The rowdy gypsy soul of The Hooten Hallers takes listeners back in time and down an old dirt road. This Missouri foursome uses classic rhythm-and-blues formulas with a smidgen of honky tonk to deliver their signature sound via sassy brass, ragtime piano, and gritty, growling vocals.
The story of The Hooten Hallers began when guitarist/singer John Randall and drummer Andy Rehm met back in high school, although the duo didn't start rocking out until they reconnected in Columbia, Mo. in 2006. The third member Paul Weber (tuba, harmonica) joined the guys soon after he moved to town from Milwaukee, and by 2007 the raucous trio had landed their first gig at a St. Patrick's Day party. The three released two albums together, 2012's Greetings from Welp City! and last winter's Chillicothe Fireball. The band's already working on a new collection with recently added fourth member, saxophonist Kellie Everett. Together, the foursome blaze through multiple genres and draw inspiration from everywhere. "We're all over the map," says Rehm. He counts blues greats like John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, and Mississippi Fred McDowell as some of the band's biggest influences, while Randall notes that they have plenty of country heroes, too — Johnny Paycheck, George Jones, and Merle Haggard.
Borrowing techniques from all of the above, the band recorded Chillicothe Fireball in the course of only a few days. The result is a raw and rollicking record you can sway, stomp, and drink to. The leadoff "O, Jolene!" is a New Orleans-style R&B track that's lyrically quite deceiving. When Randall sings, "My baby says she love me, but she run away all the time/ My baby love me in the morning, but she gone by the end of the day ... Well, maybe I'm a fool, but I love her anyway," we wouldn't blame you for thinking it's about a wandering lover. However, the source of the singer's distress isn't human at all. "That song was written about John's cat, who had an affinity for always running away or needing to be chased around the neighborhood late at night or whatever," Rehm laughs. "I don't know that she knows she's got a song about her or not, but she might."
Then there's the roaring blues of "It's Hard to Trust Your Baby," a song about keeping the home fires burning. "You hear a lot of stories, especially from folks we know in the same situations as us traveling around all the time playing music," Rehm says. "You know, the world's a tough place. Sometimes people do each other wrong, and that's just what happens. But this song's loosely about having a hard time adjusting to being gone all the time."
Also off Chillicothe, "Garlic Storm" is a bluesy instrumental track that landed its weird name thanks to the band's love of — you guessed it — garlic. And "One More Heavy Mile" makes a lot of noise as a ragtime sing-along fit for a saloon full of happy drunks. But behind all that hootin' and hollerin' is a band that's also concerned about humanity.
The song off the Hooten Hallers' debut Welp City! that really got our attention is "Leave Me Alone." Asserting that "I don't need to be hassled by you," Randall sings about police harassment that's as relevant now as it was when the gang wrote it four years ago. "The song is directly related to an event where a man was reported as having lots and lots and lots of cannabis that he was moving through his house in Columbia, Mo.," Rehm tells us. "Basically [the cops] got a no-knock warrant, and the SWAT team showed up to the guy's house. The intelligence they'd gathered apparently stated that the wife and child were not going to be home, which they were home, and [the cops] went in, rammed down the door, and they shot his dogs. They could've killed the little kid and probably would have gotten away with it, too. But you know what they found at this guy's house after all this violence? Something like four grams of cannabis and a pipe — a recreational user's supply, not a drug kingpin or whatever they thought they were going after."
Rehm continues, "There was also a guy who was attempting to commit suicide off the I-70 bridge in Columbia, and the cops showed up. Instead of talking him down or doing anything reasonable, they tased him off the bridge. And things like that happen everywhere, so that's what the song is about — disgusting use of power. As soon as people stop taking it, maybe we can have a chance at this world not being a totally shitty place to live. Until then, shit's going downhill fast."