Thursday, 1 January 2009

The Barnshakers

There must be something in the frozen waters of Scandinavia that keeps producing these razor-sharp rockabilly bands. The list is seemingly endless with bands like Jack Baymoore & the Bandits, Wildfire Willie, Hal Peters and one of the best, The Barnshakers. The first time I came across them was as the backing band on Darrel Higham's High Class Baby album. By the time I'd listened to the first few beats on Five Minutes To Live I was well and truly hooked.

The band sort of formed by accident when Goofin' Records president, Pete Hakonen booked the legendary rocker Johnny Carroll for a gig in Finalnd in 1992. And while filling the venue wasn't a problem for Hakonen, fulfilling the date was - he didn't have a band. He talked four musicians from various bands like The Whistle Bait and Hal Peters String Busters to form a band to do the honour. And so the Barnshakers were born with Vesa Haaja on vocals and guitar, Jussi Huhtakangas a.k.a. Lester Peabody on lead guitar, Mika Liikari on double bass and Mike Salminen on drums. The band hit it off straight away and it wasn't too long (1993) before they were in the studio cutting a 10" album, Cool Enough, for Goofin'. Later that year they cut a single She Done Quit Me, again for Goofin' and one (Big Sandy) the following year for Willie Lewis' Rockabilly Records out of Colorado.

The next EP, Complicated Fool came out in '94, followed by their first CD, A Honky Tonk Session for Goofin'. They toured Europe for the next couple of years and they backed High Noon's Shaun Young on his Scandinavian tour. They also backed him for his solo Goofin' album, Red Hot Daddy. In '96 they scored a record hop favourite with the Wiggle Like a Worm 45. That year also saw them undertake their first US tour on the back of their latest Goofin' release, String-O-Rama.

Now a seasoned band, the Barnshakers have backed mant Finnish visitors, old and new, among them Hank Thompson, Narvel Felts, Hayden Thompson, Alvis Wayne, Johnny Carroll, Sanford Clark, Huelyn Duvall, Sid and Billy King, Martí Brom, Shaun Young, Johnny Carroll, Darrel Higham, Kim Lenz and Mack Stevens. Some of these dates led to session dates and they cut the Hocus Pocus single in 1997 when Mack Stevens was struggling with a sore throat. In the same year they cut the Goofin' EP, Pretty Little Devil with Darrel Higham, followed a year by the High Class Baby CD.

A lot of their early singles, the 10" LP and other odds and sods were complied by On The Hill Records for the 1998 release Barnyard Stomp. In 1999 they backed the smouldering Marti Brom for a Scandinavian tour, and ended up recording the Maybe I Do EP with her in Sweden, at Jo-Allans legendary vintage studio. They rejoined her for her Snake Ranch album, along with Texan T. Jarrod Bonta on piano. It was a fantastic effort from both the Barnshakers and Brom, with the likes of Blue Tattoo and Eat My Words being particularly grand.

2001 saw the release of the brilliant mini album North of Juarez on Goofin', recorded with the bands newest addition, Harri Saanio on piano. A highlight of the year for the band was a tour in France backing the one and only Hank Thompson. Their sound, always authentic and always tight, must have been ideal for the great man.

In 2002 a 300 copy limited addition 45 coupling Boppin' In Roswell and Raining in My Heart was released to critical acclaim, followed shortly after by their finest album to date, Five Minutes to Live.

Recommended listening:
NORTH OF JUAREZ - Goofin' RecordsIf ever there was a case for less is more, then this is it. Only eight tracks, but it's a stunning stab of rockabilly that leaves you breathless. If nothing else it serves as a delicious appetiser for the Five Minutes To Live CD. The original '50s songs we love so much were packaged as hit-em-between-the-eyes singles - two and a half minutes of pounding, that left the listener stunned, reflecting on what he'd just heard. That doesn't happen these days when we get fed our music in 30 track compilations, where songs can sort of drift from one to another. This eight tracker is more like the singles and works really well because of it - you don't have time to get bored with it. The pace is unrelenting, from the opening strains of Heartbreak Train to the manic Killer Diller. Watchdog and Did You Tell Me do full justice to the originals, whilst their own compositions like the western bopper Mail Man and the latino Jaurez.... Life Long Bound is done like ala Johnny Cash's Sun period and is stunning.
A HONKY TONK SESSION WITH - Goofin' RecordsA really pleasant album with tasty hillbilly feel, but without any nasal moments!! Two absolute beauties are the easybilly numbers, Who's Gonna Be The Next One Honey and the oh-so catchy, Kissin' In The Carwash. Fast Jivin' kicks in ala Eddie baby, before turning into a piano instrumental with the Chuck Berry backbeat. Choo Choo Train sounds like Bo Diddley in Nashville, while I Couldn't Care Less and She Likes To Bop are straight ahead rockabilly. The band are so tasteful, concentrating more on the melody and rhythm that just tearing the guts out of each note. Another I eally rate is When I Take My Sugar to Tea, a fun little ditty not unlike some of Gene Vincent's '56 cuts.
FIVE MINUTES TO LIVE - Goofin' RecordsI don't think it's taking things too far to say that this is one of the top 5 rockabilly albums of the last twenty years. Again featuring a well balanced mixture of covers and originals, the sound is pure rockabilly augmented with some tasty steel guitar. The album kicks off with three boppers in Nature's Goodness, Too Tired Today (superb drumming here) and another crack at the marvellous Boppin' In Roswell. Add this thunderous rocker to the distinguished list of flying saucers rock 'n' roll that has been running as long as them little green men. Two-Gun Daddy is another flat-outer whilst Arizona Express and Don't Worry About Me have a beautiful western feel about them. They have really nailed this cactus and sand-storm sound and you have to pinch yourself to remember these guys are from Finland not El Paso. Which brings along nicely to Marty Robbins who is remembered with a pleasing version of his You Don't Owe Me A Thing - a commendable choice. Their acoustic heavy rhythm is ideal for Billy Lee Riley's Trouble Bound and George Jones' Maybe Little Baby. Gene McKown's 1964 Brass single Ghost Memories is given a mysterious sound and is superb, as is their cover of Ronnie Self's Black Night Blues. The album is rounded off in fine style with the title track, from the little known Johnny Cash flick of the same name. It's a brilliant way to finish (excuse the pun!).

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