Joe Hott: Rising Star

Visible behind the house built in the mid-1700s, long before West Virginia was a state, is Short Mountain. In that house Joe Hott’s grandfather lived from the 1920s.

6 foot 4 inches tall, the 22-year-old Joe (sometimes Joseph) Hott was born in Virginia and raised in those very mountains of West Virginia. That early life move led to him readily picking up a love for music, fostered by his father and two uncles, who played and sang traditional music.

He didn’t really get inspired by bluegrass music until he was about five or six years of age, when the Lewis Family visited his hometown and did a show at the fairground there, “but I’ve been hooked on it ever since!”

As he went to say when interviewed by Country Music News International …. 

“I remember as a kid counting the days until Sunday when we would go to church because my favorite part was singing the hymns. Growing up Brothern we only used piano and a hymn book, since they were pretty old school but, that’s all we needed, and you couldn’t find better church singing than right there in those four walls.”

A youthful fascination with the music of Ralph Stanley – his primary influence – Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and Hank Williams, Sr., with whom Hott bears a striking resemblance, triggered his creative inspiration as much in the formation of his own vocal and musical interpretations, as in the basis for his own song-writing.

A self-taught musician, Hott began by playing guitar and singing tenor for a small Gospel group in Cumberland, Maryland. Within a year he was the lead vocalist and manager/leader of the group.

Ever since he was a 14-year-old, he has always wanted to write songs and entertain people.

At the age of 16 he acted in a local television show called He’s Alive.

Now maturing, he is still true to his roots, hoping that through the support of his fans he can keep the traditional style of bluegrass alive for many more years to come. Being raised in the mountains he has an inbred, deep respect for old-time music, and he shows it not only through his original written material, but by giving each individual song a unique mountain sound.

Joe Hott can be likened to country artist Mo Pitney in that they both sing in a style that hovers over the line between retro-bluegrass, or Appalachian mountain music, and country music.

In August last year (2017) Hott signed with Buddy Lee Attractions for booking representation. “I am incredibly excited to be working with this talented young man,” notes Sherry Graf, Bluegrass/Americana agent at Buddy Lee Attractions. “I know Joe Hott will have super success and be a household name very soon!”

So, we at Bluegrass Today thought it was time to find out more about this young man who is striving to make a name for himself.

When and where you born? What are your first memories of music – when was that and what were the circumstances?

“Well, I was born in Winchester, Virginia, in 1995 but I was brought up in Augusta, West Virginia. My first music memory was my first show I attended at our local fair, probably when I was about five or so. The Lewis Family was headlining that night and that was my first bluegrass experience as well. Needless to say, I’ve been hooked ever since.

So, how did your interest in music develop from there? Was it influenced by the Gospel element that was such an integral part of the Lewis Family’s music?

“That and just the old-time sound is what drew my attention. After hearing them I discovered Ralph Stanley, who immediately became my all-time influence. He had that perfect blend of old time Gospel and traditional songs and that’s the sound that I loved most.

My uncles had a classic country band in the 1970s and 1980s, but I’m the first bluegrass artist since the 1950s, so I guess I was born into the music genes. I started singing when I was about 14 and I started playing about a year before that. I never had plans on becoming serious with it but I’m glad that changed.”

You write your own songs; tell me how that started and who and/or what has influenced your development in song-writing?

“I guess how it really started was I just came across a melody one day and that melody was for Ridin the Rails. After that I just kept trying to write new material and so far I’ve been able to continue producing. As an influence it would be Carter Stanley, by far, when it comes to writing.

In 2012 Joe formed a trio – The Short Mountain Brothers – consisting of Hott (playing guitar), his father Gerald Hott (bass) and Jacob Bly (banjo). They aimed to bring back the old-time Gospel favorites, along with some old-time traditional bluegrass tunes.

Hott has recorded six albums in his very short career so far; the first, Soulful Dream’n, has a “really early country music sound …. the electric guitar in that project has a very old school tone,” says Hott, “like you would hear from any of the ‘70s or ‘80s country records”.

That was followed by Goodbye for Now, a nod to the bluegrass greats who had passed away up to that point in time (2013) and released in 2014 was Ridin’ the Rails, which featured Chris Sexton of Nothin Fancy and Robert Mabe of Dry Mill Road.

Hott provides a brief description of each album, the first being inspired after a funeral where they played.

“Soulful Dream’n is my very first project; it’s an all-Gospel album and it really features just the most popular of the Gospel songs such as I’ll Fly Away, Circle Be Unbroken and many others. It was recorded and released back in 2012 before The Short Mountain Boys were formed.

Goodbye for Now was a Short Mountain Brothers project that was a trio consisting of guitar, banjo and bass. That was the name of the group just before everything had changed into what we are today. I guess you could say that was the ‘Kick- starter group.’ The album was designed as a memorial project to all of those who have gone on before and was recorded in 2013. That was the only record the Short Mountain Brothers ever did as the overall program; [we] would change the following year.

Ridin’ the Rails was a mix between Stanley Brothers songs and originals, and it was recorded in 2014 as the very first Joe Hott & Short Mountain Boys project. The title of the album happens to be an original song that I wrote on a train in Georgia bound for Florida; it was one of those songs that fell into place within 30 minutes or so and happens to be one of our most popular songs. However, people refer to it as the ‘Train Song’.”

Working in support of Ridin’ the Rails Hott employed his father Gerald Hott (a self-taught bass player), Jacob Bly, now of Circa Blue, (playing banjo) and Taylor Baker (mandolin).

Continuing to be productive in the recording studio Hott recorded three more CDs in the period 2015 to 2017…….

“All Original West Virginia Bluegrass was my first ever album that I wrote all the songs on, which took me about four months to do. We went to National Media in Front Royal, Virginia, to record in the spring of 2015 (Will Shenk at National Media has done all my records besides one). The project had nine tracks of brand new songs, and what seems to be the most popular is I’m Coming Back to Town, which describes the story of a guy who thought his love had stayed true while he was gone, but he never received any of her letters so when he returns home he learns of the truth.

Another [song] Misery Enjoys Company was inspired by that famous saying ‘misery loves company.’ The song talks about how this guy and/or girl was mistreated in a relationship, and once they break away and look back they can basically say now that your misery won’t enjoy my company like it once did before.

Home Far Away is an all Gospel album we did in 2016 and it was the last record I recorded in Virginia as of right now. It has one original song called Snow Covered Grave, which tells the true story of a mother who lost her son in a car accident a few years ago. The rest of the album includes old-time favorites such as The Darkest Hour and They’re Holding Up the Ladder.”

For his 2017 album Hott recorded Tom Paxton’s Last Thing on My Mind, Dolly Parton’s Making Plans and the original Riding on The Rails. In addition to Riding on The Rails he re-recorded Snow Covered Grave and They’re Holding Up the Ladder from Home Far Away and I’m Coming Back to Town from All Original WV.

Also, Hott was able, for the first time, to draw on the experience of a top-quality producer. He was assisted vocally by a few well-known personalities as well……

Last Thing on My Mind is our latest which was released last spring and it actually has a mix of originals and gospel from past projects plus some old-time songs that haven’t been over-done. We wanted this project to be well rounded and feature many things that Country and bluegrass stands for. We also had special guest such as Sharon and Cheryl White and Jamie Johnson they added most of the harmony to the album. This was also the very first Nashville album; it was recorded at Omni Studios and produced by Steve Thomas.

The official video of Last Thing on My Mind was recorded and filmed in Nashville, Tennessee.

The recording features Josh Williams, Aaron McDaris, Randy Kohrs, Mike Bub, and Steve Thomas, with special guests Sharon White Skaggs and Cheryl White Jones (The Whites).

So, what has been your working territory to date? Do you intend to extend the area in which you play?

“The last few years we have been mostly on the east coast traveling from Pennsylvania to Florida and everywhere in between but I would like to break into the western territory in the near future we have been looking into Texas these past couple years and possibly headed there in 2019.”

When did you sign with Sony Records?

“I haven’t signed on with Sony officially. I’m currently just doing song writing there, and preparing to record later this year there. But it’s very possible we could make an official signing later in the year. I have a lot to prove yet I suppose before signing talks, but I’m working hard at it.”

You have surrounded yourself with top quality support, haven’t you?  There’s World Class Talent & Productions, Buddy Lee Attractions and recently you mentioned Sony Records; what’s the time-line?

“I have, yes. We have spent a total of one year developing these relationships, and have built a solid team for sure starting with JoAnn Berry of World Class Talent. She is the one who really built this team from the ground up, not to mention building a production team for the album Last Thing On My Mind, and the official video we did for that as well. But as far as the time line it’s taken us a year to assemble everyone mentioned.”

Since Hott signed with Buddy Lee Attractions in August 2017, they have closed their bluegrass music department and booking is now through Debbie and Carrie Moore of Third Coast Talent.

From here what are your ambitions (your goals along the way maybe)?

“From here I just hope to continue working one day at a time and one show at a time, and see what the business brings next! So far, it’s been pretty good to us and I hope it’ll continue!”

Hott shares his philosophy, believing that he can bring something new to the old-time sounds ….

“I sing the way I feel and I like to sing the old time bluegrass music and some of my originals as well. I like the way music used to be, (simple) no tricks or fake sounds, just music straight from the heart. I also like to tell people a story in every song and hopefully it can relate to them in some special way.”

Experienced multi-instrumentalist Steve Thomas, who mixed as well as produced Hott’s latest record Last Thing on My Mind, says….

“He’s a very serious culturally relevant traditional mountain singer in a modern age. His music is relevant in today’s homogenized culture. He deserves a listening from any true bluegrass fan. “

A Discography –

Soulful Dreamin’ (National Media Services, released in 2012) *
Goodbye for Now (National Media Services, 2013)  
Riding the Rails (National Media Services, 2014)
All Original West Virginia Inspirational Bluegrass (National Media Services, 2015) *
Home Far Away (Joseph Hott, 2016) */**
Last Thing on My Mind (Joe Hott, 2017) **

*Available from CD Baby 

**Available at shows 

Goodbye for Now and Ridin’ the Rails are no longer available. 

Last Thing on My Mind is available through AirPlay Direct.  

In this video Joe Hott & The Short Mountain Boys play LIVE at The 615 Hideaway


Since September 2017 Joe Hott has lived in Nashville, Tennessee, where the current Short Mountain Boys are Aaron Holman (banjo), Jake Riggins (bass), and Nick Bryant (mandolin).

On May 31st (2018) Hott started recording tracks for his next single to be self-released later this summer.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.