The Magalia Hillbillies live up to their name
Chico, CA 95928
The singer and the lead guitarist for this band have the same ex-wife, and the guitarist is dating the singer’s niece. What band is it?
“Well, damn, it’s Magalia Hillbillies up there!” said David Ennis with a chuckle.
True story. And it’s part of the obvious jovial bond between the two long-time friends—the fact that they share an ex, and one they’re both glad is as far away as a person can get from California without leaving the country, clear out on the opposite coast in Florida. As they describe it, with raucous laughter and a verbal wink, they’re “on a mission to make her pay!”
Ennis is the talented, down-home and extremely personable singer-songwriter-guitarist-mandolinist for Paradise country/folk/Southern-rock outfit the Magalia Hillbillies.
The two remaining Hillbillies are Ed Gravage on lead guitar and just-right twangy vocals, and bassist Chuck Holland, who rather amazingly frets his instrument with the two remaining fingers on his left hand after losing the others in a mining accident. All three are talented, down-home and extremely personable. Holland is the somewhat shy one of the bunch but very easy to talk to when he weighs in at select times. Gravage and Ennis, well, they are the proverbial kick in the pants as they miss no beat talking and laughing about the band, their music and their colorful lives.
Together for just over two years, the Magalia Hillbillies are on the rise, and that’s exactly the way they like it. From their very first gig at Has Beans Café on July 5, 2005, the band “hit the ground running,” as ex-big-rig-driver-turned-cabbie Ennis described it.
The Hillbillies’ recent gig at Abbotswood Restaurant and Lounge in Paradise was yet another lively, audience-pleasing night in their busy, play-as-many-gigs-as-possible schedule.
“We’d play anywhere we could, even for free,” said Gravage, a rugged, Southern-California-raised, self-taught, Lynyrd Skynyrd-lovin’ musician whose father, Bob “Hammerhead” Gravage, acted in such popular TV shows as Bonanza and Gunsmoke. “We’d just drive the people crazy till they hired us.”
Ennis pitched in.
“Yeah, parking lots, teeny-tiny Mexican restaurants,” he said with a Southern drawl (he hails from Virginia), adding that the band has played everywhere from vets’ halls and street fairs in Paradise and Magalia to Chico venues like LaSalles and Off Limits.
The Hillbillies have also played a number of events, including Gold Nugget Days three times, Johnny Appleseed Days, and local benefits for free for the Paradise Boys & Girls Club and the Magalia Volunteer Fire Department.
“Last October, we played 15 out of 31 nights,” Ennis said. “Our next goal is to get on TV or open up for someone famous. We wanna go to Nashville. We wanna be famous. We wanna be rich.”
Lofty goals for three fun-loving guys from a speck of a town in Northern California. But Gravage said the Hillbillies are all about making people happy, and they write their own jokes. Like the one that leads off the band’s cover of “Gin and Juice” on their Magalia Hillbillies: Live CD: “Y’all know how come there ain’t no rappers in NASCAR? You can’t drive with your helmet on sideways.”
Ennis said the Snoop Dogg classic is one of group’s most requested songs.
“We played it four times in one show,” he said. “We play country and gangster rap. We’re gangster country.”
The Hillbillies have been known to bust out a number of covers from all over the musical map that they say appeal to everyone from senior citizens to college kids and rednecks.
“We do covers that we like. We like to make them our own,” said Ennis, whose own catchy folk-rock originals make up a good portion of the Hillbillies’ lengthy sets. “Queen, the Stones, Green Day, the Doobie Brothers, David Ennis … we’ve never called ourselves a bluegrass band—other people do.”
“We’re hillbillies,” confirmed Gravage.
Ennis summed it all up in modest fashion.
“We may not be the best, but we’re fun,"he said. “You know, this is my first band. I got lucky.”