Greg Hawks & The Tremblers – The fine art of resurfacing
It had to be asked: What took so long? On the other end of the phone line, Greg Hawks laughs. “I’ve been asking that question a lot myself over the last few years.” Hawks’ band, the Tremblers, was formed in 1994, but February of ’01 marks the release of their first recording, Fool’s Paradise (on North Carolina’s Yep Roc label).
Turns out that central NC’s country-rock faithful almost got an album not long after the Tremblers’ conception seven years ago. Hawks and Ellen Gray, his wife at the time, started the band, with guitarist Mike Krause and busy drummer John Howie soon coming on board. Recording began for what Hawks envisioned as “a localized release,” but the Tremblers broke up before the project was completed. Hawks and Howie were briefly reunited in Howie’s honky-tonking Two Dollar Pistols (a band Gray also later joined) before Hawks headed back to his home state of West Virginia, putting his music career on hold.
He eventually returned to Chapel Hill and, after a writing spurt, began recording some four-track demos. Enter veteran roots-rock bassist Danny Kurtz (Sly Dogs, Backsliders, Whiskeytown), who Hawks describes as “vitally important to the whole chemistry of everything.” The pair discovered they had similar tastes, ranging from the Bakersfield sound and the hard-core country of George Jones to the rootsy pop of Nick Lowe and the Byrds. Also factored in is a shared fondness for what Hawks calls “all the brothers harmony stuff,” including the Stanleys, Louvins, Osbornes, and Everlys.
“I like the spirit and the soul of that sort of vintage country stuff, especially the real rocking stuff like the Strangers and the Buckaroos. But we also wanted to sound modern and have relevance in the year 2000,” says Hawks, rolling out the blueprint for the Tremblers’ sound. Drummer Nate Stalfa and guitarist Krause, the best-kept secret weapon in North Carolina, re-upped for the cause, joining Kurtz in the new Tremblers lineup.
The rousing title track of Fool’s Paradise may not completely bridge the gap between 1958 and yesterday afternoon, but it does echo several decades’ worth of soulful country music and spirited pop courtesy of its righteous gallop and the ringing, Searchers-ish guitar line that closes the chorus.
There is one song you probably have heard before: Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than The Rest”, which gets a moody country-rock makeover with a hint of Tex-Mex tucked in its corners. “I just sat down one afternoon and learned the chords and the arrangements, and started playing it on the guitar. The more I played around with it and started singing it in my voice, it just turned into that real quick,” Hawks says, adding with a laugh, “I thought, ‘It sounds kinda good like this.'”