Roll in the Hay
The Haywoods have one obvious connection to the Front Range music scene: Their debut release, Drinkin' Cryin' & Moanin', appears on Wormtone Records, the Denver label run by rockabilly impresarios (and husband-and-wife team) Kurt and Karen Ohlen. But for Haywoods frontman Chad Silva, the connection to Colorado goes far beyond business. He was born in Loveland, Colorado, and spent the first four years of his life there.
"I remember watching the Denver Broncos when they had Craig Morton," he says, offering a particularly seasonal reference.
After his family moved to California, Silva continued to enjoy time here by spending his summers with his cowboy grandfather in Ellicott, a town east of Colorado Springs. Today Silva can attribute at least part of his current musical efforts to his Colorado past. "My grandfather was a rancher and a professional cowboy, and I think my fascination with him got me into country music," he says from his home in Santa Cruz, California.
The music would later make a different type of contribution to Silva's family dynamics.
"Country was the thing that I knew would irritate my father the most when I was a teenager," he notes with a giggle. "It was the perfect antidote to my dad, who fought in Vietnam, came back, grew his hair long and was pretty much a hippie. He wasn't affected by my punk phase or the heavy-metal thing -- he took all of those with great grace. But what really demonstrated my rebelliousness toward him was my getting into country. That drove him up the wall."
Today that sense of country music appreciation (and teen spirit) is evident in the music that Silva and his mates (drummer Rick Tahira and new members Carlo DiLiso on stand-up bass and Jason Finley on guitar) perform. Their Wormtone debut is a corn-fed collection of rough-cut rockabilly that eagerly embraces the rhythmic understatement of '50s country. The Haywoods turn their backs on modern, high-speed touches and create a sound that braids Sun Sessions primal rock and East Texas twang into one stinging musical whip.
"One of these days I'll get wise/And open up my bloodshot eyes," Silva sings in one of the CD's many fine tunes. That line is also indicative of the Haywoods' lyrical approach. They swerve away from the habits of some of their peers, who play to lines about vintage hot rods and bopping at the high school hop. Instead, the Haywoods employ the more timeless themes of heartache and the pursuit of women, drinks and release. And they do it with a reckless joy that crackles with a blue-collar demeanor as scruffy as their cuffed jeans and mechanic's jackets.
Drinkin' is a collection of fourteen keenly crafted songs written and sung by Silva and ex-guitarist Johnny Munnerlyn that was recorded with respect for vintage audio by Jose Espinosa (a member of another Wormtone concern, the Sugar King Boys). It's loaded with such loopy gems as "You Burn Me Up," "One Warm Beer (and a Half Pack of Smokes)" and "Bird of a Different Feather." These gritty cuts call to mind a Sun Sessions-era Carl Perkins driven to the edge by folks stepping on his famous suede kicks. Throughout them all, Silva fills the role of crazed country bomper with a voice that resembles some trucker strung out on too many miles and too much cheap speed.
Silva's addled, muscular timbre is surprising considering that his singing heroes include Ray Price and Marty Robbins, two of country's more technically gifted singers. "Ray Price and his band played the best honky-tonk shuffles," Silva says, "but what I love about him is the power and clarity of his voice. Nobody sings that style anymore. A lot of people try to do Lefty Frizzell and George Jones. But Ray Price and Marty Robbins, they really stand out for me." Not that Silva's vocals are anything like those of his heroes, he concedes. "Hey, I'm singing rockabilly," he says. "You listen to George Jones when he was doing rockabilly, he was letting it all hang out. He sounds a lot different. When he did that song 'Rock It,' that is not the soft-voiced George Jones who did 'Color of the Blues.' Rockabilly is totally undisciplined. You're just jumping all over the place and letting it hang out. That's the joy of it."
The joy of the Haywoods also lies in Silva's lyrics and tickling turns of phrase. "The only thing that new country has going for it is the wordplay," Silva says. "Country writers have always had a leg up as far as songsmithing goes, when compared to a lot of rock-and-roll bands. If I listen to some rock band out of Seattle, I have no idea what the guy's singing about; I can't identify with it. At least when I hear country, I can identify with it. Guys like Johnny Cash have always had more of an emphasis on writing.
"And it's a 'country' clever," he adds. "That nudge-nudge, wink-wink kind of thing. There's a lot more going on than you think at first."
On Monday night, Silva and his pals will be headlining a Wormtone Records showcase, appearing on a bill with the label's Blue Ribbon Boys (who have a new 45 out) and Ohlen's own Chester Everett and the Ranch Rhythmaires. It's an impressive bill of locally imprinted music, one that highlights the Haywoods just fine. His group, he notes, is perfect "for those who aren't quite ready to go see a honky-tonk band in full bloom, that want a little more action, something a little more up-tempo than country."
Silva says his act's own speedier numbers are enjoying a few extra RPMs with the addition of new bassist DiLiso, who previously slapped string with English psychobillies the Cut Backs. The extra bursts of speed are giving the band a new niche to explore, Silva says. But he makes it clear his group will never stray too far from its sonic foundation.
"We play a lot of songs about drinking and bleeding hearts," he says, "and even the Tennessee stuff, we don't speed it up, and Carlo will still use the country-beat bass lines." Besides, he notes, "there's enough people out there who like the traditional stuff, who don't expect us to light our britches on fire and spin around the stage. We're not all about doing sixteenth notes in every bass line. We don't need any more speed. We need to slow down a little bit."
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