It’s been a long time coming, but “Once and For All,” the latest by Blount County glam rockers The Dirty Gunnz, arrives this week.
For frontman and singer Michael “Gunnz” Hurst, it’s been a labor of love that he’s nurtured like a marriage — through good times and bad, in literal sickness and in health. But the wait, he told The Daily Times recently, will be worth it.
“It’s the ‘Chinese Democracy’ of The Dirty Gunnz,” said Hurst with a laugh, referring to the long-delayed, problem-plagued Guns N’ Roses record that took 17 years to complete. “We’ve been working on it, me and Vince (Ingle, a local dentist and the band’s guitarist), for about four years. We’ve been promoting it and promoting it, and we’ve finally got the finished product. It’s just been a crazy time with music, and we’ve gone back and forth — do we release it or not? But ultimately, we decided you’ve just got to take the chance and do it.”
Taking chances is a specialty of the Gunnz, which got off the ground in 2005, back when many of their Blount music scene contemporaries opted to pursue a harder sound rooted in death and heavy metal. Hurst’s heart, however, has always belonged to the 1980s, and when bands like Poison and Motley Crue and Ratt rose up out of Los Angeles’ famous Sunset Strip club scene, Hurst jumped aboard for the ride and never got off. A 1994 graduate of William Blount High School, he saw KISS for the first time in 1989, and by the time he graduated, he was gigging around local clubs.
He and the late Jed “Stacy Bullets” Cochran were part of a short-lived project called Wasted Youth before Ingle, a 1997 Maryville High School graduate, and Hurst’s cousin, Wally Miles, joined Hurst and Cochran to start The Dirty Gunnz. Cochran died unexpectedly in 2009, a personal blow that the band managed to overcome, and after a rocky couple of years, the guys established a solid lineup with bassist Will “B.B. Gunnz” Abner, drummer Mark Barnhart and guitarist Chris Anderson.
Abner is still on board, but Barnhart has gone on to join Randy Woody’s Southbound as a full-time country stickman, and Anderson has temporarily stepped away from the Gunnz for personal reasons. He’ll be back, Hurst insists, but in the meantime, he, Ingle and Abner have recruited drummer Scott Ledbetter, a veteran of the Blount rock band Big Trouble, and guitarist Jerry King. Because of COVID, there have been few opportunities for the Gunnz to play live, but there is a show on the bill for the fall, when the “Southern fried comic con” known as Bubba Fest takes place in Corbin, Kentucky.
For Hurst, who channels his best Axl Rose snake-shimmying behind the microphone, it’ll be a welcome opportunity to perform again, especially after a freak neck injury rendered him temporarily paralyzed, he said.
“Back in 2019, I was having some issues with numbness and tingling in my arms, and after going to doctors and doctors, they were going to start treating me for possible diabetes,” he said. “But before I could even get started, I went home after work one day and sat down on the couch, and I turned my head to talk to my wife, and it was like somebody flipped I light switch, and I couldn’t move from the neck down.
“My wife thought I was playing around because I am a prankster, but when she saw tears coming down my face, she called the ambulance, and they rushed me to Blount Memorial.”
There, doctors transferred him to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville, where he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of spaces within the spine that can put pressure on spinal nerves. Hurst’s nerves were inflamed, and when he had turned his head, doctors told him, it was enough to signal them to shut down. Emergency surgery was conducted through his throat, and he had to go to therapy to get his voice back, but so far, all is well, he said.
“It took about a year to recover, so that slowed us down, and then the pandemic happened, and everybody’s just in different places at the moment,” he said.
But, when Ingle, the band’s studio wizard, delivered Hurst the master tapes for “Once and For All,” the new Gunnz record, Hurst knew he couldn’t keep it shelved any longer. For one thing, Ingle had challenged his old friend to kick his vocals up a notch, and the composition of the songs are a decidedly modern take on a classic sound, without any sacrifice of the Gunnz’ trademark swagger.
“It was probably the most fun album I’ve ever done in music,” Hurst said. “I cannot wait for people to hear it, because it’s going to be amazing. (Sunday) is the official release date, and hopefully we’ll have some CDs by then. People can get it through our Facebook page or CD Baby, or by hitting us up through our website or Facebook or Twitter. Or if you see me at a red light, pull me over, and I’ll get you one out of the trunk!”