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Last temptation of the Magpies 

Cleveland's roots-rock quartet keeps party going onstage and after hours

"Sometimes when you're drunk and you do outrageous things," says the Magpies' Justin Gorski, "good things happen."

Well, yes and no.

The keyboardist's inebriated state was definitely working for him when he stumbled, pretty much literally, upon the group known at the time as Roger Hoover & the Whiskeyhounds while it was playing a Van Morrison cover at a Cleveland club called the Happy Dog.

Gorski was immediately taken with Hoover's original songs, steeped in the American storyteller tradition of Hank Williams and Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and the Band. From the lonesome slide guitar of "Full Force Gale" to the Byrds-like Rickenbacker tones ringing out on "Picture Me in a Love Song," the band achieves a timeless sound.

He recalls leaving the club in a hurry: "I went to grab my accordion. I thought it was at home, but it was actually in my backseat the whole time. So I turned around, drove back and just walked up onstage during a Los Lobos tune [titled, prophetically enough, "I Got Loaded"]. Everyone in the band thought someone else knew me."

After being invited to finish the set, Gorski was offered a gig playing piano, organ and accordion.

But not all such drunken exploits have proven as auspicious. He describes a marathon night in Arkansas that would have fit nicely into Martin Scorsese's After Hours, starting with some "hippy chicks" inviting the band to crash with them after the show: "I think there was some acid involved, but we steered clear for once."

As the night rolled on, Gorski recalls someone cutting his hair, a balcony accordion blowout that turned belligerent, and a trip through the woods to another reveler's remote trailer, where their host insisted on hooking up a computer in order to play them the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ.

Sufficiently creeped out, the band escaped under the pretense of a beer run, then proceeded to "wander the streets of Fayetteville for the next six or seven hours with a bottle of Jameson and an accordion." Happily, he recalls, "some girl picked us up at 7 in the morning, and she started crying right away and telling us about her sister, who just had her third abortion."

The ordeal eventually came to an end, but not before Gorski's accordion was repeatedly thrown into a ditch.

Back home in Cleveland, Gorski performs at his justifiably popular "Tom Waits Happy Hour," which he describes as the saddest happy hour in the state of Ohio. And while he dismisses his music degree as "a beautiful piece of paper that gets me nowhere," he's grateful to have found musicians who share his interest in the roots rock of an earlier generation. Even if that earns little recognition in a city more attuned to the metallic approach of local Slipknot rivals Mushroomhead.

After all, that just makes life on the road more appealing.

"We do really well in horrible shit towns," says Gorski. "In fact, we've actually built our tour around horrible shit towns. So you should feel good about that. I know we do."

bill@csindy.com

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