If things ended well, they wouldn't end. It's no surprise, then, that when the Two Dollar Pistols came to a close after 13 years in 2008, it wasn't the brightest time in frontman John Howie Jr.'s life.
The honky-tonkers had seen him through a divorce, the loss of his parents and his growth into adulthood, including the birth of his son. Even if it felt necessary, breaking up wasn't easy.
"That group was the only thing I had as a constant throughout that period, so certainly that will bring some confusion and some trauma," says Howie. "It wasn't like we were throwing things at each other or screaming, but certainly there were some tense moments."
The dust has settled three years later, and Howie felt it was time to reunite the band this weekend for a couple shows in Winston-Salem and Saxapahaw. Everyone's stayed in touch; bassist Mark O'Brien had been suggesting for a while that they get back together to play the Saxapahaw Farmer's Market shows, near where he and Howie both live.
Howie felt enough time had passed to make it worth everyone's while, not to mention that the timing was right, sandwiched between a variety of projects that have consumed Howie's post-Pistols time. Howie's releasing a new Rosewood Bluff album, Leavin' Yesterday, which will be available for the first time at these shows. He recently played drums on Limited Supply, the debut EP by the P-90s, a punk act fronted by Billie Feather, his bassist in both of his new bands. Everyone was game to give it a try, and things came together quite quickly when they got into the studio.
"We've been playing a lot of these songs for years and years, so in some ways it was like riding a bike. My brain was looking for something but my hands already knew it," says guitarist Scott McCall. "It's great to have that communion again with somebody who I basically spent a great bit of my formative years playing music with."
For Howie, everything's been coming back into focus lately. He wasn't at his physical best when the Pistols broke up. He underwent invasive surgery less than four months afterward. But he ultimately found the break-up liberating, opening him up to expand on the honky-tonky sound he's always loved. He actually found himself struggling to keep up with the output: "[It] was even stronger than it had been in the last year or so of the Pistols," he says. "I had to make myself really set aside a couple hours every night to get them all finished because they were coming so quickly."
Not only were songs pouring out of him, they were finding placement in TV shows and movies, providing greater validation and financial compensation. Not that there haven't been speed bumps—while mixing the new Rosewood Bluff album, bassist Jesse Huebner and guitarist Dustin Miller quit the band on the same day. But within a few months Howie had recruited Feather and Hearts & Daggers guitarist Tim Shearer as replacements, ensuring the show would go on. As for the Pistols, Howie believes these shows could offer a more fitting close to their story.
"I was watching some YouTube video of one of our last couple shows, and I don't think anyone looks particularly happy," he says. "If these are the last two shows we do, it would be nice to go out on a higher note. There's not much pressure among the four of us, and physically I'm in a million times better shape than I was in at the end of that last run."