The Two Dollar Pistols disbanded in 2008 after recording five full-length CD's, an EP of duets with Grammy nominee Tift Merritt and having toured both the USA and Europe. Fortunately for honky tonk fans John Howie Jr regrouped, formed the Rosewood Bluff, recruited producer Brian Paulson (Wilco, The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo and Two Dollar Pistols) and booked studio time at Rick Miller's (of Southern Culture of the Skids fame) Kudzu Ranch. The result: Leavin' Yesterday (Hands Up! Records) which extends the Pistols trademark honky tonk sound and Howie's instantly recognizable deep soulful vocals (think a younger Dave Alvin as a country singer) by adding a heavy dose of pedal steel guitar courtesy of Nathan Golub and the Lindsay Avenue Strings on several tracks. From the country rock of "Trying Not To Think", the honky tonk of "Back To Basics", the rocking 12 string and Bo Diddleyish beat on "Leavin Yesterday" to the countrypoliton "Dead Man's Suit" John Howie Jr and the Rosewood Bluff prove that there really is not any reason to lament the sad state of contemporary country radio. Do yourself a favor: turn off that radio and pick up a copy of Leavin' Yesterday. More country than alt, Howie's written and recorded another classic country keeper. If you don't believe me surf over here and listen while you read this short interview with Mr. Howie.
Highly recommended! And another top ten disc of 2011 slot is taken.
HB:Your music is rooted in classic country with some countrypoliton mixed in for good measure. Did you grow up listening to George, Buck, Johnny and maybe a little Glen Campbell or was it something you grew into?
JHJ:I did grow up hearing those artists. My Dad listened to those guys, and he really loved the Waylon/Willie outlaw thing. Like a lot of teenagers, I didn't want to be thought of as having the same tastes as my folks so I shunned the country stuff from about 14 to 18. The countrypolitan side of things, with strings and all of that, was something I heard a lot growing up in the 70's. Those Billy Sherrill-produced Charlie Rich and George Jones records were on the radio a lot, as were Glen Campbell records like "Rhinestone Cowboy," so I was definitely influenced by all of that. It was nice to get the string quartet in for a few tracks on the new album, I've been wanting to do that for years.
HB:Could you name a few influences country or otherwise.
JHJ:The big ones would have to be George Jones, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, etc. All the greats, I never get tired of those guys as singers and writers. It's a long list! Also, in a very real sense Dwight Yoakam made a huge impression on me, especially those first four or five records. In the late 80's/early 90's it seemed like he was one of the few guys out there who was really willing to stick his neck out for the honky tonk stuff. I mean, his endorsement of Buck Owens at that time should be enough to secure his place in the annals of cool for a long time. I remember thinking that a lot of folks were more into the Steve Earle/Lyle Lovett side of things, and I love that stuff too, but I always leaned towards Dwight.And my folks, for sure, influenced me greatly. My Mom was a jazz pianist, so I probably get the whole "wanting to be a musician" thing from her, and my Dad instilled in me my love for the music. All kinds of music: country, blues, southern soul, the whole nine yards. Interestingly, I just gave a copy of Leavin' Yesterday to a good friend of mine who said he could really hear the influence of Scott Walker on the album!
HB:I saw the Two Dollar Pistols reunion gig and I loved that band but it makes sense to me to put your name out front on your new disc.
JHJ:Glad to hear that! In this day and age, with the economic issues over the last ten years, it's been difficult to keep a band together, though I've been fairly lucky in that regard. I was thrilled that the last Pistols lineup managed to last as long as it did! But at the end of the day, you never really know what's gonna happen, and I just thought that this time, by putting my name out front, I'm making it clear that this is my deal. Having said that, I always give credit where it is due, and right now I'm lucky enough to be playing with some absolutely wonderful musicians. It's a great time for me.
HB:John, you've written some great weepers over the years. Are you the heartbroken or the heartbreaker?
JHJ: Uh…probably a bit of both! Not every song I write is autobiographical, but there's usually some trace of my personal life in all of them. At this point, I'm looking at life from the perspective of a guy who's divorced and trying to raise a son, you know? I'm not the same guy I was when the first few Pistols records came out, so the songs are going to reflect that. Heartbreak is universal-I think-but there are different aspects to it now, when it happens.
HB:What are some of your favorite songs to cover?
JHJ: There are so many…I love Chuck Berry songs, obviously, and the Rosewood Bluff has had a lot of fun with a song the Byrds did called, "Bugler." It kind of depends. I try not to go for the obvious stuff too much, but then again we've been known to do "Suspicious Minds," so I guess the criteria would have be something I wish I had written. And believe me, there are a lot of those!
HB:When and where is the disc available?
HB: Do you have a weirdest gig story you could share?
JHJ: There have been a few, but one certainly stands out. The Two Dollar Pistols were asked to play a festival at a fairly rural college in South Carolina. Everything seemed fine when we got there, I even ran into a buddy of mine whose reggae band was on the bill. When we got on stage, we decided to start with a cover-rare for us-and chose Paul Westerberg's "Whatever Makes You Happy," which we were doing a lot then. As the song ended and we all hit the stinger, the crowd started heckling the living hell out of us. The first thing I heard was "DUKES OF HAZZARD!!" then "YOU FU(*&^NG REDNECKS!!" It was very strange, to say the least. I got the impression that being located where they were the kids were very self-conscious about being perceived in a certain way, and I get that, having grown up in a rural area myself. By the end of it, they had calmed down, but when we were about to leave, the guy who had booked us into the festival had someone come over with our albums to get them autographed for him, I think he was too embarrassed to bring them over himself!
HB:I know you're a dad which makes touring tough but do you have any plans to tour in support of the disc?
JHJ:Absolutely! We should make it up and down the East Coast, and into the Midwest. We're gearing up to take it to the people. Big time.June 19-The Cave-Chapel Hill, NC
HB: Thank you John and best of luck to the Rosewood Bluff with the new disc!
The Rosewood Bluff are:
Nathan Golub-pedal steel guitar
Jesse Hubner-bass, 12-string guitar
Dustin Miller-electric guitar
with assistance from
and the Lindsay Avenue Strings (Gabriele Pelli, Matthew Chicurel, Josh Starmer and Ecki Heins)