Tonight: Boxmasters at Scout Bar, Part 1

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Few things are more anonymous than being one of the Other Guys in a band with a bona fide celebrity. But, besides an Oscar-winning screenwriter and Oscar-nominated actor – and a musician since his high-school days – former Houstonian Billy Bob Thornton is also, by all accounts, a very laid-back dude. Thus, before he’ll talk on the phone to tout his group the Boxmasters’ show at the Scout Bar tonight, he insists interviewers speak to the other guys in the band. Thus, I spent a very pleasant 10 minutes on the phone with guitarist J.D. Andrew. Stay tuned for Part Two.

Houston Press: Tell me how you guys got together.

J.D. Andrew: I was working as an engineer on Billy’s last solo record, Beautiful Door. He came down to the studio one day and said, “How well do you play guitar?” I went, “Well… you know, I haven’t really played in a band in ten years, but I’ve been noodling. He went, “Well, the rest of the guys in the band are out of town, and a producer of a Canadian TV show wants me to cut a new version of ‘Lost Highway’ by Hank Williams and there’s no one else here, so we’re going to record this.” I went, “Cool.”

We did it and it had this really cool ‘60s sound to it. Not intentionally, just how we played together. So we decided to record some more songs. We listened to this British Invasion compilation that Billy had, and when we got to “Yesterday’s Gone” by Chad & Jeremy, he went, “Listen to this, this is really just a hillbilly song. We should record this.” So we did it.

Chad & Jeremy's "Yesterday's Gone," one of the first songs recorded by the Boxmasters.

HP: A lot of those British Invasion bands were influenced by the Everly Brothers and groups like that.

JDA: Oh yeah. Absolutely. That’s what we feel like we’re doing. We’re taking those early ‘60s [sounds] of Buck Owens and other guys like the Louvin Brothers and Del Reeves, combining those with the British Invasion, bands that were really listening to that stuff. We’re taking both of those and mixing them together to make one thing. It’s been a lot of fun – we’re really happy with the way we sound.

HP: How do you feel you’re functioning as a band? How many shows have you played?

JDA: I guess this is the start of week two. We’ve done six shows... seven shows so far. We’re just kind of getting into it, you know, but we’ve got great musicians in the band. When we do our shows, we do the Boxmasters as the opening act.

We come out in our Mod suits, the black suits, we do our show and it looks kind of like a ‘60s TV set. So then we take a 15-minute break, change our clothes and do the big rock set of Billy’s solo material and a couple of covers.

HP: How many folks are actually in the touring lineup?

JDA: There’s seven of us. Me, Mike [Butler] and Billy, we make the records. The core band is us three.

"Some of Shelley's Blues," written by Texan and former Monkee Mike Nesmith, covered by the Boxmasters on their self-titled double album.

HP: How long did it take the record to come together?

The first record [Vanguard's Boxmasters, one disc of originals and another of covers], it took us from the time we started in February 2007 and it came out in June. We had it ready in April, I guess. It was just over a year to finish it, but that included the tour in the middle of it we did last year. You know, for the most part, we really had it solid in the beginning, but we recorded 50 songs for the first record.

We were having such a great time recording songs we just kept doing it, and we never stopped. When it came time to finish the record, we had to pull the ones we liked best out of there.

HP: I noticed a couple of Mike Nesmith songs on the record. He’s a Texan.

JDA: Oh yeah. He’s a big influence on the band, and Billy used to work for his sound company, and he worked with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band a lot in the early ‘70s. So they played those songs every night when he worked with them, so he’s thought about those songs for years, saying, “Some day I really want to record those songs.” We’ve been fortunate to have Mike listen to the record, and he really likes it, so we’re just pleased as punch he would actually like what we did.

The Boxmasters, "The Poor House," live on CBS' Late Late Show.

HP: And about Billy’s songs, one thing that really struck me was how funny they are.

Yeah. Exactly. Basically, Billy’s a great Southern writer. The influences he’s had of Erskine Caldwell and Faulkner and stuff, they always mixed humor with tragedy. There’s funny bits in sad songs. Like “The Poor House,” the guy’s really kind of a jackass, like “I’m going to take all my family’s money and go to Reno and gamble some,” but he loves his family and wants to do the best for them; he’s just not very smart about it.

It was such a pleasure, really. Every time he’d go, ‘Hey, I’ve got a song,” I’d just sit there and wait for him to read me the lyrics, and then we could start on it, and we’d have to record it immediately.

HP: Do you have much experience in Texas?

JDA: I’ve been to Texas quite a few times. I’m originally from Kansas, and we always kind of had Texas envy (laughs). Texas was identified as cool, and here we are just a ways north and the land didn’t look much different, but we’re these outcasts: “Oh, click your shoes together, Dorothy…”

HP: I don’t know. I always thought the “Bleeding Kansas” thing was pretty cool.

Oh yeah. Exactly. I mean, the history’s pretty cool, but it’s just kind of funny. My girlfriend’s from Texas, so I got a lot of ties to it. – Chris Gray

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