It's More Than Just About Methamphetamine and Killing People
SAN ANGELO, TX — “This song is about methamphetamine and killing people,” lead singer Mike Valliere announces just before his band Copper Chief breaks into a song and story about the meth industry on the Texas-Oklahoma border when he was growing up.
The main character of the song is matter-of-factly introduced as his well-dressed cousin, with whom the singer saw too many sunsets cooking meth on their grandpa’s land. The meth was intended for trading in Ardmore.
The song’s lyrics take us on a tour of what it could be like living in far-flung Muenster, Texas, Valliere's hometown, a one-stoplight town on U.S. 82 just off I-35, north of the DFW Metroplex near Oklahoma, where Indians in nearby Ardmore took in and then raised his cousin. They even taught the cousin how to handle a Colt .45 revolver, the lyrics reveal. Of course, all this happened after the cousin’s mother left.
The lyric “’Cause his mama left” leaves you hanging, asking why did she leave? We’ll never find out because the song ends in tragedy. His cousin is soon found dead, floating face down in the Red River, robbed of the money and life he made as a flashy, snakeskin boot-wearing North Texas methamphetamine dealer.
A first listen to the song would have you think Copper Chief, a newer band on the Texas music circuit, was glorifying meth use in rural Texas. But on subsequent plays, the song becomes something completely opposite. The song and underlying storyline in the lyrics act as both a literal and a metaphorical wise tale about how meth ends lives.
The song is a hard-charging, bass-pounding rock anthem that, if not for the southern accent, sounds more like Metallica, not something filling the stereotype of a Texas Country Music band.
WATCH: "Snakeskin Boots"
Copper Chief’s lead singer said Texas Country is the only place they could fit in.
“You can call it southern rock or roots rock. We take the best parts of those sounds and mix them up,” Valliere said in an interview with Jacob Stiefel a year-and-a-half ago on his podcast. “With Americana music, you can have your rock with your country.”
Valliere and the rest of the band are classically trained musicians. Valliere said it took him a long while to graduate from the University of Texas as he cut his teeth while earning money for college by performing with various bands on Austin’s 6th Street.
Drummer John Jammal has a music minor from UT and marched for a while with tenors (a type of drums) in the UT Longhorn Band. Justin Lusk, the bass player, marched with the Tarleton State Marching Band as a percussionist, then finished with a degree from South Plains College, the Levelland community college known for its contemporary music program.
Lead guitarist Rio Tripiano took piano lessons from the age of five and learned he had a natural ear for music even though that meant performing Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” in recitals. He could play by ear. He moved from piano to guitar by junior high and played guitar with church praise bands.
“I played AC/DC in the sanctuary once,” he said. The elders may have been appalled.
By the time he was 20, he had dropped out of school in College Station and was playing traditional country with a legacy cover band. “Covering John Conlee songs,” he said.
If you want to be good at Texas Country music today, all in the band agree, one must become classically trained as a musician. It allows you to understand what you’re playing well. It also helps with the diversity of your songwriting craft.
That diversity comes alive while listening to their first and only recorded album, self-titled Copper Chief. The same band that blows the doors down with "Snakeskin Boots" (the meth song mentioned above) also breaks hearts with its power ballad “Jericho.”
The two songs are a curious dichotomy. How can the same band that wrote then performed that very unpleasantly raucous song about the North Texas Methamphetamine Industry turn around four minutes later and sing this wonderfully beautiful love song?
Valliere said “Jericho” is the only love song he could finish to date. He’s pushing 30. “It took me about 4 years before the song reached the arrangement it has now,” he told Texas Music Pickers. “It was a struggle finishing the song much like love can sometimes be, but you have to let the walls down even if it’s hard. Man… that sounds corny.”
The song evokes strong reactions from the audience when performed live, he said. “Sometimes, there are tears involved.”
“Jericho” has more spins on Spotify than any of the other Copper Chief songs, but “Snakeskin Boots” is catching up.
If Metallica and power ballads aren’t your thing, just hang around for the country. That’s the feel you’ll get listening to “Hill Country Fog,” a dance tune in ¾ time. “Muddy Water” will fill your blues fix.
Copper Chief’s biggest fan is Nashville recording star Travis Tritt. He brought them on the AMC cable reality music contest show Real Country. The band, after lasting all season long through eight episodes, came in third overall, missing the $100,000 prize money offered.
But Tritt gave Copper Chief a high recommendation.
“One, you don’t sound like anybody else in the country music industry today, and two, you don’t look like anyone else,” he said of their bearded faces. “You came from Texas where that dirt road music is happening and it’s a breath of fresh air in country music.”
After one of Copper Chief’s performances, complete with screaming lead guitar solos and three-part harmony, Tritt remarked, “You felt the excitement, did you not?”
Copper Chief performs in downtown San Angelo at Blaine’s Pub, 10 W. Harris Ave., after the first performance of the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Friday night, Feb. 1, 2019. The cover charge at the door is $10.
If you can't wait, get Copper Chief on Amazon.