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Greezy does it

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding / Features Editor
By Lucinda Breeding / Features Editor

Greezy Wheels has been around long enough to wear three different music brands - all without straying too far from the band's roots.

The Austin outfit was Armadillo rock, then progressive country and now Americana.

Co-founding member Cleve Hattersley said it's all just as well, as long as you don't call Greezy Wheels country.

"People tried immediately to call us progressive country, because nobody could figure out what we were up to," Hattersley said. "I'd been hanging out with people like Jimi Hendrix, and with my sister, Lissa, who's been a great jazzer since whenever. We've never done straight country, truly. We've just done what we do."

Greezy Wheels was the unofficial house band of the Austin music hot house, the Armadillo World Headquarters, during the 1970s. Hattersley said the late 1960s through the '70s was when Austin because the hippie capital of Texas.

"I look at it like this: Austin had to be that place, you know? It's the state capital, and that means people who live 1,800 miles away from each other had to come to this one place and get along with each other. People would come from the Panhandle, from East Texas and from down south, and they all had to get along with each other."

With a legacy of close-encounter difference, Austin and the Armadillo were musical way stations between the coasts: The West Coast had its psychedelic rock, and the East Coast had its jazz.

Hattersley said it's the music of the Gulf Coast that "makes him crazy." With delight, he means.

"When I think of our music, I think about the music in Louisiana and Arkansas," he said. "It's incredibly inviting, musically, Louisiana and Arkansas. Those places make me crazy. You got the French in there. You've got the black music, the white music. You've even got the Indian stuff in there. You've got Spanish - Louisiana and Arkansas were part of the Spanish territory before they became part of the States. There's so much going on.

"When we started recording, we were very much about the music of the 1930s era, when radio was first born."

Greezy Wheels plays Denton on Saturday night at Dan's Silverleaf, kicking up some antique dust and playing songs from Gone Greezy, the 13-track record the band released in May.

Hattersley came to Texas from New York City when Roky Erickson invited him to join the 13th Floor Elevators. Hattersley took the bait, but not without a few misgivings.

"[It] was really weird if you think about it," he said. "I was coming to the place that killed Kennedy, for God's sake. But it didn't take me long to realize that Austin was a special place."

The Armadillo turned into the Lone Star State's answer to Hollywood's the Troubador, attracting a redhead upstart named Willie Nelson, then Waylon Jennings and Jimi Hendrix. Later, it brought in Bonnie Raitt, Brave Combo, Eric Clapton and Hall & Oates.Hattersley said Greezy Wheels absorbed the scene like a mad, sonic sponge.

"We put that to the test at the Lone Star Cafe," he said. "It was the only place in New York where you could hear Jerry Jeff Walker; George Strait played there. It was the one place in New York where you could hear Texas music, or even really country music."

Greezy Wheels went on hiatus for 25 years, years that Hattersley devoted to family and steadier work. He married Austin fiddler "Sweet Mary," who has been part of Greezy Wheels since its inception. Lissa Hattersley, Cleve's sister, is another founding member who still kicks around with the band. For the last 11 years or so, journalist and bassist John Jordan (the Vangards, Chris Duarte Project) has played with them, as has drummer John Bush (Edie Brickell & New Bohemians) and vocalist Penny Jo Pullus.

Together, they throw their sensibilities into a gumbo of song, and come up with Gone Greezy, a record that can evoke two-stepping and solitary soul-searching.

Some of the record winks at the collective angst of a First World band of malcontents ("My Planets Are in Retrograde), just as much of it takes things seriously ("Come the Wake").

Lyrically, Cleve Hattersley tries to sustain an allergy to pretension - something he said he got to practice by writing "The Idiot & the Odyssey," a column in Oui magazine, which competed with the likes of Playboy.

"It's a story I'm trying to tell, stripping it all down to the bare bones. It's the most honest way I can express myself. When we write music, for every lyric, there's a corresponding note," he said.

When it comes to performing live, Hattersley said the band goes where the spirit leads. And the spirit is a cocktail of energy from the audience, the alchemy between musicians and that unnamed, unknowable thing that makes live music exhilarating and a little magical.

"I've written a set list for every show for 30 years. We've never followed a set list. Not once," he said. "We're still hungry. In fact, we've got a song we're working on called 'We're Still Hungry.' We are. It's the most honest way of expressing myself. I'll say it until my dying breath: 'Screw you, society. Change still needs to be made.'"

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is . THEY'RE WITH THE BAND

Greezy Wheels is:

John Bush - drums

John Jordan - bass

Lissa Hattersley - lead singer

Penny Jo Pullus - backup singer

"Sweet Mary" Hattersley - fiddle

Cleve Hattersley - guitar and vocals A TASTE OF THE TRACKS


This song, the sleeper and highlight of Gone Greezy, introduces keening, Irish traditional fiddle phrases with Mississippi Delta, asphalt-scorching blues. The vocals are delightfully shaky - but this is a track in which the Wheels confront the certainty of death: "All we are is a thin trickle/trickle o' blood in the sea of life/ha-ha-ha/Comes the wake/The drums and the whistles/the bells and the brass and they're playin' your song/ha-ha-ha …"



The opening track is the first ever of Greezy Wheels' to hit the Americana charts. Taken alone, the track backs the band into the country and Western category. It also shows off songwriter Cleve Hattersley's lyrical chops. At first blush, the song is a humorous wink at sweet love soured. At second, it's a sadder but wiser love letter to a scoundrel who can still make a besotted soul feel bad. Really bad.



This behind-the-beat jig sounds like an Irish pub breaking out in a ceili dance. "I holler up the mountain and howl at the moon/Tryin' to make peace with a devil in the woods/The end times come and I haven't made good/Gotta pass it on to the people in the 'hood/I preach and I pray/I preach and I pray/and I holler up the mountain."

-Lucinda Breeding