Hollisters – Them ‘n Opie
As everyone who reads this magazine knows, Austin is the heart and soul of Texas’ alternative country (whatever that is) scene. By way of contrast, Houston is more often musically identified with urban cowboys and urban Geto Boys.
But don’t blame this unfortunate situation on the Hollisters, the most promising hillbilly rock band — if not the best band, period — to come out of the nation’s fourth-largest city in this decade. In Houston, musicians work for a living, not some perceived hipness quotient. The Hollisters are equally at home playing for blues and roots fans at the Satellite Lounge, post-punk rockers at Rudyard’s Pub, or honky-tonk two-steppers at Blanco’s Bar & Grill. In some respects, this band represents the missing link between the two branches of Texas alt-country: They could share a bill as easily with honky-tonk traditionalist Dale Watson as they could with twangcore rockers the Old 97’s.
“I don’t think anyone down here has got it as revved up as they do,” said Austin producer/guitarist Casper Rawls, known for his work with the LeRoi Brothers and Toni Price. “The Hollisters have taken all these Texas country influences and are putting them together with their rock influences and getting their own sound together. They can rock, and they can sing, and they can twang.”
The Hollisters — named after Rafe Hollister, the moonshine man on “The Andy Griffith Show” — consist of four experienced musicians. Vocalist/harmonica player Mike Barfield and guitarist Eric Danheim played together in the Rounders, a rockabilly-oriented band formed in Houston in the mid-’80s. Danheim eventually left to go on the road with the Wagoneers, then spent some time in Austin with Chaparral before rejoining the Rounders in ’94.
Bored with rockabilly’s speed-obsessed aesthetic, Barfield and Danheim were looking for a fresh way to combine their country and rock influences. Enter former Webb Wilder bassist Cletus Blakely and veteran rock and blues drummer Kevin “Snit” Fitzpatrick. Barfield’s “Cash on the Barrelhead”-style vocals and Danheim’s inexhaustible supply of twisting, twanging guitar licks provide the focus of the Hollisters’ sound. But the band’s secret weapon is its rubber-tight rhythm section. It’s no coincidence that the Hollisters’ recorded but as-yet unreleased album is titled From the Land of Rhythm and Pleasure. On virtually every tune, these hillbilly-boogie bootleggers lay down a groove like a big rig rumbling over a mountain pass.
From the Land of Rhythm and Pleasure was recorded in Austin with Rawls producing and trading lead guitar riffs with Danheim. Several independent labels have expressed serious interest in the album, but the band is holding out for the right deal. “I think this is the best project any of us have been involved with,” Danheim says. “With those other bands, the timing was never quite right. Hopefully, the timing is right this time.”