It is not easy to be an urban cowboy—sort of stuck in the city, yet yearning for the open prairie, or, maybe at least a simple, uncomplicated life in the midwest. We all, however, know that life isn’t that simple, so country music in the 21st century should also be reflective of that. Enter Al Huckabee, long time New York City punk rock fixture in many ways. The first being through his tirelessly touring—but, for now, seemingly defunct—punk band, Crimson Sweet fronted by the inimitable, Polly Watson.
Secondly, he’s known for his critically lauded current rock and roll group, 1-800-Band, an exercise more in power-pop than punk. Both groups—even the restless and ragged, bare-knuckled punk scream of the Sweet—lean on melody and listenability. Pull up a chair and let’s explore how Al Huckabee and the Huckabee Family Band alters Al’s persona and explores the country side of life, even if it is by way of Brooklyn.
You’re known for your work with both Crimson Sweet and 1-800-BAND, why the current interest in country? Are you a musical chameleon? Should we expect a smooth jazz project soon?
Ha ha! I don’t know anything about jazz so no, let us all hold hands and pray that I do not ever make a smooth jazz record because, it would be so very, very bad.
Before I was in the bands you mentioned when I was a kid in Ohio, I was in Ugly Stick which the critics called “cow punk”—we made this twangy, scrappy, midwestern punk music and those were my formative years so that twangy stuff is really ingrained in me. I was never much of a fan of radio country music, as you can hear. I come at it from the classic country side. I’m inspired by George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Cash, that kind of thing.
Also, in the small town where I grew up there was just one theater and my interest in electricity kept me hanging around backstage trying to learn how to run the lights and the curtains and all that stuff. I learned how it all worked and then for a couple of summers—I was maybe 13 and 14—I was the only person in town who could run that antiquated system so when promoters would rent the theater they would call me to run the lights. It was so cool, all these country stars would come through town; Jim Ed Brown, Tom T. Hall, one of the Mandrell Sisters, these acts would always arrive in a beat up Silver Eagle tour bus and I loved being a very minor part of the show. It kind of hooked me on touring.
So I don’t think of myself as a musical chameleon at all but I can see how it would look like that.