Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Town and Country - Shorter Artist Feature from Issue #42 Nov-Dec 2002

Hackensaw Boys

Simple is as simple does

Charlottesville, VA

The Hackensaw Boys have the Blue Ridge Mountains in their DNA. An acoustic aggregation — upright bass, fiddles, banjos, guitars, harmonica, charismo, dobro, mandolin — the Hackensaws make primitive American music, born of specific place. Their songs are steeped in generations of melody and shadings of old-time mountain and string bands, from their original uptempo reels and jigs to bittersweet ballads and hymns of the working man.

On their second self-issued disc, Keep It Simple, the Hackensaw Boys aren’t jumping on any O Brother bandwagon — their origins predate the hype — nor are they re-creating days of yore for purist perfection. Rather, they infuse the idiom of their shared heritage with an urgent and hungry freshness, lifting their voices in tightly wound harmony, picking and singing with Pentecostal fervor. Their output takes on love, loss, good times and dancing, but also such topicalia as sympathy toward Seattle’s WTO protesters and Nashville’s ball-busting ways.

Highly competent writers, players and singers, the Hackensaws have the confidence, lack of ego and community-hewed ethic to underplay, eschewing technical proficiency for purity of feeling. Live, their sonic symbiosis is a joyful, redemptively spirited blessing. Collectively, they are Peter Pan and his shadow, too, clearly of a populist soul-set. Hovering around a trio of microphones, trading out instruments and solo spots as one hand will share a broom with the other, the Hackensaw Boys are all for one and one for all.

“Actually, at one point, I didn’t have a bass, and so Dave [Sickmen] had a ’63 Buick Wildcat that he traded for a standup bass,” recounts Tom Peloso of the Hackensaw Boys’ early days in the autumn of 1999. Newly relocated to Charlottesville from Richmond, Virginia, Peloso was encouraged by his old friend Sickmen to start up a band akin to Peloso’s former project, the bluegrass-inspired Chigger.

On Sickmen’s birthday that year, at an Old Crow Medicine Show gig, he and Peloso met up with the players that would complete the Hackensaw heart’s four chambers: multi-instrumentalist Robbie St. Ours and Rob Bullington, who came armed with a mandolin bequeathed him by his great uncle, a onetime member of the Roanoke Jug Band. Bullington recalls that by night’s end, the four of them were onstage jamming and having a ball.

Shortly thereafter, the quartet took it to the streets in the downtown Charlottesville mall, and forthwith, the Hackensaws had a standing weekly engagement at Charlottesville’s beloved Blue Moon Diner, where at one point the band’s membership swelled to twelve. There were nine of them when they recorded their debut disc, Get Some, in 2000.

Now trimmed to a solid eight-man unit, the Hackensaws spent the summer logging 15,000 miles on their mid-’60s touring bus (christened the Dirty Bird), weaving across the country as part of the Unlimited Sunshine package tour. Hand-picked by headliner Cake’s John McCrea, the Hackensaws shared a stage with such diverse acts as the Flaming Lips and De La Soul at high-profile venues such as Colorado’s Red Rocks and Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre.

Despite such exposure and positioning for bigger things to come, the band’s humble outlook makes the accompanying britches unnecessary. Peloso says of their current record’s title cut and centerpiece: “Our guitar player wrote ‘Keep It Simple’; there’s been some times where things seem to get so complicated with this whole thing. He wrote this song and played it over the phone, left a message, kinda sayin’, ‘Let’s not forget where we came from, let’s remember to keep it simple and not let things get away from us.’ We like that idea.”

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108

Discuss

Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #42 Nov-Dec 2002

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »


From the Blogs

  • The Post-Newport Earthquake: Watkins Family Hour
    Did you feel it? That's what everybody in Los Angeles asks each other whenever a shake or quake rattles and rolls through the valleys and flatlands. Sometimes there's just a release of pressure beneath the crust, and other times it's an up and down jolt that lasts only a second. And then you forget about it. Until the next time.  Sunday night […]
  • Chris Isaak's Life Beyond the Sun
    In 2011, Chris Isaak took the long overdue step of recording an album at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn. It wasn't just any album, it was faithful interpretations of classic songs by his musical mentors and heroes: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. It didn’t take much of a leap of imagination to predict that the album would be […]
  • Waylon, John Prine, Kinky, Gram Parsons ... Come Together
    Musicians & Movie Stars: Brief Encounters by W. Conrad This began as a foreword for a small collection of pictures and articles I am assembling for a book I plan to self-publish. As the memories piled on, the words accumulated into a short memoir and loose chronology of what happened in my life and on paper between 1967 and 1979. All of my No Depression […]
  • Dave & Phil Alvin & the Guilty Ones – Dakota Jazz Club (Minneapolis, Minn. – July 26, 2014)
    “My brother Dave is a triple threat and I’m so proud of him – singer, songwriter, and guitar player.” That’s what Phil Alvin told a July 26 sellout crowd at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, Minn. The show was winding down but fans were totally pumped as the Alvin brothers exchanged pleasantries and showed no sign of their famed sibling rivalry after Dave […]
  • Celebrating 40 Years of Schoolkids Records: An Interview with Owner Stephen Judge
    This year marks the 40th anniversary of Watergate. That's not really anything to celebrate, it's not an accomplishment, and what's that got to do with music? Nothing. It simply marks the inevitable passage of time. But, 2014 also marks the 40th anniversary of Raleigh, N.C.'s Schoolkids Records, which is an accomplishment and is definitely […]
  • Getting to Know The Levins, Falcon Ridge Emerging Artists
    Huey Lewis and the News have been known to sing about “The Power of Love” but it was “The Power of Music” that brought Julia and Ira Levin together.  Their collaboration is a mighty one and it sure feels like it was a union that was truly meant to be.  As they state in the interview below, they are committed to making the world a happier place through their […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!


Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter