While he has released some ten albums, appeared in a handful of movies, had years of MTV exposure and tons of radio airplay for his novelty hits (“Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child,” “Don Henley Must Die,” and “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin”) and is heard every weekday afternoon on his own SiriusXM Outlaw Country radio show, very few people knew who Mojo Nixon was at a recent live show where he sat to sing and play rhythm guitar with former Beat Farmers guitarist Joey Harris and Harris’s current band the Mentals. Only the older folks recognized San Diego’s multimedia, spaz-rappin’ hillbilly who was a key part of the ’80s/’90s San Diego music scene spearheaded by the Beat Farmers. Nixon and his “stand-up bass” (a broomstick topped with a washboard mounted on an upside down metal wash tub) player Skid Roper opened many of those Beat Farmers shows, allowing Nixon’s personality as a right-wing-bashing, pop-culture-skewing, corn-fed troubadour/jokester to thrive. MTV (which used to play music videos back in the day) loved him and used him for their in-house promotional spots. So did movie directors who cast him in parts like Jerry Lee Lewis’s drummer in Great Balls of Fire.
His personality drew the attention of radio execs where he worked as a talk show host and DJ. He left Clear Channel, he says, “...because I was losing a piece of my soul to Clear Channel every day I was there.” This year marks the tenth year he has been broadcasting his Sirius/XM “Loon in the Afternoon” show from his home studio in Coronado. He picks his own records from the alternative country/Americana artists played on the Sirius/XM Outlaw Country channel, which may include cuts by Reverend Horton Heat, David Allan Coe, or Hank Williams III. Nixon’s delivery is tailored for those who like “hell-raisin’, beer guzzlin’, and monster trucks.” It airs locally from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
On March 15 he and his Austin-based band the Toadliquors headline a ten-artist lineup at the Continental Club in Austin during South by Southwest.
Later this year, The Mojo Manifesto, a documentary, is set for release. It will touch on many of the highlights of his 30-year career, including the time in 1989 he and Roper appeared on Fox-TV’s Joan Rivers talk show (hosted that night by Arsenio Hall) to sing “Elvis Is Everywhere.” The audience members were wearing Elvis masks.
I spoke to Nixon (born in Virginia in 1957 as Neill Kirby McMillan) from his home in Coronado.
Something about Mojo Nixon, an outspoken, Hee Haw-lookin’, radical leftist living in rich, staid, conservative Coronado reminds me of Jethro Bodine in Beverly Hills. Does San Diego’s premier Bohemian rocker own his own estate?
I rent. In order for me to own a house in Coronado I’d probably have to kill at least two or three people. I’m kind of behind enemy lines. I’m pretty sure the neighbors don’t know I’m here. But if you were to drive around Coronado I’m sure you could pick out my house because of all the stuff on my front porch. My oldest son, ‘the Beast,’ lives in Cincinnati. He just reproduced, so now I have a granddaughter. I just bought a house there. San Diego is getting kind of expensive but I want to split my time between both places for a while.
Even more shocking is that you actually were on-air talent/DJ for Clear Channel, known as the poster child for empty, corporate radio, in two separate cities. How did that happen?
Here in San Diego, no one would hire me. KGB and 91X all believed that Mojo Nixon lived in a van by the river and did crystal meth and Mad Dog 20/20. A friend of mine, Bill Cunningham, who now does national TV, hired me [in 1989] to do a talk show at 700 WWL-AM in Cincinnati. It’s like KOGO here. I got fired after three weeks. They wanted a conservative talk show and that wasn’t me. I got fired for not hating on Bill Clinton. So, they hired me to be a sidekick on their morning show on their sister station WEBN-FM. It’s like [the] Dave, Shelly, and Chainsaw [show] here. That’s where I learned the mechanics of radio. How you go into and out of a song.... KGB eventually hired me in 2003 to do afternoons replacing [25-year local rock radio veteran] Jim McInnis. They used him for all they could. If you ever start thinking a corporation gives a shit or cares about you, you’re gonna be in big trouble.
When you left KGB/Clear Channel for Sirius in 2004, wasn’t it a risk to give up a sure thing for this struggling satellite-delivered radio service?
KGB had a very tight playlist. They had a system and they told me exactly what to play. I couldn’t change things around. At Sirius, I could play any song I wanted and I could also say “motherfucker.” The pay was about the same but I had more freedom. Plus, although satellite radio looked sketchy, I would kick myself if this thing would have succeeded and I didn’t take the chance to get onboard. Since then, Sirius combined with XM. Now they have 20 million listeners who each pay $15 a month. They asked me to be on their Outlaw Country channel . Little Steven Van Zandt was and is the executive producer. I also have a Monday-night NASCAR talk show on Sirius Channel 90 from 7 to 9.... I also had a political talk show on their comedy channel 99. That show is on hiatus right now. It’s been the third time that show has been been kicked off. It’s such a hot potato. It’s hard to find somebody in a tie who works at Sirius who would ultimately be responsible for a show called “Lying Cocksuckers — That’s What Politicians Are.” I did all three on three different channels because I thought if I did a sports show, a music show, and a political show, it would be hard of them to get rid of me. I’d be like herpes: there for the duration.
How did Sirius know about you?
Jeremy Tepper had a band in New York. We recorded a song together called “UFOs, Big Rigs, and BBQs” when I went there. Little Steven asked him to run this Outlaw channel in 2002. Tepper saw me at South by Southwest and told me I’d be perfect on this new channel. The audience for outlaw country is a relatively small group. It’s for rockers who like country and vice versa. If you like Wilco, Waylon, Willie, Graham Parsons, and Johnny Cash, you’ll like it. The big three artists in outlaw country are Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, and Dwight Yoakam. I’ve interviewed them and everybody I ever wanted to except Bob Dylan. My plan is to have Tom Waits interview him and I’d just sit in the room.
I saw you play recently with Joey Harris and the Mentals. Some of the people watching you weren’t born when you guys played those songs the first time. Those were magic years for local music.
I was lucky to be around Country Dick and Joey. We were in San Diego, so we could do what we wanted. In L.A., there was giant pressure on bands like X and the Blasters and Los Lobos to turn out crap. There was no pressure down here. No one gave a shit. There was no cocaine-wielding manager down here to screw you up. We were able to develop what we were doing. San Diego is a cover band/military/surfer town. Country Dick was the secret engine that brought all the people together. He was the really good point guard who made everybody better.
What about the film The Mojo Manifesto?
My bass player in the Toadliquors, Earl Freeman, is going through a midlife crisis and he doesn’t want to get a job and work in a cubicle so he’s directing the Mojo documentary. He hopes to have it done by the end of the summer. The trailer is already done. It covers everything from when I was young and thin and good looking to now where l’m old and fat and don’t give a shit.
How many times do Mojo Nixon and the Toadliquors play?
Like, two or three times a year. We usually don’t play unless it’s something special. Last year we played for the Bobblehead Tour. We sold out of all 500 of our Mojo Nixon bobbleheads. We may play for the 30th anniversary of [Austin bar] Hole in the Wall in June. That was where Don Henley jumped onstage with me to sing “Don Henley Must Die.” Last year he said he’s been listening to the Outlaw Country channel.... The Hole in the Wall is a tiny place. Maybe it holds 50.