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The three men of Stallion are on the roof of an undisclosed location – “parts unknown,” if you will – cracking bullwhips in the foreground, with the tall trees and scenic views of South Lake Union not too far off in the distance. (It has been made known to me that Luke is the best out of the trio at cracking the bullwhip. “If we were downstairs, out in front, he could have made that thing sound like a shotgun going off,” says bassist Mr. Dynamite.) “We chose this site as a practice space because we wanted to be close to our boat,” says drummer “Hollywood” Capponi, pointing toward the three-story yacht docked across the street.
“That small?” asks Dynamite.
“Our other one is in the shop,” Hollywood suggests in a winking tone.
A grassy knoll, green and kept better than the front yards of many houses I see on a regular basis, sits on the back edge of the rooftop with a standard patio table with four chairs atop it, two sets of steep, definitely-not-for-public-use stairs leading there from the inside. As we walked up the first set of stairs and climbed the other, I could hear the light jangle of guitarist “Luscious” Luke’s spurs ahead of me.
Here on the roof, all four seats were occupied as the trio teamed up on wrestling-promo-style rants about Mudhoney (“We’ve wanted to take them on for years, but I think they’re scared to step up to the challenge,” said Luke), a Florida tour (the “Florida Championship circuit,” as they put it), and a couple KEXP DJs for good measure (“Brian Foss is a good man and we appreciate getting airplay on Sonic Reducer. But we want to be on the Morning Show.").
Although it's just as much a wholly subjective art form (just like music) professional wrestling is inherently competitive. Stallion is a band that, while supportive of their contemporaries, clearly wants to be considered the very best at what they do. An old adage in the pro wrestling world is, "If you're not in this business to be the world champion, find another business."
Regarding Mudhoney, Hollywood adds, “I see Mark Arm around the city all the time. Whenever he sees me, he crosses the street. I think he’s scared to take the challenge.”
While on the rooftop, Luke points out the similarities between being a musician and a wrestler. In both fields, regular practice is required. In both fields, people are always on the road, trying to make it to the next town. A similarity it’s good to possess that's not mentioned but exists in all forms of art and entertainment: It falls flat when a performer doesn’t believe in themselves. Rappers are the musicians closest in psychological makeup to wrestlers – the hyper-competitive nature of the rap game, the alpha-male posturing – but I’m sure every top wrestler from the territory era considered themselves to be a rock star. Stallion is just the band to bring that fantasy to life.
“We’re veterans of the rock ‘n roll circuit,” says Luke, formerly of local favorites Pony Time. Hollywood also drums in SSDD, and has served in a damn near a dozen bands including the Intelligence and Coconut Coolouts. As for Mr. Dynamite? I’ll directly quote his bio on Stallion’s website: “Mr. Dynamite has several musical projects under his belt, but if you found out about them, he’d have to beat you down.”
In the room I entered first, a drum kit sat adjacent to the south wall of a small, dimly-lit practice space, adorned with posters of Heart and the Sonics, an 8x10” photo of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and a framed photo of the Midnight Express, autographed by the third man pictured, the tag team’s uber-loquacious manager Jim Cornette. Because the room had no overhead light, lamps sprouted up around the room like tiny trees.
Prior to our interview on the rooftop, we drank beer out of plastic cups, poured from the coffee roastery Stallion’s practice space shares a bathroom with, and watching the Ultimate Warrior vs. the Undertaker in a Body Bag Match from 1991. The rules of such are simple enough to follow: Put your opponent in a body bag and you win. The uber-muscled (and chemically enhanced) Warrior wins the match, but the Undertaker’s manager Paul Bearer (a real-life mortician for many years of his existence on earth) held up the source of power for the “Deadman” – a magical urn – and the Undertaker sits upright while still in the body bag.
After a refill and some steamed vegetables – “Gotta have my vegetables,” Luke quips – we watched a YouTube collection of Dusty Rhodes promos. One of the all-time greatest orators in the history of the wrestling business, Rhodes possessed a mastery of words – evoking anger, pain, humor, anticipation, every emotion a human can muster – that could inspire jealousy in the world’s greatest wordsmiths. Each member of Stallion recalls being a wrestling fan from childhood, enamored with the grit and authenticity of the National Wrestling Alliance in the 1970s and 1980s, the glory days of the ring artistry of some of the greatest of all time: Rhodes, Ric Flair, Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat, and a host of others, a number of which we chatted about over hops in the dim practice space.
Tall tales are part and parcel to the artistry and economics of professional wrestling (especially the era from which Stallion derive their inspiration) and the band’s bio are most certainly the rule and not the exception. According to folklore – frankly everyone involved with writing these bios should receive some sort of award for short fiction – Stallion convened outside of Dallas after leading colorful, bruised-knuckle separate lives. Luke was a runaway turned award-winning jingle writer before second-generation Amarillo, TX wrestling icons Terry and Dory Funk Jr. served him with a vicious beatdown. Capponi was a child star born to a “specialty adult film star” turned Kung-Fu matinee idol. Mr. Dynamite busked with his bass on the Las Vegas Strip before his legend as a battle royal mercenary grew.
On the rooftop, Hollywood took a swig of beer and said, “We [Hollywood and Dynamite] were hanging out at Bimbo’s, and I told the bartender, ‘We’re about to put on the coolest event Seattle has ever seen,’ and I came up with the name, all seventeen words of it, on the spot.”
Downstairs, I was shown the (at press time) unreleased extended video for the inaugural Backyard Bunkhouse BBQ Brawl and Rock ‘n Wrestling Rager, expertly produced to look like a vintage 1980s regional wrestling program; all soft, slightly blurry, Technicolor tones. The part at the end where Luscious Luke gets busted open by industry veteran – and, according to Luke and I’m certain many others, noted sadist – Kevin Sullivan is comically “censored” (at least for most of it) with a big red X. “We got that idea from [Cornette’s defunct promotion] Smoky Mountain Wrestling,” Hollywood proudly acknowledges. “Double Bullrope Massacre” is introduced by Luke as being about “Texas justice,” as the bullrope match is a measure of discipline which could only be conceived in the Lone Star State.
The visual aesthetic of the group is paramount to their gravel-and-gristle 1980s pro wrestling vibe. It’s a world rendered in videotape static and sometimes-smooth, sometimes-abrasive analog tones. The snarling punk of Rock ‘n Roll Championship challengers Pink Parts (and subsequent storming of the fenced-off stage) was particularly emphasized by the fully-realized ocular approach.
Professional Rock ‘n Roll, the band’s fun and pummelling double cassingle – yet another medium perfect for their vibe – is packaged like a classic wrestling event on VHS, complete with long plastic gatefold, (fake) quotes on its back cover from legendary play-by-play men Gordon Solie and Lance Russell and a track listing and credits on the inside masterfully designed in the manner of a poster from a far-bygone wrestling card. Naturally, one tape is gold and the other is silver.
On the rooftop, we discussed the Rager, coming up on July 28 at Randy's Diner in Tukwila, and Hollywood noted, “Everything is above-board this time.” The band encountered a great deal of blowback, as they came into the event new to the wrestling industry and all the regulation violations that come with. The Washington State Athletic Commission has always been notoriously strict, and before last year treated what they now call “theatrical wrestling” the exact same way they would approach a mixed martial arts or boxing event.
Now, even with the regulations on professional wrestling softened, every event is still, among other provisions, required to have EMTs on hand. The band complied with many of the rules and regulations they were faced with – such as making the show free with suggested donation – but the highlight of the event, Luke’s face being turned into the proverbial crimson mask by Sullivan, was unplanned to the majority of those in attendance and received a hailstorm of criticism from the Northwest wrestling community.
“I have no idea who stooged us off,” says Hollywood, “But we’ve been going through the proper channels and making sure everything for this year’s Rager is by-the-book.”
Criticism also came from people who misinterpreted Stallion’s gimmick (in songwriting, it’s called a hook) as rote machismo, while the band insists the machismo wasn’t borne out of exclusivity, much like pro wrestling itself, the inherent machoness isn’t meant to alienate anyone. From a critical perspective, I personally think it’s just that not everybody knows wrestling is by and large meant for everyone to enjoy, and ultimately, any iteration of violence is going to offend some people.
“I like being able to perform with Stallion because I can just say what’s on my mind,” Luke said about performing onstage as a heel (in wrestling parlance, heels are the bad guys). “I can say, ‘Hey, you fucking hillbillies!’ Or, ‘Get me a fucking beer, now!’ And I don’t need therapy because I have this outlet of getting aggression off my chest.”
Professional Rock ‘n Roll begins with a charged riff leading into a song called “Off the Top Rope,” which evokes the feeling of an 80 MPH freeway drive until it slows down for a classically-styled promo during its breakdown before speeding back up and eventually crashing into a wall. The in-song speech is immediately reminiscent of Tully Blanchard, card-carrying member of the Four Horsemen and mortal enemies of Dusty Rhodes. The cassingle as a whole is, as you might imagine, concept-heavy. “Contract Killers” is sung in the voice of a shady promoter, referencing $5,000 hanging above the ring in the spirit of old-school bounty matches and “advancing to the pay window” (another Rhodes-ism).
Listed as a “secret bonus track” on the single, “Finishing Move” rolls on the back of a ripcord riff and bone-crushing holds. Entirely by design, the music of Stallion is as wild and freewheeling as the long-gone territory scene in professional wrestling, before the era of national expansions and cable television rights deals and Wrestlemania eventually choked it out. As the speakers blared and my bloodstream was starting to buzz in the practice space, the cheerful bounce of “You Better Run” rang through the walls, its lyrics heavy with territory-era hotspots: Texas, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Puerto Rico. Hollywood proudly showed me the guiro he played on the song and smiled during the tune’s bongo solo.
At regular intervals throughout the evening, Hollywood showed me pictures from his phone – on a flight with a passenger in awe of the Rock ‘n Roll Championship belt, at Shoreline’s Robert Lang Studios, and video of them throwing borrowed equipment out of a second-story window. The latter I had already seen (about twenty consecutive times) when it first popped up on the band’s Instagram.
“We gotta get some pictures of Luke’s guitar,” says Dynamite moments before I clutch my car keys. We make lighthearted small talk as I snap photos, and the band graciously allows me to pose with their hard-earned Rock ‘n Roll Championship belt. I go for my best cheesy 1980s wrestler pose and I hear the digital shutter snap. At this point, the dried-up blood on Luke’s guitar is as deep and dark as a soda stain, but it still covers most of the surface, a reminder of the sacrifice the guitarist paid for being a champion.
Soon enough, it was time for me to make my long freeway drive home, logging far fewer miles than the larger-than-life heroes I’d spent the past couple of hours talking about and seeing visions of as the three members of Stallion carried their spirit in while I was in their company. The long car ride home always exists, even for the massive personalities from which some of us draw so much inspiration. But with the spotlight turned on bright, these personalities make the most of their time before they get back into the shadows of their vehicles.
As I held the ten pounds of gold in that dimly lit room, I knew as evidently as ever it takes bucket loads of blood, sweat, and beers to earn the title of Rock ‘n Roll Champs.
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