First there was The Haystack Hi-Tones, now let me introduce you to the Dutch band Mellow Jo and the Hi-Tones. They just had their first cd release party and their cd is waiting here to be reviewed by Rockabilly-online. The bandmembers are experienced musicians, so I asked their heads off about their history.
We are talking to:
Mellow “Marjos” Jo: vocals
Rolf Hartogs: Fender B-Bender guitar and vocals
Ray Blom: upright bass and vocals
Jan Kramer: Acoustic guitar and background humms
Jan van Leeuwen: drums and background yells
What bands did you play in and tell us about those bands.
Rolf: I have played in a lot of bands therefore I will only mention a few:
– The Haystack Hi-Tones: Style; Western Swing, Rockabilly, Country.
– El Rio Trio (one year): Style; El Rio Trio
– Ronnie, Rolf and Ray: Style; traditional Rockabilly (no drums)
– RenoBrothers: Style; Truckin’ Country, Rockabilly, Rock ‘n Roll
– The Kieron McDonald Combo, traditional Rockabilly
– Started with “Sitting Duck” in 1992 with Hans Snitslaar (El Rio Trio). Meant to be a one-time-thing for a new year party on a R&R dance school. This was already with Hans Snitslaar from El Rio Trio. My first try on double bass. Until then I played bass guitar. Nevertheless we have played in Paradiso on a big yearly R&R party!
– When Annita (currently from the Starbombers) joined we renamed it to Kingsize Flavour.
Big change came with Marjos and Rolf. This was the beginning of the Haystack Hi-Tones, until 2001, when we decided to go our separate ways.
– Formed a rockabilly trio Ronnie, Rolf & Ray (2003)
– Biznizz Men, with Jan van Leeuwen (2008)
Jan K: I started playing in bands when I was 16, in the early eighties. I played bass guitar and sang in various punkbands, and played guitar for myself. (One of those bands actually still exists; next year we’ll celebrate our first 30 years!!)
I knew about rockabilly and rock’n roll back then, but really “discovered it” about 14 years ago. (actually, there are lot’s of people in todays rockabilly scene with the same roots, as I found out J ). Punkrock and rockabilly are very close, rockabilly is the punkrock of the fifties, in my opinion. I never stopped playing guitar, so 5 years ago I decided to step into the world of rockabilly bands. I played lead guitar in The Wild Men Of Wongo for 3 years, which was an amazingly great time. Lots
of gigs and even more beer and laughs. I was without a band for a short period when WMOW blew up. Then Rolf introduced me to Mellow Jo & the Hi-Tones and I started to play the rhythm guitar with this band. It’s so great to play this fantastic music with such great musicians! I also play lead guitar in Buzz Barton’s Brothers, a rockabilly band from Alkmaar.
We play traditional sounding rockabilly with a modern twist. We play covers and also write our own songs. It takes time, but we’ll get there!
Jan van L: In almost every band except the Nightcaptains……hahahaha!!!!
The Chessnuts, Jess & Jill and The Sinners, Barnstompers, Reno Brothers, The Flaming Stars, Black Sheep & The spareribs,etc,.
Stand-inn with a lot of bands in and outside Holland, backed up: Ronnie Dawson,Sid and Billy King, Joe Clay, Don and Dewey, Sonny Burgess, Sleepy LaBeef,etc.
I’ve played with Rolf en Ray in the Haystack Hi-tones, Played in Serpents of the Nile, jazzy style 30’s and 40’s.
And played in The Blacksheep and the Spareribs (rock’n roll funband)
Tell me about the band Mellow Jo and the Hi-Tones. Where are you from. How did the band start? Describe your music style.
Marjos, Ray and I started to play together in 1996 when I was asked to join the Haystack Hi-Tones. For the following five years, until the band stopped in 2001, we’ve been playing everywhere together with drummer Hans (El Rio Trio) and singer
Annita (Annita and her Starbombers). The style we played was mainly Western Swing, Rockabilly, Hillbilly, Country with two female vocalists.
After one year since the Haystack Hi-Tones stopped I called Ray to start playing together again. So every Tuesday evening we were playing together and listening to songs, mainly Swing, Western Swing, instrumentals. We also started to play with Ronnie Pietersma as a trio (Ronnie, Rolf and Ray). Somewhere in 2006 we ran into Marjos and she really wanted to play “Swing” music which was something we all liked. Then we asked Hans to join us on drums again. While we were still looking for the right songs and style to play, at one point Hans had to leave the band as he was too busy with ERT so we asked Jan van Leeuwen to
join us. While we were rehearsing for a while we noticed that a rhythm guitarist would be a great addition to the band. One day I was talking to my friend Jan Kramer about “Mellow Jo” and he offered to play the rhythm guitar. We all liked that, so here we are! The style we are playing now is hard to describe. It’s Swing without the big band, Western Swing with a bite, Rockabilly with a Bop and a lot of tight breaks. It’s like the Haystack Hi-Tones v2.0 without the Hillbilly songs, there is now definitely more “swing” in our songs and we play a lot better since then.
About the band: Rolf said it all, but the reason for the real push forward of MJHT was actually a sad one. The Reno Brothers, a great band with Rolf and Rogier as lead guitar players, had to stop making music because Rogier could not play anymore due to
a brain hemorrhage. This was the start of more intense rehearsal-evenings together every week, instead of every 2 weeks. It made the sound better, and the rhythm tighter.
With the Bizznizz Men it was the first time I played with drummer Jan van leeuwen. He has a great way of swing play. It was obvious when Hans Snitslaar left MJHT, Jan had to take his place! Jan Kramer completed the rhythm line with his rhythm guitar.
How did your first love for rock and roll start? First song, heroes etc.
Rolf: My dad gave me his old tape recorder (with the big reels) when I was 5 years old. Between “all” 3 tapes, there was one tape with just Elvis on it. I liked that one the most. For years I played with my Lego© together with Elvis. I recently stopped because my girlfriend says I’m too old now. I think my first favorite as a kid must have been Jailhouse Rock or Blue Suede Shoes…. Ever since I play rockabilly guitar I went through the usual heroes; Brian Setzer, Cliff Gallup, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Blind Blake, Jimmy Bryant, Clarence White, Jerry Reed, Hank Garland, Grady Martin.
Ray: On weekends, my father (1921) was making music tapes (also reels, which I still have), for his own fun and played these early in the morning. They consisted mostly of swing music from the 20’s until the 40’s with musicians like Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Glenn Miller etc.. This turned out to become a big influence in my music taste. Later on I also started to like country music like the Eagles, until Elvis died.. I never played his music but since his death I was curious and started to learn more about R&R in general, until in 1991, my girlfriend and I started to dance R&R. From then on, I really got to know R&R in all kinds of styles with names like, Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant, Doc Watson, Collins Kids, George Jones, Red Foley, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Smith’s Ranch Boys.
Jan K: I love music, it’s the most important thing in my life (well, okay, besides my wife), since I was a child. I don’t have heroes. For me, that rock ’n roll feeling started when a friend gave me the Sex Pistols LP when I was 14. I listened open-mouthed, played it every day for weeks, the energy! Rock ’n roll! And, oh yes, sub-cultures are fun!
Jan van L:
Bill Haley was my first R&R Idol and all of a sudden the DJ at the Cruise-inn played JOHNNY BURNETTE…..LONESOME TRAIN !!! That did the trick for me. I like almost any wild Rockin’ artists and songs, actually I like all kinds of music as long as it’s old.
Marjos: I can’t really remember, music in general was always a big part in our family, including rock and roll. When I was about 12 year I really liked Psychobilly. Like King Kurt, Frenzy etc. and I always liked Elvis of course!! Later on I discovered singers like Kay Starr, Patsy Kline, July London, Janis Martin.
Do you write your own songs? How are you inspired?
Rolf: I only write instrumentals. Every now and then a melody “pops” into my head and I start working on it. For our CD my inspiration was that I wanted a swinging instrumental on it (Bouncin’). I have a few ideas for new instrumentals, but
haven’t recorded them yet.
Ray: No, I do not myself, but I listen close to the old versatile bass players, who play different than the standard way most others do. It‘s makes me better in filling in when someone else is creating a new song.
Jan K: Yes I do, but I find it very hard to write a traditionally sounding rock’n roll song. Somehow it always gets “punky”. I’m often inspired by other songs.
Jan van L: The songs written by me were all horrible, about people who I had to shoot or kill in any other way, R&R death songs more or less. I threw em all away coz it was too scary to let anyone else read them.
Marjos: I wish I could. Tried a couple of years ago, but …………. Just stick to the singing!!
(Currently the Band is shocked and very scared of Jan van L.)
Do you also play for other music lovers than rock and rollers? How do they react?
Ray: We are thinking about doing a ACDC tribute..
Jan van L: We do and they love the big mix which we play. Jazzy, bluesy, western swing, Wild Rockin’ , R&R, Country. It’s the energy what most people tell us…..it’s old music but not dead music!
What other nowadays bands or artist do you like?
Rolf: Big Sandy, Bellfuries, Smith’s Ranch Boys.
Ray: Smith Ranch Boys, Big Sandy, Allison Kraus, JD McPherson, Jimmy Sutton, High Noon.
Jan K: Quite a few of the Wild Records bands, JD McPherson has a great voice and talent. Kingsize Playboys, The Seatsniffers… well, there are so many great bands! I respect everyone who gets up there and “does” it!
Jan van L: All of them as everybody is doing their best to keep the music and the scene going. Smokestack Lightning, El Rio Trio, Paul Ansell, Ray Collins Hot club,The Sonics are bands who do inspire me!
Which living celebrity would you like to be on stage with?
Ray: For me, there’s only one celebrity, and he’s not among us anymore. Playing a set in Benny Goodmans Big band would be nice!
Jan van L: Jerry Lee Lewis John Fogerty, he reminds me a lot of Ronnie Dawson….. more than 2 hour’s of action packed music with a lot of energy played. Worth every cent to watch!!!!
Where would you like to play the most? (where you haven’t been playing before)
Rolf: I like to play at the High Rockabilly again, Viva Las Vegas again, Tear it up Croatia again 🙂
Ray: Tear it Up, Croatia, of course Vegas again! All the great festivals.
Jan K: Doesn’t matter to me. Festivals with lots of people are fun. But a sweaty gig in a small overcrowded pub is just as good, maybe even better….maybe that’s were rock’n roll belongs…
Jan van L: Where ever people wants to see us……if it’s on a boat in the middle of Amsterdam for just a couple of persons or at a benefit party for people in need. Playing our at anytime at the best we can is the most important. Every show could be your
Marjos: I really would like to play at the High rockabilly. I think it’s the best party around. Jose we love you!!
Do you have a message for rockabilly newbies?
Rolf: Those two dices hanging on the mirror inside your car block your view and will eventually cause an accident!
Ray: Do your own thing, create your own sound. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same as the original!
Jan K: don’t give a shit about rockabilly veterans. Just do your thing!
Jan van L: Enjoy and attend as much party’s as you can and try to get a band or become a DJ, you travel all over the EU before you know it.
Marjos: It’s your heart that makes you a Rockabilly, not your hair.
Do you have stage do’s and don’ts?
Rolf: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, improvise, enjoy and never be drunk on stage!!
Ray: Not really, but I do always keep a close eye and ear on my rhythm section to keep it tight together.
Jan K: know your piece and bring a packet of spare strings.
Jan van L: Always do your best coz the people in front of you have paid to watch quality and not a bunch of drunken idiots, even if it’s only 1 person that made it to your show!
Marjos Just have a good time and don’t take yourself to seriously!!. A mistake won’t kill you. Just enjoy and the people will enjoy that.
Finish this sentence: In 10 years we will be…
Rolf: somewhere rockin’ the place as sharp as ever!
Ray: Still together and outlive the Haystack Hi-Tones.
Jan van L: In ten years I still be Rockin’ and playing the best music in the world! ROCK-a-BILLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Marjos: a lot wiser?