Perfect Sound Forever


Enigma Records publicity photo

Tribute by Peter Crigler

On February 7, 2024, Mojo Nixon died of a heart attack in his sleep aboard the Outlaw Country Cruise, an annual cruise sponsored by SiriusXM. Mojo had been a longtime DJ on the channel and a longtime champion of outlaw country. He had played his final show the night before and by all accounts, it was your average Mojo show- wild, raucous and totally in character for how he carried on throughout his long career. It was a shock to those who followed him on social media and still listened to his music. Just wanted to take some space to talk about the man and his legacy.

I first became familiar with Mojo and his original partner, Skid Roper, in the early 2000's when I was a kid. My local record store, Doc's Music, usually had a bunch of CD's they wouldn't be able to sell. It's just what it was, you wouldn't sell a Mojo Nixon CD in West Point, Virginia. It was a copy of the second album by the duo, 1986's Frenzy with the follow-up EP, Get out of My Way! tacked onto the disc. I took it home and put it on and upon hearing "Stuffin' Martha's Muffin" about wanting to bang MTV VJ Martha Quinn, I was hooked. Songs like "Where the Hell's My Money?" "Feeling Existential" and "Burn Down the Malls" really were different being heard circa 2000 and since I had just discovered the Dead Milkmen, this was right up my alley.

I remember trying to get my classmates hipped to what I was discovering. One of my friends took this disc home and told me the next day that it sucked, it was awful. I was like 'are you for real? This is awesome.' I continued holding that album up as an example of great novelty rock. It was years before I learned the term 'psychobilly' and gleaned that Mojo was seen as a forefather of the scene. I never understood that terminology and as I learned later, it was more relevant to bands like The Cramps, Reverend Horton Heat and others. Never felt it was associated with Mojo but I digress.

As the years went on, I continued listening to Frenzy but found it tricky to track down other records in his catalogue. Around the mid-2000's I did track down 1989's Root Hog or Die, the first of two collaborations with legendary producer Jim Dickinson. This collaboration upped his sonic intensity to a point. One of the major flaws with the sound of Skid and Mojo was the lack of a full band. Skid had a stick and a washboard with which he would contribute percussion but after a while, it was clear that Mojo needed a full sound that wasn't just a stick. Root Hog contained probably his biggest hit, the two-minute rave up "Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child" which is about exactly what you think it's about. Hell, Winona Ryder appeared as Debbie Gibson in the video. The song was a blast and while the rest of the record is a bit hit and miss, it provides a great opening. The album's closing track (CD only) "High School Football Friday Night" is a six plus minute folk song with no percussion or anything else; just Mojo and his acoustic and it's probably one of the best things he ever did.

By the end of 1989, Mojo and Skid had parted ways. Skid went off to make two solo records and then essentially faded into obscurity. Mojo kept the record deal with Enigma, returned with Dickinson and set about making what's probably his best record, 1990's Otis. For this record, he finally got a full band and he packed it with all stars: John Doe (X) on bass, Country Dick Montana (Beat Farmers) on drums and on guitar, Eric Ambel (Del-Lords) and Bill Davis (Dash Rip Rock). With this lineup and a killer amount of songs, Mojo made his hardest sounding record and one that finally showcased not only his guitar playing but his voice as well. Finally put at the forefront of the mix, one can hear Mojo at full power. Nowhere does this get showcased better than on "Destroy All Lawyers" and "Gonna Be a New World," two of the best songs of his entire career. This is the most forceful and dynamic of Mojo's catalogue and with other tracks like "Put a Sex Mo-Sheen in the White House" and "Don Henley Must Die"- you can really hear the full power of everything Mojo had. "Henley" was controversial at the time because its subject matter was still popular and relevant. Henley himself later got up on stage with Mojo (much to his surprise) in Texas and sang the song with him, quashing any real issues.

"Don Henley" was the single sent to radio but a video was made for "Destroy All Lawyers," showing Mojo in court with his new band, the Toadliquors. There was going to be a video for "I Wanna Race Bigfoot Trucks" but Enigma said no and soon after, before a whole lot promotion was available, the label shut down and Mojo was left adrift. I didn't discover this record until the 2010's, but it quickly became my favorite of his catalogue and still is.

Once it was clear he wasn't going to get picked up by Capitol like the Smithereens, Poison and the Cavedogs, (all fellow Enigma refugees), Mojo struck out on his own. He recorded a holiday record, Horny Holidays for Triple XXX and then teamed up with Jello Biafra for the fantastic collaboration Prairie Home Invasion on Alternative Tentacles in 1994.

From here, his catalogue got a little spotty and I was largely unfamiliar with it until the release of a career-spanning box set by Manifesto Records in 2020. After 1999's The Real Sock Ray Blue, he largely stepped away from music though he kept up with performances all over the country. In the early 2000's, he became a radio DJ and then moved over to Sirius when that started up. He was hosting a political show called "Lyin' Cocksuckers" and doing some stuff on the NASCAR channel as well as hosting a show on the outlaw country channel. That became his signature and when Sirius and XM merged, he became the face of the outlaw country channel.

As the years wore on, he stayed in his niche corner with Sirius and his music seemed to fade from the public consciousness. The release of the 2020 box set helped to revitalize what he meant to people like me and I began to dig deeper into his catalogue. His later albums, like 1995's Whereabouts Unknown and 1999's The Real Sock Ray Blue contain some of his best songs and show a little bit of maturity, particularly on the latter with songs like "When Did I Become My Dad" and "The Ballad of Country Dick," written in memory of his friend Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, who died on stage in 1995.

He was still trying to court controversy when a song that was going to appear on Whereabouts was pulled at the last minute. The track entitled "Bring Me the Head of David Geffen" was later released on a 1997 compilation without any real blowback from Geffen. During this time, Mojo's records hadn't been selling because of lack of promotion and two record labels going out of business, but by the early 2000's, when he was beginning his time on Sirius, he was also a proponent of downloading and in 2009, he allowed his entire catalogue to be given away on Amazon and other sites for nothing.

As the years wore on, he was content in his role on Outlaw Country and his annual show at SXSW. He had announced that 2024 would be his final show at SXSW and it seemed apparent that he was going to essentially retire from a lot of his music career. But he still had the Outlaw Country cruise and he was determined to give his fans the show they always expected. Then while on the 2024 cruise, he laid down for a nap and never woke up. Among the numerous musicians paying tribute both on and off the boat were Dash Rip Rock who held a memorial tribute to him during their final set in which they destroyed guitars. Mojo would've liked that.

On March 16, 2024, at what Mojo had said would be his last performance at SXSW, his friends held an 8-hour memorial show to send him off. Friends like The Knitters, Beat Farmers, Jello Biafra, Dan Baird, Dave Alvin and Steve Earle among many others saluted the man, the myth, the legend. Mojo wouldn't have it wanted it any other way.

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER