Hot Club of Cowtown

Hot Club of Cowtown

Since their first recording in 1998, Austin-based Hot Club of Cowtown have grown to be the most globe-trotting, hardest-swinging Western swing trio on the planet. The first American band to tour Azerbaijan, they have opened stadiums for such artists as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and continue to bring their brand of western swing to a wide range of festival audiences all over the world. But for guitarist Whit Smith, fiddler Elana James and bassist Jake Erwin, it has always been about staying true to their roots.

Remaining willfully out of the musical mainstream, Hot Club of Cowtown have created an international cult following for their sonic personification of joy and unique sound inspired by their namesakes: "Hot Club" from the hot jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli's Hot Club of France, and "Cowtown" from the Western swing influence of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Though Wills' pre-WWII recordings have always been the fundamental inspiration for Hot Club of Cowtown's repetoire and style, it has taken the band a dozen years to fully honor the King of Western Swing. A fortuitous tour in England in the spring of 2010 led them to London's Specific Sound studio, where they spent two days recording a 14-song marathon of Bob Wills tunes. The result, What Makes Bob Holler, is a tribute to the American music icon, respecting Wills' legendary music while putting Hot Club's own signature on each song. "We have been meaning to make this album for a long time," says James.

"This is music from the days when guys toured and sat on a bus with no air conditioning, no real food, for days. We heard a story of a fiddler the Wills band picked up in California and by the time they had driven to the Midwest, he was dead and nobody even knew his name. They pried his rigor mortis'd body off of the bus and left him under a lamppost somewhere in Kansas," says James, "It was a different time. These guys were pretty hardcore."

What Makes Bob Holler presents the most convincing evidence yet that Hot Club of Cowtown may be on to something. By digging even deeper into their roots and refusing to modernize, the band offers up one of their most exciting recordings to date. The disc is an imaginative pairing of obscure B-sides with some of Wills' most popular work. Tunes like "Big Balls in Cowtown" and "Stay a Little Longer" are numbers that "people always love when we play them live," says James, "so it was was a no-brainer to gather them into a record." Others, like "Osage Stomp" and "The Devil Ain't Lazy," might not be as well known, but they are in the spirit of what originally attracted Smith and James to this music. "We're playing what knocked us out about Western swing in the first place — the early fiery energy and jazzy improvisations," says James.

What Makes Bob Holler may have taken two days to record, but the band has played these songs on tour for years. The album reflects the same spirited live vibe and offers the band a terrific platform to show off their ace musicianship and flaunt these inspirations: Smith's hot electric guitar played through a vintage 1936 Gibson amplifier, James' sometimes gorgeous, sometimes frenetic fiddle, and Erwin's jaw-dropping slap bass, all mixed with three-part harmony vocals.

Smith (Cape Cod, MA) and James (Prairie Village, KS), originally met through an ad in the classified music section ofThe Village Voice in 1994, and played together in New York City before relocating to San Diego in 1997, where they spent a year playing for tips and building up their repertoire. By 1998, they had relocated to Austin, Texas and in 2000 added Jake Erwin (originally from Tulsa, OK) on bass, finalizing the Hot Club's lineup.

Like any scrappy modern band, Hot Club dwells between the daily grind of touring and the euphoria of its live shows. Years of crisscrossing the USA in a silver Ford van through a landscape where local traditions are becoming more and more diluted, and modern life more electronic, have galvanized this Texas trio who are more devoted than ever to keeping their music sincere, free of irony, and focused on a simpler time.

What Makes Bob Holler arrives on the heels of 2009's more eclectic Wishful Thinking, an Americana radio Top 100 album lauded by the Austin Chronicle's Jim Caliguiri as "the Cowtowners at their peak," and David Eldridge, in theWashington Times, as "one of the year's most unexpected listening pleasures."

While What Makes Bob Holler focuses exclusively on Bob Wills music, Hot Club of Cowtown's live show will remain an engaging mix of what the band does best — whatever moves it at the moment, setlists be damned. "We have faith in the system that is the band. This energy that we plug into and it takes us away," says James. Smith describes their shows as "like a rock 'n' roll show . . . people pick up on the energy and the sincerity."

"What the trio has is a rare thing," says Smith, "There's a chemistry that's unmistakable."

As Bob Wills might say, "Aaaaaaaaaah Haaaaaaaaaaah!"

DISCOGRAPHY

What Makes Bob Holler(Proper)2010 in UK/ 2011 worldwide
Wishful Thinking (Gold Strike/Thirty Tigers/Proper/Shock) 2009,
Produced by Hot Club of Cowtown with Mark Hallman
The Best of The Hot Club of Cowtown (Shout!Factory) 2008
Four Dead Batteries Soundtrack (HighTone) 2005
Continental Stomp (HighTone) 2003, Produced by Lloyd Maines
Ghost Train (HighTone) 2002, Produced by Gurf Morlix
Hot Jazz (Buffalo) 2002 (Japan only)
Hot Western (Buffalo) 2002 (Japan only)
Dev'lish Mary (HighTone) 2000, Produced by Lloyd Maines
Tall Tales (HighTone) 1999, Produced by Dave Stuckey
Swingin' Stampede (HighTone) 1998, Produced by Hot Club of Cowtown

TELEVISION & FILM

Later With Jools Holland and the Jools Holland New Year's Eve Hootenanny (UK), $40 a Day with Rachael Ray (US), Grand Ol' Opry Live (US), Good Morning Azerbaijan (AZ), BBC Live From Glastonbury broadcast (UK)

Songs in film and on soundtracks: Four Dead Batteries, In Search of a Midnight Kiss

RADIO

Mountain Stage, Etown, World Cafe, A Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Sirius Sattelite, XM Sattelite, ABC live (Australia), BBC live (UK)

PERFORMANCE HIGHLIGHTS

Cambridge Folk Festival, Glastonbury Festival, Fuji Rock Festival, Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, National Folk Festival (US and AU), Stagecoach Festival, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Waiting for Waits Festival (SP), Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville, TN, Barns at Wolftrap, Rochester Jazz Festival, Strawberry Festival, Jazz at Lincon Center, US State Department Musical Ambassadors to Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame (inducted 2004), Tours with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Mavericks, Roxy Music.

QUOTES

"Unfussy and unpretentious, their blend of down-home melodies and exuberant improvisation harks back to a lost era of so-called western swing. When they plunge into Orange Blossom Special your thoughts turn not so much to runaway trains as to a B-52 tearing up a runway."
-Clive Davis, The Times (London), 2008

"One of the finest performances by a visiting American country act I've witnessed for a very long time… they pretty much lifted the roof [off of the Black Box in Belfast] a couple of months back…a pretty much perfect country trio at the very top of their game."
-Ralph McLean, The Belfast Telegraph, 2008

"Perhaps the first thing one notices when listening to the Hot Club of Cowtown is its lack of irony, self-consciousness and forced hipness in embracing a style of music that so easily lends itself to such things…Stylistically, the band steps out from the shadow of its influences to become more than a faithful retro band that likes to raise its tempo every now and then. It's writing more of its own songs and varying its delivery… conscious always that above all else, the music is for dancing and an old-fashioned good time."
-Neil Strauss, New York Times

"…Spirit, originality and skill that would surely have impressed Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt back in the 1930s."
-Robin Denselow, The Guardian (London), 2009

"Cynics could say that they play hick-jumping with jazz sophistication, or jazz sweetness with hoedown grit. Either way, they scoop off the best parts of both styles, and are a supremely entertaining combo."
-Martin Longley, Coventry Telegraph (UK), 2008

"This Austin-based western swing/jazz trio–violin, guitar and upright bass –will bring even the tamest audience to its feet. Plus, instrument aficionados will drool over the 1925 Gibson acoustic, 1937 Gibson amp and all the other classic gear that helps to keep Cowtown hot and hoppin'."
-Chicago Tribune

"Would that any night of hot jazz and western swing could be as satisfyingly entertaining as this minimally outfitted (there are but three of them) party band par excellence.
-Bernard Zuel, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 2009

"Austin trio Hot Club Of Cowtown sounds like it's spent the last 40 years in tiny rural clubs. The group's old-fashioned mixture of Western swing and hot jazz leaves all the irony at home, and what's left is a refreshingly sweet-natured, accomplished, old-school treat, mixing the perky rhythms of swing masters like Bob Wills with the European gypsy music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. Hot Club took a hiatus in the mid-2000s as its members picked up opportunities to work with the likes of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, but reformed for 2009′s Wishful Thinking, which finds the band sounding as energized and enthusiastic as ever." 09/28/2010
-The Onion

"The young band distinguishes itself by its technical musicianship and vast acreage of diverse styles alone, but it seals the deal on stage, subtly and methodically casting aside the audience's daily worries and levitating the room into a dreamy salon of carefree abandon. Even the heartbreak songs are served sunny-side up."
-Derek Raymaker, Toronto Globe & Mail

"I doubt that many rock bands expend more energy in their playing, but what I admire most here is the unified point of view: a nostalgic love of western swing, big-band crooning, ragtime, even jazz improvisation."
-Marc Mickelson, Soundstage.com

"Smith's fretwork conjures up Reinhardt's energetic stint with Duke Ellington, while [James] exudes pure countrified fiddle goodness."
-David Lynch, Austin Chronicle

"Working in such tradition, the Hot Club of Cowtown can burn, playing fast and furious driving rhythms at break-neck pace, and the wild abandon of Whit's fleet-fingered solos improvised over dangerous changes can leave a listener slack-jawed and winded."
-Baker Rorick, Guitar Magazine

"Their sly mix of hot licks and cool vocals remains equally driven by the twang of Texas roadhouses as the gypsy string jazz of Reinhardt and Grappelli."
-Eli Messenger, Country Standard Time

"…Infusing classic pop and jazz tunes with plenty of string-band verve."
-Mike Joyce, Washington Post

"If rosin were flammable, violinist Elana [James] would be charged with arson."
-ink19.com

"While its repertoire and style draw from classic western swing and hot violin/guitar jazz of the Parisian 1930s and '40s, it's one of the most original groups on the Americana circuit, deserving of attention both live and on record."
-Craig Havighurst, Nashville Tennessean

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Hot Club of Cowtown

Thursday, January 23 · Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM at Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse