[This article appears on page 12 of the July 15 print edition of Ace.]
Nine Pound Hammer gears up for 25th anniversary
Pictured is Rob “Big City” Hulsman, one of Ace’s longtime editors in the 90s
If you want to see 9 Lb. Hammer, now’s the time, as frontman Scott Luallen says, “this 25th anniversary tour [is] probably the last long haul euro tour we’ll do,” though he adds, “We will play fests and special events forever.”
The current lineup — Blaine Cartwright guitar/vocals; Earl Crim/ guitar; Mark Hendricks, bass/vocals; Rob Hulsman, drum; and Scott Luallen vocals — hasn’t exactly had a lot of time to practice. Hulsman (Scissormen) and Cartwright (Nashville Pussy) now live in Atlanta, with the rest in Lexington. Hulsman says the tour came together with “a lot of phone calls.”
Hendricks says, “we’re ready to do it to it again. Comin’ out with new material and the urge to play it. This next Euro tour will be a long one for us…just shy of six weeks. Something like 40+ shows in 10 countries.”
Asked about the new material, he says, “we take some old and some newer NPH songs and do country versions of them while taking some familiar classic country songs and doing them NPH style. It gives us a chance to stretch out musically in the studio with different tempos and dynamics and instrumentation. Lots of banjo, fiddle, mandolin and steel guitar on this album.”
Luallen says, “the new LP is country covers record with some 9Lb hits hollerfied, Like Dead Dog Highway, Tater Knob.” And they’ve added covers, including “Charlie Daniels, Waylon, Gordon Lightfoot, Cash, BR549, Flatt and Scruggs…”
Now they just have to sell it. He says, “Gonna get out and support this LP for the next year or so. We got babies and new marriages to tend to, so we ain’t callin the shots!”
Hulsman says he and Cartwright re-connected when he moved from Boston to Atlanta a year ago, but he’s been playing on and off with Hendricks for decades.
Asked what part of the tour he’s most looking forward to, Hendricks says, “For me it will be getting to play with Rob again…Rob and I have been in touch for 23 years. We have kept up with each other’s various music ventures since he moved to Boston in ’01 and left Taildragger.”
Still, Hendricks acknowledges, “time is scarce. Even when your drummer owns a recording studio [Brian Pulito on the album]. We have done the entire new album at Nitrosonic Recording Studio.”
Longtime Ace readers also know Rob “Big City” Hulsman as former Associate Editor in the 90s — in-between hundreds of deadlines and bylines, he’s also remembered for putting together the compilation Ace Holiday CD, featuring all local bands, (he then organized a series of charity shows around its release).
He went on to work at KET before relocating to Boston, which he only recently left. By way of Readers-Digest condensed updates, he says, “I moved from Boston to Atlanta last summer and, in between tours with the Scissormen and now Nine Pound Hammer, I’m a stay-at-home dad and freelance writer/regular contributor to Drum! magazine.” While in Boston he played with Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Dickie Barret, John Sinclair, The Tarbox Ramblers and former members of Morphine.
He adds, “Boston was a great town for me creatively, but I’m very glad to be back down south.” He says the tour will be”the drummer equivalent of the middle-aged movie star’s action movie – I’m forced to get into shape for this. I’m finally gonna have one of those moments where I can say I’m in better shape at 42 than 24.”
He has to be road-ready, explaining, “Nine Pound Hammer is in Europe for the fall and then I’ll be heading out west, playing film fests, to promote Robert Mugge’s new documentary featuring another band I’m in, the Scissormen.”
Luallen, not one to wax sentimental, says he’s excited about “playing these great new songs. Seeing good friends, perhaps for the last time. Cementing our legacy,” adding “Playin at the arctic circle.”
He says, “I’m gonna be a daddy here come fall, so this is it for a good while.” In between, he’s “movin alot of furniture, and doin’ a lot of painting.”
9 Lb. plays Cosmic Charlie’s on July 15.
Ten years ago in Ace:
Nine Pound Hammer
by JOHN LACY
How many drummers and bass players have Nine Pound Hammer plowed through over the years? Oh, say six and five, respectively. Even by Spinal Tap standards, the personnel turnover seems a bit excessive. Considering the band’s fifteen year on / off relationship, perhaps the math isn’t so fuzzy afterall.
To shave off some of the fuzz, go back to early 1986 in Owensboro, Kentucky. High school chums Scott Luallen (vocals) and Blaine Cartwright (guitar), together with bassist Brian Payne (aka Forrest Payne [Ace memorial issue is archived June 2010]), and drummer Toby Myrick play two shows at the Ross theater in Evansville, Indiana as the Yuppie Mop Dogs. Playing mostly covers such as “I Fought the Law” and “Blitzkrieg Bop,” Luallen describes the nascent performances as “really, really bad.”
At this point, the Yuppie Mop Dogs change their name to Nine Pound Hammer, purloined from the Merle Travis song. Payne moves. Bart, a skinhead of the non-nazi variety, fills the bass vacancy; the band changes its name to the Raw Recruits and sticks to playing mainly in Owensboro and Evansville. They also start hammering out original material and try it out at an end of season party for the Kentucky Weslyan football team held at the VFW post in Owensboro. Luallen remembers saying onstage, “Just pull the plug and we’ll quit. Just don’t throw anything at us.” After the Skynyrd-programmed crowd had finally, and miraculously, been deprogrammed, the band felt the show had actually gone well; so well in fact, that Luallen and Cartwright agreed that being in a band was what they really wanted to do, relocating to Lexington in the latter part of 1986.
Upon arrival, Raw Recruits become the Black Sheep and begin playing so often at the now defunct Great Scott’s Depot that they practically become the house band. “I remember one night that we were playing the P.A. caught fire,” says Luallen. “We were either that bad, or that good.”
Soon, personnel problems would reemerge. Myrick was asked to leave the band and was replaced by Darren Howard, rabidly into Led Zeppelin and Kiss. The Black Sheep would then become forever known as Nine Pound Hammer.
The rechristened quartet was ready to go-daddy-go at full ramming speed. “We were playing a show at Tewligans in Louisville,” smiles Luallen fondly. “That’s when we met Len Puch who was the president of Wanghead records and was also in the Detroit-based band Snakeout. He liked us and our energy, so we started to talk.”
Non-nazi skinhead Bart left to find his last name. Kathey Llewallen was next with a three-month stint. Former Active Ingredients bassist Brian Moore would replace her. But wait. Oh, yeah it’s coming. Drummer Darren Howard was soon to depart. The drum throne was next occupied by University of Kentucky student Rob Hulsman who joined just in time to record Nine Pound Hammer’s first LP, The Mud, the Blood and the Beers, which was released in 1989.
The album was widely reviewed in such publications as Billboard, New Melody Express, Goldmine, and Maximum Rock ‘n Roll. The Heavy Metal magazine Faces regarded Nine Pound Hammer’s freshman efforts as, “Johnny Cash meets the Ramones in a sparkling thrash debut that alternately sends up and super smartly explains that most misunderstood of cultures, the Midwest, redneck lifestyle.”
Nine Pound Hammer smote the pavement for the East Coast and Canadian locales of interest. One night before a show (uh-oh), Moore and Hulsman shared a fifth of Evan Williams bourbon. Moore, with Luallen in tow, ended up falling down a flight of stairs. Consequently, the rhythm section sounded as if they were working on their instruments rather than playing them. Brian was out; Matt Bartholomy, from a band in Owensboro called White Hiney was in. Finally, a semblance of stability.
“At this point the Wanghead records thing is kind of fading and things were looking kind of bleak until we got a call from Tim Warren, the owner of Crypt records in Hamburg, Germany. He sent us to Brooklyn, New York, to record Smokin’ Taters at Coyote Studios,” says Luallen.
Nine Pound Hammer was then off to Europe to play a masochistic fifty-six shows in sixty-five days. They played to crowds at youth hostels and medium sized halls in Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Amsterdam. The Hammer was evolving into a force on tour.
Then Hulsman left and Johnny Evans took over the skins to fulfill the tour dates.
After a gig in the Basque region of Spain, the band was actually paid with a brick of Moroccan hash. On Christmas night during the tour, Cartwright, Bartholomy, and Evans were assaulted by Algerian dissidents (the best kind) somewhere in France. Everybody got maced by the club owner except the Algerians.
Johnny Evans quit soon after the tour. Cartwright moved to Nashville. Hammer would eventually reunite and add another drummer, Bill Waldron, as they began recording their third album, Hayseed Timebomb, in Glasgow, Kentucky. With the album’s release, more touring of the U.S. and Canada ensued. A third and final tour of Europe included stops in Milan, Italy, and Slovenia during the Balkan war. Waldron, too, would soon quit and was replaced with Adam Neal for added dates in the U.S. and Canada. Waldron would rejoin for a ten-day tour of Japan in 1996.
That was the last time Nine Pound Hammer played together.
If the self-proclaimed purveyors of neo-folk punk rooted in the agrarian lifestyle had differences in the past, they seem to have been reconciled. Of his long time writing partner Luallen said, “Blaine deserves to be remembered as being in the same league as songwriters like Dave Alvin, Springsteen and Chuck Berry. Some critics don’t get it, because they haven’t lived these songs.”
UPDATE: video from the Cosmic Charlie’s show of Hayseed Timebomb.