The Del Fuegos. The Long Ryders. Marshall Crenshaw. The Del-Lords. Rank And File. Lone Justice. Jason & the Scorchers. These are but a few of the American roots-rock acts that proliferated amid much hype in the early-to-mid-'80s, most of whom seemed to disappear as quickly as they popped up.
A '60s sense of pop melodicism crossed with a muscular, '50s-inspired performing edge and modern production values hallmarked the sound, which was all the rage on college campuses of the day. Bolo ties, cowboy boots and fringed suede jackets became the uniform of choice as the bands and their followers pledged allegiance to Hank Williams and other native musical heroes.
The BoDeans, who perform tonight at the Coach House, were among the last to jump on the hayride with their 1986 debut album, and it's one of the very few bands that still exists.
The BoDeans' new release, "Go Slow Down," demonstrates how little about the band's music has changed. The members of Waukesha, Wisc.'s best-known musical export remain unapologetic purveyors of simple, hook-laden songs, tight, crystalline vocal harmonies and traditional guitar-bass-drums instrumentation.
"We really can't change what we do, so we just do the best we can," guitarist-vocalist Sam Llanas said in a recent phone interview. "We make the music that we make, and if people want to play it on the radio, great. If they don't, there's really nothing we can do about it.
"We've never paid that much attention to what was supposedly hip and what was going on," he continued. "You can beat your head against a wall for a long time doing that sort of thing. It makes life easier not to worry about it. We can't be Eric Clapton, and we can't be Pearl Jam or whoever, because that's not what we are."
Perhaps because the BoDeans arrived so late on the scene, they never enjoyed the media attention lavished on such like-minded groups as Lone Justice. While praised for making clean, enjoyable albums, the band was also knocked for writing lightweight lyrics and adhering tightly to their chosen genre.
"Nobody likes to get ripped; nobody likes to see those sorts of things written about them," Llanas said. "But it's like, who are these people that say these things? What did they ever do that was so great to give them that kind of power? . . . It can only do you harm to worry about it.
"We have enough of a fan base that we sell enough records to keep our label (Slash) happy," he said. "Every release, we sell about 200,000 records. When we play, 3,000 to 4,000 people will show up, depending on what the city is. We're in a very good spot."
"Go Slow Down," released in November, is typical BoDeans music: simple but eminently listenable, resting snugly in the melodic roots-rock niche. Yet subjects including sex, political freedom and suicide signal new thought and lyrical consciousness in songwriters Llanas and Kurt Neu mann.
The BoDeans also fostered a unique approach in recording the album, renting a Milwaukee storefront and bringing in recording equipment for the sessions. Working at a casual pace, the group recorded 30 songs over the course of a year; 11 of those made it onto the album. The result is a sparkling, natural-sounding effort, with country and folk flourishes that sound guileless and unforced.
"There really wasn't a lot of production involved," Llanas said. "We tried to keep it very simple. I think it's our best record. . . . I think the writing is good, and I think we performed well. It's a good representation of where we are in our career. . . .
"We've reached the point where we just want to make the music we make, for ourselves. If the record company doesn't want to put it out, that's fine. We'll just go somewhere else."
\o7 * The BoDeans and Lowen & Navarro perform tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $16.50. (714) 496-8930. \f7