Hellbound Glory Shines with Scumbag Country

Juli Thanki | July 16th, 2010


One of the year’s best albums to date is Hellbound Glory’s Old Highs and New Lows. As the title implies, it’s an album for Saturday night and a Sunday morning spent coming down. Most of the Reno-based band’s songs revolve around booze, pills, or the consequences of overindulging in said vices. You’d think this would get tiresome after, say, half a dozen listens, but it doesn’t, thanks to clever lyrics, irresistible energy, and a sound that pays tribute to country music’s past while still managing to sound modern.

Hellbound Glory’s frontman and primary songwriter, Leroy Virgil, and drummer Chico Kortan formed the band in 2005; their first album followed three years later. Though the band’s lineup has changed often over the past five years, their sound, which Virgil describes as “scumbag country,” (a blend of classic country, rockabilly, and a dash of bluegrass) has remained the same. The term, more endearing than it may seem, was actually coined by fellow country singer Johnny Dilks. Virgil explains, “[We] stayed up until about 5 AM picking guitars and taking pills and drinking booze and all that stuff. The next day he woke up and said ‘You know what, you’re just a scumbag.’ I said, ‘You know what, you’re absolutely right.’ We took on the term ‘scumbag’ as kind of a good thing; I don’t think anybody’s used it before and I got tired of describing our music as ‘outlaw country.'”

album_hellbound-glory A “Hank Williams obsessive,” since his grandfather gave him a cassette tape of the country legend twenty-some years ago, Virgil also counts Johnny Paycheck and Merle Haggard among his many influences. These influences are apparent when listening to Virgil’s well-crafted lyrics; “I’ll be Your Rock (At Rock Bottom)” sounds as though it could have come from Paycheck’s pen four decades ago. The songs found on Old Highs and New Lows are gut-wrenchingly honest, telling tales of a friend’s heroin overdose (the superb “One Way Track Marks”), broken hearts, and broken teeth. Every lyric on the album is memorable, even if Leroy can’t quite recall writing a few of them: “I woke up one morning with a napkin in my pocket with some words written down and I was like ‘That’s a good tune.'”

Those napkin lyrics became “Be My Crutch,” a strangely sweet ballad of dependence that’s one of the standout tracks on Old Highs. With aching pedal steel in the background and Virgil’s whiskey-burned baritone rasping “I’m too far gone to walk on my own/With you there to lean on/I just might make it home,” it’s a song that’s tailor made for the dive bars in which this scene plays out at every last call. Though Hellbound Glory’s two albums are bursting at the seams with autobiographical tales of drinking and despair, look for Virgil’s future material to be a little less dark. Newlywed once more and with a baby on the way, Virgil—who also performs as a solo artist—is in good spirits, stating “I’m not focusing on being self-destructive so much anymore, which is what basically all of my music was about until a year ago.”

When it comes to commercial country music, the unfailingly polite Virgil doesn’t like to “talk too much shit about what’s going on,” instead preferring to concentrate on his own work. A fan of Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Jamey Johnson, he’s not too sure about some of the artists currently ruling the airwaves. Though he can flip on the radio and hear a song he enjoys, he finds a few of the artists lacking when it comes to authenticity. He can’t quite hide the disdain in his voice as he relates the following anecdote: “A buddy of mine opened for one of the new Nashville guys—the entire soundcheck he was listening to rap music and then he started singing Vanilla Ice songs.” Shrugging, he concludes, “That’s not really my bag.”

Hellbound Glory may never get played on your local country station alongside the above Vanilla Ice aficionado. But they can be found with ever-increasing frequency on satellite radio, and, thanks to a relentless touring schedule, in your local scumbag hangout sooner rather than later. Just keep a handle on your wallet and your virtue—both are likely to disappear.

3 Pings

  1. [...] is Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory (they got a nice write-up from Juli Thanki at The 9513 today) doing a new song called “Malt Liquor.” Have I mentioned that you [...]
  2. [...] Hellbound has been enjoying some good strong mainstream press and exposure, including a favorable review from my favorite country writer Juli Thanki. And CM Wilcox recently debuted a new song “Malt Liquor”. Hey I thought Hellbound Glory [...]
  3. [...] Glory just keeps getting better. The Reno-based, self-professed purveyors of “scumbag country” have delivered an album that’s a little smoother around the edges than their previous two [...]
  1. Thomas
    July 16, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    …if that sort of country music is hellbound – i gladly follow.

  2. D.S. Troubadour
    July 16, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Great article! “Old Highs and New Lows” rarely leaves my stereo. These boys have a bright future ahead of them!

  3. Johnny
    July 16, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    I’ve been a fan of these guys since 2006 and they just keep gettin better and better. Their songs are honest and their sound is pure. And if you think the albums are good…just wait til you see this hell-raisin hootenanny live! Thanks for the great music, boys and thanks for a great article Juli!

  4. Fizz
    July 16, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Ah, now THIS is more my kind of thang!

  5. Flavio
    July 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Thanks to Hellbound Glory, I no longer have to put up with country music stations and the worthless noise that they try to pass off as country music…Boys, you’re in my cd case right next to Johnny, Merle, Waylon, and all the Williams. Catch you next time in Fresno, for antoher Hellbound night.

  6. Rick
    July 16, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    I don’t drink or use drugs, and as a general rule I hate bars of all types and usually avoid them, but these guys have enough stylistic pizazz to at least catch my ear. Why can’t they be writing songs about the Tonic Bar at the Erewhon Market instead? Crikey.

    PS – Since they are from Reno, shouldn’t they have named themselves “The Biggest Little Band In The World”? Also, do they ever cover Southern Pacific’s song “Reno Bound” when heading home from a road trip? Hmm…

  7. Leeann Ward
    July 16, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    This is one of the albums that I’ve had for awhile that I haven’t listened to yet. I guess I’d better get to it, Since Juli writes so positively about them.

  8. PaulaW
    July 16, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Well, though I usually give a quick listen to most of the albums/groups/artists recommended here, I rarely give them more than a moment or two. But this one … I started at the top of the list on their myspace and I havent quit listening yet (I’m on the last song now). I like “Hello FiveO”. Reminds me a little bit of Junior Brown.

  9. Andrew
    July 16, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    After downloading their album, there are now 9513 items in my iTunes library. I feel this is somehow meaningful.

    Oh, and it’s really good. Thanks for the tip, Juli!

  10. Michelle
    July 17, 2010 at 12:30 am

    My favorite is “Be My Crutch.” I’ve never heard of these guys, but they sound pretty good.

  11. Fizz
    July 17, 2010 at 2:42 am

    Rick, I’m only a light drinker, don’t use drugs, adn can’t stand the bar scene either, but dammit, it’s fun to sing about those things.

  12. Michelle
    July 17, 2010 at 9:01 am

    It was Jake Owen that his buddy opened for, I googled it.LOL! I was listening to their songs before my coffee this morning(something’s wrong with that picture). I think it’s funny that some people are afraid others will think they drink or do drugs if they like this music, too funny.

  13. Ian
    July 17, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Great band, glad to see they are making some noise. Leroy Virgil is a genius.

  14. Fizz
    July 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Oh, I’m not afraid anybody might think I “live the life,” it just tickles me that some fairly upstanding folks (myself included) enjoy this type of thing. Meanwhile, other, just as upstanding people love a guy like Rodney Atkins, a guy tha tmakes me feel claustrophobic, nauseous and ready to empty a clip into the stereo.

  15. Jon
    July 17, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    When it comes to commercial country music, the unfailingly polite Virgil doesn’t like to “talk too much shit about what’s going on”…

    Smart guy. I wonder if any of his fans might get the point?

  16. Aran
    July 17, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Hellbound Glory is one of the best bands out there, no question. I’m glad people are noticing them with their new album out. They play an amazing live show, and despite the “scumbag” label, Leroy Virgil is one of the nicest guys in the business!

  17. Fizz
    July 17, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    It’s like the soundtrack to a Dan Woodrell novel …

  18. WIll
    July 18, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    if you like these guys, check out Whitey Morgan and the 78s

  19. D.S. Troubadour
    July 18, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    Whitey Morgan is good and I’m glad Bloodshot picked him up. It shows they’re giving the “outlaw” country stuff a little more attention. I think Leroy is a better songwriter though and that’s what sets Hellbound Glory apart from everyone else right now.

  20. kim
    July 20, 2010 at 2:08 am

    I love you…

  21. Will
    July 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    D.S. Whitey was in another great band called Dixie Hustler and was just the drummer, they’ve come along way since the first couple of shows. i think the songwriting will continue to improve, but you’re right that Leroy is a little bit better right now

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