Originally published on Donewaiting.com (June 7, 2004)
Clint Holley, lead singer of Cleveland country band Hayshaker Jones, and I went to the same high school in Westlake, Ohio, graduated the same year (1989), and even lived within two streets of each other. We had mutual friends and hung out together a bit during our senior year … including the infamous (among our circle of friends, at least) evening in which his parents, who had left on a Friday night for a “weekend getaway to Niagara Falls,” returned home on Saturday evening – a full day early – in an attempt to catch Clint and his friends doing something illegal. And, yes, they did find a refrigerator full of beer and a Jack Daniels bottle full of, well, something other than Jack Daniels (some stories are best left untold).
I had no inclination at that time that fifteen years later I’d be interviewing Clint about his career as a country music singer. Back then the thing that most people knew Clint for was his love of cars and the time he spent rebuilding the engine in his ’78 Camaro. Perhaps we knew that he owned a guitar and maybe we even knew that he liked country music, but the only music-related memories I have are of him being a classic rock fan.
It came as quite a surprise, a few years ago, when a friend and I were playing “See who can find the most members of our graduating class using the Internet” game and I discovered that Clint Holley, since graduating college, had gone on to host a college radio show spotlighting country music (not the stuff that Joe and Jane Consumer think of as “country” music, stuff like Shania and Garth, but rather artists like Hank I, II, & III, Billy Joe Shaver, etc.) and was even performing under the name “Concrete Cowboy”. It was only in the last six months or so that I discovered that the Concrete Cowboy gave way to Hayshaker Jones, a band named by Cleveland Scene in 2002 as the “Best band to drink to”.
Hayshaker Jones will be playing at Oldfield’s on High this Friday night along with local favorites The X-Rated Cowboys and Philly power-poppers The Bigger Lovers. So, to preview the show, I thought I’d catch up with former classmate Clint Holley.
How did the 1989 car-loving, classic-rock listening Clint Holley that I went to high school with turn into the 2004 country-band fronting Clint Holley?
I still listen to classic rock and I still work on cars, but the whole country thing has been an extension of that. When I was younger, I was exposed to Lefty Frizzell and Hank Snow through some records that my Grandmother had. I put Lefty on the turntable once, and my life was never really the same. It was like “Wow, I never knew this existed.”
Classic rock also opened a lot of doors to country. Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Stones and all of the California Country Rockers (The Byrds, Burritos and Buffalo Springfield) all owe a huge amount to classic country music.
Did you experiment with musical styles as you learned to play guitar and sing or has it been country music since day one?
The first songs I learned were Bob Dylan songs. I love Dylan and the songs were easy to play on guitar. I have never really “learned” how to play guitar. I just bang out some chords and hope that I get it right. I would like to expand my playing some day but right now I have chosen to spend time learning how to write songs and market a band in 2004.
A few years ago I Googled your name and learned about the Concrete Cowboy. Was the Concrete Cowboy a solo thing or did you play with other musicians? You also hosted a radio show during this time and, if I’m not mistaken, either the name of the show, or your on-air “handle” was the Concrete Cowboy. Is this correct?
The Concrete Cowboy idea was introduced to me through a friend who had been called that and took it as an insult. Somebody said to him “You’re just a Concrete Cowboy…” He told me that and I thought it was cool…I mean, I wasn’t raised on a farm and when I lived in Texas, it was in a suburb of Dallas. I did work on a ranch in New Mexico for a few summers, but for the most part I am just a city guy who has always liked cowboy boots and snap-up shirts. I did play solo for a while and I hosted several radios shows under that handle. Those days are long gone but the name has stuck around. There is something about the cowboy image that is rooted in our culture…a cowboy is always cool, no matter where you go, people identify with it.
Explain the transition between the Concrete Cowboy and Hayshaker Jones. How did you hook up with the guys in the band? Did you build the band around your songs or is Hayshaker Jones truly a group where everybody has input into the songwriting?
Me and Dave Bowling are the two main players in the band. We have been together almost 5 years now. We met through mutual friends and hit it off. Dave had been out of music for a long time and once we started talking we saw our common love of the same music as an opportunity to start playing again. We built the band out of guys that all like old-school country. We have had a rotating cast of people play for us over the years, but the lineup we have now has been in place for over a year and everybody (save the drummer) has contributed songs to the band.
How did Hayshaker Jones start getting gigs? Are there “country music friendly” bars in Cleveland that you can play at on a regular basis or do you play the rock clubs?
That is a great question. We have taken gigs in every spot that you can imagine. We have played flea markets, campgrounds, drive-in movie theaters, used car lots, rib cook offs, festivals and tons of bars. For a long time we tried to book ourselves as a bar band, because that is where you can make some money. What happens there though is that people don’t get what you are doing. They want to hear Toby Keith or shit like that and then get pissed when you tell them you don’t do that stuff. It is really crappy experience for us and the people in the club. At the beginning of this year, we made a commitment to play in only original music clubs and other venues that expect original music. We still play covers, but now we pick and choose the ones we think make a statement about the band.
Have you done any touring? I come from a rock background so I know that it’s often tough for a young indie rock band to just hop in a van and play in some college town 5 hours from Columbus. Unless those bands hook up with a good local band or get some good press, they wind up playing in front of 12 people. Do you have similar experiences with playing outside of Cleveland (or even within Cleveland for that matter) or do the places you typically play have built-in audiences?
I just bought a van for the band and we have just started getting out in this region. Right now I don’t see any point jumping in a van and booking a cross-country tour. I work in a rock club and see too many depressed bands playing to 5 people because they have never been here before. My idea is to keep is close to home and keep hitting cities over and over again until you have some kind of draw. I look at our region as west to Chicago, south to Nashville and east to Buffalo. There are millions of people in that area and you should be able to build a fan base there before breaking out somewhere else.
The internet is a godsend to the indie band because I can meet other bands without really costing me any money. I have been able to set up shows with people without ever meeting them…we got to play in Cinci and Athens last week because of that. You get to find like minded people with a minimum of cost and effort.
What is the best show that Hayshaker Jones has performed as a headliner? As an opening act for a national band?
We got to open for a top 40 country guy named Aaron Tippin once and there were 5,000 people in the crowd. That was great. The most gratifying opening slot we have had though was just three weeks ago we opened for Billy Joe Shaver. He is a big hero of mine and after almost 10 years on stage..I was nervous. It was great. Best show as a headliner.mmm..I don’t know. We played on top of the snack bar at The Memphis Rd. Drive-In theater once…that was weird and cool at the same time.
What is your association with the Beachland Ballroom? I know that on the site you are listed as Webmaster. Do you work full time there? If so, what do you do?
I have done everything at the Beachland. I have cleaned the toilets, cooked in the kitchen (not the same day I cleaned the toilets) bartended and run sound. Now I am one of the managers and help with booking, ordering, scheduling and the website. I have been there 4 years, which is the longest I have ever had a job in my life. It is like a family there, very communal and fun.
Most country songs are written about women. Is there a special woman in your life, or a woman in the past that has scorned you, that has provided inspiration for lyrics? Along the same lines, what is the first song that pops in your head when I ask, “What is the best song about a woman?”
There is no one special person right now. I have been in several long-term things over the years and have decided to take a break from that. I am not real good at maintaining that kind of thing. If someone expects me to call everyday an check in…it starts to grate on my nerves and I start to react against it. I think it all stems from how I was brought up (no privacy) and now I can rebel against that all I want. Also, you knew me in high school. Girls really didn’t go for me back then and I think a lot of what I have written is about not being accepted and how I really wanted that. Best song about a woman…”Visions of Johanna” by Bob Dylan.
What is the future for Hayshaker Jones? Is it a fun hobby and allows you to get out, drink some beer, and play some music with some friends or do you hope to turn the band into a career?
I don’t have any pipe dreams about stardom. I would like to make a living playing music and writing songs. My goals would focus on marketing my song catalog and hoping for that one like “Crazy” by Willie Nelson that winds up everywhere. I would be happy with a modest income and the ability to travel and meet new people. As far as drinking beer…that is why we all do this…right? Well that and chasing the ladies.