When former local hard-core punk paragon Lee Ving emerged recently leading a country band called Range War, some people naturally assumed it was just an act. After all, the Fear founder has developed a career in movies and television over the last few years with roles in "Flashdance" and the sitcom "Who's the Boss?" So why shouldn't he play a country singer?
But a visit to the Van Nuys house he shares with his wife Barbara, 14-year-old son Deacon and a menagerie that includes a dog, a rabbit and two 10-foot Burmese pythons should be enough to convince anyone that this is no act: Ving seems 100% country, from the pointed toes of his well-worn cowboy boots to the curled tips of his graying handlebar mustache. If it is an act, Ving has done a more thorough job of it than even Robert De Niro at his most obsessive could manage.
"I was doin' this before I was doin' the Fear thing," Ving said of his country music as he played a sloppy round of pool in a cramped recreation room behind the house. "It's great to be singing melodies again. With this there's even a chance that someone might leave one of our shows whistling a tune. That wasn't too likely with Fear."
In fact, after spending a little time with Ving (who doesn't divulge his real name or his age), even the most devoted Fear fan might wonder whether it was the punk manifestation that was the act.
"Country is one of the innate American musics," the Philadelphia native said, presenting quite a contrast to the nihilistic philosophy of such Fear songs as "Let's Have a War." "What's more American than country music? And I feel people are feeling particularly patriotic these days. It's a good time to be alive."
And Range War's music is plenty convincing too. The tight, powerful sextet (which plays its sixth show tonight at Music Machine and moves to the Palomino on Tuesday) burns through such straight country-- not country-punk--steamrollers as Ving's destined-to-be-a-classic "The King of the 12-Oz. Bottles (The Man Behind the Amber Glass)" with the kind of fury associated with Hank Williams Jr. at his rowdiest.
But Ving insisted that he was as totally committed to Fear during its late-'70s-to-mid-'80s lifetime as he is now to Range War.
"I soul-felt every one of those notes; I took them all seriously," he said with a twang he picked up while living throughout the South before settling in the L.A. area in 1972.
But he's quick to point out that much of Fear's material was meant as parody. "Some I took 30% seriously and some I took not seriously at all and had fun watching people take it 100% seriously. I just had enough of doing that. I just got tired of yellin'."
Though he burned out on the punk scene, he credits his stint with Fear with helping him develop a more conventional show-biz pursuit. "It gave me an acting career," he said. "I'm grateful for that."
In part through his punk exposure, he was able to land the role of a bouncer in "Flashdance," and has worked in television and movies with some regularity since. His most recent job was a guest spot in the sitcom "Who's the Boss?" (in which he performed two songs with Range War as well as acted) and he has roles in two upcoming movies, "Scenes From the Goldmine" and "Dudes."
More surprisingly, Ving feels that his punk experience and notoriety will actually prove a plus in his country music career. For one thing, the do-it-yourself lessons he learned from creating Fear "out of scratch" are invaluable.
"It's easier to do it with this band because of Fear," he said. Also, his local renown has helped gain him a warm reception in the local clubs: "Club owners wanted us before we wanted to play."
But will Range War be accepted by Ving's old fans? The singer is unconcerned.
"Out of the whole world there's few enough of them that it won't make much difference," he said. "And when they hear this, they'll know (that it's good). A goodly number of them have ears. I like (Range War) and they liked Fear, so why shouldn't they like this?"
Ving even believes that the punk credits will be a boost to his hoped-for future in the usually conservative country music industry. "I want a major-label record deal for this band, "he said. "And when that time comes, it'll come sooner because of Fear and certainly because of the acting."
Ving leaned forward with a gleam in his eye and a bottle of his beloved Budweiser in his hand to finish his point: "Not to mention that this is the best (bleeping) country band in the world."
LIVE ACTION: Duran Duran will be at Irvine Meadows July 27. Tickets are available now. . . . Tickets go on sale Monday for John Denver's Sept. 11 show at the Pacific Amphitheatre. . . . Tickets are on sale Sunday for four new shows at the Universal Amphitheatre: Waylon Jennings (Aug. 6), the Everly Brothers (Sept. 1), the Temptations and the O'Jays (Sept. 4-5) and Donna Summer (Sept. 12-13). . . . A second night has been added for Suzanne Vega at the Wiltern on Aug. 2. . . . The Exploited will be at Fender's July 25.