The traffic light flashes from green, to yellow, to red, at the corner of Adams Avenue and Felton Street. The occasional car rolls by, but for the most part it's a quiet mid-week evening in the San Diego neighborhood of Normal Heights.
A few figures scuttle into a local pub. As the door opens, the reverberations of loud country twang spill onto the empty street.
After paying the friendly doorman the $3 cover, the door opens to a long, narrow room packed with the warm buzz of patrons talking loudly over pints of frosty Guinness. A quartet, set up in the corner by the door, bangs out a country ballad, complete with scratchy, soaring harmonies.
It's Wednesday night, which, for the past few years now, has been The Hatchet Brothers' night to serenade the regulars at The Ould Sod.
The Hatchet Brothers, a foursome of local music vets, is simply a band born from the love of playing live without a net.
Originally, the band served as an outlet for local songwriters Gregory Page (ex-Rugburns) and Frank Lee Drennen (ex-Loam) to explore old time country and murder ballads from the '20s and '30s. The two had met during jam sessions in the mid-'90s at Java Joe's, and immediately felt a connection.
Soon Page and Drennen started playing at The Ould Sod, seeing the Wednesday night shows as a chance to get on stage and just play. The band rounded out its current lineup with drummer Charlie McCree and bassist Jack Reynolds, both of the local band Vertibird.
The band's first album, Tools of the Trade, was born from the same relaxed mentality that the Wednesday jam sessions held.
“We recorded two days after we met,” explains the bespectacled Page. “We made an album at Frank's house (across the street from The Ould Sod in Normal Heights); we just set up recording equipment in his living room. Basically what you hear when you hear Tools of the Trade is the Hatchet Brothers being formed.”
Four years later, The Hatchet Brothers have created a loyal following at the The Ould Sod, as young and old sing along with its brand of down-home country mixed with a punk, D.I.Y. attitude.
“We're in the classic country tradition,” says Drennen, breaking down the band's sound. “Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, a lot of the tunes they got famous for, they didn't write. But it's all in their artistic interpretation of it that totally made it their own. And The Hatchet Brothers work within that same idea and grab from that tradition.
“But we're like Johnny Cash meets The Clash. More like Johnny Clash, that's our style.”
The Hatchet Brothers have a new album out, Love Hurts, but don't have the standard slick press releases, stickers and P.R. packets to help promote the disc. They rely on the power of their weekly Ould Sod shows and word of mouth.
“We just set up in the living room with a PA; it was all captured live and in the moment,” says Page. “We're such a live sounding band, it's hard to imagine us recording in a Pro Tools studio. Wouldn't have been right. Would've been against the law.”
“It's the most fun I've had playing music.”
“The Hatchet Brothers have survived (longer) than most bands I've been in,” adds Drennen. “We're totally flexible, because we have to be. There's no expectations with the Hatchet Brothers, and oddly enough, it's been successful.”
See The Hatchet Brothers at The Ould Sod every Wednesday, 9 p.m., $3. 3373 Adams Ave., San Diego, CA 92116. For more info, call (619) 284-6594 .
It's official: after decades as an Ocean Beach landmark, San Diego's premiere acoustic coffee shop, Java Joe's, is closing its doors and moving downtown. Full details of the move weren't available at press time, but an educated guess is that O.B.'s liquor laws forced owner Joe Flammini's hand. Since the city was full on alcohol permits, Joe's was only allowed to serve beer and wine-if the musicians didn't use a P.A. system. So bands like Berkley Hart and Jason Mraz had to compete with chatty bar patrons. We'll keep you posted on the move.
After 28 years as a DJ for the classic rock station KGB, Jim McInnes was let go. Insiders say that the station's poor ratings were a contributing factor in the decision. Of course, the station's ratings have suffered for quite a while now. We're willing to bet that it had less to do with McInnes and more to do with the fact that the station's been playing the same 300 songs over and over for the last three decades. However, McInnes' departure does bring the return of a San Diego legend: Mojo Nixon has returned from Cincinnati to fill McInnes' spot. The madcap political diatribesman's first day on air was last Friday.