Keep that country coming

Rick Hays & American Steel have been rocking Reno for 10 years

Rick Hays and his band, American Steel, show their Nevadatude. From left, Rick Bowden, Felipe Vigil, Rick Hays, Lou Werlinger, Tommy Stiles and Dennis Long.

Rick Hays and his band, American Steel, show their Nevadatude. From left, Rick Bowden, Felipe Vigil, Rick Hays, Lou Werlinger, Tommy Stiles and Dennis Long.

Photo By David Robert

For upcoming Rick Hays & American Steel shows, check out their Web site,

Hurtin', misbehavin', and prayin'. This is the stuff of country music.

And these are the elements Rick Hays & American Steel have used to become the most long-lived and successful country band in the area.

Despite several line-up changes, the band has been together 10 years; they play a monthly show at Pure Country in Sparks, are the house band of Cub Country 94.5 FM, have lined up several sponsorship deals for themselves and are currently recording their second CD.

“We stepped into a good thing with (Hays),” says guitar player Felipe Vigil. “He’s a good businessman. Takes care of business.”

“I don’t think he even looks for work much anymore,” lead guitar player Rick Bowden says.

Though concentrating on playing conventions and public festivals (the show I attended was the Craft Fair at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center) the band also makes out-of-town trips to play rural communities on what the band calls “The Sagebrush Circuit.”

"(Felipe) wanted to write a hit track for Yerington called ‘Ewe Make me Crazy,'” singer and bass player Hays says.

Bowden and drummer Lou Werlinger were previously in a rock band together. Vigil previously played metal.

“But the country fans just don’t like Steve Vai,” he says.

“We cover new and old stuff. Newer pop country and older traditional stuff, a little bit of classic rock stuff, and we do our own originals,” Hays tells me before their set.

Being almost completely ignorant of what has been going on in Nashville for the past 30 years, I took my friend Neil, who’s more familiar with the country charts, to help guide me though the cover songs.

“This is Brad Paisley. William Shatner’s in the video. So is Jason Alexander,” he informs me.

I recognize The Georgia Satellites and Johnny Cash songs.

“This is the song Alan Jackson does with, uh, Margaritaville guy … Jimmy Buffet,” Neil tells me.

“It may be half past 12, but I don’t care. It’s five o’clock somewhere,” Hays sings.

“It’s a drinking song written by someone who obviously isn’t much of a drinker,” Neil comments.

“Yeah. Those ladies are having beers, and it’s only quarter to 12. And they’re a couple of middle-aged women at a crafts fair,” I add.

Hang your lightweight head in shame, Alan Jackson.

As for the originals, they’re slick and commercially oriented modern country. There is a good balance between rockers and slow songs. As usual in country music, the songs are strongly narrative.

“Wrong Way” is about a man who is pulled over for driving the wrong way down a one-way street with the sheriff’s underage daughter in his car. Despite the statutory rape conviction, it’s a story that ends with forgiveness and redemption.

“Black Widow Soul,” one of the best songs from Who’s Your Cowboy Now?, is a cautionary tale about the duplicity of womenfolk.

“Looser Boozer” is about an annoying drunk whose unwanted sexual overtures are thwarted. The object of his advances maces him and then runs him over with her car.

And after all this hell-raisin', what’s a boy to do? The answer to that is here too. “Call on Me” suggests you talk to Jesus.

Though soundman Dennis Long struggled to keep the volume down for the craft fair audience, the band delivered a solid set. Steel guitar and Dobro player Tommy Stiles’ solos were consistent highlights. (Fiddle and mandolin player Lolli Jones was absent for this show.)

“This is the strongest group that I’ve ever had, and it has gone the longest,” Hays say.

“A lot of good players have come and gone over the years,” Bowden says.

“And he got left with us," Vigil concludes.