Cornell Hurd Band – What’s so funny ’bout swing, twang and honky-tonkin’
On the surface, the Cornell Hurd Band seems like a super-proficient, ultra-tight, swing-tinged, rockabilly-informed Texas music collective. The extended ensemble — featuring fiddle, steel guitar, sax, piano and even rub-board — plays some of the tightest, music you’ve ever heard.
Hurd’s band operates like a grand honky-tonk revue. Hurd shares vocal duties with band members Justin Trevino, Cody Nicholas and Blackie White, as well as guest singers including honky-tonk icon Johnny Bush and the sultry Marti Brom. Hurd’s records (the latest titled Song Of South Austin) frequently include guest instrumentalists such as fiddler Howard Kalish (of Don Walser’s band) and noted pianist Floyd Domino.
But bubbling beneath this serious, disciplined musicianship are some truly twisted songs.
Much of Hurd’s material reveals a healthy sick sense of humor. His new album features tunes like the entendre-laden “Rubboard Playin’ Man” (dedicated to band member Danny Roy Young, proprietor of the Texicalli Grille, a South Austin institution) and a heartwarmingly gross tune called “Don’t Wipe Your Face On Your Shirt”, featuring an introduction by Hurd’s two grade-school-age sons.
His repertoire also includes songs such as “It Wouldn’t Be Hell Without You”, “Your Ex-Husband Sent Me Flowers (‘Cause He Feels Sorry For Me)”, White’s surreal “People Are Sleeping, Dreaming Of Cheese”, and the shockingly hilarious “The Genitalia Of A Fool”.
But even though one of his early bands had a hit on the Dr. Demento show back in the 1970s, Hurd wants to make it clear that he’s not just Weird Al in a cowboy hat. “My songs are not satires,” he says. “I’m not celebrating white trash; this isn’t goober stuff.”
Rather, Hurd is following a time-honored C&W humor tradition in the same spirit as Buck Owens’ “Big Game Hunter” or Merle Travis’ “Divorce Me C.O.D.” As he puts it, “Real country music used to have a sense of humor.”
A good percentage of the Hurd songs that make you chuckle are grounded in authentic life experiences that weren’t all that funny until they made it into rhyme. Which brings us to the Miserable Ex-Wife.
Just as the best Fantastic Four comics were the ones where they fought Doctor Doom, the most memorable Cornell songs are the ones with the Miserable Ex-Wife. Such a creature might seem mythical, but this is a real live woman, not a composite or a comic device.
“Other girlfriends I had were fine,” he says. The only lingering hard feelings — and they’ve been lingering for about a decade and a half — involve the former Mrs. Hurd. “When you wake up some morning and you realize that you’ve been betrayed by the one person in the whole world that you’re supposed to be able to trust, it’s just devastating,” Hurd said.
David Cornell Hurd was born in 1952 in Northern California. The music bug didn’t really bite until 1968, when he joined “the jug band that changed my life.” The group, known as the Milpitas Submarine Band, performed the song “Blues In The Bottle” (learned from a Lovin’ Spoonful record) at a talent show. “I can still hear the applause,” he says. “After that, I went from being a geek to someone that the tough guys wanted to talk to.”
Hurd graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972 with a degree in sociology. He’d transferred to Berkeley to be closer to Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, who, along with Texas’ Asleep At The Wheel, introduced western swing and honky-tonk to a new generation. Hurd’s band frequently opened for both Cody and the Wheel.
Hurd kept active in bands throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, but things fell apart in the mid ’80s. In addition to his marital woes, he was suffering drug and alcohol problems of his own. “My house was foreclosed and my car repossessed,” he recalls.
Hurd moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1986. “And the third person I met when I got off the plane was Miss Debra.” A graphic artist and piano player, Debra Davidson married Hurd in 1988.
While in Florida, Hurd encountered his childhood friend and former bassist Frank Roeber, which led to the revival of the Cornell Hurd Band. In 1989, the Hurds relocated to Texas, where they were joined by Roeber and longtime guitarist Paul Skelton.
Starting out as a five-piece, Hurd’s band eventually doubled in size, picking up members who originally came just to sit in, such as fiddler Vanessa Gordon, a native of South Africa.
Unless you live in Texas, the Cornell Hurd Band probably won’t be coming to a beer joint near you. “We don’t tour,” Hurd says. “I don’t take this mob on the road. Most of us have children and jobs, and it’s too expensive to bring all of us to your town.” Hurd says he’s happy performing at home — he’s played a Thursday night gig at Jovita’s in South Austin for six years — and putting out a CD every year or so.
“This unto itself is a goal: to have a band and make records. Is my goal to have a Top 40 hit? Absolutely not. If someone offered me a record deal on a big label, or even an established small label, I would have to question that person’s sanity.”