Four children, 10 years and the same three chords
Asheville, meet The Humbuckers (again). While they may not look like champions of a movement, they might be Asheville’s best example of a band getting better with age.
Formed more than a decade ago, the Humbuckers rose and burned out quickly in the Asheville music scene of the late 1990s. But after breaking up, growing up and reforming, they’re back.
On stage, the band prove time and again that it has the goods to wow audiences. A recent Fred’s Speakeasy performance showcased the their penchant for booty-shaking boogies, sing-along melodies and a few breathless Bo Diddley beats. If the songs sound familiar (even derivative), that’s because the Humbuckers’ brand of tuneful, three-chord rock ‘n’ roll has been around since Dylan met The Byrds. (Or at least since Petty met the Heartbreakers.) They aren’t breaking any new musical ground, but they are proving that the much-tilled soil is still rich with good songs.
“I started the band in 1997 and we did a few shows, but it kind of fell apart,” says singer/guitarist Rudy Humbucker (aka Rudy Colombo, formerly of Billy the Six, as well as the Mike Barnes vehicle Praying for Rain). “I decided to start the band back up this year because it felt like these songs had something to say, and I wanted to work with them some more.”
A 10-year-plus sabbatical isn’t exactly a recipe for rock ‘n’ roll success, but that doesn’t seem to bother the Humbuckers. Instead, the band’s approach is to write simple songs, play small shows with other local acts and just have a good time—which is almost a novelty in Asheville’s increasingly competitive scene.
“In the last 10 years, I’ve gotten married, had four children and put music to bed for a while,” Humbucker says. “Now it’s so much easier to do. The songs I’m writing come easier, and we’re just playing shows to have fun. It’s a lot better this time around.”
Future plans include an EP and a full-length album (which they hope to release in the fall), but for right now the band is concentrating on delivering its trademark ‘60s folk-rock-with-a-sneer through a string of live performances.
But one question remains: In a town full of rock bands that leave the door open to experimentation, can the Humbuckers find a niche? “I think we [fit in],” offers Rudy. “The thing is, we may be 10 years too late. In ‘97, country-rock was this really hip thing, and now it seems like everyone is doing it, but we just play what we play.”
— Jason Bugg
Not so wasted after all
You’ll Never Make it to Nashville is the title of the recently released independent EP by Asheville’s Jonathan Ammons & The Electric Ghost. The band cheekily call its swashbuckling, vintage-tinged garage style “butt-rock,” and the first track, “Wasted (‘Cause I’ve Wasted Time on You)” is subtitled simply, “I’m drunk.” But for all the feckless airs, Ammons and company have crafted a collection of limber, lyric-forward, jangly rock. There’s a maturity to the writing that nods to its forefathers (Tom Petty, Steve Stills, Genesis) while embracing a wholly modern aesthetic. “Eve,” with its layered moods, delicate keys (pianist Andy Black does this album proud at every turn), fuzzy guitars, barely controlled wail and staccato beats is a radio-ready alt-rock gem. Could Jonathan Ammons & The Electric Ghost make it in Nashville? “Penitence” shows off the band’s country swagger, and there’s promise aplenty of whiskey-soaked, broken-hearted angst (“Where Did You Sleep Last Night”), not to mention a well-placed honky-tonk reference or two. But, for the sake of Asheville’s musical arena, let’s hope they don’t even try.
— Alli Marshall
Catch the Humbuckers with Jonathan Ammons & The Electric Ghost on Thursday, July 31, at The Town Pump. Jonathan Ammons & The Electric Ghost play The Garage at Biltmore on Saturday, Aug. 2.