Before Bush Hawg signed-on as the newest group with RCA Records Nashville, the six-man band had a few lines on their website that described their music like this: “A blend of backwoods, blue collars, bar fights and bibles, wrapped in an American flag and washed down with whiskey. You’ll feel as if you’ve just been pistol whipped, then given a keg of beer to help ease the pain.”
And record deal or not, that in-your-face blast of personality still says a lot about the sound, the style, and the attitude of good times and great music that define Bush Hawg.
Running the roll call, Bush Hawg is Craig Hand (lead singer), Shaun Ames (acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin), Russ Caldwell (rhythm and lead guitar), Ben Helton (bass and background vocals), Jim Phipps (drums), and Alex Wilshire (rhythm and lead guitar).
While music brought them together, their camaraderie is more than that of a band: it’s the spirit of a brotherhood. The guys are great friends who hang out together and try to make decisions for the collective good of everyone in the group. It’s a cohesiveness that reflects their musical experience, their commitment to the band, and to their sense that Bush Hawg represents a kind of second chance for all of them.
The group defined its current line-up in 2010, but Bush Hawg began more than 10 years ago – of all places – in a gun store, with founding members and fellow Fairview, Tennesseans Shaun Ames and Alex Wilshire.
“Alex and I worked at a gun store I managed. I was lookin’ for part-time help, hired him, and told him I was thinkin’ about puttin’ a band together. He said he played guitar, and I told him I didn’t need a guitar,” Ames says with a laugh, “I was lookin’ for a bass player! And the next day, he had sold a bunch of his stuff and showed up with a bass rig. I loved his heart, and I said right there, ‘We’re doing this!’ And we started that day.”
For his part, Wilshire laughs, he’s happy to have Ben Helton in the band these days, admitting, “I was a terrible bass player!” Monroeville, Alabama native Helton was the fourth of the current line-up to come to the band, following the pride of Mooresville, North Carolina, guitarist Russ Caldwell.
With noted producer Michael Knox on board as a big believer in the group, Knox began working to find the missing elements to the Bush Hawg sound, bringing in his old pal, drummer and native Nashvillian Jim Phipps, to meet the band. Phipps recalls, “My buddy, Michael Knox, used to come out and watch me play in a bunch of different bands, and I was looking for a real gig. I met these guys, he took me to a couple of their shows, I played for ‘em, and here we are!”
Lead singer Craig Hand was the other puzzle piece to complete the picture. He’d been down the independent-label route as a solo artist, but was taking some time off in his home state of Florida when he met Knox. When he got together with the band, there was a sense of meant-to-be: “We just knew it was something we needed to do,” he says.
At that point, the feeling was “the puzzle is done.” But it was about more than shaping the sonic elements of Bush Hawg, it was also about sharing a collective goal.
“Ours is a story of second chances,” Ames says. “I mean, we’ve all been around this town, fightin’ our way to get here. We’ve seen artists come and go, and we’ve been at it a long time, and all the pieces finally fell together for us.”
“I think everybody in the band had some success in the industry,” Hand adds, “and like Shaun says, it’s pretty much a second-chance thing for us.”
With that perspective comes a genuine appreciation for what the group is building together – and a feeling that this isn’t just a second chance, it’s the chance.
As for the band name, it was one of those things that just felt right. Ames and Wilshire were hunting on the property of a man they knew when a comment he made about bush-hogging his land sparked the idea, and Bush Hawg – with the cooler, “countrified” spelling – was born. “And it looked good for the logo,” Ames adds with a smile.
With Bush Hawg, there’s personality to spare – and frankly, with any band where more than one member owns a fainting goat (although they’ve all since reverted back to Shaun) or where you hear stories about hypnotizing chickens, you’ve got a fun group. But make no mistake, Bush Hawg is serious about what they do and serious about making the kind of music you don’t want to miss.
So, with longtime believer and multi-million-selling CMA Award-winning producer Michael Knox (producer of Jason Aldean’s 2011 CMA Album of the Year, My Kinda Party) at the helm, the band set about crafting their full-length debut album, previewed by the fall 2011 release of their four-song Bush Hawg – EP.
The EP features three Bush Hawg originals, all co-written by Shaun Ames, as well as a no-holds-barred cover of the John Fogerty-penned Creedence favorite, “Fortunate Son.”
The song is a classic complement to the band’s energized brand of country, including “More Than Corn,” a passionate declaration of the down-home values of raising “more than corn around here.” The guys throttle it back just a bit as they ease into the urgent groove of the tender “Show Me Where It Hurts” before they celebrate the rural lifestyle they know so well in “Country Rich.”
In concert, Bush Hawg’s mix of spirited personality, rock energy, and hard-charging outlaw country makes for a dynamic and entertaining live show. That’s true whether they’re headlining a club date, breaking into a mid-concert rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” to quell a fight at a massive festival, or playing an Armed Forces Entertainment tour that found the band in Japan at the time of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. “It’s been an experience,” Helton says, “and everywhere we seem to go, everybody’s really opening up to us.”
Mature enough to be focused, and seasoned enough to craft outstanding music, live or in the studio, this band of second chances has good reason to be in it for the long haul.