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The Rewinders’ Darren “Dag” Hunt returns with the Bulleit Boys and new CD Bulleit Train
By Eddie Torres
Fort Wayne Reader
Darren "Dag" Hunt, known most recently for his work as the front man of area standouts The Rewinders, has a new crew. And that new crew, formed only a few months ago, already have a new record, Bulleit Train, set for release at a January 14 Brass Rail show that will also feature Lee Miles and Deuce.
The sound of Train is honky tonk, with touches of bluegrass and classic country music thrown in for good measure. The expertly played and efficiently arranged set of songs focus on drinking, the life of a drinker, troublemaking, falling down, weed benders and, for the most part, the rebel lifestyle — the soundtrack for a weekend spent with a young Sean Penn and young Mickey Rourke, basically.
Dag, whose broken bottle voice and storyteller lyrics perfectly fit the genre he embraces, handles songwriting, guitar and vocals. Joining him under the name The Bulleit Boys are brothers Logan (bass) and Levi Blauvelt (guitar), Hank Whitman (trombone), and Josh "Hellcat" Schall (mandolin). Together they make for a tight country gang who play songs that instantly sound like standards. Standards for alcoholics, sure, but standards nonetheless.
When The Rewinders called it quits earlier this year, Dag took to the pen, writing what eventually became Bulleit Train over a six week period in the Spring. Soon enough he found himself recording basic rhythm and vocal tracks at the Brass Rail with Duece's Pat Borton and producer Joel Gragg. Along the way a number of other local musicians played along with the recordings - including Gragg, Levi, Whitman, Ben Porter and Jeff Burdek - and by August the record was mastered. Next up, painter Kandace Ehresman put together two paintings that adorn the front and back of the album; that art then went to designer/artist Bob Storey, who who put together the package. Done. An album.
As I understand it, the core of the band's lineup came later, sometime around may, when the band started jamming. Then, by June, they played their first show at the Brass Rail. Ever since they've been playing two or three times a month - again, quite the accelerated pace for a band. Probably because… well, the songs are damn good. So good that some out-of-towners are already taking notice.
"We’ve gotten some radio air time from Gordon Ames from Texas," Dad recently told me via e-mail. "He runs a very well known Internet radio station called Kook 93.5 The Real Deal. He’s personal friends with Kinky Friedman and Willie Nelson and has been around a long time. That was huge. Also Josh Nutting of Outlaw Radio Chicago has been spinning the CD. Gordon has real sponsors so I had to send him radio edits. Josh’s ORC is raw and uncensored."
The first thing one might notice when they turn off the CD player or radio and go to a Bulleit Boys show is the age difference between Dag and the Boys. Dag, a seasoned songwriting veteran, has the handsome face of a man who has lived through some things - not at all unlike Bruce Springsteen (though probably at least 10 years younger than the Boss). The boys, on the other hand, are all fresh faced - especially shit hot guitarist Levi, who looks like a relic from the 50s. When asked about finding a new set of musicians to work with, Hunt had much to say.
"I met Levi and Logan Blauvelt through their dad Les, who had come to Rewinders shows over the past two years," Dag said. "Les is an old school country and honky tonk fanatic who has become good friends with many key artists in the neo-traditional roots revival movement, such as Wayne Hancock and Jayke Orivs (formerly of The 357 String Band). Les invited me over to jam with his two boys and we hit it off immediately. Their approach and background was steeped in the tradition of players like Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow and, of course, Hank Williams Sr. Les has a literal library of 1940s, 50s and 60s vinyl albums that these two have learned from. And it shows. They drop a lot of jaws at shows."
Schall, who adds mandolin to the Bulleit tracks, started off his relationship with the band as a spectator, coming to the crew's practice space to listen while the band jammed.
"One day I just said, 'Man, we need some mandolin.' Josh was already an accomplished upright bass player and guitar player, but by the next week he was on the mando and within about two weeks squeaking out passable chords," Dag explained. "He kept getting better and better each week and now he is really starting to throw down - with an occasional squawker here and there - but we all sqwak on occasion and I like it that way."
Rounding out the lineup is Whitman, who joined Dag and the Blauvelt brothers around the same time Schall came on board.
"I’m a huge fan of horns and there were a couple songs that I felt like it could really add something to," Dag said when asked about Schall. "Our current set list only has maybe two or three songs off the CD, but Hank’s trombone really adds that certain I don’t know what to the select songs he plays on. Plus women love the trombone, I think."
For the lyrical content of his songs, Dag took much inspiration from his friends, most of whom, it seems, frequent what appears to be Dag's second home, The Brass Rail.
"I co-wrote the song 'Hell on Wheels' with my good friend Gyspy Lujin while sitting at the Rail one night getting drunk. It’s a very heartfelt song about his mother," he said. "I came up with the first verse and chorus and he finished the last two verses. Another song, 'Woman Blues,' came out of a conversation I had with Johnny Commorato, Jr. He may not remember it, but I do. I borrow a lot from what my friends say and do. Me and Jeff Anderson have a texting relationship that has birthed several songs - a couple of which will be on the next album. I pay attention and steal because other people are interesting to me. Plus it makes my work that much easier."
Yep, sounds like a honky tonk songwriter to me.
While recording at the Rail, Dag had more than music on his mind. Liquids, of course.
"While recording there we had to learn where every outlet to every beer cooler and/or ice machine that was in the place because every time we hit the record button Joel would hear some new hum or buzz through his headphones," Dag laughed. "So at the end of each day we were scrambling to make sure we had everything plugged back in. Our biggest fear was forgetting a plug and letting a few hundred cans of PBR go warm.”
"But I feel good about the album. It came out nicely. It captured a time and place for me this past spring when I was living pretty fast and drinking probably more than I should - but I was having fun and testing the edges a bit. Songs like ‘On a Bender,’ ‘Bulliet Train,’ ‘Back to the Bottle’ and ‘Bartender Blues’ are all focused on one thing to some degree: getting hammered. There isn’t a lot of subtlety or subtext, at least not that I am aware of. It’s straightforward meditations on the moment - bleary-eyed, hungover recollections. I’m already working the boys right now on a new recording that I think will be a step above this one in terms of raw, real, gut-level letters to myself, friends, foes and the world in general. And our sound is coming together light years from where we were 5 months ago."
When asked to speak further about his ambitions for the band, Dag again had much to say.
"I just want to play heartfelt, raw songs that are fun to listen to and make people tap their toes," Dag said. "And I wanna say some things I haven’t said in upcoming material. I feel like we have two or three more albums in us - or in me, since I’m the one writing the songs. I wanna play with these guys until they move on to even greater things, which I believe they will. Whenever it ends, I’m gonna put the guitar on the wall and start writing screenplays because I have some stories in me that have to get out there before I die, even if no one puts them on the big screen. And I hope the record sells so I can make some money back!"
Dag & the Bulleit Boys play a CD release show at the Brass Rail on Saturday, January 14 with Deuce and Lee Miles. For more information on Dag & the Bulleit Boys visit bulleitboys.us.