June 12, 2013

B-sides

Bend it like Buck Owens

Sometimes the name says it all. For you might assume that a Kentucky Hellbender is someone around here who gets totally crunk — and you wouldn’t be wrong. But did you know that, according to band leader Amos Hopkins’ dictionary, a Hellbender is also a giant salamander endemic to our region? They are large and odd-looking, some say. And the salamander is, too.

But seriously, the deep-voiced Hopkins and his latest band (when asked how many bands he’s in now, he couldn’t count that high) have a new album out, Straightnin’ the Curves, Flattnin’ the Hills, which proves, among other things, that their spelling is very creative.

Its release — including a release show at Uncle Slayton’s on Friday at 9 p.m. — comes just in time for Hopkins to leave town for Tucson, sort of, and only for a year (during this episode, he’ll be back in Louisville several times). The album hints at a Southwestern influence, if you consider West Texas to be in that area. Other influences are more obvious, as the Kentucky Hellbenders cover classics by Glen Campbell, Gram Parsons and the Rolling Stones, among others.

The band is joined on the album by a modern pedal steel guitarist, Pete Finney, who plays in Patty Loveless’ band. Hopkins met him while working in Nashville. Their original pedal steel hire didn’t meet the band’s standards, and time in the studio was tight (14 songs recorded in four hours).

“We were doing some traditional country that was just screaming for a pedal steel,” says Hopkins, referring to songs like “Streets of Baltimore,” written by Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard, known to Hopkins through Gram Parsons’ version of the song.

It was Parsons who “changed my life,” getting him back into roots music. There’s a Johnny Cash song on the new album, and it ends with a Cajun song, featuring Hopkins on the fiddle.

Hopkins grew up with old-timey musician parents, “so of course, growing up, I didn’t want to have anything to do with that kind of music.” 

Learn more at facebook.com/KentuckyHellbenders.