Cracker ready to get cracking in Park City
May 27, 2016
When Cracker lead guitarist Johnny Hickman reflects back on his career with vocalist and guitarist David Lowery and he can’t help but laugh.
"It feels like we’ve been getting away with something for 25 years," Hickman said during a telephone call to The Park Record from his home in Ft. Collins, Colorado. "No, really, we’re just really fortunate to be able to continue making music and playing together."
Cracker, considered one of the bands at the forefront of college radio in the 1990s, will perform at O.P. Rockwell, 268 Main St., on Friday, June 3. The night will open with the Artisan Thieves.
The concert will feature old songs and new ones culled from the band’s 2014 double-disc release "From Berkeley to Bakersfield." The first disc, titled "Berkeley," is filled with songs inspired by punk and garage bands, while its "Bakersfield" companion features songs that were inspired by the California country sound, according to Hickman.
"We have never thought twice about mixing up the styles," he said. "We’ve never worried about putting a song like ‘Mr. Wrong’ on the same record as ‘Teen Angst’ because that’s what our heroes did. I don’t think bands like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers or the Rolling Stones sat around and asked if a song was too country or too rock. They just played the music they felt like playing."
To understand the making of the album, one must understand the origins of the band, Hickman said.
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"David and I grew up together for the most part in rural, southeastern California," he said. "We were young fellows and we knew each other from other bands."
The two stayed in touch over the years and when Lowery’s first band, Camper van Beethoven, folded its tents in 1990, he and Hickman decided to work together.
"We liked the way each other wrote songs and we wanted to see what would happen," Hickman said.
The two moved to Virginia to focus on the music.
"It was a cheap place to live and we had some money left over from David’s former record label, Virgin," Hickman explained. "They wanted us to make demos and David told them that he was making new music with me. So, we sent demos and they liked what they heard."
At that point, the duo didn’t have an official band.
"The label wanted to work with us and signed me on as well, so David and I sat down and said, ‘I guess we’d better put a band together,’" Hickman said with another laugh. "That band became Cracker."
The band has always been a loose organization.
"Basically, there are two guys at the center and then people will come in and out of the band," Hickman said. "We have a wide, talented circle of musicians that we like to work with."
Those musicians can’t help but influence the Cracker sound.
"When we’re making an album, we’ll ask ourselves who we think would be the perfect drummer for a song and we’ll call them up to see if they are available," Hickman said. "Or some other time we’ll call a keyboard player and some singers who we know for back up vocals who will bring their own flavor to the songs.
"We’ll go a more funky way if we’re working with, say, Davey Faragher, who’s one of the top bass players in the world," Hickman said. "His origins are in soul and funk, even though he’s a rocker, and when he comes aboard, like he did on ‘Berkeley,’ he’ll puts in a little bit of that hard funk and Cracker soul."
Another Cracker veteran, drummer Michael Urbano, who along with Faragher played on Cracker’s definitive 1993 album "Kerosene Hat," also makes an appearance on the "Berkeley" disc.
"Playing with those two again on a Cracker album was so fantastic," Hickman said. "We know how good those guys are. We talked to them a few times and threw the offer out there to make another record together."
Hickman and Lowery even shared songwriting credits with the others.
"We went up to Michael Urbano’s studio in the Berkeley area, and while we had our own ideas, we knew once we got into a room with those guys all manner of things were going to happen," Hickman said. "David and I, as we always do, brought in some riffs and song structures and it clicked immediately.
"Davey is one of the most amazing bassists and Michael is one of the most enthusiastic and more unpredictable drummers who we ever played with," he said. "He’ll play a beat or variation that will end up sounding different than we intended, but always good, and we came up with so much music in such a short time."
Hickman and Lowery flew to Athens, Georgia, to record the songs that would comprise the "Bakersfield" disc.
"We named the disc ‘Bakersfield,’ even though we didn’t record it in Bakersfield," Hickman said, laughing again. "But it was influenced by that town and I played in many bands while my parents lived in the mountains just above Bakersfield. I would come down the hill, sit in with bands and soak up a lot of it."
Lowery had a load of country songs and ideas fleshed out and the two got together with some of the top country studio musicians in Georgia.
"We call them the Country Crackers, and they are phenomenal," Hickman said.
That group included pedal steel guitarist Matt "Pistol" Stoessel, who will probably be with Cracker when they play in Park City.
"While these guys are country players, they can really rock out with complete authority," Hickman said. "This is one of the best lineups we have and it’s a pleasure to walk out on stage with these people. I’ve got to be on my game."
Hickman can’t wait to share the new music with Park City.
"We love that town," he said. "We get there every couple of years. It’s really beautiful and we’ve got some great fans there."
Cracker will play at O.P. Rockwell on Friday, June 3, at 9 p.m. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the music will start with the Artisan Thieves. Tickets range from $26 to $38 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.oprockwell.com.