Rockhouse Ramblers – Jukebox heroes
The year is 1965, and you’ve just dropped your last quarter in the jukebox nestled in the corner of your local honky-tonk tavern. First comes the twangin’ guitar lope of “Makin’ It Up As I Go”, the tale of a lovable loser who jauntily accepts the consequences of his actions, good or bad. Then comes the reverb-drenched oldie from the late ’50s, “Between Home And The Honky Tonks”, a sing-along number that argues it’s perfectly possible to have a happy relationship and a permanent seat at the end of a bar. Finally, there’s a B-side, the Don Rich-inspired guitar instrumental “All Bucked Up”.
But it’s not really 1965, because none of these songs existed until the last year or two. The Rockhouse Ramblers are a St. Louis quintet of veteran musicians who have perfectly captured the tone and the techniques of all the country music styles that mattered between about 1956 and 1969. With four-hour gigs nearly every weekend, they’ve probably played, at one time or another, most of the interesting songs you could have heard on the aforementioned nostalgic jukebox.
“It’s analogous to those guys who keep all those World War II-era airplanes up and running,” explains John Horton, one of the group’s two exceptional lead guitarists. “Those things came off of production lines at one time, but in order to keep them running now, you have to become really specialized, and you have to know a lot of stuff. You have to know everything about it in order to keep it going. You have to be focused. You have to know where it was made, who made it, what it was made of.”
Horton teams with Gary Hunt on guitar to provide one of the Ramblers’ great kicks — tearing up the fretboards in two directions. Live, they improvise solos that constantly sound fresh and exhilarating. On their 2000 debut Bar Time and their new disc Torch This Town (both on Hayden’s Ferry Records), they tuck in tightly constructed displays of virtuosity that perfectly serve the songs.
And the songs really are the best thing the Ramblers have going for them. Hunt is just one of three writers and vocalists contributing catchy and clever new takes on classic forms. Kip Loui, who plays rhythm guitar, and Dade Farrar, who slaps a mean bass, are the other two. Danny Kathriner rounds out the band on drums. All the Ramblers play in at least one other working band in the St. Louis area.
They may never be big stars, but the Rockhouse Ramblers would certainly liven up a contemporary jukebox. “In our minds,” says Loui, “we’re already successful. Anything after that is gravy.”