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Sweat and style are the high-geared twin axles of Speedbuggy.
The sweat? Well, it’s their own. Speedbuggy are one of the hardest playing bands in country music, putting their nitro-fueled brand on a genre that’s been the soundtrack to American life — from the bottoms of the Brazos to the concrete canyons of the cities — for nearly 100 years.
And the style? That’s theirs, too, although Speedbuggy arrived at their unique sound through the prism of experience, history and a love for some of the greatest music from country’s past.
After all, acoustic guitar playing frontman and lyricist Timbo, hot-rodding steel and lead guitarist Greg McMullen, bassist Brady Sloan and drummer Kellii Scott grew up in the modern rock era and spent their formative days on stage and in the studio performing in punk ’n’ roll outfits. But ultimately — as they grew as musicians and men — the lure of the music they loved drew them to its sources: Bakersfield and Hollywood.
Bakersfield is where Buck Owens & His Buckaroos, and later Merle Haggard, developed a hard twanging style of country — loud and proud enough to cut through the noise of roadhouses packed with blue-collar crowds out for a good time after a week of slaving in oil fields and farms.
“It was working man’s music, and that’s exactly the kind of songs we write,” says Timbo. “They’re songs about hard jobs, drinking and loving; real stories about real people. There’s not enough of that in country music these days. And I’ve worked hard at day jobs all my life, so I know all of those stories because I’ve lived them.”
Back in the Bakersfield days, Buck’s buddy Don Rich provided daredevil fret board accompaniment to Owens’ singing on Fender Telecasters — guitars with bolt-on necks, just in case one got cracked in a bar fight. That’s a contingency that also appeals to McMullen, since Speedbuggy shows have been known to erupt into busted-knuckle fiestas.
The six-string fandango is his department. McMullen’s a master Telecaster blaster, adept at the multi-string bends, double-stops and rich ‘n’ reedy voice-like tone that’s a signature of the Bakerfield’s sound.
The other half of Rich’s legacy was the gilded vocal harmonies he wrapped around the stories Owens sang. Sloan’s in charge there, twining his voice around Timbo’s to greater a unique vocal sound for Speedbuggy while his bass playing deftly splits the difference between country stepping and rock ‘n’ roll rumble.
And when it comes to the genuine honky-tonk weep-and-moan, McMullen’s got that covered, too. He’s an expert on the pedal steel — the instrument he played in the late songwriter Chris Whitley’s band — with fluid command of a range that stretches from modernist experimentation with effects and extended technique all the way back to Hank… and to Hollywood.
“Between Timbo’s acoustic guitar and my Telecaster and pedal steel, we cover a lot more textures than most other country bands in our songs,” McMullen says. “And when you factor in our range of musical experience, we have a much broader palette than a majority of the bands that play country today.”
Now, about Hollywood. The other half of Speedbuggy’s historic foundation is the romance of the Wild West. Especially as it was portrayed in the movies and the music of the great singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
“We’re on a mission to put the ‘western’ back in country & western music,” Timbo insists. “Some of the most beautiful portraits of the American landscape and way of life are in those songs about riding the trails across the mountains, plains and rivers, and about making a new life in a land full of promise. That used to be part of the great American dream – the working man’s dream — and we don’t see any good reason to let it die.”
Right now Speedbuggy are poised at a drag-strip green light to their future. They’re recording a new album to capture their unique, time-jumping take on country music at its peak. And they’re rarin’ to burn plenty of rubber on the road in the U.S. and Europe, aiming to prove that real, strong-hearted country (& western!) music still has — and deserves — a place in everybody’s heart.
-Ted Drozdowski Nashville, TN
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