The lonesome country blues of Hank Topless
Tucson blues rock, alt-country, local music news
Tucson may be a town teeming with great rock musicians, but we're also a town of desert and dust and stories to be told. Thank God for folks who are good at the telling.
Hank Topless sings "hard country blues" with a touch of Merle, a snarl of Jerry Lee, a dash of Leon Russell and a little bit of punk rock give-no-fucks abandon. And he does it often. In the coming week alone, the veteran Tucson singer songwriter boasts three solo gigs and an out-of-town full band show. Somehow, though, he still managed to carve out the time to answer some questions from your mild-mannered local music reporter.
How would you describe the music that you play?
Hank Topless: Honky-tonk country blues. Hard country, honky-tonk, country blues with a helping of rock ‘n roll thrown in. I started out in hard rock, because that’s what I️ and my teenage friends liked.
You're a pretty big advocate of the "real" kind of country music - gritty, wrenching and raw. How did you discover it and how has that shaped you as a person and a musician?
HT: There are lots of different kinds of country music — to me, if it’s not “raw” or “real” it’s not country. I️ like lots of different kinds of music, but I️ do think that my exposure at a young age to the giants of '60s Nashville shaped how I️ think about everything I️ do. It never drains me. As regards performing, I️ have no wisdom to pass on, except: do it, or don’t.
You gig pretty frequently, especially as a solo artist, but also with a live band. Do you like playing one way more vs. the other? What differences are there in your solo shows as opposed to the full-band gigs?
HT: I️ play solo, just myself and my guitar, a lot because I️ need to make money. I️ sing my songs and lots of covers, mostly obscure things that mean something to me. Playing with the group is wonderful — a really intense, high energy thing. We have a blast. We can’t do it often, because pay on the local scene tends to be low, and because everybody in my group is constantly busy with multiple commitments. This is to be expected, as the guys in my band are some of the best players in the region.
You're also known around these parts as a pretty mean pedal steel player. What's up with that?
HT: I️ got into playing steel about 25 years ago. Not great at it, but it’s such a fantastic instrument. I’ve had great times recording with Calexico, Louise Le Hir, Miss Lana Rebel, and good gigs with David Bryan’s Loveland and for Lonely Street Productions, where I’m the staff steel player.
What's next for Hank Topless?
Hank Topless Band is currently tracking a record with Jim Waters. I’m really excited — it’s sounding pretty damn good. I️ also have an idea for an album of covers — songs originally made popular by female artists. I️ sing a number of such things in my solo programs. We’re in Phoenix (as a full band) on Nov. 18 at Chopper John’s with Brea Burns and the Boleros. Brea is a terrific performer and songwriter, and will be getting back from a European tour just in time for the show. We’re calling it “Honkytonk Explosion.” Gonna be a fun one. Phoenix is always great to us.
I️ also have a number of things coming up, including a package show at PoMoRo with some East Coast folks who will be touring through. The schedule is always available on my website, www.hanktoplessmusic.com.
Hank Topless Band plays Phoenix at 9 p.m. at Chopper John's, 2547 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix. You can also catch him at The Coronet and Tough Luck Club.
Giving thanks for the blues
As we head Thanksgiving-ward, the local live music landscape is taking a decided turn in the same country blues direction as good sir Hank, with several alt-country and blues tinged shows popping up around town in the next few days.
Case in point, the folk-blues eclectic rock of our friends from Half-Broke Town, who have two upcoming gigs this week, including one at SkyBar on Friday night (with Natty and Jamz and Marshal Man) and another Saturday afternoon at Food Conspiracy Co-op.
Also on Friday, it's the return of once-and-future local "fringe country" faves, Amy Rude and Donkey Tonk at Exo Roast and Eb Eberlein with Kathleen Williams (and a cameo from Miss Olivia) as The Scorpios at Saint Charles Tavern.
Saturday night, it's a bluesy two-fer with blue rock band Mason playing Bar Passe and the "Lizard Flavored Folk and Roll" of Bryan Thomas Parker at Saint Charles Tavern.
Expect more along these lines, with awesomely bluesy live sets by Miss Olivia and the Interlopers, Juju Fontaine and The Sinners in the coming weeks.
Never fear if the blues is not your cup of tea, though. Despite this sudden trend, there's a ton of normal Tucson flavored psych rock, indie and punk stuff going on as usual too. Check your local listings below for more news on that front.
The girls left the pool, but Cool Funeral kept their cool...
In other news, last week's much anticipated Girlpool show at 191 E Toole was cancelled last minute due to unforseen circumstances, but the band is hoping to reschedule sometime soon.
Last week's featured band Cool Funeral were set to open for the acclaimed duo and were understandably rather bummed out at the news of the cancellation, but turned their disappointment into a sweet gesture, offering hand delivered care packages of stickers, buttons and cassettes to local fans.
As an update to last week's article, the band's members (Deandra Binder on vocals/keys, Angeline Fahey on guitar/vocals and Fahey's partner Justin Tornberg on drums) want you all to know that they definitely do have recordings to stream/buy/download. You can check them out at coolfuneralmusic.bandcamp.com.
Check your local listings...
Friday, November 17
- Donkey Tonk and Amy Rude - 8 p.m. at Exo Coffee, 403 N. 6th Ave. (Downtown)
- The Scorpios - 8 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern, 1632 S. 4th Ave. (Just south of Downtown)
- Azfarat, Snackbirdy, Spirithouse, Ijustsawyoudie - 9 p.m. at Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
- Natalie & Jamz, Half-Broke Town, and Marshal Man at Skybar - 9 p.m. at Sky Bar, 536 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
- JMC and His Wooden Hearts (Lounge Show) - 5:30 p.m. at Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
Saturday, November 18
- Half-Broke Town - 3 p.m. at Food Conspiracy Coop, 412 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
- Hank Topless Solo Brunch Show - 11 a.m. at The Coronet, 402 E. 9th St. (Downtown)
- Mason - 9 p.m. at Bar Passe, 417 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
- BTP & Friends, The Distortionists, Gunrunners, Whiskey Knuckles - 9 p.m. at Flycatcher,
- Bryan Thomas Parker - 9 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern
- Hank Topless Band with Brea Burns and The Boleros - 9 p.m. at Chopper John's, 2547 E. Indian School Rd. (Phoenix)
Sunday, November 19
- Hank Topless Solo Brunch Show - 11 a.m. at The Coronet
Wednesday, November 22
- "Hanksgiving" with Hank Topless - 10 p.m. at Tough Luck Club, 101 W. Pennington, basement (Downtown)