Blues Rock bands—like those of any genre—can take their names from the most telling of sources. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker settled on “Cream” because each was the “cream of the crop” in terms of stature playing their respective instruments. ZZ Top’s moniker paid tribute to both bluesman ZZ Hill and wanting to be at the “top” of their game (and trivia! An earlier idea was to call themselves “ZZ King” as an additional nod to B.B. King).
But for singer/guitarist Zachary Feemster of the Beaumont, Texas-based group Ole Lonesome, their band name came from a much more contemporary (and digital) source.
“We didn’t have a band name and were about to do our first record [2019’s Turn In On],” Feemster—whose previous group had been a two-man act called Burnpile—says.
Producer/engineer Mitch Dane, who co-owns the recording studio Sputnik Sound in Nashville, had hit Feemster up on Instagram about needing something to call them for their upcoming sessions. Sputnik’s other owner, Vance Powell, has worked with artists ranging from Chris Stapleton and Dead Weather to Danger Mouse.
“So, I just said, ‘Well, we’ll just use my Instagram handle, which was 'Ole Lonesome!'” Feemster laughs. “And there was nobody who owned OleLonesome.com, so we got that. It just fell together for us.”
But don’t feel too bad for the band that also includes J. Wesley Hardin (bass), Gregory Mosley (keyboards), Jimmy Devers (drums) and Greg Achord (lead guitar). As of this writing, the Ole Lonesome account on Instagram has 1,827 followers.
After Turn It On came COVID. And while the band couldn’t tour, they began to release a series of singles. Two months ago, they put out a second studio effort "Tejas Motel" on bluesman Mike Zito’s burgeoning Gulf Coast Records label. It seemed like a natural fit, given his and Feemster’s longstanding relationship.
“I’ve known Mike for over 15 years. I’ve toured with his band as a second guitarist and worked as a go-fer or in tech,” Feemster says. “I’ve tried to learn what I can from him. He’s a wealth of knowledge. He loves the band and is always checking in in on us. He even wanted to put out that first record! We definitely look up to him. He’s a go-getter.”
Feemster is reluctant to call "Tejas Motel" a “concept record,” though he does float the idea that the characters in each song could feasibly each occupy a room in a rundown, slightly seedy temporary housing facility.
Tales of losers in romance and life permeate tunes like the rocky, swampy “Gold Chevy” and “Steady Mistreater.” Or the bombastic “Momma’s Worry” and “Natural Fact” to slow blues of “Ain’t No Good.” Or the soulful chuggings of “Lo Key,” “The Fool,” and the record-ending title track in which Ole Lonesome offers lyrical callbacks to those songs.
Much of Ole Lonesome’s sound immediately brings to mind early Black Keys records, a comparison which Feemster has heard before, but takes and appreciates. “I dig that!” he says (though the band put the title in quotation marks, perhaps to distance the project from the real location and any litigation).
There is a real Tejas Motel, a picture of whose sign graces the cover. Feemster explains that the band had finished a show with Zito in Fort Worth and was driving to their next gig at Deep Ellum in the Dallas area. Along the way in Mesquite, Texas, they passed the Tejas Motel right there at 4405 US Highway 80 E. And it struck the band immediately.
“I said ‘Oh, that’s the name of our next record right there!’” Feemster laughs. “Me and Wesley are like big history buffs. We like old junk that looks like it’s been there forever, so we loved it. The title track was the last song to be written. Me and Wesley were just messing around. He said I should take all the other song titles and make those the lyrics, and it worked out!”
As of now, the band has not heard from the owners of the motel, but when it’s suggested they could play a show on the grounds with fans renting rooms and keeping the party going all night long, he likes the idea.
Growing up, Feemster says he didn’t take any music lessons or participate in any school music programs or classes—though he wishes now that he had. It’s partially responsible for what he says is his “ass backwards” way of writing songs. As in he starts with a title, then creates the words and music (though for the record, all songs on "Tejas Motel" are credited to the entire group).
In music, there’s blues, and then there’s “Texas Blues,” a strain that starts with Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mance Lipscomb, and Lightnin’ Hopkins and runs through performers like T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and later white and younger acolytes like Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Winter, and ZZ Top.
And while Feemster can’t put a finger exactly on what makes Texas Blues unique musically, he says what Ole Lonesome does is sort of like carrying on a tradition with known historical roots.
“Me and the fellas, well…we are really obsessed with 1970s Texas. We worship Johnny Winter and Billy Gibbons. Even the older guys just had their own specific thing, like Blind Lemon Jefferson,” he says. “It’s a roots thing. That big guitar, raunchy, kind of rock and roll.”
He adds that it’s a kind of sound you’d hear all the time decades ago in thriving clubs in Ole Lonesome’s hometown of Beaumont and the surrounding area. But as he speaks while walking through an empty 1920s-era ballroom which now serves as the band’s rehearsal space, he’s wistful for a time he wasn’t even around in time to experience.
“[Beaumont] is kind of a ghost town now. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there was all kinds of stuff going on around here, there’s a lot of cool history,” he says. “I was born in 1983, and everything was gone by then. We have to make our own fun around here, and we definitely do.”
Feemster racks up the points on a "Star Wars" pinball machine as the rest of Ole Lonesome cheers him on.
Photo by Emily Martindale
Ole Lonesome is on a bit of a performing hiatus right now, though Feemster says they have some Florida gigs booked later in the year and a cruise in January 2024. The band is taking this time to also write material for their next planned release.
Still, as he continues to walk and talk through that ballroom summoning up the musical memories of Beaumont Past, Feemster says he likes having the band call the city home. As opposed to picking up and heading out to a more populous place with more of an industry structure and venues to play.
“I like being in a smaller city,” he sums up. “Because we can make a louder noise and get a bit crazier!”
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.