If someone were to pull Tom Waits aside, sit him down and play him any of the Hooten Hallers’ three studio albums, you’d have to think he’d be smiling, and maybe a little envious.
That’s because the swaggering, staggering ball of chaos that is the Hooten Hallers sound recalls the prime 1970s work of the Growling One himself. The drums pound and stumble, the guitar sleazily slings riffs left and right, and there’s a tuba burbling along in the background, giving the proceedings a distinctly seasick feel.
And while this loose-but-limber dustball unevenly rolls along, singer/guitarist John Randall wails, rasps and howls like Howlin’ Wolf slamming full speed into Joe Cocker.
The band, which came together in Columbus, Mo., in 2006, pulls heavily from pre-rock musical styles ranging from jump-blues to hillbilly country, with some jarring, early-Chess-Records-style electric distortion thrown in. Stand-up drummer Andy Rehm says that the Hooten Hallers combine those older styles with modern energy.
“We’re all fans of pre-war blues and American music,” he says, “but we’re big fans of rock ’n’ roll music, too, and we just decided to mix them all together and see what happened. Of course, there are a lot of notable American bands that are mixing styles, but we’ve tried to do our own thing with it.”
Rehm says that the band’s raucous playing is deceptively loose sounding.
“You’ve got to be laid back while keeping the whole thing tight,” he says. “Nobody wants to see you fall apart onstage. But it’s not too disciplined. John and I have been playing together for many years, and we’ve always gone for that loose kind of feel.”
The Hooten Hallers were a duo for years until they officially added Paul Weber on harmonica and tuba. Weber had been playing a behind-the-scenes role with the band.
“He’s someone we’d known for a long time,” Rehm says, “and he’d even played on our previous album (2012’s “Greetings From Welp City”) before he joined. He played on several songs on that album, and then played with us on the new one (“Chillicothe Fireball”) to help us record it. And we realized that this was the kind of guy that could hop in the van and do this with us, no problem. So we just basically said, ‘What will it take to get you in our band, instead of the one you’re in [laughs]?’”
The band aimed to record live in the studio on their most recent album for both economic and performance-related reasons.
“It does make a little more sense financially, because it takes a little less time,” Rehm says, “especially when you’re paying by the hour. But all the records that we love have been done that way. There’s nothing that can replace a band just playing together. There’s no substitute for that. Our goal for these last two albums was basically to just try to bring what we bring to each and every show into the studio. If you’re tracking rhythm parts, then adding lead parts and all this other [stuff], and then putting a vocal track on top of it, it doesn’t have the raw power or emotion that you have if you’re just playing together.”
Rehm says he’s encouraged by the rising number of bands like the Hooten Hallers who are combining disparate influences into their music.
“There’s a lot of genre-mixing right now,” he says. “There are punk-bluegrass bands, country-metal bands … there are all kinds of variations. I love it. I just want people to listen to the good stuff, wherever that may come from.”