Monday, April 28, 2014

Radio: Radio Boogie

Hot Rize is a band that rose to stardom among bluegrass circles in the 1980s. With a witty nod towards traditional bluegrass music and some seminal artists, that band took their name from the ingredient in Martha White Flour, a product of a Tennessee four firm (Martha White Mills). Cohen Williams, head of that company, had brought guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo-player Earl Scruggs and their band (The Foggy Mountain Boys) to Nashville to host Martha White’s early morning radio spot on WSM in the mid-1950s. The spot was called the "Martha White Biscuit and Cornbread Time."

Only fifteen minutes in length, that show was a great example of how important radio was to the spread of country music in those days before ipods and other high-tech devices. Much of the music broadcast over the airwaves wasn’t recorded commercially. Listeners would grab a cup of coffee and imagine performers right there in their kitchens or living rooms with them. Those were the days that radio offered live music, singing commercials, down-home humor, comedic antics, good-natured banter, sacred songs, fiddle tunes, and announcements or upcoming performances. The radio show was such a success that, by 1955, Flatt & Scruggs and their band were playing on the half-hour Martha White segment of the Grand Ole Opry. Television shows followed for Flatt & Scruggs, and a segment of one program is sampled above with a Martha White self-rising flour commercial and the product’s jingle. 

So it only made sense that one group of hot pickers in the next generation of bluegrass artists decided to call their band “Hot Rize.” Their sound solidified with members Tim O'Brien (mandolin, fiddle), Pete Wernick (banjo), Charles Sawtelle (guitar) and Nick Forster (electric bass). During their first decade, Hot Rize released six albums. Their second (in 1981) was called “Radio Boogie” and opened with that title track. Although they disbanded in 1990, they played several reunion dates each year from 1991-98. Guitarist Charles Sawtelle passed away in 1999, and Hot Rize added guitarist Bryan Sutton in 2002.

Hot Rize is a very entertaining group, and they often disappear backstage only to reappear as a Western Swing outfit made up of characters who hang out in the back of their bus. When Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers take the stage, we’re treated to Red Knuckles (guitar), Waldo Otto (lap steel, pedal steel), Wendell Mercantile (archtop lead guitar), and Slade (bass). These are alter-ego persona of O’Brien, Wernick, Forster and Sutton, respectively.

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