Here we go again!
Sin City's roots rockers the Yeller Bellies
have returned with a new album titled “Here to Suffer” to follow up their 2008 debut, “Boys will be Boys.” I was thrown for a loop, as it were, when I first listened to the new album, as it was not quite what I expected. That is to say that they had gone in an entirely different direction than I thought they would. Rather than further honing their rockabilly and roots rock style, they created a blues, country trash, and good old rock n’ roll fusion for this one, still with a modicum of the rockabilly and roots rock foundation with which they started out. If nothing else, “Here to Suffer” shows that this four-piece band of desert rats and modern day outlaws has made a concerted effort to spread their collective musical wings, to incorporate new elements to their already well-developed sound. Simultaneously, "Here to Suffer" surprises like a switchblade to the throat and exhilirates like a motorcycle opened up at high speed down a stretch of desert highway. And…I’ll be damned, it works!
Complete with great cover art by singer/songwriter and visual artist Andrew “The Slow Poisoner” Goldfarb, as well as a collection of thirteen well-written songs which the four bandmates evidently labored over exhaustively, "Here to Suffer" is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Yeller Bellies, not to mention their ever-improving skills.
First on the album we have “Ashes, Smoke, and Flame,” which begins in a gritty, washed-out, countryesque manner and then switches gears to speed into a rock n’ roll roadway that stretches out for a little over four minutes. One track that stands out entirely on its own is number four, “El Guante.” Exceptionally composed, "El Guante" is a surf-a-billy and rock instrumental that harkens back somewhat to the sound of their debut, particularly “Bullets, Booze, and Sombreros” (their only other instrumental to date). The fifth track, “Goin’ Down,” is a sinner’s song with vocal-laden verses and fiery rockin’ choruses. “She Blames It All On You” is the slow song on the album. More country than anything, "She Blames It All On You" is almost like a ballad, only it focuses more on character development than narrative. Reminding me more of their debut album than any of the other new songs is the title track “Here to Suffer,” which is definitely the most rockabilly song on the album, with noticeable western overtones. It is probably the last track, “Preachin’ the Blues,” that is my favorite on this one---well, beside “Ashes, Smoke, and Flame” and “Goin’ Down”---with its country trash and rockabilly stomp appeal, as well as the fast pace of Krah’s drums, the catchy repeating note progression of Hillhouse’s guitar, the steady bassline of Potter’s upright, and Bell’s intense lyrical delivery.
Out of the sinful, booze-soaked, and pocket-emptying desert metropolis that is Las Vegas, Nevada (also referred to as Lost Wages by the locals and those who stay long enough to drain their bank accounts), the members of the Yeller Bellies have teamed up to form a band whose sound has since captured the ears and souls of numerous guys and gals throughout the world. What began with their debut album “Boys will be Boys” has continued with their latest release on Outhouse Eagle Records, “Here to Suffer.” In an ever-changing world, it is definitely nice to see that the same lineup is carrying the band forth into the new year, giving their listeners the consistency they rightfully deserve. Mandolin-pounding and crooning badass Rob “Yeller” Bell remains at the helm of this souped-up vehicle of sound, providing lead vocals and specialty instrumentation. Joel Hillhouse is still rockin’ the hell out of his Gretsch, with blazing notes and powerful chord patterns. Still thumpin’ away at the thick strings of his stand-up bass with crafty finger-work is the one and only cowboy hat-wearing Mitch Potter. And last but certainly not least, Mr. Jimmy Krah continues to tear it up on the kit, conjuring up fitting beats on snare and hi-hat, crash and ride, tom-tom and kick drum.
Each member of the Yeller Bellies has had extensive experience in other bands, writing and practicing and gigging, until finally coming to rest with the Yeller Bellies. They have made the Yeller Bellies their home band, these four, and it will no doubt be that way for some time.
As far as the four very separate personalities that make up the band, I can offer that information by sharing a portion of the article I did on them after the release of their debut, and bit of the interview material that accompanied it…
Rob "Yeller" Bell is a Vegas native. Geographically Vegas made sense to Rob's mother, since his father was serving in the Vietnam War, and his grandparents were already dug-in there as professional musicians. Rob's mother, who raised him, gave birth to him when she was very young, eighteen years old, and she needed all the help she could get. Not unlike much of America's youth, Rob was a “latchkey kid” from a young age and remained so throughout his school years. He didn't go to college directly after graduation, but it wasn't something he was willing to live his entire life without doing. He eventually got his Associates in General Studies. Though he now works a day job as a Construction Inspector, music is evidently Rob's passion. His passions don't end there, as he has been married for eleven years and is also the happy father of two wonderful little girls, Bijou Blue and Piper Rose. Rob loves the outdoors but loathes the desert, and he plans to relocate one day to Ft. Collins, Colorado, where he owns some real-estate. He is also a self-admitted live music junkie, with a ridiculous collection of over 3,000 CD's and 1,400 cassettes of bootleg shows. The Yeller Bellies band is not Rob Bell's first foray in the live music circuit by far, as he has quite a history of playing in bluegrass outfits and such. Now, I haven't heard any of Rob's previous bands, but I can attest to it being true what they say about his overall performance in the Yeller Bellies: Playing the mandolin like he's beating a dead, miniature pony, he howls through his songs like a fire and brimstone preacher.
Come to think of it, in our interview Rob even mentioned his vocal and mandolin styles in detail. "I've played mandolin for a few years now," he said, "doing hard time in a bluegrass outfit called the Pickadillos. By playing, I mean beating it until my fingers bleed. I'm not a picker. My strong suit is songwriting. I'm also a fan of experimental music (anything from Waits---post Brennan to Throbbing Gristle). Although this first release may not reflect all that, we shall grow and incorporate more as time goes on. Live, I like to scream like a banshee, bang on skillets with a claw hammer, beat the mandolin, and croon with the rest of 'em. I like to work lyrics in rhythmic patters, really concentrating on meter and syllables. I also like to p*ss people off. More of a subversive than an anarchist, I like strong statements. I mean what I say, and I don't participate in something I don't believe in. I use pointed language and imagery to get my songs across. As an artist, I want people to love (or hate) our work, but never to treat it with a shrug."
When I asked Joel Hillhouse about himself, he jokingly stated that he was "born the son of a poor sharecropper." Then on a more serious note, he went on to explain that he was actually born in Springfield, Missouri, and that he had grown up around music in the Ozarks. In fact, his father was one of those musical presences he grew up around, and of Joel's fondest remembrances of his youth he counts listening to his father play Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Sr., bluegrass standards and old revival meeting songs on his guitar, and how he used to play just for the joy of playing. Tragically, Joel's father passed away when Joel was ten, at which time, for reasons he never quite understood, his mother moved them from the green, green hills and hollers out to the wide open, dusty desert in Vegas. Back then, Vegas was a much different place than it is today, and it definitely took some adapting to. After some time, Joel's mother remarried. And Joel ended up spending the next few years around the punk scene in Vegas, going to desert shows and whatnot. Currently, as is stated in an online description of his skills, Joel's playing for the Yeller Bellies sounds like: the buzz saws from the hills he hails from.
Having arrived in Las Vegas from California at the tender age of eight, Mitch Potter grew up as a desert rat, developing tastes for things like motorcycles, hunting, fishing, shooting, hiking, and anything having to do with nature. Mainly he was raised on Motown and blues and the old country greats. For the most part he lived with his grandparents, and they were into big band and swing. Glen Miller, the Dorseys, Les Brown---they all had a serious influence on his upright bass playing. As an adult, this man of few words has confessed to me in our interview that his two favorite pastimes are raising reptiles (he used to be a snake rancher with over three-hundred snakes at one time) and driving his wife nuts, in addition to playing the bass guitar, of course. The Yeller Bellies band isn't Mitch's first experience in the live music circuit either, and he has been involved in bands ranging in sound and style. As the bassist for the Yeller Bellies, Mitch has been described as: a tub-thumpin’, slappin’ monster, still fighting the restraining order filed against him from his first upright
. "My parents were quite the free spirits," recalled Mitch in our interview, "and there were always interesting people hangin’ about. That's when I got influenced by some of the early surf music like Dick Dale and Sandy Nelson. In fact, I think the first record I ever jammed to was Teen Beat by Sandy Nelson. I was probably about seven and my neighbor had one of those old crappy Sears guitars. I've been hooked on music ever since."
"The first bona fide band I was in was MT Pockets with Joel," continued Mitch. "Even though Joel is a guitarist (and an amazing guitarist at that), he was and is an incredible influence on my bass playing. I've been listening to a lot of the Hacienda Brothers these days. Hank is great, and Dave's guitar licks are just awesome. Old ZZ Top, pre-Eliminator stuff. Dusty Hill is a major influence on my approach to playing bass. Tommy Shannon of The Arc Angels blows me away. And Th' Legendary Shack Shakers...I swear they have more energy than the Energizer Bunny."
In the 70's and 80's Jimmy Krah resided in Buffalo, New York, which, as he described it, was "a dying, rust-belt, industrial town with no sense of humor, as you might imagine. At night you drank and you bowled. If you didn't bowl, you went to local clubs to see bands, and then, if you were lucky you formed a band of your own. The scene was different then, and it was better. The local acts were as good as the national acts, and the top of the local talent would work two day jobs and get a loan on the house to buy $20,000.00 worth of lights and sound, and they brought that level of equipment several nights a week to the big local clubs. Production values of live shows were much higher back then, too. I used to go see the local band Talas, for example, with bassist Billy Sheehan, playing McVan's crummy bar on Niagara Street for thirty people with a four-dollar cover. Burgeoning acts like Motorhead and Metallica would play the Sky Room on Seneca Street for a hundred people in 1983, six blocks from my house. Local dive bars as a matter of vogue and trend and marketing concept did not exist then. A bar was either crummy or it wasn't, and you played there because that's where the crowd was, and that's where the gig was. The crowds were blue-collar people with shitty attitudes in general, and you had better be a good band or else. There was neither credit given nor glory taken in trying. You were expected to succeed and to impress; and if you didn't, those crowds simply wouldn't waste their time on you. And they had no problem letting you know you sucked, if you were stupid enough to suck."
Jimmy had been playing drums for quite a few years when the new wave of British Heavy Metal happened. To him, it was a great thing, as there was a whole series of bands fighting their way out of shitty English neighborhoods, willing to go over the top to breakout of Great Britain's version of Buffalo. It was even more difficult for those bands because they knew they had to measure up to acts like Zeppelin and Sabbath, which, let's be honest, are not easy shoes to fill. Basically, Jimmy came up listening to and trying to emulate early Accept, Diamondhead, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Raven, and Trust.
For six years Jimmy was a very dedicated drummer, until he ended up selling all of his gear to one of his drum students so that he could make his car payments. That was in 1984. At that point he stopped playing altogether. The years between '84 and the early 90's saw him go through many occupations---stockbroker, life insurance salesman, auto parts salesman, and a body shop worker---before enrolling in law school in 1993. In 1996, having graduated from law school and earned his blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, it was time to break free from Buffalo for good. Then in 1997 Jimmy made his way to Las Vegas in order to begin his career as an attorney. It was a fresh start. Certainly an entirely different world than Buffalo. Some years later, he began his own law practice, the same practice that is now funding his re-entry into music. Finally, in 2007, he was recruited by the Yeller Bellies as their newest member. And that journey is just beginning, it seems.
The Yeller Bellies’ music is still whiskey and cigarettes music. Rebel songs. Barroom songs for the heavy drinkin’ good time individuals of the City Earth Underground.
This roots rock, country trash and rockabilly blues quartet have created a sound that embodies the modern Southwest, with hotrods instead of horse-drawn wagons; pinup girls rather than heavily painted harlots walking the creaky boards of wood plank towns; asphalt streets and boulevards and avenues in place of dusty desert trails; jeans, t-shirts and leather jackets instead of sweaty tweed-like suits and well-worn fedoras; and so on. But the same dust blows freely through the desert now as it did centuries before. The same sun shines down upon the pedestrians going about their daily business in the city. And when the day has run its sweltering course, the same old moon hangs pale in the distance, going through its celestial phases for all to see. Really, the Yeller Bellies’ songs do embody the modern Southwest, but they also reach back through the ages to borrow from the musical movements that suit them and their sound. Like Rob Bell said to me in our interview not too terribly long ago….
I like the nostalgia and the mystery of the unexplored West. Songs that told stories of lost souls, murder, loss and revenge.