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River City Hustlers revive better than ever
VIC BURGESS IS EASILY ONE OF THE BEST songwriters I have ever personally known. He is a highly skilled multi-instrumentalist, a great producer and a wonderful fellow, but his songwriting is what really sets him apart.
This article is not about him.
This article is about the River City Hustlers, a terrific rock and roll band that came, went—and has come again. To tell the story right, though, we have to go back to the beginning and in the beginning there was Vic and he was good.
It was 2007 when Vic and Roland McCoy decided to put together a band that would play the sort of music they listened to growing up (KISS, GnR, and the Cult to name a few), so they called on a handful of local musicians and set to it. Matt O’Bryant and Chris Smith were brought in on lead and rhythm guitar respectively. Burgess took up bass duty and McCoy banged skins. The troupe was rounded out by Bethany Kidd, the brainy beauty with a master’s in literature and a doctorate in wailing on the microphone. In short order the kids were making the rounds of clubs, bars, the radio and Riverbend. A year later, both Vic and Matt departed to pursue other projects. This would only be the first of a number of player changes. Too often a change in the lineup can mean the beginning of the end for a band, but no matter who rotated in or out, they maintained their following and, most importantly, their sound.
The really amazing thing is that whatever they may have gleaned from their influences, the band’s music sounds completely original and unique. They don’t sound like KISS, they don’t sound like GnR; they sound less like their influences and more like contemporaries of those influences and that’s kind of a big deal. Influence means different things depending on the age and experience of the musicians.
When I was a teenager, there was a popular band in my hometown called Valhalla and their members were huge Van Halen fans. You could tell. You could tell because they acted like Van Halen on stage (sort of) and all of their original music sounded like Van Halen (sort of). They weren’t a Van Halen cover band, they were just young and inexperienced so “being influenced” really meant “trying like hell to emulate” and it’s a thing most musicians go through at some point. Frankly, it’s a thing that many musicians never shake completely, which is what makes the Hustlers stand out. They’ve mastered a genre without being derivative of the big names of that genre, instead carving out their own niche.
So how to describe a band that could rock alongside their idols without actually sounding like them? Why, with a half-baked analogy of course! I spent a few hours listening to the six tracks the band gave me, kind of going “stream of consciousness” with it and when all is said and done here’s my analysis: Imagine if AC/DC had played swamp rock with a young, healthy Janis Joplin who actually took care of her voice instead of screaming herself hoarse. That is an approximation of what you get with the Hustlers.
Mind you, this is an indirect comparison. They don’t sound like AC/DC, they sound like what alternative universe AC/DC might have sounded like. Kidd doesn’t sound like Joplin, she sounds like what a happier, healthier Joplin might have sounded like. Point of clarification, I prefer Bethany’s growly, vicious vocals to Janis any day and before you cry sacrilege you need to hear the lady sing. She is supremely suited to the music she makes.
Simply put, the Hustlers are good, old-fashioned, nasty rock and roll; torn denim stained with blood and beer and gravel in the soles of your Doc Martins. A snarling beast of a guitar, a banshee on the mic and a rhythm section burly enough to support the band’s enormous brass balls, the Hustlers music wants to have a beer with you, punch you in the mouth and then have another beer and laugh about it. Powerful mojo…
…or it would be if they hadn’t called it quits in 2010.
Ah, but there’s a happy ending to this cerebral massage. Core members (Roland McCoy, Bethany Kidd, and Chris Smith along with bassist Rob Tyler) reformed the band last July and are back with a vengeance. The proof will be on display this Valentine’s Day at Sky Zoo where the Hustlers will be appearing with Nosecone Prophets and the Skip Cisto Band. The show starts at 9 p.m. and there is no cover (track their other appearances via rchustlers on Facebook.) If you were already a fan, then you’re already there. If you somehow missed them the first time around, here’s your chance to roll around in the kind of rock music that terrifies grannies and televangelists. The River City Hustlers are back, kids—now go get you some!