500 Miles To Memphis – punk rockers go bluegrass

Punk rock got its start as a reaction to the hype and slickness of the glam rock that was popular in the early 1970s. It was intentionally rough and hard edged, meant to irritate and annoy people who enjoyed the sort of pop music that was ascendant at that time. But it found its own audience of young people, initially in England but eventually around the world, who fed off the anger and the angst contained in the music.

Envisioned at the start as a fiercely independent backlash to the corporate music world, as soon as punk gained popularity, music labels and media came calling, and the growing interest in the punk movement became a story in itself. Soon there was punk fashion, and the image of the punk rebel became an advertising concept. Which, of course, was seen as a defeat of the ideal by the early adopters, which led to a number of schisms in the community.

Fast forward to today, and there is still a punk music scene even though many of the bands that created the sound have passed on, and some of those first punk rockers have turned their attention away from the frenetic, aggressive sound they championed in their youth. Tommy Ramone (Erdely) recorded an acoustic/bluegrass album in 2007, which he told us was inspired by his love of Flatt & Scruggs as a boy.

Now we have heard from a US punk group, 500 Miles to Memphis, whose newfound passion for bluegrass has led them to record an album fully acoustic, with bluegrass versions of some of their songs. The band formed in Cincinnati back in 2003, and have four albums together to date. Their sound has been drifting towards an Americana approach in recent years, but they are going all-in with the grass for the new EP, Basement Bluegrass Sessions.

Lead singer Ryan Malott, who plays banjo on the project, says that it may have started as a lark, but that he and the guys like where it is going.

“It’s just for fun honestly. We’ve always had a bit of a bluegrass flare with the punk rock. The songs themselves can lean either way. Personally, I’ve always wanted to try it so here it is! So much fun!”

Here’s video for one of the tracks, How Would I Know.

The rest of the band is Aaron Whalen on guitar, Noah Sugarman on bass, and David Rhodes Brown on reso-guitar. Drummer Kevin Hogle is apparently sitting this one out.

Basement Bluegrass Sessions is expected to be available in January 2019.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.