The Rock Bottom Boys
● By Style
Photos by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.
There’s something about county fairs that fits the music of The Rock Bottom Boys perfectly.
Perhaps it’s equal parts open country air, the sound of farm animals, fun intermingling audiences ranging from young to old, hay and sawdust littering the ground, and the smell of comfort food wafting through the air, because when the bearded, overall-clad hillbilly act hits the stage, they’re an instant crowd favorite.
The foursome – consisting of Tony Quinn (Big Tone) on lead guitar, Charles Hurley (Lucky Coot) on banjo and jug, Ray Haney (The Shank) on bass and James Salters (J.R.) on washboard, Jew’s harp and everything in-between including the kitchen sink – formed in 2009 and have been playing the fair circuit from California up to Washington ever since. “Our band is built around a performance act. Everyone is a qualified musician and vocalist, but there are thousands of those and lots of them are out of work,” Quinn says. “We strive really hard to be entertaining and family-friendly but at the same time, musically slick.”
Although the title of their debut album is It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Rock Bottom Boys don’t play traditional music; instead, they take classic rock songs such as “Honky Tonk Woman” and “I Feel Good” and apply a bluegrass, hillbilly twist. The group plays on the juxtaposition of the lyrical content of the songs they choose to cover and how they look and act on stage. Instead of musical solos rock stars seem to favor, the band relies on harmonization, which is how they show their humor. When they perform “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osborn, they like to quote “The Wabash Cannonball,” an old folk song about a train. “How funny is it to quote a train song in ‘Crazy Train’?” laughs Quinn. “People often won’t recognize it because it sounds like a bluegrass song and that’s exactly what we strive for. Our success is the arrangement of our songs, which is just off the hook.”
Quinn is the only bona fide hillbilly having grown up in South Carolina; the others are mostly locals residing in El Dorado Hills, Sacramento and Fresno. The group has come full circle – their origins began in California’s county fairs as several separate groups formed around a seed of an idea to reinvent themselves based on the success of The Blue Collar Comedy Tour, American Pickers, and O Brother, Where Art Thou.
“I’ve played country music my whole life and all of us are products of the classic rock era. It’s natural to want to do what you know; we just tried to find another way to do that,” Quinn explains. “Collectively our music seemed earthy, real and funny. And looking at our age, the hillbilly thing just seemed to fit.”
Having their foothold on the West Coast, The Rock Bottom Boys are now branching out to fairs and festivals in Nevada, Texas and Arizona. They are also busily working on their second studio album, set to release in fall of this year.
Visit rockbottomboys.com for more information.