Nashville’s Hillbilly Casino and Local Rockers Whiskey Daredevils to Square Off in ‘2016 Greaser Championship’

click to enlarge Hillbilly Casino
Hillbilly Casino
Last year, Nashville’s Hillbilly Casino opened a nationwide tour for rapper Yelawolf. Though the rockabilly band plays with a punk DIY edge that would make Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent proud, the group went over like gangbusters. Local rockers the Whiskey Daredevils, who just completed a new album with producer John Smerek (Detroit Cobras, Reckless Kelly, Paybacks, Electric Six, Sea and Cake) will join Hillbilly Casino for an upcoming Beachland show billed as the “2016 Greaser Championship.”

Local rockabilly outfit Bomb City Royals will also play. In a recent phone interview, we spoke to Whiskey Daredevils singer Greg Miller, who promises to have confetti canons on hand for the gig, and Hillbilly Casino singer Nic Roulette.

click to enlarge Whiskey Daredevils
Whiskey Daredevils
Talk about how you two know each other?
We played a show in Cincinnati in the late 1990s. Nic was in a band out of Fort Wayne called the Blue Moon Boys. I was in the Cowslingers. I think the first band was the Drive By Truckers. We had not heard of each other’s bands. We played and came up to each other afterward and did that junkyard dog thing and then started playing shows together shortly after that.
Roulette: I remember it differently. The Cowslingers totally sucked, and we told them that we hated them. No, Greg is right. It’s always cool to be on the road and see a band you think is awesome. I vividly remember those guys walking in. We thought that they looked so cool.

You’ve dubbed the show at the Beachland the “Greaser Championship.” Talk about what the level of competition will be like?
It’s not that often that you get three really good bands in this genre all playing together at the same time. Having Hillbilly Casino come up from Nashville is great. They don’t play up here that often. People often think about of rockabilly as freeze-dried retro music. We’re all getting after it. It’s an update of a musical form we like. We do it in our own way. We have a country influence and the Bomb City Royals have a punk rock thing. In my mind, Hillbilly Casino is the best band that can be labeled rockabilly. It’s the best night of music for anything in the Americana genre this summer.
Roulette: If Americana music wasn’t boring, it would be this show. A lot of times Americana artists are trying so hard to be so deep and so real and trying to take it back from poppy bubblegum music that they forget that music is fun to play. Greg likes to write songs. I’m a songwriter. Americana is like going to Catholic church and we’re like going to a crazy Pentecostal church.
Miller: Nothing is worse than a dude in a beard who’s singing a song about a coal mine when he’s actually from a suburb. I wear a stupid cowboy outfit because it’s fun to wear. I’m not a cowboy.
Roulette: Heaven’s no.
Miller: What gives it away? Is it my soft girly hands?
Roulette: It’s just the way you walk.

Talk about the rockabilly scene in the city you’re from.
Cleveland has a decent number of bands who play this type of music. I don’t see it as a huge scene, but it’s very protective and supportive, which is great. I remember in the past being the only band that did this type of thing in the region. It’s way different than Nashville where every single person you meet — a bartender or waitress or guy selling you a car — are better than you. Here, it’s people playing the music you love.
Roulette: I don’t know if there’s a rockabilly scene here. There’s a promoter here who brings roots bands to town, but they’re not supported by people from Nashville. When he puts on a festival, the people who come are from all over the place. They’re not from Nashville. I couldn’t say there’s a definitive rockabilly scene. There’s a music scene. There are people who see us and think we’re just another bullshit rockabilly band, but they don’t delve into it. If they did, they’d know that’s not true.

You each have new albums out. Talk about your respective new releases.
We finished this one called The Good Fight. I’m still waiting for it to get pressed. It’s a Whiskey Daredevils record. It’s country and punk rock and rockabilly and garage rock all mashed into one thing. It’s more twangy than our last couple of records. I’m proud of the songs. [Guitarist] Gary [Siperko] played some great guitar. [Bassist] Sugar and [drummer] Leo [P. Love] were in the pocket. I’m excited for it to come out.
Roulette: We have a live album out currently. We have five albums out and four of them have a different drummer on them. We wanted to get our new drummer on an album. It’s called Live in the U.S.A. It’s pretty much songs off our other albums re-recorded with a couple of covers, including “Hot for Teacher.” It also has three songs that will be on the album we’re currently recording. We know this artist Yelawolf who is a protégé of Eminem. He’s a white rapper on our album, which is something that no rockabilly bands do. Some rockabilly fans might hate us for that. Dude is a nice guy and it’s not what you think. He took us on a seven-week tour with him last summer. We exposed his fans to the American rockabilly music that we play. We converted his fans into liking live music. We grew our fanbase with people who came out are music fans. That’s what we want.
Miller: People get scared off by this. They think it’s something else. They think it’s some bullshit Sha Na Na thing. It’s rock’ n’ roll. There isn’t enough good guitar-based rock ’n’ roll out there.

Do you anticipate another "Greaser Championship" in 2017?
Absolutely. We’re already in discussions about having a face-to-face knock down battle in Columbus this fall. We’re also talking about playing Cincinnati.
Roulette: Guitars! People who like guitar players will like this show. Period. Gary and our guitarist teach people to play guitars and make money doing it. They’re guitar player guitarists. They’re awesome. If you like guitar players, there you go. If you like bass players, there are good players in both our bands.

Both bands have a long history of scraping by. What motivates you to keep going?
We’ve been a significant regional club draw forever. When you play music like this, it’s not the top of the charts. We know that we’ll have a small but super loyal fanbase. We know we’ll sell all the records we press. It’s the enthusiasm of the people that let you know you’re doing something special. Just today, I took orders from France, Germany, Florida and a suburb of Cleveland. They’re all people who like what we do. They’re from completely different cultures, but it’s touched them in some way and they’re enthusiastic. It’s cool there are people out there who can keep the process rolling.
Roulette: I play music because it’s what I do. I remember when I was a kid. I would hear people my age now and they would tell me that I’ll feel it some day. I said to myself, “No way.” I have to tell you, I’m tired and my body aches. I have pinched nerves, but once I hit the stage, I don’t think about that shit at all. My body says, “This is what you do, Nic, go do it.” And I’m able to do it. I have better moves than I had when I was in my twenties. I make enough money doing this that I’m not hurting. I recently graduated from barbershop and I cut hair to supplement my income. Since I was a little boy at a 4-H fair in Kansas on the back of a flatbed truck singing “Yankee Doodle Daddy,” I knew that this is what I was put on this earth to do. I will never stop doing it. If I’m not on stage singing songs, I’m not happy. I’m a song and dance man to my core, brother!

Hillbilly Casino, Whiskey Daredevils, Bomb City Royals, 9 p.m. Friday, July 29, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $10 ADV, $12 DOS,
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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