Hayseed Dixie - A Hillbilly Tribute To Good Living!

By Jens Hellroute

Drunken poet, philosopher of love, Kierkegaard existentialist, or all-around good ol' boy hellraisin' southern gentleman, Hayseed Dixie frontman Barly Scotch (aka John Wheeler) is a renaissance man of many faces. And he's definitely the most entertaining larger-than-life personality I've interviewed since Bob Log III and Andre Williams. Hayseed Dixie originally hails from East Tennessee, they're now residing in Nashville where they're being grossly ignored by the mainstream country society. They could care less since they've developed a cult following around the world with their unique albums of energetic humorous hardrock-classics-gone-bluegrass anthems. Or as Barly calls it; high energy rock'n'roll done on bluegrass instruments. I was anxiously waiting to see if this combo could pull it off live a couple of hours later. Well, lets just say that Barly, Don Wayne Reno ('the fastest banjo player in the world'), Dale Wayne Reno (mandolin) and bassist Jason gave the best damn performance I've seen in years, HANDS DOWN! So buckle up and fasten your seat belt as Barly takes you through a hilarious and profound journey to the center of his mind!

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Please introduce yourself, your instrument, and tell me what's your ambition in life is? Lets start a little highbrow, haha.

BARLY SCOTCH: My ambition in life?? That sounds like a deep poetic soul question, haha. Essentially my ambition in life is to see as many people smiling, getting naked, and getting drunk as is humanly possible. People work all day at some job they don't like very much, and go home to some spouse they don't love anymore. And the last thing they need when they come to a rock'n'roll show is for some asshole to being up there staring at his shoes singing about his deep pain. Who gives a shit? Let's all get naked. I'm doing my ambition in life; I'm travelling around the world meeting new people everyday and drinking beer with them, what else is there? We'll soon drop dead and that's that! I'll be Barly Scotch for this interview, that's my character's name on the album sleeve anyway. I play the fiddle and the guitar and I do all the preaching. Testifying.

WC: What's the history of Hayseed Dixie, what bands did you play in before?

BS: Well, the Reno brothers who play banjo and mandolin they have been playing hillbilly music, what some people call bluegrass, since they were little kids. Their dad was a pretty famous banjo player named Don Reno and God, he wrote something like 600 odd songs. He co-wrote the famous "Duelling Banjos" (immortalized in the classic "Deliverance" movie). He was pretty famous in the USA, played all the bluegrass festivals....

WC:He maybe played with Bill Monroe, the bluegrass legend?

BS: Yeah! Their dad did played with Bill Monroe for several years until World War II happened, then he joined the Navy and fought in the South Pacific and got all shot up like a lot people did in the war. But he taught them to play the banjo as kids. And me? I don't know...well my granddad was a hogfarming moonshiner and my dad grew pot, and I decided to go to college, university as you call it here, and I did that for 10 years.

WC: Where are you based?

BS: In East Tennessee, the story (included in the "A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC" album) is not a joke in that regard, we're all from the hills. I was the first guy in my family to ever go to the university. It just seemed like a fun idea, they gave me a scholarship and I went to Milwaukee and studied philosophy up there for 10 years. Søren Kierkegaard was one of my favorites and that's why I always wanted to visit Copenhagen. I wanna get up in the morning and just walk the streets...

WC: I think he's buried here...

BS: Yeah, I'll find his grave and go pour some whiskey on it, haha. But I also studied a lot of the German guys and ended up getting a Ph.D. in it. Man, I didnt wanna leave university, I just loved it, because I could drink all day, write papers and talk about weird stuff. And in the nite I'd go out in the pubs and play music and make enough money to drink beer. I thought it was great, but they finally booted me out and I went back to Nashville. And that's where I met Dale and Don who were playing at a recording session with somebody and we got to be friends. You know getting together, picking and drinking beer. And we made our first album, with the AC/DC songs, in like 2 days! Just something to pass around to our friends at parties.

WC: Well, your AC/DC record is my favorite party record.

BS: Well, thank you! That's why we did it! We were drinking and enjoyed playing the songs and we thought other beerdrinkers might enjoy it as well. Putting a smile on somebody's face IS my life ambition!

WC: So I guess you also grew up on 70s hardrock?

BS: Yeah, a lot of different stuff. My dad and uncle all liked the hillbilly stuff, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams Sr. The first record I bought was a Hank Williams Jr. record, "Whiskey Bent and Hellbound", an outlaw country record. And the 2nd record I ever bought was AC/DC's "Highway To Hell", and I really didn't think there was that big a difference. It was kinda the same stuff and from the same working class point of view.

WC: Southern rock bands like The Outlaws, Black Oak Arkansas...

BS: Yeah, they were cool. And Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ronnie Van Zandt was brilliant in my opinion. A real poet. There was some intelligence to all of his lyrics, and he really got a lot of the Skynyrd fans turned on to black music. There used to be a lot of racism in the South, not so much anymore. We all gotta die sometime, but Ronnie died way too young. But anyway, both me and the Reno brothers grew up on hillbilly music and rock'n'roll, and we never really thought much of what would happen with the AC/DC record, so we were as surprised as anybody when couple months after the recordings we got all these phone calls from people in States who wanted to put it out. And we thought, let them put it out and see what happens, and we sold 50,000 copies pretty quick. And then it was; "We better get a bassplayer and play some gigs". And that was 4 ½ years ago and we're still at it. There has never been a masterplan, as long we and the audience seem to be having fun, we'll do it. In August there was a UK release, "Let There Be Bluegrass"...

WC:It's partly live and studio songs, sort of a 'best of' comp?

BS: 5 songs are live, 5 new ones, and 6 or 7 from our previous US releases...

WC: "Ace Of Spades"?

BS: Yeah, and "Whole Lotta Rosie" which wasn't on our first AC/DC record.

WC:"Ace Of Spades" has actually been covered as a country song by bands before.

BS: Well, I didn't know that. I just like the song and I played it for the Renos who never heard it on my acoustic guitar, and they just joined in and we thought; "This is high energy, let's record that!".

WC: I think any good r'n'r or blues song can be played as a country song...

BS: Yeah, and any good bluegrass song can be played as a rock song, if it's a good song its a good song.

WC: 80s cowpunk? Do you like bands like Blood On The Saddle?

BS: Were Jason and The Scorchers ever popular here? I like Georgia Satellites, very underrated band.

WC: Somewhat popular, Jason was here last year or so doing an acoustic solo set.

BS: Jason Ringenberg is a good cool dude, he's been through it, The Scorchers were a great band. When they started out nobody had heard anything like it. Was it popular here?

WC: Well, probably as a cult phenomenon...

BS: It probably was on that level as well in the States.

WC:There's some hype here in Europe surrounding 'Americana' with bands like Wilco, and I think of them as more 'indie/alternative rock' than 'country rock'...

BS: Yeah exactly, a lot of that new stuff sounds pretty wimpy to me as well. Quit your whining, take off the dress and be a man, you know what I mean? Some people might get laid by telling everybody how deep and sad they are, personally I just wanna pour down some beer and get on with the program. I'll probably not show up at those 'Americana' shows, haha.

WC: I've previously asked about roots punky bands like Cowslingers and Legendary Shack Shakers....

BS: The Shakers are cool!(They've played in Rockford several times and are highly endorsed by our pal Mort Poisson...Dr. Mality)

WC: ...and since you're located in Nashville, I mean, does your music have any chance of being played on country radio?

BS: Not on country radio! What they call 'country' in the US is specifically the same major label format sound...

WC: Its basically pop music.

BS: It's pop music with a bit of a twang, people in the business have decided that their main audience should be middle class women. Everything that the programmers on country radio think will appeal to a middle aged housewife. That ain't us, man! The radio that we get on is usually classic rock radio, pretty much. And we do a lotta specialty shows, the morning shows when people are driving to work; the comedy shows with stand up comedians and guys like us come on, stuff that's a bit left of the center. We've never even tried to get on country radio, it's too restricted, and I don't even care.

WC: Your version of "Hell's Bells", what' s the bell, it always cracks me up, is it like a bicycle bell or..?

BS: It's a service bell, y'know in a hotel reception. We've spent soo much time in hotels and hearing that little bell ring - it's hell to us! We DID use a bicycle bell for the song when we're in Holland, I mean, those little bicycles are everywhere, they'll run you over, man! So we thought in Holland that would be really be "Hell's Bells", haha, RING! RING! And they'd knock yer ass down.

WC: "I'm Keeping Your Poop", one of your own songs, were you drunk when you wrote that, haha?(You've got to be shitting me!--Dr. Mality)

BS: No!

WC: It's a tender love song, haha?

BS: No, it's supposed to be an uplifting positive song on how to get on down the path when somebody dumps ya.
As hard as it might be to believe, I did get dumped once. That was back when I was in university, and I was really into this little girl for like 5 years. Then she started having an affair with her psychology professor like they do, and it really fucked me up. I walked around feeling all gutshot for 2 or 3 days, and I started thinking nobody is that special. As ol' Kierkegaard would say; you just gotta make a choice and commit to it with the full force of your personality and create your own meaning, GODDAMMIT!, instead of looking for it out there somewhere. So I thought about it; when somebody dumps you for some strange reason all you remember is all the good stuff, the 5% of it you really liked, and you forget about the 95% of the person who made you wanna put them through the fuckin' wall, right? Why not just remember all the stuff you really hated and then you realized she ain't that damn special.

So I wrote that song for myself to remind myself of that, and put on the record ("A Hillbilly Tribute To Mountain Love") as a public service to everybody else if they've ever been in that situation. Instead of getting drunk and calling her up and starting talking a bunch of stupidass shit, they play that song and go; YEAH, SHE WAS A BITCH! And they move on down the path. But see, women can use that song too and say; HE WAS AN ASSHOLE! He left so many hairs on the toilet seat it looked like it'd grown a goatee etc. And then move on to some fella who'll treat them right. So, yeah, it's supposed be a funny ridiculous song, but letting someone mindfuck you IS a ridiculous thing. That's where it's from, haha.

WC: You've done AC/DC, Kiss and a mixed album, what's next, Black Sabbath?

BS: You know what? We just finished our next record before we came over here for this tour, "A Hot Piece Of Grass", and half of it is originals and the rest is Sabbath and Led Zeppelin stuff. We got a bangup version of "War Pigs" which we're gonna do tonite...

WC: That's a long song, I thought "Paranoid" which is like 2½ minutes would be more your thing...

BS: We will do everything second of it because of the lyrics, I mean, we're not a political band or anything, the only message we're trying to send to anyone is the number to our motel room, haha. But it seems like this song is strangely relevant even today, there's some pretty good words in that song, man. In honor of all our boys who are down there in Iraq getting shot up over some bullshit, we'll do this one for them. It's just about making rich people richer is the way I look at it, I'm not gonna get on a soapbox or anything, but that shit just pisses me off.

WC: You should go to Iraq, I'm sure the troops would love you.

BS: I'd love it, man, if they'd hire us I'd love to go. These boys want to protect the country, they didn't sign up to go to some desert to make some old man money. They don't wanna be there, defending your country is cool, but this....well anyway, damn, things like these make you go: DAMN! haha.

WC:Tell me about The Kerosene Brothers?

BS: That was a sideproject band, just us with a drummer, and I play electric guitar. It's a different direction compared to Hayseed Dixies, half originals and old songs by people like Bill Monroe, hillbilly songs played really rocked up. For a year we like opened for ourselves, haha, first Kerosene Brothers then Hayseed. Both sides of the coin, it was a lotta fun, but we never got that record released in Europe, I'm sure people would love it if it got distributed over here, it didn't sell much in the States but the Dixie fans bought it. Our records get distributed in Australia, good people down there. They'll drink with ya, and their women like to fuck, haha, what else do ya want? It's not a pretty place, too much desert, but the people are really cool. Tasmania is nice, a lotta wild animals down there, weird things....As you noticed I like to talk, just ask the other fellas in the band, haha.

WC: Maybe we should end it now. What can people expect when they go to a Hayseed Dixie gig?

BS: Just a high energy rock'n'roll show done on bluegrass instruments. Our whole goal is just getting people loosened up, drink some beer. There's no way you can't watch Don Wayne play that fast on the banjo without getting a smile on yer face unless you don't have a pulse. There's enough pain in the world, man, we are entertainers. Your role in society is kinda like motor oil in a car, keep things running, and hopefully get laid, that's what we're here for, haha.

Hayseed Dixie's Official Website