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The Honkys! : Of Menace & Mirth
By Terrance W. Rassmuessen
The Honkys!, Northern San Diego’s indie roots stalwarts, have been forging original Moonshine Music long before the current trend towards “Americana” developed. Originally formed in Huntington Beach amid the Rockabilly Rebellion of 1982, as the Bel-Aires, the current line up of brothers; Bret & Broy Hazzard along with their childhood friend Sean McCarty, create propulsive, musical innovations at every stop on their never ending tour.
While [the Bel-Aires &] the Honkys have a long history of nonstop touring, playing with national and international acts alike, they have spent the past few years focused on capturing their weighty cannon on a series of analog recordings. In the studio with Thomas Yearsley (of the Paladins) at the helm, the Honkys’ sound has turned to a burnished country hue. The general tone of the Honkys sound has matured with age and even their classic Honky standards have taken on the antique luster of well worn saddle leather.
While Sean carries the rhythmic weight of the band, momentum is often guided by Broy’s box car strum, which gives participating listeners a musical framework to build upon. The result of Sean’s Stand Up Bass line is a slap, click and thump to the chest. Often Sean will build understated patterns which will lull the ear, only then will he pounce upon the crowd with a thick wallop, all without losing time.
The structure built by Broy and Sean is set ablaze with the fire-hot fretwork of brother Bret. Using no effects or other technical wizardry, Bret is a true master of emotion. His bright, clean guitar strokes can turn dizzyingly turbulent in a moment; like a roughneck out on the weekend.
All three Honkys! take their turn at the mic, each displaying his own unique style. Bret’s menacing yowl strikes granite terror on tune’s like “Moonshine,” the tale of an ugly bender turned deadly. Broy’s fractured tenor, on the other hand, brings to mind the balmy blissful splendor of a Hilly Billy Neil Young. He can warm a room with his easy smile on tunes like the crowd pleasing sing-along “Emerald Treasure.” Sean, the crooner of the group, conveys goof ball charm on brawny cruisers such as ‘Reno” or the party starting “Bring it On”.
While most bands wouldn’t dare to fill the room with a live set of simple straight ahead music without the back bone support of a drummer, the Honkys! go one step further. Every night when the band plays out, they distribute; shakers, wash boards, tambourines and cow-bells to the tipsy patrons across the West. The effect is an improvisational whirlwind which enraptures listeners and draws them into the mix.
Even though nearly 30 years of polish have buffed the Honkys! sound to a fine sheen there is still enough loose jangle to keep things interesting. While each night’s set may contain many of the band’s original favorites spiked with selected new compositions, covers and attic-dusty rarities, the result is an adventurous trek through new melodic territory. The tuneful travelogue includes passage through flashes of dread and joy, sorrow and elation. The Honkys play good time music for hard luck times.
Over the years, the boys have learned to pilot a stuffed road house through the highs and lows of an arousing set. One minute they may batter the listeners with the caveman stomp of “Walk Tall”, scaling the heights of ecstatic splendor and the next they will entrance the horde and provide soul stirring relief with “The Lesson”. But they will always bring you right back home with the locomotive jooglin’ and rocking chair comfort of “Front Porch”. The wonder is listening as the introspection of the studio has strengthened and sharpened the songs themselves, transforming and infusing them with new poignancy. There is a theatrical quality to the recorded music of the Honkys. At times it feels as if they have composed the soundtrack to the movies of your mind.