While in Madison, Wisconsin, on tour, Eric Danheim got the call. It was his wife, Betsy. She got the job. "I was happy, ya know," says Danheim. All he had to do now was tell his band the news: that he and his wife would be relocating from Houston to Seattle and that he would ultimately be quitting the band.
For some acts this wouldn't have meant much. But for the band of which Danheim was a part, it was a big deal. The Hollisters are one of Houston's most successful, artistically if not commercially, bands of the decade. Without its guitarist, the guy who co-wrote many of the quartet's songs and -- with vocalist/acoustic guitarist Mike Barfield, backup vocalist/bass guitarist Denny Dale (a.k.a. Cletus) and drummer Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick -- survived many band-breaking gigs all over the country, the Hollisters will never be quite the same.
Funny enough, this parting comes right at the time the band is on the verge of actually breaking big. The Hollisters' new record, Sweet Inspiration, is being released on the venerable alt-country label Hightone Records. Getting on Hightone came courtesy of country superstar Robert Earl Keen, who saw the Hollisters on one of his "Texas Uprising" tours and liked what he heard. He signed the band about a year ago to a management contract and hooked the guys up with Hightone. The quartet began work on Sweet Inspiration, its second CD, in November and is now preparing to tour in support of the record. The group's New Year's Eve show at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge will be its last with Danheim.
Danheim knew immediately after his wife lost her job this fall, when Microsoft's Sidewalk.com was sold, that moving out of town and from Hollisters headquarters was a possibility. So did his bandmates. "It's unfortunate," says Barfield of the Hollisters' amicable split with Danheim. "I wish it wasn't the case, but I understand. And I kinda saw it comin'.... He was getting tired of all the traveling."
Before her last day at Sidewalk.com, Betsy Danheim landed a cushy post at ecommerce giant Amazon.com. The offer was just too good to pass up. "We had looked around San Antonio and Austin," says Danheim, who also goes by the stage name Eddie Dale. "But we definitely had to go," to Seattle.
At first Danheim planned to remain part of the band by proxy. He was traveling back and forth for gigs in the South, which so far has been the place the Hollisters have had the most success. "It just got too hard with logistics," says Danheim.
Everybody in the band agreed, including Barfield. "We kept losing more and more dates," he says. "We lost about all of January."
Danheim and Barfield go way back. Houstonians both, they have known each other since the mid-1980s. Together they started the Rounders, a popular local act, played for a couple years on and off, then in 1995 formed the Hollisters. The band's first gig as the Hollisters was at the same place it will play its last with Eric Danheim, sentimentally enough.
Now almost completely moved into his new digs in Seattle, Danheim says he plans to keep making music, especially with his former band. "I'm still gonna be writing stuff," he says. "I'll correspond through tape with the band for some stuff on the next record." Danheim also has already contacted a few bands in the area (one on reference from Barfield) and set up a four-track studio in his house.
As for the Hollisters, Barfield says the band already has a replacement, an Austin-based musician. Since the new player is currently committed to another band, his name is under wraps. Finding another guitarist exactly like Danheim, a picker with a loose approach, is not what the remaining Hollisters desire. "I'm so interested in someone's own feel," says Barfield. "If they cop a couple things for the feel of the song, that's okay. But I don't want someone copping solos note for note."
In that sense, the sound is guaranteed to change a bit. Not necessarily better or worse. Just different. Darrell Anderson of Hightone Records expects the same high quality from the band that everyone at the label fell in love with. "For us, there's no way to judge" whether the band will miss Danheim's playing or not, says Anderson. "We're so new to them.We signed them on the strength of their first record and their rep.
"They're talented guys. They'll stay that way." Laughing, Anderson adds: "We hope they stay that way."
The Hollisters perform Friday, December 31, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington. For more information, call (713)869-COOL.
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Some happenings this holiday weekend: Dune, TX plays Thursday, December 23, at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh. It's a 21-and-over show, and doors open at 10 p.m. For more information, call (713)521-0521. That same evening Modulator and London Girl will perform an all-ages show at Metropol, 804 Fannin, (713)237-1505.
On Christmas night you can see The Christmas Jam, featuring Chris Walker, Brent Carter, Kyle Turner and more, at Scott Gertner's Skybar, 3400 Montrose, (713)520-9688. -- Anthony Mariani
E-mail Anthony Mariani at email@example.com.