These way cool cats are HOT – ROD – LINCOLN!
By Mik Homer
Now you’ve heard the story about the Rockabilly cats, who play their music in the crazy flats. That story’s true in case you’re thinkin’, These way cool cats are HOT – ROD – LINCOLN!
It seems like it has been forever since I last wrote an article for the Big Boss of Rockabilly Monthly Magazine. It seems even longer that I first met with Buzz Campbell, the Singer/Guitar Player for Hot Rod Lincoln for dinner at Tio Leo’s in the band’s hometown of San Diego, CA. In fact, almost three months had passed since I met with him that I actually finished the interview. This time around, I met with Buzz, Drummer, Ty Cox, and Tim Butler who is sitting in for Johnny G on bass and harmony vocals while Johnny is on a short hiatus from the band. Well, as the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” And a good thing happened. I got to sit down with who I think could be the funniest Rockabilly band in the world. You can tell these guys really like each other. You can see it in the admiration they show for each other when they speak of the band or of their HRL brotherhood, as well as when they are on stage. Hot Rod Lincoln really likes to play music, especially with each other. These cats may have different parents, but they are definitely from the same litter.
It amazes me how people with little or no talent can take themselves so seriously, or even worse, how the public can take them so seriously. Look at Brittany Spears…I know I like to. Here is a performer who has some talent (I don’t like her “music”, but I think there is some musical talent in her that needs to be redirected and unleashed). She has made so much money and had so much success, thanks to corporate management and endless money to create a product; the actual God-given talent has been lost. There are countless bands and entertainers whose names could be put in the space where I put Brittany’s name, some that have far less talent. Then there is the other extreme.
What also amazes me is the countless other bands and entertainers who have and use their God-given, only to scratch and claw to make a decent to good living for themselves and their families, as they do the thing in life that they love and believe in. Bands and artists such as Levi Dexter, Hot Rod Trio, James Intveld, Deke Dickerson, Michael Ubaldini, Denny Pezzin, man the list goes on and on. Another such band of great artists who deserve to make millions of dollars is Hot Rod Lincoln. Not only are these cats great musicians and entertainers, but, like most Rockabilly/Roots musicians, they are very humble, extremely cool people. They have taken the lessons from the road and applied them to their personal lives as well as to their professional lives. Things are not just about the band, although the band is a very high priority. Hot Rod Lincoln’s main professional priority is to bring great music to everyone every night. Something they have, for the most part, accomplished for many years.
As with most Rockabilly bands, the boys were influenced early on in life. Buzz Campbell had always into 50’s music and Doo-Wop. “I was listening to Doo-Wop when I was about 13.” It was not until Buzz was 21years old that he discovered Rockabilly. His girlfriend at the time took him to see a Stray Cat concert and his life has never been the same. Similar to the scene in the movie The Blues Brother, when Jake Blues went to church to hear the Reverend (?), Buzz saw the light. “I never saw anything like it! It was the most rockin’ thing I ever saw!” Buzz continues, “ I dropped out of college the next day and said, I’m putting a band together.” Gene and Eddie, the Stray Cat song of tribute to legends Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran was the song that hooked him “I have never heard a song that rocked harder live. I was floored. I dropped out of school for it. That’s a leap of faith, huh?” Yes, a true leap of faith, but a leap that Buzz obviously needed to take.
Ty’s musical upbringing was a bit different. At the age of seven, Ty discovered his father’s
collection of 45 RPM’s which he would play on his father’s old portable record player. “My dad was a prime time 50’s teenager.” Says Ty of his father. He was a total Rockabilly cat with greased hair and Buddy Holly glasses. So naturally when I started to play in bands, when I was twelve, I gravitated towards the 50’s bands.”
With similar, but unknown to each other, visions in their minds, the two strangers were set to embark down Rockabilly journeys that would eventually lead to one single Rockabilly path. After Buzz saw the light, he started putting the band together. At the time, Buzz and Johnny G were working at the Price Club, a giant grocery warehouse. “I knew he played bass,” says Buzz, “so I asked him if he wanted to jam.” Buzz explained to Johnny what type of band he wanted, and Johnny G dug the idea. He then went out and bought a doghouse bass and learned to play the slap-bass style. To this day, Johnny G is still playing that same bass, only it’s been modified and customized, with electronics and a cool leopard skin exterior. With a drummer also in place, the trio was ready to begin. But what would they call themselves?
One day Buzz was sitting around his apartment with guitar in hand, learning new songs he was getting off a Rockabilly compilation CD. One of the songs was, surprisingly enough, Commander Cody’s Hot Rod Lincoln. His non-Rockabilly roommate at the time was listening to Buzz playing and remarked, “Hot Rod Lincoln. That would be a great name for your band.” Buzz answered, “Yeah right! Shut up ya square!” Then a few days later he and Johnny G got to talking about it and decided it WOULD be a great name for a band. And Hot Rod Lincoln was born
The first year as usual was a year of learning. Hot Rod Lincoln rehearsed and played around San Diego trying to perfect their skills as musicians and entertainers. Their dedication finally led them to their first mini tour of San Francisco. Unfortunately, the drummer’s dedication to drugs and alcohol lead him to jail the morning they were to leave for San Francisco. “He called us at four in the morning to tell us he wouldn’t be able to make it at six in the morning.” recalls Buzz with a chuckle. Buzz and Johnny G hitched up their trousers, picked up a drummer they did not know, and headed out for San Francisco for the tour. “It was a nightmare.” Buzz says with a laugh, “It was fun, but it was a nightmare. We just ate shit on every set, so we just started getting really drunk, and had a ball.” Needless to say spending most of your time before during and after a show being super drunk, the opportunity for more bad things to happen increase immensely, leading to more memorable lessons of the road.
Johnny thought it would be a good idea to sell Hot Rod Lincoln T-shirts at their gigs. So he went out and had about three dozen Hot Rod Lincoln T-shirts made up. “It was when everyone was drinking,” Buzz remembers, “Johnny had three dozen T-shirts, the first Hot Rod Lincoln shirts ever…left them all on the corner. We just got super hammered; loaded everything in…left three boxes of like 36 T-shirts. There are homeless guy walking around there, STILL, with those shirts…brand new Hot Rod Lincoln shirts! That was 1991.” So if you live in San Francisco or find yourself in San Francisco, look around at the many homeless people to see if they are still advertising for the band. But do not mention anything about this to them, they may want back compensation for advertising work.
With the first tour and road lessons under their belts, Buzz and Johnny set out to find a new drummer for the band. While playing in another rockabilly band, Ty got a call to audition for HRL when the original drummer got put in jail. Buzz says of Ty, “It seems like he was the original drummer because he was the first one when we started having some success and playing more shows, Ty was the original guy.” Ty adds, “They were just getting going and I jumped in. I went down and auditioned for them and I was playing all the same songs they were. They got their song list from my old bass player, so it was, “How about this? How about that? How about this? How about that? Then we’d be playing along and Buzz and I would look at each other and laugh. From then on it was like alright, this is it.” Ty then got a tape of their originals and started listening to them. “I just drove around and I listened to it the whole time, and thought, “I’ll try these originals, and got all the originals down.” He played his first gig with Buzz and Johnny two days later and with one rehearsal and hit it. Buzz says, “We were trying to be cool and not rush it, even though he just killed the rehearsal, and then he comes into the party two days later and knew all the originals.” Buzz and Johnny knew Ty was the guy. At that time they were pretty much willing to give Ty whatever he wanted to join the band. Laughingly, Buzz quips, “I go, “OK let’s stop screwing around! What do you want? How much do you want?” And that was it.”
With things in place, Hot Rod Lincoln started tearing up the San Diego area. The boys played any place they could. As they honed their skills as Rockabilly musicians, they became very close to the very tight, small, mean, and closed Rockabilly scene in San Diego. “It was a frickin’ click!” Buzz remembers. “Most of the bands were cool but the rockabillies around town were “pricks!” Big Sandy and Russel Scott and the Red Hots. were cool and became buds.” The scene in San Diego did not embrace them when Hot Rod Lincoln first appeared on the scene. “They thought we were to hokey, and we probably were at the time, but we were still learning! We paid our dues. We’re still here and everyone’s gone.” (Laughing) so the Hell with ‘em!”
Hot Rod Lincoln, being a band with integrity, was not going let a few bad cats and kittens ruin the litter. “I always thought those people were killing the scene,” Buzz continues, “they were keeping it so closed.” So Hot Rod Lincoln decided they were going to change things. They started playing everywhere they could, opening things up, teaching people to swing dance before it got popular. They wanted people to know what to do to their music and have a good time. A better time and much more mellow than from The Day, when there were fights every night. The great thing about Hot Rod Lincoln is that they did not stop being Rockabilly Teachers when they developed their following. They are still teaching people what to do to their music with a regular Thursday nightspot at Tio Leo’s Swing Dance Night. Tio Leo’s is an excellent Mexican food restaurant, which has an incredible swing dance following.
They have also developed stronger relationships with some of the other big name Rockabillies in the San Diego area. Rip Carson, Josie Cruiser, the Paladins, and of course Levi and Bernie Dexter are people they are close to and speak highly of. Buzz says of Josie Cruiser, “I always thought she was a talented writer. She’s one of the greatest self-promoters I’ve ever met.” Getting Paladin, Dave Gonzales’ Seal of Approval was important to the band. “I’d go to see the Paladins and say to Dave, “I’m going to start a band some day, and be like you guys.” remembers Buzz. . “He knew I was inspired, and it’s cool to see someone inspired and actually do something with it. I think that’s got to be cool with him and it’s still cool for me to see him.”
The boys are no longer little kids, trying to pave their way down the Rockabilly path. They are now seasoned musicians who are giving back to the Rockabilly community. Besides being family men…Ty has been married for about nine years and has a son and daughter and Buzz has been married for four years and has a five month old son)…they are also helping boost the career of Connie, a Japanese Chickabilly who has toured with Hot Rod Lincoln over the past few years. Connie is not the only musician you might see Hot Rod Lincoln sharing the limelight with. Artists such as heroes Brian Setzer and Levi Dexter have been up, jamming with Hot Rod Lincoln. “I have a lot of love for Levi. He was one of the original cats who brought Rockabilly back.” Buzz says. However, San Diego is not the only place the boys play.
Hot Rod Lincoln has toured in Finland and Japan and has opened for a lot of original Roots guys. Among the stars have been Willie Nelson, The Killer Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. It seems the experience was better with Willie and Jerry Lee than it was with Chuck Berry. Nobody should be surprised to hear that even at age 77, Chuck Berry is difficult to deal with. It is very well known that Chuck does not allow other guitar players on stage. Buzz was cool with this and gave his blessings for Ty and Johnny G to back him up on stage. When it came time for the show at Humphrey’s by the Bay, Chuck Berry would not get out of his car, holding out for more money than originally agreed upon. A ploy he frequently has used over the decades. When he finally decided to play, he entered the backstage looking for the band. Buzz explains the event, “When I met him, it was backstage at Humphrey’s by the Bay, out here in San Diego. He came in and said, “Who are the three musicians I’m playing with?” Buzz’s plan was to introduce Ty, Johnny G, and a piano player he had brought in. Buzz was then going to ask if he could just play rhythm guitar behind him. “He came in and I said, “This is Ty on drums, this is Johnny G on bass, this is Tom Man on piano, my name is Buzz, I’m the guitar player for this band…” As soon as Chuck Berry heard “guitar player”, he pulled his hand away and said, “I want everybody out of this &%$*ing room except the three guys I’m playing with. And he kicked me out of the room. That was my experience with my hero!” This bothered Buzz for a few days, but he soon got over it. Now Buzz feels like he is a part of the Keith Richards Club. . “He’s a prick man…but he’s still Chuck Berry…he can be a prick…he’s the father of Rock-n- Roll…he can do whatever he wants.”
Hot Rod Lincoln has moved way beyond the days of backing Chuck Berry, or in Buzz’s case, getting kicked out of the room by Chuck Berry. The band is finishing up on its (5th) album, which will be out around the end of this summer. “I love the way the new album is shaping up. “ Ty says. “It’s a blend of a Buddy Hollyesque, poppy, serious Rockabilly, kind of Countrified influences with some straight up Rock-n-Roll. A good representation of where the band is right now.” Buzz adds. Ty continue, “It’s nice to hear that every album gets a little better and that the band, as musicians, gets a little better. We are still striving to become better songwriters and better players.”
Now that the new album is getting its finishing touches, the guys have more freedom to hang out with family or work on some side projects. About one weekend a month you can catch Buzz playing guitar with legendary Sha Na Na. Ty prefers to stay a little closer to home, cruising around San Diego in his ’57 Chevy listening to Doo-Wop. “When I’m driving around with my seven year old, it has to be Doo-Wop. Isabelle’s request. Sure makes a poppa proud.”
With Johnny G on hiatus, the band looks and sounds a little different, but still rockingly fantastic. Substitute bass player, Tim Butler brings to the band some skillful bass work and nice harmonies. He also lends some great words that really exemplify Ty and Buzz. “I love playing with these guys. You can’t find better players in town. I love the music. It’s easy to do.” Tim continues, “Like I said before, I’ve played with a lot of guys in town, and it’s few and far between to find guys you like, that all get along, that test you musically, and that you respect as people and players.”
Hot Rod Lincoln is lucky enough making a living doing what they want to do, playing good ole Rock-n-Roll, their way on their terms. They have survived some of the obstacles on the road to success and have recovered rather nicely. Hopefully, they will soon be gracing the people in Japan while touring with their loveable Connie. To keep up with what Hot Rod Lincoln is doing, you can check out them out whenever you want by going to www.hotrodlincoln.net . Look for their new album coming soon. If you are not familiar with this band, familiarize yourself with them, because, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’ if you don’t start listenin’ to HOT-ROD-LINCOLN!
Pictures compliment of Hot Rod Lincoln