With a big grin, crazed eyes and cowboy hat, the Whiskey Daredevils' Greg Miller looks like a guy you'd see behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler with the band's name painted in flames on the sides. He's an irreverent sort who sings songs like "Skunk Weed," "Planet of the Apes" and "Uncle Sam." "Jimmy Rogers" (sic) is about digging up the skeleton of the iconic yodeling cowboy of country music to hang up in the basement.
"That song is about a friend of mine who's a huge collector of country-music souvenirs," says Miller, sipping a beer at the Independence Winking Lizard as he talks about the new Daredevils album. "He'd be like, 'This is Ernest Tubb's commemorative platter!' and you're like 'Dude, that's just mass-produced bullshit.' But then we'd start talking about the greatest thing ever, the ultimate collector's item, and that would have to be [Rodgers'] skeleton. I couldn't do Johnny Cash - people would kill you - but Jimmie Rodgers, I mean, I get to yodel."
That song is one of 12 tales told on the Daredevils just-released The Very Best of the Whiskey Daredevils, their fourth full-length. Miller and friends have been crisscrossing the country promoting their country-fried rock for nearly 20 years, blending surf music, cattle westerns, garage, rockabilly, punk and everything in between. The new album still mixes and matches those genres - like the Cramps and Reverend Horton Heat trading chops in a tractor-trailer - but it also keys into what makes the Daredevils so entertaining.
"Lyrically, I wanted to tell stories about people from Ohio," explains Miller. "You'll have a band like the Strokes that comes out with a record about the gritty east side of New York. Hey, here's this Bruce Springsteen Jersey album. Somehow, all those places are valid and real, but not Cleveland. There's a sense of embarrassment coming from this region of the country. I shouldn't have to apologize."
In fact, Miller helped put Cleveland on the country-rock map with his previous truck-driving rural-rock band the Cowslingers, which also included Daredevils drummer Leo P. Love and bassist Ken Miller, Greg's brother. That band released nine albums before calling it quits in 2004.
The Very Best Of - title aside, it's not a greatest-hits album - sits near the top of the two bands' combined catalogs when it comes to deranged style and musical variety. It blasts off with "Friend in Jesus," a "Mystery Train"-like country chugger about a trucker and his cheating wife. "Gary Sez Fuck'em" is a Ramones rocker about cantankerous band manager Gary Kane. Guitarist Bobby Lanphier polishes every tune with blistering guitar work. "Bob really ripped on this thing," says Miller, noting that the album was recorded in five days. "I think the band works better if we move quickly and just play. When you start thinking, it's a mistake. We're not doing math-rock here. But I thought Bob's playing on this was his best on any Daredevils record."
Lanphier stepped down on good terms after the band's spring European tour. Now filling the guitar spot is Gary Siperko, formerly of instrumental Ithaca rockers the Mofos.
The Daredevils are on the German label Knock Out and have a big following overseas ("It's funny that we're vastly more popular in Stuttgart than we are in our hometown," laughs Miller). At their release show at the Beachland Friday, they'll rip through some brand-new tunes written by the revamped band.
"The new hit is called 'Never Saw Johnny Cash.' It's a horrible and true story about how I had tickets to see Johnny Cash, and I went to this fucking keg party instead and ended up making out with a girl with a mustache," says Miller.
By his big grin, you can tell the chronicles of the Whisky Daredevils will continue.
"It's what we do," says Miller. "We put together music, travel around and get into ridiculous situations. We love doing it, and when we don't, we'll stop."
Whiskey Daredevils, Lords of the Highway, Amazing Rondini Bros. 9:30 p.m. Friday, February 27 Beachland Tavern 15711 Waterloo Rd. 216.383.1124 Tickets: $7