Spending the better part of three days riding a tour bus from Los Angeles to New Jersey may not be the best way to see the U.S.A., but it is one of the cheapest. Which is how guitarist Harry Cody and his mates in Shotgun Messiah found themselves spending most of one March weekend rolling across America.
"It was kind of frustrating, because usually you have gigs in between," he says, over the phone from Atco, N.J. "We could have flown out, but it just got cheaper for us to ride on the bus -- the bus has to go out here with the equipment anyway. It was just a matter of keeping the cost down."
Costs are an important consideration for a band on its way up, and that's pretty much where Shotgun Messiah finds itself. To its credit, the band has garnered generally good reviews for its two albums, "Shotgun Messiah" and the current "Second Coming," but even so, this Swedish/American quartet (which opens for Vinnie Moore at Hammerjacks this evening) knows that it takes a lot of touring to move from "well-respected" to "well-known."
Still, Cody is nothing if not confident. After all, not only does Shotgun Messiah have good songs and plenty of ability, the band has something even more valuable going for it: Luck.
"Luck was what brought us here, absolutely," he says. "I have tons of friends in my hometown [in Sweden] who are excellent musicians, but had to give up and go back to day jobs because there are no outlets. They can't get signed, and don't have anywhere to tour."
Cody, though, had the good fortune to be featured in the "New Talent" column in Guitar Player magazine in 1986, which in turn led to a record deal for the Messiahs in Sweden. But that bit of luck was nothing compared to how the band wound up signed to its American label, Relativity.
As Cody tells it, a warehouse worker at Relativity happened to be blasting a Swedish copy of the Messiahs' debut when a vice-president walked by; the veep liked what he heard, and sought the band out, flying clear to Sweden to sign them.
"It's such a fluke," laughs Cody. "This guy wouldn't usually drive half an hour to see most bands on Sunset Strip, yet he heard our first album and got on a plane to meet us. He didn't get to hear us play live; he had no way of knowing if we actually played on the album. And he still flew us over here. You couldn't make up a story with more coincidences in it."
Since then, the band has gone through some changes, most notably the departure of original singer Zinny J. San and his replacement by bassist Tim Skold, whose bass-playing duties were assumed by Bobby Lycon, the group's lone Yank. But that, says Cody, has only made the band stronger.
"It came at an awkward time," he says of San's exodus. "But now we're a fully functioning band where all the members are happy with each other."
And even if there are occasional annoyances -- cross-country bus rides, for example -- Cody can't complain. "That's a very minor headache," he says. "I would rather do this than go back to operating a forklift in Sweden."
When: Tonight at 9.
Where: Hammerjacks, 1102 S. Howard St.
% Call: (410) 659-7625.