Honey Island Swamp Band: Bayou Americana
Great music begins with great songs, and great songs are what the Honey Island Swamp Band is all about.
The band came together when Aaron Wilkinson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Chris Mulé (electric guitar, vocals) were marooned in San Francisco after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. There, they had a chance encounter with fellow New Orleans evacuees Sam Price (bass, vocals) and Garland Paul (drums, vocals) at John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room on Fillmore Street. They had played together in some form or another, in various bands back in New Orleans. And, with a return to their underwater hometown looming as a great unknown in the distance, they decided to put together a band and get some gigs going. Fortunately, the Boom Boom Room’s owner Alex Andreas offered that fledgling band a weekly gig on the spot.
Sunday nights at the Boom Boom Room soon became a favorite of Bay Area roots music lovers, who have a long-standing affinity for New Orleans music and musicians. Two months into the residency, sound engineer Robert Gatley approached the Honey Island Swamp Band with a rare opportunity: he wanted to record an album of their song at the legendary Record Plant studios in Sausalito, where he worked. The seven-song eponymous debut came together beautifully, with Wilkinson and Mulé both contributing favorite originals. The disc was received so well that they all decided to continue the band upon moving back to New Orleans in 2007.
This band is replete with timeless songs from Wilkinson and Mulé, highlighted by the latter’s searing guitar, Wilkinson’s sure-handed mandolin, and four-part vocal harmonies — all anchored by the powerful groove of Price and Paul’s Louisiana stomp rhythm section. In 2010, they added Trevor Brooks on Hammond B-3 organ, which has rounded out the band’s sound.
Their music draws from a variety of roots music influences, including artists such as Lowell George & Little Feat, The Band, Taj Mahal, Gram Parsons, Jerry Garcia, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Reed, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and New Orleans’ own Earl King and Dr. John.
Over the last several years, the Honey Island Swamp Band’s albums have become a staple in the playlists of the Crescent City’s legendary radio station WWOZ as well as on Sirius/XM Bluesville. As a matter of fact, I’ve been following and collecting the band’s videos here on No Depression for some time, many of which are featured in this week’s video slideshow.
So if you have the time, sit back, relax, and immerse yourselves in the swampy, roosty, laid-back Bayou Americana of the Honey Island Swamp Band!