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February 11th, 2004 WW MUSIC STAFF | Music Stories
 

Bucket Blues

Hillstomp brings that North Mississippi Blues sound around.

     
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HILLSTOMP
IMAGE: PAUL SOLEVAD
"It's going to definitely end up as a murder-suicide," says Henry Kammerer of his relationship with Hillstomp drummer John Johnson. "We spend all day together as co-workers, and then we'll go to rehearsal, and then we'll be like, 'So what are you doing tonight?'"

For six years these two Portlanders have been inseparable. Brought together by jobs at Newport Bay Restaurant in Tigard, Kammerer and Johnson shared a love for music, although neither had found his niche. Johnson was playing guitar in an uninspiring alterna-rock band called Nicotine, while Kammerer was looking for a drummer to accompany his North Mississippi-style blues. Johnson, who had never drummed before, signed on, and Hillstomp was born.

"The day that we decided to get together, we were at work," Johnson says. "So as I left work, I grabbed that five-gallon bucket from the kitchen and a wine box from the liquor room. [Kammerer] had a kick drum, and we just stuck it all together and started banging on stuff."

The duo's patchwork drum kit--now with grill-cover cymbal--is definitely a distinguishing trait, but it's not the only one. The unique style of bangin' trance blues found on One Word, the duo's debut LP, calls to mind the talents of blues great--and Hillstomp obsession--R.L. Burnside. But while the duo wears its blues influence proudly, there's also some hillbilly sensibilities in its hootin' and hollerin'--and punk roots in the music's tautness.

The band calls its sound "Hill Country Punk Blues" and, much to the pair's surprise, that sound has won them a decent following in Portland. As evidence, there's the sold-out crowd that filled the White Eagle Saloon a couple of weeks back to watch the duo bang through Hillstomp's CD release.

"There were a few people that we knew, but there were a shitload that we didn't," Kammerer says. "That was scary, because I've never had that happen. I was lucky. I was wearing a cowboy hat, so I could just pull it down and play."

The tension offered by packed houses might actually help the Brothers Hillstomp play better than they could have ever imagined. See, tension often leads to fighting, and fighting is the main ingredient in Hillstomp's success.

"It seems to produce a better show," Johnson says. "I don't know, tension works. It really does. I really have never seen anything worthwhile come out of complacency. Or total ease with where things are at."


Hillstomp plays with Minnie Pearl's Army Saturday, Feb. 13, at the LaurelThirst, 2958 NE Glisan St., 232-1504. 9 pm. $4. 21+.
 
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