Band of the Week
April 16, 2017
It started with a note. Sometime, somewhere in February, Carolyn Burnette sent an invitation from The Sound of Lexington to Hayseed Dixie to come to our studio and be recorded for our Barefoot KY TV podcast. They were invited as well (as is Carolyn’s tradition)
to be interviewed and too, if they so desired, share donuts and a homemade meal. John Wheeler, true to a self-engrained humility that stands in contrast to his otherwise frenetic, hard pulse playing style (that is, as lead guitar and vocalist of the internationally-known, bluegrass /rock band, Hayseed Dixie), took time to write back when other, lesser known bands, did not.
(Pictured to the left, John Wheeler)
Of course, the difference between Wheeler’s and other lesser known bands actually lies in the fact that, as a “tribute” or “parody” band, Wheeler’s Hayseed Dixie (a phonetic play on AC/DC – the sole band whose songs Hayseed Dixie originally translated into bluegrass back in their inception in 2001) are, in essence, the well-known establishers and progenitors of their very own musical genre (known to rock critics and historians and fans practically everywhere as “rockgrass”).
Of course, by now, Hayseed Dixie have also been the creators of fourteen well received albums translating well known rock songs of AC/DC and a plethora of other rock bands into their allegiant-to-the-original yet as always couched in their own feverish shtick of bluegrass arrangement– hence “rockgrass.” Along the way, they have also managed to compile a staple of high-quality videos that rival any professionally produced videos of any other era. Not to mention, this band has virtually been booked for almost every week in its existing sixteen years – in America and especially in Europe.
Since they first began in 2001, the band has played (typically) Oslo, Norway; London, England; and as far as Sydney, Australia; they have played a myriad amount of European festivals; occupied the revered center-stage at England’s famous Glastonbury festival; started their very own European festival in 2005 Scotland (Loopallu) which, to this day (although Hayseed Dixie no longer perform there) still exists; and performed practically an entire album (“Sjt Munchs Drikkekinbb Band’) in Finnish (2005). In fact, since 2001, the rockgrass band has played over 1,100 live dates in 31 different countries. And besides that, as we discovered, they – the four of them (the four present members, John Wheeler, Hippy Joe Hymashy, Tim Carter, and Jake Byers) are entirely kickass. Onstage and off. With their instruments, and without.
We met them at Willie’s Locally Known, those of us in The Sound of Lexington sat right below them as they blew up the stage with their music and rock-grass antics. And you know how it is with well-played, energetic Bluegrass – that is, not only does it accelerate past rock and roll with its incessant and full-bore strummings—for Hayseed Dixie, those strummings come from: lead guitar, (Wheeler); mandolin (Hymashy); banjo (Carter); and acoustic bass (Byers)—but the sheer, rancorous pulse of Bluegrass seems somehow to entirely lap take what quickly played and quickly perceived music you will, even as Hayseed Dixie parodies near-perfect tributes to those original rock anthems of others within its wild and frenzied (string) temperament(s).
We fell in love with John Wheeler and his sure handed, bluegrass dominating of familiar rock songs (Fat Bottom Girls, Don’t Stop Believing, and Buffalo Soldier, to name a few).
(“Hippie” Joe Hymnashy pictured left)
We fell in love with the tongue waving “Hippy” Joe Hymashy and his eclectic and virtuoso command of the mandolin (as one of our noted members, Harold Arvin, observed, Hippie Joe plays “through” the note, that is, instead of being in rhythmic lockstep with his fellow string-mates, he plays a bit ahead, as if “upon the crest of a wave.”)
We fell in love with Tim Carter and his proactive banjo; fell in love with the heavily-bearded, acoustic bass guitar man Jake “Bakesnake” Byers – all six foot four of him.
And that love continued faithfully onto the activities of the next day when Hayseed Dixie arrived – at the noonish hour
– just as they said they would — to perform and interview (and yes, share a spot of tea; some locally famous Spalding donuts and; later, a meal with). As per another one of our, by now, well-established traditions at The Sound of Lexington, Hayseed Dixie performed two of their originals songs for our studio recording, The first song,” I Like to Move It In the Night,” was a bluegrass number featuring a traditional vocal interchange between Wheeler, as lead tenor, and Jake Byers, as an alternating baritone. The second song was the comically inspired “I’m Keeping Your Poop In a Jar,” a song of unrequited love that mocks the inevitably absurd sorrow of modern relationships.
(Pictured right, Tim Carter)
As far as the band being “down to Earth,” we at Sound of Lexington found that to be quite the case, what with what ease it took for us to converse with and relate to the four members of this quite distinguished quartet. They even brought two guests, one from their home-state Tennessee, Eric, and the other from their home which is primarily known as Hayseed Dixie’s European tour, their audio engineer-call him Chives-whom, as a long-standing homebody of the country England, was “used to always driving on the other side of the road.” (Chives even theorized a definite existing consequence-call it tendency-of constantly and insidiously veering toward the American center lane.)
As our day unfolded, we found John Wheeler, though quite talkative—as you might or might not have imagined—as quite the intellect—with his abiding interests in the history of philosophy and William Faulkner. In fact, because of all this, we found Wheeler to be quite the erudite conversationalist.
Hippy Joe Hymashy, was, conversely, all the Bohemian wild man he appears, only instead of the half-literate, slack jawed Southerner he deftly portrays (or resembles) on stage, one finds he is actually an English bloke from Essex, England.
Given one’s first impression of his tongue waving, whiskey slugging, stage presence, and then to actually, for the first time, hear him speak
entirely in that thick English accent, Hymashy presents quite a charismatic character (with quite a simultaneously contrasting yet strikingly familiar dynamic contained within his persona). As for his moniker “Hippy,” he does not shave his beard as a tribute to the soul of a person who died; he stridently practices vegetarianism; and won’t eat honey from bees because you “can’t ask them permission.” He doesn’t wear plastic, so he won’t wear “plastic” shoes—instead he wears a pair of “dead man shoes,” because he also will not kill a cow for its leather. But the fact that these are “dead man shoes” it is alright to continue to wear them as such. Hippy? Yes. Eccentric? Yes. Genius? Definitely as a musician. On the rest, well, we’ll leave it up to each individual reader.
(Jake “Bakesnake” Byers pictured to the left signing our papoose at the Sound of Lexington)
Tim Carter, the banjo player, is as reticent and unassuming as a bookworm compared to the ecstatic twangs and verbs of his banjo. He presented quite an unpretentious aura and thus presented himself as a bit of an inward
focused introvert who would perhaps serve as a good counterpoint—during their years on the road—to Wheeler’s curious and ever-forward-compounding speculation.
Jake “Bakesnake” Byers, the bass player, seems twice as nice as the day is long which stood quite in contrast – given his personality as the boy next door – to some of the wild looking, almost Mephistophelean pictures we’d seen of him (and his split beard) on stage. He carried himself with the quiet dignity of a guy who would pull over to side of the road and help you to fix your flat tire, in fact.
All in all, we at The Sound of Lexington couldn’t had been more satisfied with Hayseed Dixie’s brief though memorable visit, and they (the four members of this world- touring rockgrass band and their two guests) could not have been more gracious to us. Not bad for some Hayseeds, most of whom are from Tennessee—note that the band claims to originate from Deer Lick Holler, Appalachia—the exception of which – Joe Hymashy (along with their audio engineer and driver) hail, in fact, from our dear old cousin England. And not bad for some (formerly) Finnish speaking, transplanted Europeans whose band-in its history-has had-in the U.S. Billboards — three different rockgrass albums in the top fifteen, (fittingly, in the Bluegrass category) at the same time! Granted the original band has, in its sixteen existing years, gone through some eleven former players—Wheeler is recognized as founder and past-to-present leader of the band (2001-2017)—though, as we can attest, the performance quality of this present, well-honed group is quite intact. As so, definitely, seems their charismatic and indefatigable character!
Some pictures from our recording for Barefoot KY TV on April 1, 2017 with Hayseed Dixie and Crew and Sound of Lexington and Crew