The 18-year-old Bobby Landgraf who moved to Austin from Chicago in 1983 to attend the University of Texas could shred with the best of them. “I was always a metal kid,” he says, “but I ended up in bands that played everything but metal.” He played showband funk with Dino Lee, jazz fusion in Blow, rock ‘n’ roll with Band From Hell and rap with Def MFs. But even in those bands, his queasy Sabbathian tones broke through.
When Landgraf, now 48, got a call offering him a position as guitarist for platinum-selling heavy metal band Down, his 30-year journey was over. It’s not like he hasn’t been playing hard rock all along. Gahdzilla Motor Company, his 1990s outfit with Jason McMaster, and his current band Honky have given “Bobby Rock” a forum for power chords and lightning leads. But the New Orleans-based Down, featuring former Pantera lead singer Phil Anselmo, is internationally known on the headbangers circuit. Their 1995 debut “NOLA” is considered a minor classic for introducing a slightly slowed but still anvil-hard style of music to work your neck muscles to.
Landgraf was initially hired as a guitar tech for the band six years ago. A week after that call he was in Australia on a tour with Black Sabbath and DIO that Down was opening. A Texas metalhead could get used to that life.
There was only one thing that could make it better. Landgraf became a member of the group about a month ago, the day he got off the road from the Honky/Melvins tour, and went right into Anselmo’s Nosferatu’s Lair studio just outside of New Orleans to start working on the next Down LP.
“I couldn’t feel more blessed,” says Landgraf, who lives in South Austin near the Continental Club, where he was the soundman for several years. “Phil could’ve gotten anyone to play guitar, but I’ve been jamming with them during soundchecks, so they know we can play together.” And, after six years watching from the wings, he knows all the songs.
Down headlines tonight’s kickoff concert for Anselmo’s Housecore Horror Film & Metal Festival at Emo’s East.
Honky will play Sunday, with that group’s bassist Jeff Pinkus also playing with the Melvins Saturday at Housecore. “Jeff’s now in the Melvins and I’m now in Down,” says Landgraf. “But Honky is still going, man.” They just have to start looking more closely at their calendars.
Former Butthole Surfers bassist Pinkus will play bass on the next Melvins album, which will be recorded in Austin next month, with B.S. guitarist Paul Leary producing. Meanwhile, Landgraf will go back to the Lair, just off Lake Pontchartrain, to trade riffs with Pepper Keenan (ex-Corrosion of Conformity) for the Down record. Then it’s off to Australia in February, which is that continent’s festival season because it’s south of the equator. (“South of the equator, north of hell” — feel free to use that, Bobby.)
“It’s really a dream come true,” says Landgraf, who has never been married, except to the rock in a hard place. “It’s what you’re working for all those years.”
Landgraf’s first concert as a member of Down will be tonight (Friday) at Emo’s East.
Housecore Horror Film & Metal Festival is tonight through Sunday at Emo’s and Antone’s. Bands such as GWAR, Eyehategod and the Goblins will start playing in the afternoon up to 2 a.m. Films ranging from “Blood Farmers” and “I Drink Your Blood” to Sissy Spacek’s “Carrie” will screen at Antone’s and the Grindhouse Tent. Nightstalker badges, which allow admission to all the music performances and any films after 5 p.m., are $99. Go to www.housecorehorrorfilmfestival.com for more details.