Last night I was informed with great sadness that Joey LaCaze, drummer for Eyehategod and Outlaw Order, passed away. In the coming days details will undoubtedly be released, but none of it matters more than this: He was a massively talented performer whose contributions were crucial in making Eyehategod one of the most influential bands in the realm of heavy music.
I first purchased Take as Needed for Pain when I was a high school freshman, drawn to the bizarre album imagery of mangled dental work and fake limbs as well as sensational titles that made me feel like Eyehategod may be some of the most dangerous dudes in the world. I was a dirt-poor teen at the end of the 90s with shitty dial-up internet and the information I had about the band was marginal, which just added to their “wanted poster” mystique. Still, at that age I was definitely in the “fast is good, faster is better” mindset, so Eyehategod’s revolutionary sludge wasn’t greeted that warmly upon my first listen. I spent the next few years committing irreparable damage to my spine while headbanging to Slayer’s Undisputed Attitude and early Napalm Death.
When I boxed up my CDs for my first trek to college I found my lone Eyehategod album, dusted it off, and played it during the long drive through a gray smear of small towns in central New York. I was ashamed at how long it had taken me to discover just how god damn catchy they were, how brilliantly they disguised bluesy rock’n’roll with gutter grime, whiskey-shredded vocals, and a sharp sense of self-consciously transgressive humor I failed to recognize upon first listen.
Drummers are often the unheralded backbone of a band, the heard but mostly unseen force providing the momentum, but tucked back in the shadows. And while I never had the pleasure of saying more than “great show” to him to find out for sure, Joey LaCaze did not seem like a person who minded the shadows, as long as the music he helped make threatened to punch holes in the venue’s roof and walls. He was a band drummer through and through, and despite considerable skill he was never a distraction, never a guy who propped up his ego as a musician with flourishes and technical excess. He played outlaw doom with swagger and busted-lip punk energy that suited the song and filled it with life. He took great songs and helped make them legendary.
For all their supposed bleakness, the arrests and addiction and hometown tragedy, I’ve rarely seen guys have as much fun playing live. I’m thankful for finding that dusty CD in my old bedroom, I’m thankful for each time I saw Eyehategod play with Joey LaCaze reliably sitting behind that kit, and I’m thankful for every time I banged my head to one of his cymbal crashes. I plan on spending the day honoring him the same way I think most of us in the metal community will: Listening to the records he helped create at frightening volume levels.