Reconstructing country 

From Hells Angels to Hank III, Portland's Power of County find rock 'n roll heaven

POC can lick any sonofabitch in the house.
  • POC can lick any sonofabitch in the house.

"We've never played behind chicken wire," says Power of County's David Rives Curtright. "We probably should have a couple times I've had bottles zing past my head."

Curtright, guitarist-singer-songwriter for the Portland, Ore.-based Power of County, is talking about his group's experiences performing for motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels and the Outsiders.

"For the most part, we're not into the mischief," he says. "We're just providing the backdrop for their party or whatever. And usually they're pretty respectful. They fight amongst themselves. They're not there to fight us. We're the entertainment."

Power of County is definitely entertaining, a punk-country band that reaches beyond the prevailing minimalist instrumentation and songwriting of today's guitar/drum duos. Veterans of such infamous Portland bands as Goddamn Gentlemen, Starantula and I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House, the group's current moniker (often misread as "Power of Country") is derived from a Civil War reconstruction law aimed at giving more rights to local governments.

Originating as a bluegrass duo featuring Curtright and Matt Stark (who also sings, writes and plays guitar) Power of County soon went electric and evolved into a sextet, including fiddler Sean Buck and pedal steel player Erik Clampitt (no relation to Jed, Jethro and Elly May).

Curtright gushes when a comparison is made to the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies album "It's one of my favorite, favorite albums; that lightens up my day, that somebody else is into that record" and cites other influences ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Flamin' Groovies, Ralph Stanley to Waylon Jennings.

"I actually saw Waylon Jennings' last performance," he says. "He came out onstage with Willie Nelson in Nashville. He was healthy enough to sing really well, and it was an amazing night. He and Willie hugged, and it was kind of a tearful moment because everybody knew he wouldn't be with us much longer."

In addition to a Buck Owens medley, the group plays a wealth of original material drawn from its three full-length albums. See You in Rock 'n' Roll Heaven, released in April, includes the raucous "Ain't Goin' Back to Jail," the Sunday-morning-coming-down "Father, Mother, Son" and the Southern rock-oriented "Silver and Gold." The album showcases the talent and diversity that earned the group a spot on Hank Williams III's 2007 tour.

So how does Curtright feel about playing the relatively "intimate" Triple Nickel Tavern after hitting larger venues like Englewood's Gothic Theatre with Hank III?

"I appreciate any time we get to play and people are responsive," he says. "The size of the place really doesn't matter, because you can't see most of the people past the fourth row, anyway."

Curtright is particularly pleased with the band's current style, and especially Clampitt's high lonesome sound.

"You can't get that out of a guitar," he says. "Well, some guys can, but I can't."

Like many musicians, Curtright can't see himself doing anything else.

"I started playing guitar when I was 14, and I've just always been in bands," he says. "I'm 34 now, so that's 20 years. I mean, once you're in, it's hard to get out."



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