The Road Hammers
Strap yourself in and hang on The Road Hammers are back with Wheels (Open Road Recordings), a record that will resonate deeply with anyone who ever up and shook the dust off their boots and hit the road just for the hell of it.
Scheduled for release on June 3rd, Wheels is a tight set of raw and uncompromising tunes that telegraphs the unique sense of freedom found by getting behind the wheel of something, anything, and getting the hell out of Dodge. Nowhere is that more evident than on Wheels second single ‘Mud,’ a track dedicated to people who love getting dirty at high speed on motorbikes, trucks, hot rods or whatever they can fire up and head out on.
“The album’s called Wheels for a reason,” says Jason McCoy (vocals/guitar). We didn’t want to write a song just about trucking, but about 4×4’s, four-wheeling, dirt biking, you name it, and ‘Mud’ is an extension of that.”
Co-produced by Scott Baggett (Alison Krauss, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt) and McCoy, Wheels covers a lot of ground. Like previous Road Hammers records it reflects the band’s love of the road with a mix of ‘Hammerized’ covers including Steve Earle’s ‘Hillbilly Highway’ (featuring Colt Ford), Geoff Mack’s classic ‘I’ve Been Everywhere,’ and blazing originals like lead single, ‘Get On Down the Road.’ “But it didn’t have to be a highway song to make the cut, it just had to have a certain energy,” McCoy says, referencing the Hammers’ cover of BTO’s ‘Let It Roll,’ which boasts a killer vocal performance by BTO co-founder and bassist Fred Turner.
You don’t have to be a Country fan to appreciate the Road Hammers, you just have to have a pulse; the appeal of their balls to the wall originals and ‘Hammerized’ rock and country covers cut clear across musical boundaries. But live and on record it’s their trademark harmonies that set them apart; a blend of voices that’s tight, but not polished to such a fine gloss their individual personalities disappear – McCoy’s deep country drawl speaking from the heartland, Clayton Bellamy (vocals/guitar) bringing the rock and bassist Chris Byrne’s sky-high harmonies soaring above.
While McCoy has often said, “The road is where music comes alive,” the Hammers’ performances have always been equally fiery on record and on stage. In 2005, their self-titled debut hit No. 1 on the Canadian Country Album Chart out of the box and garnered The Road Hammers multiple CCMA Award nominations, a CCMA Award for Group or Duo of the Year, a 2005 JUNO for Country Recording of the Year and 2006 CCMA Awards for Group or Duo of the Year and Best Video. The Hammers’ also hit the number one spot on the BDS Country Audience chart with their version of classic trucking anthem, ‘Eastbound and Down.’ Additionally, the band was the subject of a CMT reality show that documented their genesis, songwriting and recording process and, ultimately, their pursuit of a US record deal. Their debut was Certified Platinum, yielded four Top 10 hits, set the tone for their 2009 follow up, The Road Hammers II, and prompted the Hammers to tour relentlessly both on their own and with music legends including Lynyrd Skynyrd and Roy Clark.
Although the Hammers disbanded in 2010, individually they continued to make the road their home – Bellamy and McCoy with their solo projects and Byrne as a member of George Canyon and Gord Bamford’s bands among others. “Getting into this project after taking time away was about getting back to the heart of what The Road Hammers were made to do,” Bellamy says, which, as the song ‘Wide Open’ puts it, is ‘Runnin’ to run, not runnin’ away.’
That’s a sentiment that speaks to anyone who’s ever yearned for the kind of breathing space found by hitting the road and traveling through a ‘big ole stretch of nuthin’ round’ (as the band sings on Wheels’ title track), whether it’s for an hour, a day, or a lifetime. “I’ve been on the road for most of my life so it’s something I can really relate to,” Byrne says, “same for Jason and Clay. This is how we’ve made a living for years and there’s definitely a certain freedom to it, and Wheels is kind of an extended soundtrack for that.”
When the Hammers first hit the airwaves in 2004, the response from country fans was immediate and overwhelming. Now, nearly ten years on, the response Bellamy gets from listeners as a host on Edmonton’s CISN County 103.9 FM shows that the appetite for the Hammers’ signature blend of southern fried rock and country soul hasn’t diminished in the least. “Everyone was excited that we were back when ‘Get on Down the Road’ came out, but ‘Mud’ has really impacted people. When they hear it, right away the texts and emails come in. That’s inspiring.”
If anything Wheels is more rough and tumble than the Hammers’ previous efforts, something that comes across on standout rocker, ‘Rollin’ Of A Ramblin’ Man’ – a stripped down barn burner McCoy says was inspired by The Black Keys.
That sound, however, is a product of following the path they set out on after getting back together for a showcase at the 2013 CCMA Awards as well as the rare chemistry the band shares, McCoy insists: “At the end of our ride the first time we were beat down pretty heavy, but now we’re just on fire again. There’s a fearlessness to what we’re doing that, I think, is a result of having something we all loved fall apart for a while. So when we got together for that showcase it was the most potent thing from the downbeat to the end of the set that I’ve ever experienced. It was blistering.”
“There was definitely a weight to getting back on stage and going into the studio,” Bellamy says. “The expectations were high, but the chemistry between the three of us was palpable. The only thing I ever wanted was to be in a group other bands watched from the wings to see what they were going to do next. With The Road Hammers I got the chance to join that band and I can’t wait to get on the road and do this every night.”
“We set the bar high for ourselves,” Byrne puts in, admitting that he, too, was a bit apprehensive about getting the band back together initially: “But right from bar one we burned the place down.”
The result is a record that will only provide more fuel for the band’s high-octane live shows, performances that have earned them a reputation as one of the most energetic and entertaining bands in Canadian Country.
Put bluntly, Wheels is a blazing chunk of southern fried goodness start to finish. There’s not a weak track in the bunch or a moment when The Road Hammers seem to be doing anything less than 100 miles an hour, pedal to the metal, flat out and full tilt. Bottom line – Wheels rocks.