(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )
The Gig: The Hollisters
9:30 P.M. Thursday, June 29
The Texas Club
456 North Donmoor-at-Florida Blvd., Baton Rouge
Cover charge: $5
A fter years of new Dylans, music fans finally have a new Johnny Cash in Mike Barfield, the baritone lead singer and main songwriter of the Houston-based honky-tonk quartet, the Hollisters. “My voice ended up being the deepest one in my family,” says Barfield, bemused. “I don’t know why that is.”
As the main Hollister--the group’s co-founder Eric Danheim left last year--Barfield does the majority of the interviews, even if, as he's doing right now, he has to man a cell phone and drive the group’s 1997 Dodge tour van to a rehearsal simultaneously. That the “check engine” light has come on concerns him, especially since the van is only “a little bit” overdue for an oil change, but his concern is allayed by the inclusion in his cell-phone agreement of a guarantee of roadside assistance in case of emergency. “I’ve already used it once,” he says. “So you can at least get a wrecker out to where you’re at.”
Traveling plays a recurring role in the Hollisters’ songs. In addition to their cover of Eddie Noack’s “Walk ’Em Off,” their new album, Sweet Inspiration (Hightone), includes such Barfield-Danheim originals as “Thrill of the Ride,” “Holes in the Road (Dumptruck),” and “Two Trains.” And although their first album, 1997’s Land of Rhythm and Pleasure, featured a song called “Better Slow Down,” they haven’t: what distinguishes the Hollisters from Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two more than anything else is the high-gear into which they kick themselves at the drop of a Stetson. If anyone had cut a rockabilly rave-up as hot as Sweet Inspiration’s “Love Rustler” at Memphis's Sun Studios in 1955, the smell of scorched blue-suede would’ve haunted Carl Perkins to his grave and taught Cash a thing or two about rings of fire.
As it turns out, Memphis is on the Hollisters’ summer performance itinerary, but, given current gasoline prices, Acadiana residents might prefer to inspect the group a little closer to home in Baton Rouge this Thursday at the Texas Club. Barfield says the show will most likely consist of two sixty-to-ninety-minute sets and that the group will play most of the songs on its two albums, plus “whatever else suits our fancy.” “Sometimes you gauge what the crowd’s in the mood for and play what you think is going to get the best response,” he says. “I’ve got some new original material, but being in a country-oriented band, sometimes you’ll get in a situation where a crowd wants to hear some things that aren’t yours.
"I don’t mind doing some old Conway Twitty thing once in a while, but we’re not a cover-country band at all.”
What the Hollisters are is the latest incarnation of a band that started in the ’80’s as the Rounders. By 1994, after several years of breakups and false re-starts, the group had reformed as the Hollisters (the name comes from a minor character in The Andy Griffith Show), with the Webb Wilder bassist Denny Dale and the Atlanta-based drummer Kevin Fitzpatrick complementing the Barfield-Danheim axis.
When Danheim’s wife moved to Seattle last year, accompanied by her Hollister husband, Barfield lost not only a guitarist capable of twanging up a storm but also a songwriting partner capable of helping him come up with such saloon-friendly ready-mades as Sweet Inspiration’s “Drinking for Two” and “Tonkin’.” The good news is that Danheim’s replacement, Chris Miller, whose previous employers include Wayne Hancock and Marcia Ball, has proven an able replacement, and Barfield’s deep roots in honky-tonk country have kept him supplied with a steady stream of (sweet?) songwriting inspiration.
They’re roots that Barfield has occasionally gone out of his way to cultivate--like the first time he met the former Buck Owens' Buckaroos bassist Doyle Holly. “He was driving a tour bus for Natalie Merchant,” Barfield remembers, “and he was coming to Houston. So I took this old album I had that had his picture on it, and he signed it for me. It was funny because they thought I was trying to get into the show, and I said, ‘No, I just want to see the bus driver.’”
Barfield laughs. “Then later on we opened for Merle Haggard, and Doyle Holly was driving that tour bus. So he came up--I’d given him a copy of our first CD--and he said, ‘Man, I really like the CD, but live, that’s where it’s at. I think you guys have really got a good career ahead of you.’
"You know," says Barfield, "that was just the bees knees for me. That’s probably the best compliment I’ve gotten so far.”