Days of Lore
There are few bands I hold as near and dear to my heart as The Mother Hips. Nostalgia no doubt plays a role, but even after years of falling in love with new bands and new musical ideas, and growing out of others, the Hips still do it for me.
There have been spells when their CDs didn’t move much from the shelf, gathering a (very thin) layer of dust after I burned myself out on Back to the Grotto and Shootout. I even took a break from seeing them live. But, as with all good bands, I eventually return to them.
In the case of The Mother Hips, their recent return has been a sweet one in a 15-year career that could probably fill an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music—flirtations with commercial success, lineup changes, drug problems, and the band’s eventually calling it quits after releasing one of its most critically acclaimed albums. But even through all of that sexy band drama, the music never suffered. Ever.
Hey, it’s my column, and I’ll gush if I want to.
Good times, bad times
I missed out on the early days when Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono formed The Mother Hips in the Chico State dorms and began playing the backyard-kegger circuit. Of course, from there they became fixtures at LaSalles and signed with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings alongside Johnny Cash, The Black Crowes and Slayer. Mm hmm … Slayer and the MoHips. I loved that.
I discovered the band in ’95. I knew the name; I don’t think anyone came to Chico during that time without hearing about The Mother Hips. I just remember seeing a huge line outside of Tres Hombres where they were playing a New Year’s Eve show. I was intrigued, but not quite sold. I finally bought my first album, Shootout(their second on American), in 1996. That led to me buying Back to the Grotto and Part-Timer Goes Full. I went to shows, which became events where friends got together and went crazy.
Just as I was beginning to profess my love for the band, things started to change. Original drummer Mike Wofchuck quit. They left Chico for San Francisco. And they were dropped from American after only two records. But they forged on with their best album, Later Days, a stripped-down slice of soulful country that to me has become as essential to road trips as gasoline. The self-released album proved what most people who listened to The Mother Hips already knew—that their music was more than just a soundtrack for dread-heads to twirl to.
In 2001 they released The Green Hills of Earth, a record that was more ’60s Brit-pop than Americana. My own high expectations led to the album being a slight disappointment, but it did finally earn them the critical acclaim they deserved.
And all seemed well until 2003. After making five records and more than a decade of relentless touring, The Mother Hips called it a day … well, sort of.
Bluhm and Loiacono seemed to go back and forth as to whether the Hips would actually play again. My interest waned. I was only slightly interested when I heard they were heading back to the studio in 2005 to record the Red Tandy EP. I didn’t rush out to buy the latest full-length, Kiss the Crystal Flake. But a friend had it, and I gave it a listen. It’s a brilliant record (especially “No-Name Darrell” and “TGIM”) garnering even more praise from critics than previous efforts, including one from UK music rag Mojo, which calls the Hips “criminally underrated as an American band.”
I’ve got that warm and fuzzy feeling again. And I think a trip to LaSalles is in order Fri., Dec. 14, when the band returns to its old stomping grounds. The usual suspects will be there. But if you haven’t heard The Mother Hips, it’s a good time to discover them. Do it. For me?