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One pissed-off hillbilly 

Joe Buck is the kinda guy you just wanna to be friends with. He'll add color to your otherwise mundane life. Besides the riotous music and musings you'll be exposed to, this friendship will probably save your life. Buck's on the edge, you see. And when he finally snaps and goes all Travis Bickell on us you won't find yourself in his crosshairs. He seems like the kinda guy who wouldn't kill a homie. But if you've ever seen this man on stage, you know what he's capable of.

Buck has been boppin' around the underground scene for years. I first ran into the dude years back at a gig in Iowa City, when he played with Gringo, a cool roots outfit from Chicago. For several years after that Buck ran The Bluegrass Inn on Nashville's hip Lower Broadway --- where real country goes to die and live again. The Inn was a honky-tonk dive palace full of characters, where you could get beer in a can for a buck and hear some of Nashville's best sangin' and twangin' for tips on the stage in the front window.

But you'll probably know Buck best from his upright bass work with country savior Hank Williams III or his stint as guitar player (and half of the band's frontman onslaught) in The Legendary Shackshakers. Sure they were fun. Sure they were wild. But it was Buck's stage persona and ragged guitar work that made this band truly ominous. Joe Buck meant it... still does.

Amidst some controversy, Buck recently left the Shackshakers."Yeah, it's a shame when that shit goes down," he says via cell phone in a Chevrolet tin can rollin' towards Morgantown, West Virginia. Buck won't really elaborate. But it's cool. He seems relatively unfazed and onto the next challenge. He's got a brand-new record all wrapped up, waiting for clearance to land. And in between stints with Hank III, he has been touring as a one-man band.

This tour in particular is with Austin, Texas' Scott Biram in what Buck bills as a "one-man band death match." If this were really a contest, Buck has no delusions.

"I'd kick his ass, man," he says before shouting, "It's on now," to Biram, sitting in the back of the van.

The two met and hit it off when Biram was a support act on Hank III's last winter tour. Both men come from a "punk rock-bluegrass background," according to Buck. Biram plays guitar and stomps on a board that's amplified and run through a bass amp. Buck beats on his guitar and pounds on a kick drum. Both intone and invoke those lonesome hillbilly blues. It's pretty down home, visceral stuff.

"Hillbilly creep rock," Buck explains. "It's pissed-off hillbilly stuff.

Sure, Buck comes off angry --- you can see it in the bore of his eyes and hear it in his Dixie-fried voice --- but he still seems to somehow enjoy it, at least as long as he's got a musical outlet.

And this ain't just hillbilly gothic posturing, either. This goes way beyond all the Travis Twitts, NASCAR, and honkies that say "y'all." Buck's legit and the fuse is lit. The man's got something to say.

"I'm pissed-off the way the South's being portrayed," he says.

To elaborate, he puts his lips a little closer to the phone and sings: "Down in Tennessee with its hills of smoke / We're some proud motherfuckers tired of being your joke / We're seceding the cities where it's all turned to shit and everyone's broke / Headin' back to the country to my hillbilly folk."

If his hands weren't white knuckled around the steering wheel, I'm sure he would've strummed along, too.

Joe Buck & Scott Biram play Thursday, August 19, at The Bug Jar, 219 Monroe Avenue, at 9 p.m. Tix: $6-$8. 18+ 454-2966

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