Rock ’N’ Roll Star

Terry Trash: 494 Miles East of Hollywood, Confidential

Ken Andree (left) and Terry Trash.
Brian Smith
Ken Andree (left) and Terry Trash in Tucson

Terry Trash is feeling it.

Thrusting his hips, doing an impure rock 'n' roll vamp that's as real as it gets. Even with a prosthetic leg, he's one hell of a dancer. As his band, The Trainwrecks, led by rock 'n' roll bloodman, bassist and band co-founder, Ken Andree, flame behind him. As the night deepens, Trash begins stripping, removing his prosthetic arm with the hook, snapping it like a whip onto the stage buckling beneath him like a homicidal horse. Trash is up there with Eddie Cochran, Hank Williams, Sid Vicious— not that he's about to go anytime soon. Trainwreck's behind him, bashing skins and wires into prison breakouts, music sweet as dirty rev-ups from emission-failing Cadillacs. No shit. There isn't a punk band in the country who can touch this band. Not now.

Terry Trash is a rock 'n' roll singer, lyricist, front man, actor, daredevil, and for the record, he's been all these things long before that freight train cut off his arm and leg. Even the sensationalistic aspect of that event can't overshadow who he is. Both before the accident and after, Terry remains Terry: a staple of the Tucson music scene for decades, his wild charismatic talent reaching far beyond.

Terry smiles wisely. He knows well by now that it's the train story all the kids want to hear first ... It was seven years ago, (or 10 years ago, depending on when you ask) late, just past last call. Terry spilled out to the front curb with the rest of the party. He lit a bummed smoke and fingered his pockets for the key to unlock his bike. It was chained up down the street. He walked the half-block to it. It was gone. Another goddamned bike thief. Fuck 'em. No big deal. He had bikes stolen before.   

At the time, Terry was homeless. Another whatever. He'd been there before too. Main thing on his mind was this crazy gal, Hootie, he just met. They hit it off big time. It was instant. They told all kinds of stories to each other about their lives, their families ... Hootie's dad got killed by a train. Some kind of board was hanging out one of the freights, and when it passed, it slapped him in the head and killed him on the spot.

Terry had one more mile to walk. He was hoping his crash spot wouldn't be taken by the time he got there: a soft-lit loading dock off Ash Ave. The winds were growing, making it noisy, rattling loose boards, shingles, chimes blowing like crazy. There were a lot of barking dogs. Terry upped his pace—it was raining.

Before the crossing rails ever came down, a staggering Terry stepped onto the tracks. The slick sole of one of his worn-out boots slid his leg down across it, and Terry fell hard in a kind of flip. When he landed, his head hit the rail, knocking him unconscious.

Then he woke up. As he came into consciousness, he realized trains were running over him. They were slowing down, but they kept coming, one after the other as he laid there thinking about it, unable to move. Terry reached over and picked up his hand. He was surprised how much it weighed cut off at the wrist, a couple of pounds.

His thought was interrupted when a voice down the tracks started yelling: "Just lie still! Lie still!" Then a different voice running his way yelled out, "Don't move, I'm a police officer!" Terry threw his hand down in disgust and started screaming profanities. While the train engineer and the cop were applying tourniquets to his arm and leg, Terry kept cursing the cop, tossing in a few death-row last-meal requests, "I want a cigarette! And morphine!" Terry laughs about it now, "Well I thought I was gonna die so... I figured what better way to go out than screaming at a cop?"

                                                                  * * * *

Terry's duplex – a pueblo shotgun classic, is clean and well-organized, except for the empty beer bottles and aluminum cans scattered on the floor from the night before. Homeless people snore in his front room at night. They drink, smoke, do what they need to, until his girlfriend Hootie calls. "You guys are gonna need to find a new place to crash. Hootie's coming back. She won't take this shit." They all understand.

In the living room, a few Rousseau-esque surrealist paintings hang, along with a shelf of framed photos of the Trash family tree, a combination of blood and brotherhood. Numerous bones, antlers, and notably, the curved horns of a bull pointing up—a rodeo cowboy action figure dangling off the tip. Strewn among this are various jewelry, pills, and patches not yet sewn on jackets. An altar for all that Trash is.

What stands out is a picture of his father, smiling, guitar in arms, microphone waiting. A color photo varnished onto driftwood. He's a hearty-looking man with Terry's smile.

Over the years Terry's developed and started performing one of his father's songs, "(I'm Just a) Foolish Man", now a show staple. His mom taught him how to dance mostly. And he watched a lot of American Bandstand and Soul Train. He mentions an old video of his dad dancing at a party. "It was Christmas or New Year's, they were partying hard ... and he had this cool strut going on. As far as dancin', I was born with it, it's in my blood."

Terry never reached the point in his life where he wanted to meet his father. Before that could happen, his dad was dead, threw himself in front of his girlfriend to save her life as they hurtled, drunk and speeding, into a tree.

                                                                 * * * *

Terry's long been a father himself. His son, Dean Dempsey, 31, is an award-winning artist and filmmaker in New York City. His first feature, Candy Apple, stars both Terry and Dempsey; a breezy camp work of art with direct filmic references to key scenes in John Waters' films turned upside down by Paul Morrissey excursions.

When Dean was born, Terry spent a couple years with him and Suzie, Dean's mother, but, "She was punk as fuck, and I was ... bulletproof ... it just wasn't happening." Trash thought it best to "just leave shit alone," so in '88, he moved off to San Francisco where he met his first wife, Melissa.

It all seemed fine until they decided to get married in Tucson. Before they even settled wedding arrangements, Suzie got wind of it, and showed up with an ultimatum: "You marry this woman, I'm gone! You're never gonna talk to your kid ever again!"

Terry lights a smoke. "I married the woman anyway. The ex left town, then says to the boy I'm dead. Then he grow'd older— got on the computer and found my ass living in Bisbee. I was walking down the street going to the Circle K. 'Hey, you're Texas Trash!' I said, 'Hey, you're right,' then he says, 'Hey do you remember some old gal named Suzie (Expletive)?' 'Yeah. If you know how to get a hold of her, I sure would like to talk to my son.' And he says, 'You're talking to him right now.'"

Terry's not sure where his mother was born, but pretty sure it was somewhere in Indiana. Terry says his mother died, "going on about five years now, of heartbreak. She lived a hard life, a waitress up to the end."

Terry's father, Jerry "Blackie" Collins, was born in Michigan, or Indiana. He says the Cherokee side of his family was only noticeable in his grandmother—the high cheekbones, the dark hair, the "rye bread" as he puts it. "I never met anybody that don't have some Cherokee in them."

His parents met at a truck stop. She was a waitress. They fell in love and, "She got pregnant with my ass and (was) already dragging around a couple other kids from a different man. An overnight family's a bit much for the straight-up country singer Daddio...he moved on. Then Mom went back to the other man who gave her the first two."

From 1971 to '79, Terry was raised on a rural open stretch of green grass Indiana. "We grew corn, had a vegetable garden, chickens, turkeys, all kindsa' shit," Terry says, "Most of the shit was useless as far as I's concerned, except for the horses." Once, Terry saddled up "the cowboy horse," Cookie, and galloped her five miles into town to pick up an issue of CREEM. "I took some real shit for that one ... Cookie sure had a good time though."

During this period of his life, Terry never knew that Ron Summers was not his biological father. Then one day, "I kinda woke up; sitting at the dinner table talking to my mom I asked her, 'Why does Tim & Tina look so different than me? I always kinda wondered why I was treated a little different ... I just thought it was because I was a little rambunctious and kinda mean, 'er ... ornery. It's a big difference. I didn't do anything too bad. I huffed a little gas ... but ... it was more for novelty than anything."

This novelty among others led to two years in reform school. While there, Terry realized he didn't have it in him to "conform or behave to their standards." So early one morning, as he planned it, when the food delivery door was hanging open, he flew.

Two hours later, Terry's mother met him where he was hiding, then drove him from the outskirts of Indiana to a truck stop in Evansville, where he could hitch a ride out of town.

As the car idled, they said their goodbyes. Once she drove off, Terry walked inside, ordered a coffee, took a sip and strolled around. As the caffeine calmed his spent adrenalin, Terry eyed the truckers. He caught a ride out of Indiana and continued traveling, truck stop to truck stop, bullshitting, and getting kind-hearted meals from different cargo movers along the way.

On the last leg of his journey, the driver offered Terry a line of speed instead of a meal. When it kicked in, Terry started hearing lyrics. "Well go on boy, sing 'em." Terry didn't hold back, letting loose verse after verse with punchline choruses of his own punk-damaged country. The trucker laughed, "God damn! You got yourself a calling!" Before long the trucker was making requests. When they got to Arizona, Terry said, "What the hell, let me off in Tucson. I got a feeling there's a girl waiting for me there."

Terry zig-zagged across the desert streets, in search of punk rock and true love. Being a rakish ectomorph with a charming smile and wit that could pierce your most loyal girlfriend's heart, the love part came easily. As for the punk stardom, after fifty or so parties, Terry was finally fronting his own band around town, most often those eye-to-eye level stages made of dirt for punk rock, backyard keggers.

Like a hobo Elvis, Terry traveled town to town, sometimes with a jacket, bound for colder weather, but always with the collection of songs he'd sing from band to band. During one of those expeditions, Terry got caught up in a 12-year love stint in Texas, married with three kids, a boy and a girl that were his, and one daughter from a previous marriage. Terry worked hanging wire mesh as a laborer, learning to lathe. It was a proud tradesman who nicknamed him Texas. "People think I'm a lowlife, which I am, but I still worked 12 years to raise my kids hanging lathe." Terry says there's a picture of him still hanging in a Texas museum he helped build. When Terry's second marriage failed, he hit the road again, for San Fran, New York, Alabama, then finally back to rural Indiana.

There, Terry managed to enrage a bag lady, sunning herself on a pile of newspapers. "You ain't nothing but Trash," she told him. He didn't mind. What better name was there? Trash is the shit most people hide about themselves. Not Terry. He wears his flaws proudly.

Terry loves living—hard. Even on their worst night, you can feel Texas Trash & the Trainwrecks take you beyond yourself. At his core, Terry is a damn fine entertainer. And their tenth anniversary show (with guitarist Johnny Souless and drummer Adam Bomb backing Terry and bassist Andree) really counts for a lot.

"Come to any of my shows," Terry says. "If you want the rest of my story, you'll find it there."

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