torch and twang band. Meanwhile, Oct. 7 brings

the release of Lonesome Bob's country blues opus Things Fall Apart. But

Babcock seems proudest of Tom House's The Neighborhood Is

Changing, a symphony of delta blues and Southern folk music. When

talking about why he formed the new label, Babcock said, "Tom House states

my case better than I ever could."

Indeed, he does.

Calling the 47-year-old Tom House at his room in the Meridian, Miss. Days Inn,

you are greeted by a voice not far removed from Boomhauer, the mumbling

country gentleman on Fox TV's King Of The Hill. In spite of his thick

accent and fast talkin', House is clear about what he thinks of the state of

country music. "I don't think much of it," he said. "I mean, there is no current

state of country music. Most of it is pretty embarrassing."

Unlike the blow-dried country-fide pretty boys who claim to sing for the working

man, House has been a laborer for most of his life. Currently working as an

electrician, he said he is happy with how Checkered Past’s The

Neighborhood Is Changing turned out. "I'm pretty keyed up about it. I've

been writing poetry for a long time and doing music since I was 26," the music

troubadour said.

"This whole alternative country thing is great. It reminds me a lot of the poetry

scene that sprung up in Nashville a few years ago. Everyone helps everyone

out and the people are nice." [Thurs., Sept. 4, 1997, 9

a.m. PST]