When Jason Ringenberg strutted into Nashville in 1981, he didn’t imagine his idea of combining modern punk rock and traditional country would later land his band, Jason & The Scorchers, one of country music’s most prestigious awards. “It could have gone in a lot of different directions,” Ringenberg told Country Music Pride. Touted as the “next big thing” in the late ’80s, Jason & The Scorchers began by touring with R.E.M., Bob Dylan and signing with Capitol/EMI in 1983. After releasing “Ferver,” its six-song EP that “rewrote the history of rock ‘n’ roll in the South,” according to Rolling Stone, the band released “Lost and Found” in 1985 and “White Lies,” which aired on MTV.
The band saw hardship in the early ’90s, struggling to sell albums and was eventually dropped by EMI. Jason & The Scorchers reunited in 1993 and, in 1994, the Country Music Hall of Fame built a permanent exhibit of the band. Jason & The Scorchers released “A Blazing Grace” in 1995, and “Clear Impetuous Morning” in 1996 before easing back. Country Music Pride chats with Ringenberg about false starts, performing for rockabilly legend Carl Perkins and the band’s first release in nearly 15 years.
CMP: When you first formed Jason & The Scorchers, did you think combining punk rock with traditional country would take off like it did?
JR: Well, I always felt like the band had something special about it — I don’t know if it was the style, but I felt like it was the chemistry in the band. I think there was always that sort of issue for what makes a band special, but I mean, finding the right balance is always a question.
CMP: What was it like to play for Carl Perkins?
JR: That was the very first show. I don’t even know if I remember that long ago. It was cool; it was in Nashville. It wasn’t the band that became Jason & The Scorchers — I called it Jason & the Nashville Scorchers — the bass player, Jack Emerson, had all these connections — he got us this gig, and it was for Carl Perkins. I was pretty cocky in those days; I wasn’t too intimidated by anyone.
CMP: For a band who’s already called it quits, come back and retired again, what would you call this return?
JR: It’s a joke to say we retired and quit. I think we’re going to be very active for the next year or two. Past that, we’ll just see. There’s no predicting anything in the music business.
CMP: When did conversations start about writing the new album, “Halcyon Times”?
JR: Warner [Hodges]’s been after me for a couple of years to do another record, and I was sort of resistant to it, but he was very persistent and stayed after the idea, and eventually we decided to give it a whirl. I just saw so much against it — I didn’t think we’d ever be able to find a business director to do it, and I didn’t think the band was where it needed to be. I didn’t think I’d have time, and I just didn’t feel like it was in the cards. I was definitely wrong on all accounts — it’s been very exciting.
CMP: Did the band’s winning of the Lifetime Achievement in Performance Award from the American Music Association in 2008 play a part at all in the making “Halcyon Times”?
JR: I think it did. It made us think, “hmmm … this is an interesting thing.” Getting an award of that magnitude makes you think maybe it’s time to do another record and show people we still have what it takes.
CMP: What makes “Halcyon Times” different from the others?
JR: It’s more “populistic” — more of a team effort than anything we’ve ever done. There was a big team of writers.
CMP: There were some albums that weren’t received well in the 1990s. What gives you the desire to try again after that?
JR: Some sort of fundamental instinct that you get when you’re a musician. Something tells you to keep going, and Warner had that instinct.
CMP: Does Jason & The Scorchers being touted as a “legend” put pressure on the band, and does that change the way you go about producing music?
JR: Absolutely. It’s really difficult sometimes. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t think we should do another record. And I didn’t think it would be anywhere near what we used to do.
CMP: How have you guys changed over the years?
JR: I think now the band is much different. We’re a lot better players and better musicians than we were back in our hay day. There was a lot of attitude. This time there’s some music hellty going on..
CMP: You’ve gone on with a solo career, touring the country as a children’s music character, “Farmer Jason,” and have even won an Emmy for the “It’s a Farmer Jason!” program. What keeps you playing?
JR: I’m just having a ball. Farmer Jason is never going to go away.
CMP: Elvis Presley or Carl Perkins for “Blue Suede Shoes”?
JR: I think I actually do prefer Carl over Elvis. I would almost never say that, but in terms of “Blue Suede Shoes,” at least.