Cut in the Hill Gang vocalist/guitarist/creative spark plug Johnny Walker claims he doesn't have a lot of ambition. "I just want to sit around and play music," he says with a laconic laugh.
His actions speak considerably louder. Walker moved from his adopted home base of Detroit to Covington to complete his medical degree at the University of Cincinnati, which he earned in 2002 (he's currently pursuing his residency in either Cincinnati or New Orleans on his way to becoming a Rock & Roll doctor). Walker sporadically recorded and toured with the garage-shaking Soledad Brothers both during and after medical school, with occasional breaks to serve as a utility Pearlene member.
A funny thing happened on the way to now; Walker dissolved the Soledads in 2007.
"Its time had come," Walker says. "We had been sitting in a van with each other for far too long. When you ride around in a van with someone for five years you realize how much their little idiosyncrasies drive you nuts. Honestly, I don't think we could have topped that last record (2006's The Hardest Walk) anyway, so you might as well go out with your A-game."
The casual listener might not discern a huge evolutionary difference between the late Soledads and the Cut in the Hill Gang, but for Walker the shift is enormous.
"After breaking up the Soledads, I was playing some Bluegrass with (Pearlene's) Jesse (Ebaugh), and I hooked up with Brad Meinerding, who's the Bluegrass hotshot in town," he says. "He wanted to do some recording with me, just fool around and play some music. He had never even recorded amplified before; he'd done acoustic session work. So I plugged him into an amp and turned it up real loud."
After Meinerding's transformation into a Rock guitarist, the pair went through a succession of drummers before finding Lance Kaufman.
"Everybody knows him from the Stardevils, but he's kind of like the secret weapon," Walker says. "I totally just cut those dudes loose and don't have to think much. On the recordings, we do three part harmonies and he helps us arrange stuff. It's fun recording with them. Whereas with the Soledad Brothers, for our last record, we lived in the studio for a month in France and worked 12-14 hours a day to figure out the songs."
The Cut in the Hill Gang works a similar Garage angle as the Soledads, but there is a Blue Cheer/Stooges density to the band's psychedelically drenched Rock/Blues/Soul output that was only hinted at previously.
"The guys I'm playing with are pretty top notch so it's not hard to keep it tight," Walker says. "We can wing it and it's all based on cues and watching and playing off each other. It's very organic. It's not like we have to rehearse once a week. Once we know the song, we know the song."
So far, the Cut in the Hill Gang has officially released only a 7-inch ("Quixotic Dream" b/w The White Stripes' "Sugar Never Tasted So Good") through a small indie, Little Room Records, a cooperative label run by ardent White Stripes fans. A handful of 99-cent downloads are available at the band's MySpace page, and a full album is slated for release later in the year, first on vinyl and then on CD.
"I think (vinyl) is pretty damn cool, because anyone downloading it on their iPod is actually going to have to work hard for it," Walker says. "And it's going to sound good as opposed to your average MP3, which sounds like crap. We still do the MP3 thing because we're broke, but I like (Little Room's) idea of doing it by the seat of their pants."
Before hooking up with Little Room, Walker contacted a handful of indie labels about signing the Gang, but was met with an inexplicable amount of resistance, mostly for one very peculiar reason.
"The last label I talked to said it was too lo-fi and couldn't be licensed for a commercial," says Walker. "Labels have turned into shills. It has nothing to do with Rock & Roll anymore. Sad but it's true."
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