Once upon a time, in the 1980s in George West, Texas, there was a thrash-metal band that achieved a bit of success. Having started families, the members decided to take the 90s off to raise their kids. Well, it wasn’t long before these guys felt the itch again, that need to write and perform, but when they looked in the mirror, they realized they were just too old for the metal scene.
“But then,” as bandleader Bob Strause puts it, “we heard distorted guitars on Ragweeds’s Live and Loud at the Wormy Dog. And with Reckless Kelly putting fiddle on their rock songs, we knew we could find a home on the Texas music scene.”
And so out of the brush and prickly pear (hence the name) of Live Oak County, The Pear Ratz were born.
In 2004, with the core trio of Bob Strause on rhythm guitar and vocals, Rodd Daws on bass, and Chris Nelson shredding the lead guitar, along with Johnny Aguillon on drums, the Ratz set out to storm Texas with their own special high-energy musical blend.
The Pear Ratz first album, 2006′s Rat Now, set the tone for what would come to be called “Ratz Rock”, a raw amalgam of country, rock, and honky-tonk. Songs like “Sing Jolie Again” — an homage to Reckless Kelly and the first song ever played on Hank Moon’s 92.5 The Outlaw — Strause’s autobiographical “Just South of the Nueces”, and a clever bluegrassy arrangement of an iconic John Lennon tune captured music fans’ imaginations. Oh, and there was also a little Strause-penned murder ballad on that CD called “Talkin Myself Outta Killin You” that seemed to resonate with the fans — the male ones, anyway.
As the Ratz toured in support of Rat Now, Aguillon had to drop out, and the band “acquired” drummer John Starek, a native of Grapevine now residing in Corpus Christi and certified “surfer dude”, from their friend Jarrod Birmingham’s band.
The end of 2007 saw the release of the Ratz’ second album, Holier Than Thou, and the following year, buoyed by the album’s title track, the Jarrod Birmingham-penned “Senses”, and the followup murder ballad “Killin U2″, Holier Than Thou climbed to #2 on XM Radio’s XCountry Countdown.
“If it weren’t for that damn James McMurtry,” bassplayer Rodd Daws jokes, “we coulda been number 1!” The airplay gave the band national and international exposure, but with the added success came a major upheaval: popular lead guitar player Chris Nelson announced that he would be leaving the band.
The search for a new guitar player went on for several months before San Antonio’s “Gentleman” Joe Talbert was christened as the newest Rat.
“We got turned on to Joe by our friends in Buster Jiggs,” says Daws, again smiling. “We’re still not sure if he can play guitar — well, we heard he was voted ‘Best Acoustic Guitar Player’ in San Antonio — but we all laugh at the same things, so that’s makes traveling together a whole lot easier.”
As it turns out, Talbert is more than just a guitar player. He contributed an original tune to The Pear Ratz’ 2010 release, Rat Outta Hell, an album that marks yet another turning point for the band.
“We loved working with Bill Green on the first two albums. He did a great job and has played a big part in our success,” Strause comments. “But our good friend Billy High offered to produce Rat Outta Hell, and we thought it would be fun to work with him.”
Rat Outta Hell sports a stylishly illustrated cover and a sound that is slicker than the first two albums, but still raw enough to stay true to the Ratz Rock sound. That means it includes plenty of country, plenty of rock, and a song affectionately known as “Killin U3″ — a collaboration with Rich O’Toole called “Cheaters” — that continues the murder ballad tradition.
Stretching the envelope just a little, the last song on Rat Outta Hell is “Say Anything”, which could be right at home on, say, a Megadeth record. “I wrote that song about ten years ago,” Strause reveals. “We didn’t rock it out as hard as we would have in the 80s,” he admits, “but we do air it out probably a bit more than people are used to hearing on a Texas country record.”
Just after the release of Rat Outta Hell the Pear Ratz took time away from their tour to play what Strause called their “coolest gig ever — jamming for the troops!” The Ratz took a 20-hour plane ride — Strause’s first ever — to Qatar to play a Memorial Day show for the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in the Middle East. “It’s really the least we can do go let the troops know we appreciate them,” says Talbert.
The Pear Ratz continue to keep a busy schedule, touring regionally, writing songs, and building their fanbase. Yup, these former metalheads have definitely found a home on the Texas music scene.