Pounding the Rock

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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Lynnwood Presley King fronts The Heroine, a local metal band that once showed its colors at a venue that despises them.

At the end of a head-banging show in Dallas, King collapsed on stage in a heap of delirium and rock-infused sweat. Stunned at the abrupt end of a hammer-swinging performance, the crowd did not recognize the fall for what it was. Fake.

As King lay motionless, legs splayed and eyes closed, lead guitarist Dibby Disaster draped a dark covering over the bearded frontman. As if energized by some supernatural force, King rose. He grabbed the corners of the covering and unfurled a flag.

Forty five minutes of “wow” turned into 30 seconds of “what?” King handed the banner to Disaster and sprinted off stage. The guitarist waved the flag, sliver and black with large lettering that spelled, “The Power of the Spurs.” Boos exploded and the curtain fell.

“They loved us until the end,” Disaster says. “It was worth it.”

Heralded by the San Antonio Current as the city’s Next Big Thing, The Heroine may be the only band in Texas to mix metal with raw in-your-face NBA allegiance. The devotion bleeds into their music.

Take the opening salvo to “Playing For Keeps.” Disaster and The Kid unleash an incendiary dual guitar riff. Johnny Thunder pounds a driving roll on the snare. King screams, “C’mon boys, bring the noise!” Then five rockers shout, “Spurs!”

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You can hear it for yourself on May 26. The Heroine will appear at the inaugural Bud Light River City Rockfest, an outdoor AT&T Center show headlined by Guns N’ Roses and Alice in Chains. Other artists include Grammy-winning Halestorm, Bullet For My Valentine and Skillet.

“We grew up listening to some of these bands,” says King, a Marine Corps veteran. “It’s a big deal for us. It’s a privilege to represent our city. To live out your dream.”

Three members of The Heroine -- King, Disaster and bassist Gulie Vargulish -- are sipping drinks at Starbucks, just down the way from Guitar Center, one of the band’s sponsors. They are talking gigs, NBA passions and their blue collar image: five guys grinding out a living primarily in carpentry and construction. Years ago, the band re-roofed the home of King’s mother and used the money to fund its first tour.

Four guys from San Antonio and one from Uvalde pulled into Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Metal Fest in a Dodge van with 90,000 miles. “Right now it’s probably got 350,000 miles,” King says, “and it’s been through five transmissions.”

They want to upgrade the vehicle and lift their profile. The Heroine has played with Marilyn Manson and Staind. The band once flew to Los Angeles to audition as an opening act for Motley Crue. They didn’t get the gig but impressed drummer Tommy Lee -- he called them, “Bad Ass” -- and kept grinding.

“We feel like our lives parallel the Spurs,” King says. “The Spurs are from a small market and don’t get a lot of love. We’re from a small town and a lot of times people don’t give us the respect until they see us perform. And then they’re like, ‘Oh wow!’”

The Bud Light River City Rockfest represents another milestone for The Heroine. “For me,” King says of the opportunity to share the stage with Guns N’ Roses, “this is equal to playing with KISS.”

King books the band for two-to-three week road tours every quarter. If it were up to Disaster, The Heroine would never travel during one month. “I tell him not to book tours in June,” Disaster says, “because the Spurs are going to be in the finals. I tell him that every year.”

Truth is, Disaster wants to be home other days as well. Consider what happened on April 19, 2008: The band is driving to Houston for a gig. The Spurs are playing Phoenix in Game 5 of the First Round. The picture on the TV van is snowy. The final seconds in overtime are ticking off.

“Dude,” Disaster complains to King, “why did you have to book us during the playoffs?”

Unable to fix the picture, the band pulls over and listens to the finish on radio. Tim Duncan knocks down a three-pointer -- his first of the season -- to send the game into double overtime. The band erupts. “The van is shaking,” Disaster says.

The stories are legion. Each musician can remember pulling into a sports bar on the road to watch a postseason game. Despite Disaster’s pleas and King’s affection for the Silver and Black, The Heroine plays on through the playoffs.

The band recalls the evening of Feb. 6. They left a gig in Fargo, N.D. and headed toward Lansing, Mich. Along the way, the boys stopped in Minneapolis to attend a Spurs-Timberwolves game. They found their seats, made their way to the floor and mingled with players and Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott during warmups. “That,” King says, “was my favorite day ever.”

At times, they sound more like star-struck fans than rockers. Vargulish, 41, recalls with childlike wonder watching Alvin Robertson at his first Spurs game. King, 39, relishes the time he met David Robinson at a music store and remembers the Admiral’s massive hand swallowing his own. Disaster, 27, says he’s not in awe of the many celebrities he’s met except Spurs.

The Heroine is so devoted to the Silver and Black they once considered naming an album, “Pounding The Rock,” the Spurs’ mantra of rugged persistence.

“We run our band like the Spurs organization,” Disaster says. “Like when we go to practice, we practice hard and check our ego at the door.”

King: “Our slogan is ‘The Team is Everything.’ Being in this band is like being on a team. I gotta wear two hats. Sometimes I’m Tim Duncan. And sometimes I’m Gregg Popovich.”

Vargulish: “Oh get outta here!”

King: “And sometimes I’m R.C. Buford.“

Disaster points to his chest. “And do you see I got my Manu Ginobili shirt on?”

Several years ago, the band was driving through Dallas when a truck painted in Mavericks’ colors and adorned with the team logo passed. Disaster leaned out the van window and screamed at the vehicle while waving a Ginobili jersey, .

Later that night, after a final burst of thrashing guitars and screaming vocals, King went down and the Spurs flag came out and the band closed with a tribute that triggered a blast of boos and obscenities.

The memory is metal-sweet. “The crowd was flipping us off,” King says, “and we’re like, ‘That’s right.’ That was in 2007. The year the Spurs won the championship’.”