But then, it happened. The thing that would change it all. The catalyst for the end of that era.
They all graduated.
But like Stephen King once wrote, ‘Sometimes they come back.’
And for one local musician, his come back is also about giving back.
The Branch and the Stone will be performing today (Saturday) at the Paisano Ballroom during the Relay for Life benefit acoustic concert.
Efrain Puga’s first memory was at the age of five, listening to the hair metal bands of the 80s like Motley Crüe and Def Leppard. But as he grew older and gradually joined the MTV generation (when the channel actually played music videos), and when, at the tender age of nine, he saw it. He watched a music video for the punk band Social Distortion, which was the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of rock mainstream at the time and unlike anything he’d seen before.
That was his gateway band into the world of punk rock.
The punk rock years
But Puga wasn’t interested in picking up a guitar just yet. “Listening to music was kind of an escape,” Puga said reminiscing about his younger years. “It took you to another world, a different dimension almost.”
But, obliviously, all the listening had an effect on the young Puga, who eventually noticed all of his friends playing guitar and learning new riffs. So he, too, began begging for a guitar of his own.
“It was the Christmas of ’94 when I got my first guitar,” Puga remembered fondly.
“I started playing guitar and never stopped.”
And it was that gift that lead him to become one of the most prominent punk guitar heroes of the time. Well, at least locally anyway.
“When I first started playing, I was a full fledged, full blown, rebellious, punk rock kid.” Puga said. “The Ramones were exactly what I was looking for at that time, because I identified with that style.
“When I first learned how to play Blitzkrieg Bop, the sky was the limit.”
Puga started and joined many bands throughout the nineties, gaining a broader scope of the guitar and easily becoming one of the best and fastest guitar slingers in the South.
Most of his punk rock rebelliousness came from the local bands around that time.... but not as one might think. Even though he revered many of the bands around at the time, it gave him a drive to go against the grain and play something totally different and way louder.
“The whole purpose of our band was that there were other bands around,” Puga grinned. “We, basically, didn’t care, because we were having fun.”
And soon after, Puga relocated to Ohio and immersed himself in the music scene. But all was not well. While Puga got older and began to grow musically, he found the punk rock scene remained the same.
“If something changed, then it was considered bad. The whole punk rock game just got boring,” Puga said.
“My personality was changing, and I hate to say it, but I was growing up. I didn’t want to be involved in that lifestyle anymore of alcohol and partying. If you’re in to that then you’re in to that, but if you’re growing out of it, then you have to get out of it.”
So Puga headed home after a few years and dropped all the genre labels he had placed so firmly on to music as a youth. Leaving his closed-minded teenage years behind, Puga began exploring with other musical styles and, even though punk rock music pumps through his veins, opened himself to a lot more diversified music such as folk, country and bluegrass.
Puga laughed, “Basically, the teenage me would try to beat the crap out of the adult me today.”
The Branch and the Stone
Along with the growth and openness towards musical styles came an expansion of a totally different kind.
Puga attends New Life Church regularly and, along with running sound during worship services, he is also a youth leader for the local KLUTCH ministry and takes the teens to Christian rock shows whenever he gets a chance.
While one day reading the book of Zechariah, he came across a passage, which stated that Jesus was represented as the branch and the stone, and it struck a chord. He adopted the phrase as the name of his new acoustic solo project.
“And what better way to consistently keep myself in check than have a name that reminds of the Lord,” Puga laughed.
“Basically, everything I want to do now, I want to have meaning.”
And Puga seems sure and confident in his transition from screeching guitar amps to quite, soulful, acoustic folk rock. Even though Puga has grown and changed from lessons learned and songs written, many of his old friends and fans have a lot to look forward to.
“Punk rock is a strong word,” Puga said as he reflected on his past rock and roll lifestyle. “It meant a lot more to me, and that’s why I think it was so hard to break free, but when I finally did, I discovered such a brand new world of music that really changed my life.”
And watching Puga, with tattoo-strewn arms and shaggy hair, power through his new acoustic songs with a renewed purpose and confidence, he seems at ease and ready to take on Beeville again.
This time a little more quietly.
You can see and hear Puga’s new solo acoustic project, “The Branch and the Stone,” at the Stop Death By Cancer benefit concert Saturday, April 14, at the Paisano Ballroom, 300 E. Hefferman.