Local band revives old sounds of the South
John Boy’s Mule may be based here in Park City, but their style isn’t.
Listening to their tunes lures the listener into the depths of the South.
"We like to play songs that have been in the history of America since we arrived," said band co-founder Karri Del Hays. "We play music from Appalachia and the South and how it migrated across the country."
Their acoustic sound may remind listeners of the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou?" in both style and performance. The characters comprised of the fictional "Soggy Bottom Boys" in the movie — Everett, Pete and Delmar– sing their music into one microphone while sharing jabs and glances.
John Boy’s Mule does the same.
"It’s more fun for musicians," Hays said. "We can nudge each other, look at each other; there is more interaction between the group."
Hays was born in North Carolina. Even though she has lived most of her life in the West, that part of her life created a foundation of love for Southern music.
"All of our music is from that area," Hays said. "It’s from playing in living rooms and dances. We love to play at small parties and we like to interact with the audience."
The band was founded three years ago by Hays and her husband Jack Walzer, a 26-year resident of Park City. It wasn’t until now, however, that they were ready to produce a CD.
"We are always reaching for a certain sound in our music," Hays said. "It’s a learning process as you go through different instruments and styles. Everyone has different styles they play in."
After searching for a couple years, they have that sound. That meant including two more musicians, Mark Viar and Ken Stager. Now, their music can be found at Park City’s local music store, Orions.
"That’s when we knew we had the sound we were looking for," Hays said.
The previous members in their group, she said, were talented but didn’t have the right sound for what they wanted. They had a former electric bass player, and a Djembe drummer that took the place of the "driving rhythm from mandolin," Hays said.
"We really wanted an acoustic sound," Hays said. "The other musicians knew that’s what we were striving for. We have a good rapport with the current and former members. We were reaching for the right mix, when we found that, we knew we wanted to record something, we were waiting for the right sound.
The members of John Boy’s Mule, while comprised of acoustic strings such as the banjo and the mandolin, do not want to be pigeonholed into the bluegrass genre.
"Our music is more old-timey in nature," Hayes said, "but it’s not bluegrass. Even though they call us bluegrass, we are a little more foot stompin,’ raw and improvisational."
Their album is coming after a successful summer for the group, during which played all over Park City. When applying for the Deer Valley Concerts, they were chosen No. 1 by a blind study of panelists, according to Hays.
"We had a great summer," Hays said. "We played in a lot of different venues. We got asked back to the Deer Valley concert series. We also played in the Torrey, Utah Festival. Next summer we are hoping to play in a lot more festivals in and out of the state."
They are also set to perform in the International Acoustic Music Association Festival at Snowbird this November.
While they are looking to expand their popularity, Park City is still their focus.
"We are trying to play in more places in Park City," Hays said, "We play a lot at the Spur (Bar and Grill) and other small venues. Where we really shine, however, is outside."
Their CD is comprised of original and traditional arrangements. They have written some of their own music but are also including songs by Bob Dylan and Neil Young. They recorded their music similarly to the "Soggy Bottom Boys." In the movie they sang into "the can," or one microphone. It’s an accomplishment Hays is proud of.
"We are surprised that it came out as good as it did," Hays said. "It’s always a challenge to record acoustic music. There’s not a lot of over dubbing like you get with other music. We just played in a room together. It wasn’t like other music where they play separately."
The group members perform this music because of a passion they all share for traditional tunes.
"We just love to play this music," Hays said. "We’re not out to become rock stars, although Ken might be, we love to get this music out there. It’s really about playing together, with other people and the old music. There’s an old rootsy feeling inside when playing the old songs."
Hays hopes her band will add to what she says, is a rebirth of this type of music.
"Old-time resurgents are blossoming all over and it will bring us back to real music," Hays said. "We are hoping this kind of reversion takes us back to our roots and sparks a new level of real music in our air waves."
Ken Sager, a professional musician born and raised in Salt Lake, joined the band this past year. He plays the mandolin, tenor banjo, the dobro and adds supporting vocals.
Mark Viar, a musician from Kamas, also joined the band this last year. He plays the upright, "dog-house" bass.
Karri Del Hays-Walzer, a 36-year resident of Park City, co-founder of John Boy’s Mule, sings, plays the fiddle, and the clawhammer banjo.
Jack Walzer, a 26-year resident of Park City and long-time performer, sings and plays the guitar.
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