Ever had a panic attack? It starts in your belly, and the burn creeps all the way up to your throat, crushing your chest in the process. You can't breathe, your heart is pounding, and you're sweating like a sow. Generally speaking, it's an unbelievably unpleasant experience that most normal people try to avoid, once they know what sets them off. Others, like Frank Puglise of the Sons of Hercules, have managed to successfully adapt this ailment into a stage attribute. "I hate getting up in front of people," says Puglise. "I have an anxiety attack every single time. I'm okay once I'm actually on stage. Getting on to the stage is the problem. I try not to think about it at all. I know people think I'm stuck up or something, but the fact is, before a show I have to be alone in a corner, by myself, and have a beer or two or three or five. Once I'm up there I'm okay. But yeah, it's bad. Bad nerves and 30 years of total anxiety."

This ever-present trauma dually fuels and explains Puglise's performance persona. As he wraps his lanky frame around a mic stand, fear gives way to the guttural growl of self preservation — no longer pretense but defense, utterly unnerving, and totally convincing.

"The only other person, well-known person that is, that I've ever seen in the same state before a show was Iggy Pop when he played at the Bonham. My brother `promoter Joe Puglise` told me to get him onto the stage. I walked into his dressing room, and he was a total mess. He was shaking all over and trying to put on his makeup while asking me over and over again if I thought he looked all right. It was so weird. Oh man, I thought, you're breaking my heart here. I thought you were such a little tough guy, and here you are having a meltdown, shaking in your shoes. He even insisted on holding my hand as I walked him from the dressing room to the stage. I told him to just hold on to my belt, but no. He had to have the hand. Then all through the entire set, he kept coming to the side of the stage and asking me, 'Am I doing all right? Am I doing all right?'' I just kept saying, 'Yeah Jim, you're fine. Now get your little ass back out there!'' But that's the only person I've seen that I've always admired, who had the same level of stage anxiety that I do."

The Sons of Hercules have been a South Texas staple for a decade and counting, playing a modest number of shows per year — mainly in San Antonio and Austin, with the occasional East or West coast tour, or rare jaunt to Europe. Puglise has called San Antonio home since the early '70s. Although half of the Sons' current lineup resides in Austin, Puglise has never seriously considered relocating. San Antonio's slow and steady pace seems to suit his needs just fine. "It's a nice place to live. I mean, where the hell else am I going to go? I can't see myself in Los Angeles or New York or even Austin. No way."

The Vamps, Puglise's first band, didn't hit the stage until the late '70s. "I never even thought of doing music 'til I graduated from college. It just never even occurred to me," admits Puglise. His then-contemporaries — the New York Dolls, MC5, the Ramones, and the Stooges — all managed to achieve notoriety, if not all-out success. "The only difference between those bands and us is that we weren't part of a publicity machine. I never had any ambition to be Mr. Rock Star. I didn't start out that way and I don't expect it now. I would never do something I didn't believe in just to make a buck. I couldn't live with myself that way. I'm happy just practicing. I don't need an audience. I'm fine just making a racket."

Though many people seem to categorize the Sons as a classic punk band, Puglise identifies himself as a straight up rock 'n' roller — a label that reflects more of the band's attitude than its sound. "I always hear punk, punk, punk, but I'm not sure the punk label really fits. I know why people are telling me we're punk, but we're basically just playing the blues. I followed a very normal sort of progression. I grew up listening to the blues. Chuck Berry and the Stones were it for me as a child. I wouldn't even buy an album until they put their next one out. Later on I added the New York Dolls, the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground. That's it. That's pretty much all I like. The simple beat appeals to me. Stadium rock never impressed me. I've seen so many bands that jerk off their guitars. I always think, great, good for you. You can sure play a lot of notes, but I just couldn't give a shit. Big deal."

The ominous Sons of Hercules stand tall in the S.A. music scene.

The Sons recently released its fourth full-length album, which, like the three preceding, has been well-received by the critics. About a year ago, the band settled into a line up that now includes a permanent second guitarist. "The new album has a different sound, or so I'm told, because we have added a different style of guitar player — Dave — on some of the lead stuff. He's from Boston." Puglise pauses and then stops speaking altogether, for this is apparently as thorough an explanation as I'm going to get. Then suddenly he continues: "Okay. Here is my problem. I'm completely deaf in one ear. I've been that way since I was 14. I had a really bad infection in my ear, and they had to remove all of the internal parts. So I feel the music better than I can hear it. I really can't friggin' tell how it sounds. I trust that everyone I'm playing with knows what they are doing — what they are supposed to sound like. When we come up with new songs, the music is the driving factor — my dumb ass comes later."

Curious that a man who stands almost 7-feet tall in platform boots has his feet planted so firmly on the ground. I had initially perceived Puglise's reticent self-deprication as symptomatic of an innate fear of coming across as yet another egomaniacal frontman. Sometimes it's nice to be right.

Saturday, July 20
Sam's Burger Joint
330 East Grayson Street

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