Bledsoe: Ramones tribute project Warthog is anything but a super drag

Warthog is, from left, Sam Powers, Joey Sanchez, Tom Pappas and John Davis.

Warthog is, from left, Sam Powers, Joey Sanchez, Tom Pappas and John Davis.

Warthog is, from left, Sam Powers, Joey Sanchez, Tom Pappas and John Davis.

Warthog is, from left, Sam Powers, Joey Sanchez, Tom Pappas and John Davis.

Warthog

  • With: The Dirty Johns
  • When: 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26
  • Where: Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria, 200 E. Jackson Ave.
  • Admission: $5

Looking at the members of Ramones tribute band Warthog may take a few music fans aback. The line-up consists of Tom Pappas and John Davis, two original members of beloved Knoxville-founded rock band Superdrag, Sam Powers, who took over Pappas’ bass duties in Superdrag when Pappas left and ace Nashville drummer Joey Sanchez.

“We’re not goofing around and doing it half way,” says Davis, Superdrag lead vocalist and guitarist. “We take it seriously and we take this music seriously. I think we’ve rehearsed more for this than we ever have for a Superdrag show.”

Davis is talking by cell phone while driving to his Nashville home with his sons Paul, 5, and Elijah, 3. Davis says the Ramones are his sons’ favorite band.

“By a mile,” says Davis. “Nothing else comes close!”

Warthog sprung from a 2009 concert benefitting lymphoma research held on Joey Ramone’s birthday at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville. Ramone died of lymphona in 2001. The show’s organizer asked Nashville musicians to turn out for an all-Ramones cover show.

“Normally, that’s the sort of thing I’d respectfully decline, but I love the Ramones and I thought Tom would make a great Joey,” says Davis.

In the line-up, Pappas took the Joey Ramone lead vocal role, Powers took the Johnny Ramone lead guitar position and Davis took the Dee Dee Ramone bass duties. Sanchez took on the role of the only surviving original Ramone, Tommy. Warthog took its name from one of the few Ramones songs sung by Dee Dee.

At that initial show, the group performed six songs in 15 minutes.

Shortly thereafter, Mike Grimes, owner of Grimey’s Records, asked the group to perform for the anniversary of the Grimey’s music venue the Basement.

“When you put on a show in Nashville people usually stand there with their arms folded, but people were singing and were into it,” says Davis. “I just think the Ramones’ music is so powerful that it hits you at a gut level.”

Although the members of Warthog do not wear their hair in the regulation black and over the eyes, they do don the black jackets and try to recreate the music as faithfully as possible.

“We try to not put any of our own personalities in it at all,” says Davis.

It’s surprising to hear from artists who have their own distinctive styles, but Davis says it feels good to simply cover music he loves. Superdrag, and his own solo career, have sometimes proved challenging.

“For the longest time I felt like I didn’t want to deal with music ... Half the time I feel like I can’t stand to not make music and then the other half I feel like throwing all my stuff in the lake so it could never happen again.”

After a fractious relationship with record labels, Superdrag released “Industry Giants” in 2009. It was the band’s first studio album since 2002 and the first disc with the original line-up in more than a decade.

He says member logistics kept the band from touring to support the album as much as he would’ve liked. And despite good reviews and an incendiary video for the single “Aspertame,” the disc didn’t catch fire.

“It’s kind of anybody’s guess what happens next,” says Davis. “We’ve sort of ground to a halt or maybe put the emergency brake on. I’ve got a bunch of tunes — maybe half sound like Superdrag. The other half probably sound like the Germs.”

At the moment, though, Davis is looking forward to Warthog’s first full headlining show and paying tribute to the Ramones:

“This is the most pure fun I’ve had playing in a really long time.”

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