Rebels with a cause
Hot Rod Rebellion
In the last two years, Reno rockabilly band Hot Rod Rebellion has played over 30 shows—including one at the legendary Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood. With the recent release of their debut album, the veteran musicians appear to have found their groove, and, like rockabilly itself, it all started with the King.
“I’ve always been a huge Elvis fan,” said guitarist Steve Ellison. “I went to [vocalist] Kevin [Keating] with the idea, ‘Let’s do a band that plays just Elvis music—not a tribute band or anything—and that kind of evolved into rockabilly.”
Ellison and Keating played hard rock in the style of Rush and Metallica for years. After their old band dissolved, they found themselves looking for a new direction. They put out a Craigslist ad looking for an upright bassist—"non-negotiable” for the new band. Long-time rockabilly enthusiast Andy Hernandez soon answered it.
Around the same time, punk-rocker and drummer Tom Ducey posted a competing Craigslist ad searching for new bandmates. The four met up for their first practice.
“It kind of seemed like we had already been playing together for years to be honest with you,” Hernandez said. “When you’re playing with the same capability as you or higher, it just comes together so nicely.”
Hot Rod Rebellion played covers of the likes of Elvis, Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins before developing their own originals. With both covers and originals, the bandmates lean heavily into their rougher musical backgrounds, emphasizing the “rock” in rockabilly.
The new album, recorded at Dogwater Studios, features seven original tracks with a notable range of styles that complement the band’s swing-like rockabilly rhythms. “Outlaws” delivers an almost surf-like shimmer to the story of two lovers on the run, and “Atomic Shelter” adds a punk-esque vocal chorus on the post-apocalyptic party.
“Even our originals, I don’t think you could really sit back and say any one of our originals is rockabilly,"said Keating. “They all have rockabilly flavor.”
The music has an unmistakably retro feel to it, too, but local fans appreciate the band’s distinctly ragged rock edge.
“One of the things that has worked in our favor is the relationship we developed with a group called the Battle Born Dollz,” said Keating. “They’re really into rockabilly, and they’re also into a lot of community benefits, so we kind of established this symbiotic relationship with them.”
The Battle Born Dollz are a women’s community action group whose members often appear in vintage ‘40s and ‘50s era fashion and hold fundraising events throughout the year. Members of the Dollz attend Hot Rod Rebellion shows and have appeared in a music video for their song “Outlaws.”
Future plans for the band include a three-night performance at this year’s Hot August Nights and the possibility of returning to the studio soon, as they already have new tracks in the works.
“It’s a blast to play this music,” said Ducey. “You pay respect in a certain way, but at the same time you kind of lend your own artistic credibility towards it.”
They all agree, though, that if this band wants to do one thing, it’s hit the road.
“If I could have it my way, I’d tour for the rest of my life,” said Hernandez.Ω