One of the most outsized personalities in music, Mojo Nixon maintains a fervent cult following with his motor-mouthed redneck persona and a gonzo brand of satire with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Nixon had a particular knack for celebrity-themed novelty hits, while celebrating lowbrow, blue-collar America in all its trashy, beer-soaked glory. All of it was performed in maximum overdrive on a bed of rockabilly, blues, and R&B, which earned Nixon some friends in the roots rock community but had enough punk attitude — in its own bizarre way — to make him a college radio staple during his heyday. As his audience grew, Nixon found himself accepting gigs as an MTV host, several small roles in what he described as “sh*tty movies,” and occasional mainstream media attention (most notably debating Pat Buchanan on CNN over the subject of record censorship).
With degrees in political science and history from Miami University in Ohio, he went to England in 1979, where he hoped to break into the punk scene. He didn’t, and returned to the U.S. in 1980; settling for a short time in Denver, he performed in a punk band called Zebra 123, which drew the ire of the Secret Service for promoting a gig called the Assassination Ball with posters depicting the exploding heads of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Moving to San Diego in 1981, he met fellow roots-music enthusiast and future Beat Farmer Country Dick Montana. During a cross-country bicycle trip, Nixon first came up with his stage name (a combination of “voodoo and bad politics”), allegedly while roaring drunk in New Orleans.
Upon returning to San Diego in early 1983, the newly christened Mojo Nixon began performing in dive bars with a partner, washboard/harmonica player Skid Roper (born Richard Banke), who supplied rudimentary accompaniment for Nixon’s guitar work, and occasionally sang as well. Together they cut a demo in late 1984, and early the next year were spotted by Enigma Records while opening for Tex & the Horseheads. Their demo was released later in 1985 as Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper, and the anticorporate “Jesus at McDonald’s” became a hit on college radio. Nixon and Roper toured as the Beat Farmers‘ opening act, then went to Los Angeles to record their second album, the aptly titled Frenzy. Released in 1986, Frenzy expanded their cult audience by leaps and bounds, thanks to the novelty hit “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin,” an X-rated tribute to bubbly MTV VJ Martha Quinn. The album also featured other Nixon staples like “I Hate Banks,” “Where the Hell’s My Money,” and “The Amazing Bigfoot Diet.” It was followed later that year by the Get Out of My Way EP, which landed Nixon his first MTV airplay via “Burn Down the Malls.”
In 1987, Nixon released the even more successful Bo-Day-Shus!!!, which became his first album to make the national charts thanks to what became his best-known song, “Elvis Is Everywhere.” MTV not only embraced the video, but invited Nixon to film a series of short rants that ran during commercial breaks. He wound up as a periodic host for the channel during 1988 — an unlikely turn of events given the subject of his first hit. For his next album, Nixon went to Memphis with producer Jim Dickinson, and took a small detour by appearing as a musician in the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire. Released in 1989, Root Hog or Die continued his success on college radio with the tabloid-themed “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child.” However, MTV banned the video, which starred Winona Ryder, and Nixon severed his relationship with them.
Nixon and Roper also wound up cutting ties in late 1989; Nixon wanted to form a full backing band, while Roper left the touring life to pursue a solo career that resulted in two albums for Triple X. For his first solo album, Nixon assembled an all-star cowpunk band featuring Country Dick Montana (Beat Farmers), John Doe (X), Eric Ambel (Del Lords), and Bill Davis (Dash Rip Rock). The result, Otis, was released in 1990 and caused a stir with the notorious “Don Henley Must Die,” a rip on the Eagles frontman turned solo artist. (Two years later, the initially offended Henley shocked Nixon by climbing on-stage in Austin, TX, to perform the song with him; Nixon subsequently called off his fatwa.) Also in 1990, Nixon appeared as the Spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the little-anticipated sequel Rock and Roll High School Forever, and found his output with Roper the subject of a retrospective, Unlimited Everything.
Nixon formed a full-time touring band dubbed the Toadliquors, but his recording career was put on hold when Enigma went bankrupt, halting Otis’ momentum and leaving his back catalog the subject of much legal wrangling (ironically, Otis included the anthem “Destroy All Lawyers”). In 1992, he struck a deal with Triple X to release his seasonal album Horny Holidays!, which featured a mix of originals and vintage rock & roll covers. Still without a permanent home, he busied himself with side projects over 1993-1994, including the Pleasure Barons, which featured Dave Alvin, John Doe, and Country Dick Montana, and issued the one-off album Live in Las Vegas. He also teamed with Jello Biafra for the country-punk album Prairie Home Invasion and the EP Will the Fetus Be Aborted?. Meanwhile, he appeared in the flop movies Super Mario Brothers and Car 54, Where Are You?, and guest hosted for the USA Network.
Nixon finally returned with a new album in 1995, Whereabouts Unknown, having formed his own Blutarski label to put it out. His cover of the Smiths‘ “Girlfriend in a Coma” set his sights on making a new nemesis of Morrissey, but fearful distributors objected vehemently to another song slated for inclusion, “Bring Me the Head of David Geffen.” It was pulled from the record, but later released on 1997’s Gadzooks: The Homemade Bootleg, a hodgepodge collection of B-sides, outtakes, singles, re-recordings, and new material. That year, Nixon voiced the character of Sheriff Lester T. Hobbes in the controversial hit video game Redneck Rampage. In 1998, he starred in the low-budget Buttcrack: The Movie, and was named honorary captain of the Olympic men’s luge team. He moved to Cincinnati to take an afternoon talk-radio gig, but was soon shifted to a morning show when his left-wing, libertarian views rubbed the area the wrong way. Meanwhile, he signed with Shanachie Records and released a new album, The Real Sock Ray Blue, in 1999. In 2002, Nixon returned to his old stomping grounds in San Diego, where he continued his radio work as an afternoon drive-time DJ. ~ Steve Huey