The Back 40's
Today's highlighted Madison-based musical act is The Back 40's.
Getting people moving with their hardcore honky-tonk and classic country music is the mission of The Back 40's. Something of a Madison rock supergroup gone to a hoedown, the band has been performing their performing since the autumn of 2003, hauling out the best of mid-century country from their well of cover songs.
Here is their bio:
The Back 40's are a five-piece Madison based band consisting of members of the Tar Babies, the German Art Students, Arena Venus, the Andrews Sisters, and the Beatles. They enthusiastically perform country classics by relative unknowns such as Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Connie Smith, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton with great harmonies and the whole fried chicken.
The 40's are actually up to six now, with the addition of Jake Gobel on the bass guitar. The other members of the band are: Danny Hicks on lead guitar and vocals, Annelies Howell on vocals, the guitar and fiddle, Randy Ballwahn on drums and vocals, Cynthia Holt on the guitar and vocals, and Steve (Slim) Tesmer on the steel guitar.
Together, the band plays well over 100 (and counting) covers of country classics beginning with the decade in their name and up through the best traditional and alt-country that can be found today. Five of these songs are available for listening online. They are: "Your Good Girl Is Gonna Go Bad" and "Stand By Your Man" (originally performed by Tammy Wynette), "Adios Farewell Goodbye Good Luck So Long," (originally performed by Buck Owens), "Honkytonk Hiccups" (originally performed by Neko Case), and "Driving Nails in My Coffin" (performed by Ernest Tubb and many others). There's more info about the group at theback40s.com, including photo galleries of their gigs at Country Corners in McFarland and Perkins' Tavern in Beloit.
As for details about their live shows, accomplished Madison music writer (and Isthmus contributor) Kiki Schueler delivers once again, with a review of their pre-New Year's Eve show at the (now sadly-missed) Slipper Club in 2005. She wrote:
The Back 40's list of classic country and honky-tonk covers is pretty impressive, ranging from true legends like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to new outlaws like Lucinda Williams, Robbie Fulks and Dwight Yoakam. In fact it seemed to be the night of Dwight, with the Back 40s covering 'Guitar, Cadillacs," "Little Sister," (originally Elvis of course) and at least one other ("Honky Tonk Man" maybe?) and Jim James doing a re-worked and totally cool version of the ultimate tear-in-my-beer song "It Won't Hurt.' Usually an integral part of the band, an eight month pregnant Annelies (officially the most pregnant woman I've seen on stage) joined them for a terrific cover of Neko Case's 'Honky Tonk Hiccups" which did more to sell me on Ms Case than she herself ever has. While the band lamented her absence for the rest of the night, I still thought they sounded great. I did miss her vocals of course, but it didn't seem quite the void that the band thought existed. Especially since the best part of the Back 40s is that they all sing. Randy's voice seems more suited to the Johnny Cash covers he did ('Folsom Prison' and a somewhat bumpy "Cocaine Blues") than to the pop-rock of his other outfit, the always-entertaining German Art Students. Cynthia has a lovely, pure country voice perfect for belting out Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton songs. The latter's "Jolene' was especially entertaining, even if it was a "speed-metal version."
Schueler also reviewed their "first real gig," when they opened for Robbie Fulks at the Harmony Bar back in November 2003.
The Back 40's are currently making a home for themselves at an east side bar that's building its honky-tonk tradition. "We've been playing a series of once a month Thursday night shows at the Crystal Corner," reports Hicks, who is responsible for booking the band live gigs, parties, weddings or any fun-loving hoedown. Their next performance there is on Thursday, Dec. 21, when they host a pre-Christmas shindig. Hicks notes that while the Packers are taking on the Vikings that night, the game won't be broadcast on cable, "so it's a good push to get people out to the bars."
This is the latest featured entry from the Madison Music Project, an online database of Madison-area musicians. Please register or update your current profile on the project for consideration in these highlights.