And Gas Huffer absolutely ruled. Before their set, they handed out “masks” featuring band members that they had drawn on paper and photocopied at Kinko’s. Drummer Joe Newton had dreadlocks (fake), and singer Matt Wright donned the most finely chiseled set of sideburns (real) to ever grace a human being. Although the sound wasn’t ideal, they played a blistering set. Their songs (by this point, they had only released a pair of singles) were quick as a whip, a little goofy, and melodic without sounding like pop. I enjoyed everything about that set, even though I felt sick as a dog.
Gas Huffer’s sense of goofiness and grease-monkey punk rock sound differentiated them from the slouchers and losers and long-haired junkies so ubiquitous back then. Former U-Man Tom Price’s augmented his chugga-chugga guitar riffs with a rockabilly twang, and bassist Don Blackstone’s added Misfits-esque back-up vocals. The rhythm section played tightly, too, which wasn’t too common at the time. Finally, Wright has a terrific voice; he sings deep from his chest and emits a huge amount of sound for such a small fellow.
The Huffers formed in 1989 and lasted until 2006. Shockingly, they never lost or replaced a single member that entire time. Starting with 1991’s Janitors of Tomorrow (Empty Records), they released seven full-length albums in total, all brought to you by the letter “e” (Empty, Epitaph, and Estrus Records). They also released a number of singles and EPs and made numerous appearances on compilations.
Video for “Crooked Bird”
So, we have blistering punk rock, a sense of fun, real personality, longevity. . . there has to be a downside, right? Alas, there is, and this is it: like Mudhoney (and, some would argue, REM), Gas Huffer’s definitive moment also happened to be their very first single, the absolutely terrific “Firebug”/“Jesus Was My Only Friend” (Black Label Records). Sure, they had plenty of great songs later, and they never failed to impress live, but they peaked with that first release. You could tell that the band itself tired of “Firebug,” as within a year or two, their performances of it became perfunctory. Still, I could think of worse fates for a band, being that I place “Firebug” in both the Pantheon of Greatest Ever Songs from the Northwest and the Pantheon of Greatest Ever Punk Rock Songs.
Although Price and Blackstone still occasionally play together in the Kings of Rock, it seems that the days of being a full-time musician have been left behind. The Seattle Times wrote a surprisingly good article on the eve of their final show in 2006. Sadly, it appears that Price developed Parkinson’s Disease in recent years, affecting his ability to play the whip-quick rock that put Gas Huffer on the map. Price has been a presence in the Northwest music scene for around 25 years, and Gas Huffer and (especially) the U-Men influenced countless musicians. We wish him the best.
If you have trouble downloading the individual songs, they can all be obtained via a zip file here.
Jesus Was My Only Friend
I Want to Kiss You
Eat U Whole