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Pop & the Boys keep it 'to the left of whoopee' with debut CD

The band Pop & the Boys has been together for over a decade and, according, to co-founding member Bob Hamrick, the group has been at work on its debut CD for at least that long. The group will finally celebrate the release of that CD this weekend.

No one can say exactly when Pop & the Boys first became a band or when, exactly, the outfit started recording its debut CD.

Attempts by its members to take the band too seriously and chart a course of mainstream success were thwarted by other interests and lackadaisical attitudes -- and that’s according to the album’s liner notes. And co-founding member Bob Hamrick.

Hamrick, bassist Phil Burress, banjo player Richard Crowson, mandolinist Ted Farha and guitarist Dennis Hardin have come together under the Pop & the Boys moniker when the mood strikes them for more than a decade -- roughly the amount of time they worked on the album.

It’s not exactly bluegrass, and it’s not exactly the music of an acoustic jam band. But it lands somewhere in between, with a repertoire that calls upon Lester Flatt, Peter Rowan, John Hartford and Johnny Cash and pleases those eager to hear extended jams and highwire soloing.

Pop & the Boys will celebrate the release of their self-titled CD on Saturday, Aug. 5, as part of Farha’s Backyarder series at 6212 E. Peach Tree Lane. (Attendees should bring their own beverages and lawn chairs.)

Hamrick recently visited the KMUW studios to discuss the CD and the ongoing life of Pop & the Boys

Interview Highlights

Some records have a long gestation period, and this one had a really long one. 

We’re talking elephant-length gestation. One of the problems [with this band] is that our management of the band, and our devotion to making a success of the band, is somewhere to the left of whoopee. We’re all a bunch of older guys, except for Phil Burress, who’s the youngster of the group. We got together because we love playing together and everything else just kind of falls by the wayside.

We wanted to do a CD for a number of years just to shut people up that were coming up to us at our shows and wanting to buy something. So, finally, we got our act together and decided to go ahead and do this. I’d like to tell you how long it is that we’ve been playing together before we started doing the CD, but I don’t think anybody in the band knows exactly when we started. Maybe in 2008, maybe a little bit before that. I think it was around 2010-2011 that Phil Burress went out and bought some equipment and set it up in our practice space and started recording.

It sounded pretty good to us.

Phil had these early tapes. How often did you get back together and say, “We’re still making this record, let’s do some more recording.” Or was it all early days? 

It was all scattered. We would get something and like it and kind of bask in the glow of what we had recorded. It really was sounding pretty good. You get used to playing at places and don’t know for sure what you’re putting out and then you listen to it. It was fine. We liked that. But then … we call it something shiny passed our way. We would follow that piece of shiny, whatever it was, for a while. Then Phil would say, “Let’s do another couple tracks,” so we would. Then we just kind of ran out of steam.

We got in touch with [recording engineer] Tom Page, who has a studio and started doing some recording there. This was two or three years after we started with just Phil. We got some good tracks; then Mark Scheltgen got involved with it and did some mastering. Out of about a 15-year period, we got a CD out of the thing.

What was it like when you were able to hear the whole thing front-to-back finally? 

It was just magic. With these guys, you have to be in the moment, you have to be thinking. The thing that we do pretty well, I think, is listen to each other. You could hear in the recordings that we got, where someone would toss out a musical idea and somebody else would follow it up. That would take off and roll for a while and maybe go someplace else, maybe into somebody’s solo.

We were pleased. We never said, “This is the sound that we’re looking for, how are we going to go about achieving that?” We got together after a concert at the Orpheum; just a standard after- party. Everybody liked what they were feeling and hearing, so Ted said, “Let’s do this off and on for a while and see what happens.” That sound just emerged. It was not planned. That makes it pretty good because you can’t screw up your plan! [Laughs.]

This CD release show that’s coming up on Aug. 5 has actually been in the works for a while. 

We weren’t really good at sticking to the schedule as far as getting the disc made, but we were bound and determined that there was going to be a party when and if we ever got it done. We were ready to go Oct. 21, 2022. Man, everybody was looking forward to it. We were going to have a food truck there and the whole bit. Then, Richard Crowson, our banjo player, was having problems with his back, pretty much the whole summer. He finally said, “Guys, I just can’t do it. I’m going to have to go and do some serious stuff.” I don’t know if surgery was planned then or not, but it was not, “I’m going to take two days off and then I’ll see ya.”

Then, right after that, Ted got COVID. I think I was fighting diabetes. I don’t what [Dennis] and Phil’s problem was but by that time the wheels had all come off and we were not going to have that roll out. So, we’ve been looking for the right time to do it. I don’t know if the right time or not, but Aug. 5 is when we’re going to roll it out and see what happens.

The members of this band seem to have a shared sense of humor. 

Oh yeah. Definitely. I was looking over clips of a show that we did at The Artichoke. We went through the first song and somebody in the audience decided that they were going to mix the sound and said that they couldn’t hear Richard. Most of us said, “Yes, that’s what we’ve been looking for all this time. [But] OK, we maybe ought to turn up his mic a little bit.” He was just noodling around and went into “Freeborn Man,” reluctantly, [and] it turn into about a 15-minute jam that just was spontaneous and fun, and people were laughing. Nobody knew who was going to take the next solo or what we were going to do.

Again, the spontaneity …. We have something to laugh about amongst ourselves and at ourselves and with the audience. I think that shows. People don’t go out to have a serious music time, for the most part. Friday/Saturday night, when we usually play, you want to go out and have a good time and to laugh at life. We’re good laughers.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.