A DOGGONE GOOD TIME: The Royal Hounds spice up their rockabilly with some onstage insanity
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
An early November Friday at Springbrook Park in Alcoa as daylight fades to dusk: Scott Hinds, bass player extraordinaire for Pistol Creek Catch of the Day and The Royal Hounds, is thinking about doing something stupid.
On hand with his Royal Hounds bandmates, drummer Scott “Bramblebusch” Billingsley and guitarist Brian Lee, for a photo shoot, he carries his big ol’ doghouse bass with the love and dedication of an infantry squad’s SAW gunner. He’s played it hanging upside down on the monkey bars, and he’s stood atop it while Billingsley and Lee sit on opposite sides of the seesaw.
But Hinds is the kind of guy who’ll push the boundaries of sanity for the sake of music and fun. Fortunately, when he suggests a shot of him in one of the swings, pumping as high as possible and leaping free with bass in hand, the idea is shot down by his mom.
Not a good idea, she says.
Hinds grudgingly acquiesces, but there’s no doubt he would have attempted it. Lee would have rolled his eyes, Billingsley would have grinned with all the mischievous enthusiasm of a best friend who talks his pal into taking on any insane dare that comes down the pike and Hinds’ parents would have cringed, praying for the best but visualizing a landing that would have ended with Hinds on his butt and his shattered bass indistinguishable from the carpet of mulch covering the rest of the playground.
“It’s all about the fun of it,” Lee said, recalling a show at Ray’s ESG in West Knoxville when Hinds managed to hang bat-like from the rafters while plucking the bass. “It’s nuts, but we’re all having a blast. It might look like I’m concentrating, trying to hit a chord or turn a pedal on and off, but a lot of times I’ve got to carry it, because my bass player ran off to stand on the bar!”
Plenty of Blount County music lovers are familiar with Pistol Creek Catch of the Day, and as the youngster of the group, Hinds shines as the barely restrained crazy man who makes his instrument earn its keep. With the Hounds, however, the leash comes off. As crazy as he can get with Pistol Creek, from the Beyoncé butt-slapping during the band’s cover of “Single Ladies” to his full-throated holler of the refrain of “Is That You, Santa Claus” during a Christmas show, he takes it to the next level with The Royal Hounds. Being a part of a rockabilly band has been Hinds’ dream since the first time he saw Brian Setzer on television when he was a teen.
“I think I was a sophomore, and I was watching VH1 one night while the whole family was asleep, when this guy with big blond hair and playing this big Gretsch guitar in front of a band came on,” Hinds remembered. “My jaw just dropped, and I remember thinking it might be the greatest thing I’d ever seen. I ran upstairs and banged on my parents’ bedroom door and yelled, ‘Turn on the TV! Turn to channel 39!’
“He became it for me. Ever since then, he’s been my favorite guitarist. I just remember that night so vividly because it was the night I discovered rockabilly, and the music is just so fun. That’s what I’m all about — creating a fun experience for me and the audience, because if I’m having fun, the audience is probably having fun.”
Ironically, Lee was Hinds’ guitar teacher at the time. The Oak Ridge native had grown up in the 1970s in a musical family (his brother was the first drummer to ever play with composer and double bassist Edgar Meyer), and Lee was influenced by the rock ‘n’ roll his siblings loved and the Big Band jazz and swing music adored by his parents. He played saxophone throughout high school, spent a stint in the U.S. Navy and eventually returned to East Tennessee with a guitar-playing habit.
“I lived in Colorado for a year and a half, and I was playing guitar around that time, but it really didn’t stick until I saw Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan in concert,” Lee said. “Those two guys cut heads on stage, and from that point on, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I moved back to Oak Ridge and helped take care of my parents, and then from 1996 on, I started living in Knoxville.”
He began teaching in 1998, and he remembers Hinds as a hungry student who wanted to learn Stevie Ray Vaughan licks. As a blues guitarist for the now-defunct local outfit Bad Weather Blues, Lee was more than happy to oblige. After Hinds got to college, he started playing upright bass as well, and when he first saw the rockabilly band The Dempseys, he knew what he wanted to do. Setzer’s rockabilly style as a member of The Stray Cats and his panache as a swing bandleader and guitarist lit the fire; Dempseys bass player “Slick” Joe Fick put the torch in Hinds’s hands.
“The Dempseys taught me about music,” Hinds said. “They taught me what good music is and what showmanship is; how you interact with the crowd that’s coming to see you. They had a real knack of making each individual member (of the audience) feel special; they would make you feel like the greatest fan in Knoxville no matter who you were. And then Joe would stay after their concerts and show me licks on the bass.”
A few years ago, after The Dempseys had broken up and Fick had moved to Nashville, he gave Hinds his blessing to go forth and carry on that bad-boy rockabilly tradition.
“He said, ‘Scott, I can’t really teach you anything else,’” Hinds said. “I always felt a little uncomfortable doing some of that stuff with the bass that I first saw him do, but he’s given me his blessing.”
If anything, the Hounds give Hinds an outlet to put what he learned from Fick to full use. The band’s origins go back to a Christmas party a few years back, when Hinds, Pistol Creek bandmate Bill Cabage and Billingsley found themselves playing music together. A Knoxville native who played drums all throughout his school years at Karns, Billingsley was a member of a number of area bands (including the Knoxville New Wave group Video, the R&B unit High and Lonesome and the jazz ensemble Quartet Rico) before settling into his role as the drummer for The Parrott Brothers. He’d been friends with Lee since the late 1990s, and when that Christmas party was done, Billingsley suggested to Hinds that the three men get together and play some music.
“I will always be in Pistol Creek — that group is more than a band; they’re my brothers,” Hinds said. “But I’ve always had a side band, and I used to be in a rockabilly band out of Kentucky called Buford’s Atomic Outhouse, but it became kind of grueling because I had to drive two hours north just to go to practice every week. After I decided I couldn’t do it, I’d been trying to form a band with a full-on drummer and electric guitarist to fill that role. I had a real specific idea of what I wanted to do: a rockabilly band with a focus on showmanship.”
The music, however, doesn’t suffer in the least just because the guys want to put on a top-notch show. The guys are professional enough to serve up what the song needs: Billingsley anchoring the rhythm while Lee and Hinds trade off licks like Dickey Betts and Duane Allman. The guys are planning an early 2013 release date for the first Royal Hounds album, and Hinds believes there’s a real possibility the group might take its act on the road — as in, all the way to Australia — next summer.
It’s an adventure, Billingsley said, that began as a musical experiment and has turned into a funky Frankenstein monster made up of pieces of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Benny Goodman, Johnny Cash and Ronnie Hawkins. And when the monster starts to move, it takes the whole bar along for one wild and unpredictable ride.
“I’ve played pretty much everything you can imagine stylistically — New Wave, R&B, jam band, jazz, classic rock, alternative rock; I’ve pretty much done it all, but I’d never really played rockabilly before,” Billingsley added. “That seemed to be kind of the premise we were after, since Scott is really into rockabilly, and me and Brian were always into jazz and jazz fusion. In that formulation, we ended up playing a lot of swing jazz, so it was kind of the blending of a couple of genres. We’re getting to do something completely fresh, because we all have a background in the latent styles.”
It helps, Billingsley added, that they all appreciate a flair for the dramatic as well. He was a KISS fan during the 1970s, and while the Hounds’ stage show doesn’t yet include flash pots, there are plenty of special effects to go along with the human side of the crazy equation.
“We’re trying to use special lighting effects and fog machines — anything we can get away with using in a club,” he said. “We haven’t introduced pyrotechnics yet, but we pretty much do everything but that. Although I do have a tendency to set my drums on fire from time to time. We just really have always enjoyed the visuals of big-name bands. I bet if we had a laser show, we’d probably use it, too.”
Despite the production accoutrements, The Royal Hounds have no shortage of the rock band essentials: catchy songs, lyrics filled with a healthy dose of humor (“Jake Brake,” about a broken-down trucker who gets a lift from a transvestite, is not drawn from real life experience, Hinds assured The Daily Times) and a live show reputation for rowdiness and dancing.
Oh, and some daredevil theatrics, courtesy of Hinds.
“It’s awesome that he plays bass,” Lee said. “We joke around that he does it because I was his guitar teacher, but seriously, he’s grown immensely as a musician, and I of course take huge pride in that. And as an entertainer, he’s really kind of come out of his shell. When I met him, he was a young kid wanting to learn some Stevie Ray Vaughan. Now, he’s, like, Section 8.”