Bitter Allegiance Drummer Russ Covner Quit the Scene For 16 Years Before His (Semi-) Triumphant Return

As a musician working the local club scene, Russ Covner has tasted his fair share of failure. So, when it looked as if his 48th birthday gig was about to be canceled, he was disappointed but not shocked.

The story: His band, Bitter Allegiance, had been booked for a show at the Blooze Bar in north Phoenix with The Earps, planned as a combination birthday bash for Covner and a going-away party for former Earps guitarist Aaron "Ump" McCollum. The night had been inadvertently double-booked by the bar's owner, putting a pair of touring bands from Texas into the mix and Bitter Allegiance's status on the bill in jeopardy.

"I thought, 'We're dead,'" Covner says. "Even up to the showtime, there were [questions about] what time do we play, whether we were on the bill or not on the bill."

Bitter Allegiance: Russ Covner (second from right) and his band of loyal followers.
courtesy of Bitter Allegiance
Bitter Allegiance: Russ Covner (second from right) and his band of loyal followers.


Bitter Allegiance are scheduled to perform on Saturday, July 11.
Club Red in Tempe

Ultimately, the lineup issues were resolved and the show came off without a hitch, with all four bands playing to a raucous crowd of bikers, metalheads, and cowpunks.

"The pleasantry to it all was, by the time we got off the stage, it was nice to have the owner come up to you and say, 'Where the hell have you guys been?'" Covner says. "That was the nicest thing anybody's ever said to us. I was floored."

If Covner seems a little too excited by a passing compliment from the owner of a local dive bar, it's only because he doesn't take anything for granted. Missing out on a 16-year stretch at the potential peak of your music career will do that.

Like so many aspiring musicians, Covner started playing drums in cover bands as a teenager. At one early gig, at Greasewood Flat in Mesa, Covner says, his band was forced to play an hour-long rendition of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by a slurring, switchblade-wielding biker who demanded to sing lead vocals on the song. The gig netted the band members $7 apiece, which, at the time, was just enough to fill up the tank in his station wagon. Ultimately, though, Covner's early career wasn't derailed by drunken bikers or low-paying gigs. Like many an aspiring rocker before him, he got hitched, and his band died.

From 1983 until his divorce in 1999, Covner watched from the sidelines as the Valley music scene took shape. He watched '70s hard-rockers The Schoolboys morph into '80s hair-metal band Icon and land a deal with Capitol Records. He watched thrash pioneers Flotsam & Jetsam and Sacred Reich rise to national prominence in the late '80s. He watched the Gin Blossoms and Meat Puppets earn international praise when the Mill Avenue scene exploded in the early '90s.

For a decade and a half, Covner did a lot of watching but very little playing. A longtime metal fan, he was particularly disappointed in missing out on that genre's peak of popularity.

"I watched a bunch of my friends play, and they'd let me sit in for a song or two," Covner says. "So at least I kept myself going during it, but as far as physically playing out, I missed the whole section of it. I really did. But I'm trying to make up for it now."

After his divorce, Covner rededicated himself to music, but there would be one more stop on the way to forming Bitter Allegiance. A chance encounter with punk rocker Jeff Dahl at Joe's Grotto led to Covner's most unlikely gig to date: playing drums in a punk band.

Covner was already friends with Dahl's then-bassist (and current Earps member) Jason "Buckshot George" Smith and knew that Dahl was looking for a drummer. Ironically, Covner was wearing a Jeff Dahl T-shirt that night, and when Dahl's wife commented on it, Covner decided to go for broke.

"I don't know what was going through my mind, 'cause I've always been into the metal and the rock and stuff," Covner says. "I just looked at him point blank and said, 'If you consider a drummer, give me a call sometime. I'll sit in and see what we can do.'"

Smith made Covner a cassette of Dahl's songs and told him he had a week to learn them.

"I thought I'd bit off more than I could chew, 'cause it was all this very fast, 32nd-beat punk stuff," Covner says. "I'm used to this good, groovin' rock and I thought, 'Oh, God, I'm dead.'"

Covner nailed the audition and spent the next five years playing and recording with Dahl's band. Covner played drums on Dahl's latest release, Back to Monkey City, which was mastered by legendary producer Jack Endino and garnered a glowing review in Rolling Stone from senior editor David Fricke.

Still, Covner couldn't shake his metal urges. So in 2006, he formed Bitter Allegiance with guitarist Larry Merry. The pair hired session musicians to record a self-titled, three-song EP in 2007. The music is a simple-yet-infectious combination of crunchy metal riffs and in-your-face punk attitude.

After Dahl's move to Hawaii late last year, Bitter Allegiance suddenly went from side-project status to Covner's main focus, and Covner readily admits that his experience with Dahl has shaped Bitter Allegiance's sound.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Martin Cizmar
Martin Cizmar

Hey George,

We don't write articles to "promote" bands; we write articles to entertain readers. If the band gets some help out of it, that's great, but it's not really Mike's job. The story was focused on Russ because he had a compelling story to tell about his life in the local scene.

Martin(PNT Music editor)


It was a nice article about Russ Covner but what about the guitarist Larry Merry? Didn't seem to mention his part in getting the band started at all.

George Hughes
George Hughes

Let me start off by saying how excited I was when I read the article on Russ and Bitter Allegiance. Russ is one of the most dedicated, hard working musicians I have ever known, as well as a great friend. He is a man that is loved by everyone who knows him.

However, I was a little confused by where Mr. Meyer was going with his story. Was this a dedication to Russ Covner (which he well deserves) as a musician, or was it a story to help promote Bitter Allegiance?

If it was a piece on Russ himself, then there was a failure to mention close to 8 years of his other credentials. Russ did not merely jump from retirement to playing drums with the Jeff Dahl Band. He actually broke back into the local music scene by playing with a melodic hard rock band that was gigging on a regular basis around the valley. This band had played pretty much every rock venue that was around at the time. Later, he started playing drums with a solo artist, (again, on a regular bases), as well as recorded an album with this artist.

As the article stated, in 2006 he formed Bitter Allegiance with co-founder Larry Merry. Though Russ was still playing with the other band, he wanted to put together a band that was more devoted to his deep passion for hard rock and punk.

As I watched this band formulate, I saw the many obstacles and disappointments they endured to get to the point they are now. I have a great deal of admiration for both Russ and Larry for keeping their focus and determination. I believe they have finally put together the band they strived for and Bitter Allegiance is that result�and a damn good result. These guys rock!

In conclusion, I hope that the next New Times article will be much more focused on the band itself.

-George Hughes

Phoenix Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri