The Red Rippers: Lost Country Psych LP Sees New Light

Bankston in cockpit-RGB.jpg
Photo courtesy Edwin Bankston
Edwin Bankston in the cockpit, aboard the Navy aircraft carrier USS America.
In 1983, an unknown songwriter named Edwin Bankston decided that if no labels were interested in putting out his record -- a nine-song country-boogie album called Over There...and Over Here, credited to "The Red Rippers" -- he was going to put it out himself. Featuring stream-of-consciousness lyrics, psychedelic lead guitar, and a choogling backing band of Pensacola, Florida-based session players, the album's lyrics drew heavily on his time in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, chronicling the frustration, bitterness, and "psychic wackiness" of the war effort, and in turn, the American public's response to it.

Bankston pressed about 3,000 copies of the LP and packaged the vinyl in a stark red-and-black sleeve featuring his mustachioed face sporting a pair of aviators. He took out ads in military-minded periodicals like Soldier of Fortune, The Navy Times, and Stars and Stripes to sell the record, reading: "Combat Music? Yes." Not long thereafter, he gave up on music. But Over There . . . and Over There lived on, becoming a private-press treasure, valued by record collectors and selling for triple-digit sums on eBay. This month sees the first-ever reissue of the record, by North Carolina label Paradise of Bachelors.

"Our friend and fellow record casualty Harmonica Dan brought the Red Rippers album to our attention, and though initially mystified by its ambiguous origins, my label partner, Chris Smith, and I immediately recognized it as a powerful and visceral statement about the costs of war and the work of soldiering from the perspective of a career military man," says Brendan Greaves of Paradise of Bachelors, which has overseen reissues from southern soul singer David Lee and psychedelic swamp rockers Plant and See (a multi-racial outfit fronted by Willie French Lowery, a member of North Carolina's Lumbee Tribe).

The label tracked the mysterious Blankston to Phoenix, where he settled after stints in Pensacola, Nashville, and Los Angeles, and approached him about reissuing the record.

"My jaw dropped," Bankston says. "I had no idea there were still copies of it around."

It's an album worth hearing in 2013. More than just an obscuro oddity, the record is a unique blend of Waylon Jennings-style country (the opening salvo of "I Roll"), psychedelic punk ("Firefight," with its harrowing lyrics and careening solos), blues ("Vietnam Blues," which includes the lyrics "They'll throw me in prison, and make me suffer, for shooting a reporter who's a lying motherfucker"), and even art-damaged soft rock (the harrowing but smooth "Bodybag"). The album offers a brutal look at life during wartime, absent jingoism yet resolutely proud. It also offers a singular sound, sharing New Wave elements with Dire Straits, a curious similarity to arena rockers Blue Öyster Cult, and songwriting that reveals a youth spent listening to Johnny Horton and Buddy Holly.

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