By Brian T. Atkinson, June 2006
eing named the best band in any given state is surely an honor. But when that state is Texas - where in the capitol of Austin alone there are more aspiring country groups than in the entirety of, say, Nebraska - it is a truly coveted distinction. San Antonio-based 10 City Run knows what it feels like to win more hearts than any other up-and-coming band in the Lone Star state.
"(Last year) we entered a context called Texas Country Star to discover the best band in Texas," says Hans Frank, 10 City Run's lead singer and chief songwriter. "Ultimately, the winner of the contest got a one-year deal with Universal South. We went to the semi-finals in Corpus Christi and won, then went to the finals in Waxahachie and won there. So, we landed the deal."
The group - Frank on vocals and bass guitar, Luckey McClain on drums and now-former lead guitarist Johnny Isaacs - wasted no time getting to work. At the end of this past April, Universal South released 10 City Run's debut full-length "Somethin' Else." Frank allows that the spirit of the late, great Doug Sahm drives the beat throughout the album.
"Everything came full circle when I came to San Antonio," says the singer, who was raised in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. "I'd been in garage bands and surf bands when I was in my early 20s. That's when I heard the Sir Douglas Quintet - specifically 'She's About a Mover.' I thought it was cool, but when I when I got to Texas, I didn't know what the big deal was. At that point, I hadn't heard 'Doug Sahm.' I'd just heard the Sir Douglas Quintet.
"Previously, I was always concerned about different styles, different genres of music and keeping them segregated. I realized upon hearing Doug Sahm's music that you didn't have to do that. You could just mix it all up. I can honestly say that 10 City Run wouldn't be 10 City Run were it not for the music of Doug Sahm. It had a tremendous influence on me and how I write songs and the music in general."
Sahm's Tex-Mex flavor is evident throughout the album, which is full of thrusting Telecaster riffs and energetic two-step beats. In fact, 10 City Run even included the Texas tornado's own "Juan Mendoza" as the 10th track. The song shows the band at its very liveliest and features updated lyrics to comment on the current state of America: "Terrorism is in the news/George W.'s got the blues, who cares/Well, New York things are moving/Baghdad things are grooving/The world is the world and I don't care what you say."
"In terms of political stuff, I just think it's a great song," Frank explains. "I guess it captures a certain apathy or a sort of blue collar mentality that's poignant, for lack of a better word. In the original version, he sings about Watergate and Richard Nixon because that was the time frame. I just sort of updated it - what's going on now, what's the big issue, what's shaped the country in the last five or six years."
The band makes important sociopolitical statements with the new lyrics to "Juan Mendoza," but it's an atypical approach for 10 City Run. This is not a band with a political agenda like Steve Earle or Jackson Browne. Frank supports outspoken artists like those two, but he doesn't believe it's necessarily his station in life to pen political songs.
"I think it's important for artists to do what they think is important for them to do," he says. "Whatever that is. If that means taking risks, then I think that's important. If making political statements is what they're supposed to do, then that's important. That's not to say if someone's apolitical and thinks it's their course in life to not dabble in political, I think that's perfectly legitimate.
"I think the way to measure their integrity is to measure how honest they are and true they are to themselves - whatever that is. Whether it's ugly or dark and macabre or eyes agape with the wonderment of life or sappy. That's the most you can expect out of somebody."
Few could question the fact that 10 City Run has been true to itself. Just look at its roots. Frank, also a playwright and stage actor, debuted these songs in 2002 at an unlikely venue - an experimental theatre in Austin. "The band's first gig was at the Hyde Park Theater in Austin," he reveals. "I'd done a one-man show termed 'A Transcendental Minstrel' for two years at that theater. Some of the songs off "Somethin' Else" first appeared at that show - the single 'City of Angels,' 'Memories' and 'Mama Died.' I had a band backing me up at that show, and that band became 10 City Run. In some semblance, the band had its beginnings at Hyde Park Theater."
Two key factors entered the equation to propel 10 City Run from that stage to its current place as the band voted best in Texas: former Burrito Brother John Beland and guitarist Casper Rawls, who before replacing Isaacs had performed and recorded with a number of legendary artists from Buck Owens to Toni Price. Both Beland and Rawls helped bring 10 City Run's vision of Bakersfield-styled country to fruition.