Boston, Massachusetts roots rock trio Ten Foot Polecats have been blazing their way down the underground music trail for a few years now, enduring the harsh terrain with all the fortitude of seasoned outlaws, tightly gripping the reins to their runaway sound. Pushing it determinedly forward, they nudge its hindquarters with their spurs, even as it grunts, huffs, puffs, clenches its teeth on the bit, stomps its hooves, holds its head high and proud, and rears up on its might rear legs. It’s a sound born of blood, sweat, heart, soul and guts; a sound, in the simplest of terms, that is a combination of dirty rock’n’roll and aggressive blues. Now, I’m not talking neo-blues here, or pseudo-blues, which tends to pass for real blues in some circles these days for lack of anything better, but rather a sound influenced by traditional North Mississippi Hill Country blues…thereby inserting Ten Foot Polecats into what I refer to as the last of today’s living bluesmen, such as T-Model Ford, Possessed by Paul James, C.W. Stoneking, Bob Log III, Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, and Left Lane Cruiser, to name a few.
One doesn’t really expect a sound such as the one Ten Foot Polecats own to come from Boston, Massachusetts. Perhaps from Mississippi, Louisiana, or Texas, but not Boston, which is better known for its Celtic punk and hardcore music these days. So when a band comes out of Boston with roots rock and blues as the main components to their particular sound structure…well, they better be damn serious about it, not to mention prepared to rock the house and lay down riffs, licks, percussion and vocals in a way that will make the old Delta, Piedmont and Hill Country masters proud. Ten Foot Polecats are just such a band, no doubt about it, and their debut full-length release “I Get Blamed For Everything I Do” on Texas’s Hillgrass Bluebilly Records is the evidence to prove it.
“I Get Blamed For Everything I Do” is a strong album comprised of both cover songs and original material, clocking in at just over an hour in length with a total of thirteen tracks. Released in March of 2010 on Hillgrass Bluebilly Records “I Get Blamed For Everything I Do” has been a widely held discussion between enthusiasts of blues, rock’n’roll, and even country music. The press that the album has received has also been kind. And the trio has been touring extensively in support of it, playing several important festivals and showcases, like Deep Blues Festival, Muddy Roots, and Heavy Rebel Weekender, and sharing the stage with the likes of The Goddamn Gallows, Sasquatch & the Sickabillys, T-Model Ford, Black Diamond Heavies, Scott H. Biram, Koffin Kats, Wayne “the Train” Hancock, and Left Lane Cruiser. Truth of the matter is, Ten Foot Polecats have a sound that appeals equally to those appreciative of roots music at blues festivals, to the rockabilly cats at the Weekenders, to the margin-dwelling guys and gals at punk venues, and to the patrons of any small town dive bar.
At present the Ten Foot Polecats are Jay Scheffler, with his smoky, whiskey-throated vocals; Jim Chilson, with his crazy dexterity and fiery guitar playing; and Dave Darling, with his fevered work on the drum kit. Sadly, Dave just recently played his last show with Ten Foot Polecats and is preparing to move on to other life-things, whereupon drummer Chad Rousseau will be joining the lineup. Be that is it may, I still see quite a future for this band.
Recently I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing the Ten Foot Polecats. The content from that interview has been included for you here in its entirety.
In the interest of providing the readers of this piece a better understanding of the artist, or artists, with whom I am working, I would like to begin this interview in an introductory fashion and ask you: Just who are the Ten Foot Polecats, not just as musicians and singer/songwriters but as individuals, as human beings of this vast and crazy world in which we live?
The original members of Ten Foot Polecats are Jay Scheffler (vocals and harp), Jim Chilson (guitar), and Dave Darling on drums. Dave has announced his retirement for the end of 2010. We really hate to see Dave go, but this is not an easy business for many reasons. So, as of 2011 Chad Rousseau will be the new drummer for Ten Foot Polecats.
Outside of music, we work in the construction industries, trucking industries, etc…but two of us have been victims of the economy and are now unemployed. No matter if we are unemployed or work eighty hours a week, we are trying to get out on the road as much as we can to play in front of audiences who appreciate and love unique blues and roots music across the country. It’s a hard thing to do, but all good things do not come easy. Besides that, we are Massholes, just with a slightly better disposition.
How about a little history of the band?
Ten Foot Polecats were created from playing in another blues band that we felt wasn’t going in a direction that we preferred to go in. We wanted to play a more aggressive blues sound while the other band wanted to play more rock and then maybe some blues. We just didn’t want to compromise that sound, because we love dirt and junk blues, especially the North Mississippi Hill Country blues sound that they didn’t really play. So before there was Ten Foot Polecats, all three of us played in that band for four years. In fact, Jim and Dave have known each other for over thirty years and played in some other bands when they were in their late twenties.
Your sound is a combination of roots rock, dirty blues, and wild Americana in a similar vein as Left Lane Cruiser, Yeller Bellies, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, and a few select others. What influenced you to embrace such a sound?
It really all came from being influenced by North Mississippi Hill Country blues, and also being exposed and playing on a lot of psychobilly and punk bills over the years. In our opinion, Hill Country blues is a very non-constricting music, as you can insert blues, punk, roots, rock, rockabilly, country in it and it all seems to work. Another good thing about it is that you can take it in any direction on the spot, especially when you keep it down to just guitar and drums and not have any other musicians following what comes out of our heads. Younger audiences seem to gravitate to it as well, which is great; it makes the live shows a lot more exciting, because they are up in your face. When people ask us what type of music we play, we usually say punk blues or something to that effect. What we mean by that is that we are taking a punk, no holds barred approach to blues, which in our opinion, was happening all throughout the ‘20s to ‘50s and seemed to be forgone by a lot of blues artists when they became snappy dressers and/or became two white guys with sunglasses and black suits and black ties. Sometimes people will argue with us, “you’re not punk blues…you do this or that”…or they may even say, “you’re not blues,” etc. Whatever, we play music we enjoy. Stop trying to categorize it. Just grab a drink and enjoy yourself.
“I Get Blamed for Everything I Do,” your debut full-length album, was just released this year on Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. It has gotten some rather good press, and the fans seem to be responding favorably. How do you feel about the final, packaged version? And how was it working with one of the best labels in roots music today, Hillgrass Bluebilly Records?
We were very pleased with the end result of the album, and it looks like a lot of people have liked it as well, which is very gratifying. For us, the recording was very much like our live show, as we played in attack mode on most every song on the album, and recorded with hardly any over- dubbing. Except for the seven-string guitar used on “Tears On My Windshield.” So…it was a real easy experience, I guess you could say.
Working with Hillgrass Bluebilly has been fantastic. There isn’t enough we can say about them that people in this scene don’t already know. They have garnered a lot of respect and it is well earned. We give them all the credit in the world because they are listening to their hearts. They believe in the music and strive to get it to as many people who love this music as they can. They think of the musicians and devoted fans of this music as family, not as a product or a purchaser. Speaking from experience, that is the exact thing musicians want from their record company. Hopefully people who don’t know Hillgrass Bluebilly keep digging musically and find Hillgrass Bluebilly because they are putting together quite a catalog of great music. Needless to say, we are very proud to be a part of their family.
In keeping with the last question a bit… One can’t help but notice all the cover songs on the album. Covers by the likes of T-Model Ford and Son House, just to name two. Why did you do so many cover songs as opposed to original material? And what did you go by in choosing those particular songs?
Basically, we were going to only have a few cover songs on the CD, maybe three or four. So we went in and wrote down which songs we should keep off the CD and all three of us had different answers on what should be omitted. So we said, Hell with it. Let’s put thirteen or fourteen songs on it. It shows, too, because when we see people review the album, or play tracks from it on the radio, the favorite songs selected to be played or discussed are never the same. Since the time of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, it has seemed very important that performers write all their own songs. Before them, it was all about putting your own stamp on something familiar; taking a song to a new place. In blues and jazz, it has always been the tradition to “interpret” songs; find something new in them that was not initially apparent. I don’t think anyone referred to Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five or Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers as “cover bands”; they were playing great music, and it didn’t matter that they didn’t write it all. Hoagy Carmichael wrote “Stardust” but there’s no way he could have sung it like Louis.
As far as choosing the songs, that was probably developed over a year of playing live shows and developing our own sound. A lot of the songs were arranged on the spot too at shows. For example, one song on the CD “Dryspell” was something developed on the spot at a show. A guitar riff was laid down, the drums then picked up on it, and then Jay found some lyrics to sing over it. The lyrics ended up being a mash up of various lyrical versions of Son House’s Dryspell blues. So those songs sometimes just come out on the spot and are built in front of live audiences.
The Ten Foot Polecats have been touring quite a bit lately, with upcoming shows in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Michigan. How have your shows been going? And could you recount perhaps one or two of your most memorable moments on the road so far?
The shows have been going really well, especially on the road. More and more, people have been coming to see us, and also requesting for us to come back to their areas, so that’s a positive sign. As far as a most memorable moment, that is a tough one. The past two years we got to play a lot of festivals – Deep Blues Festival 2009, Heavy Rebel Weekender 2010, Muddy Roots 2010, Return to Milltown 2010, and more festivals are coming up in 2011. Picking one is very hard becausewe have met so many unbelievable people in the scene and played with so many amazing musicians. On November 6th, the Hillgrass Bluebilly Records Launch Party in Austin Texas was pretty special for a few reasons: it reunited a lot of the Deep Blues fans that we met in 2009, it was our first show ever in Austin, first time as a part of a Hillgrass Bluebilly event, and it let us play in front of people who have never seen us but have been listening to us for a few years. Plus, playing on the same bill as Possessed By Paul James, Larry and His Flask, Tom VandenAvond, and The Boomswagglers was quite a thrill.
Besides that, every moment of 2009 Deep Blues Festival was incredible, especially playing an aftershow in Minneapolis where some hill country blues legends were watching us and partying during our set…and then we watched them get thrown out for having a little too much fun!
This next question is for guitarist Mr. Jim Chilson. Why do you sit and play when the Ten Foot Polecats play live?
I attack the guitar pretty hard sometimes so it is actually easier to play while you got some support underneath you. Plus I tend to stomp my foot aggressively sometimes so it is much easier to do that while sitting. Actually it is probably because I am lazy. But then again for years I played standing up and running around on stage and what not, but I have never been so tired after shows as I am now. Probably because I am getting older and fatter but also because both arms are in constant motion as I am covering both the guitar and bass parts.
Which Polecat does the most songwriting? Or do you sort of split up the songwriting duties among the three of you?
Lyrically, Jay Scheffler has done the songwriting so far, and Jim and Dave put together the melodies, song structure, etc. So it is a little bit of a group effort. Jay definitely has a unique talent as far as being able to pull lyrics on the spot…just like a soloist who can improvise with his instrument, he can do it lyrically. But, if all goes as planned, on the next album we hope to have more input lyrically from Jim and Chad. We shall see how it all goes down.
Lastly, if there’s anything I failed to cover, or if there’s anything you would like to express or discuss, please do so now. The floor is all yours, fellas.
The only thing that we would like to add is, look for us this year on the road somewhere near you, and if you want to see us somewhere, just let us know. Email, Facebook, Myspace, homing pigeon, message in a bottle, whatever it takes…talk to us, as we love to hear from you. If you want info on the current album, merchandise, band updates, etc, check out our website http://www.tenfootpolecats.com, our Facebook page, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will try get you all the info you need.
NOTE: For all of you Ten Foot Polecats who missed their show this past summer at Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia, they’ll be in Bordentown, NJ on March 5, 2011. Maybe I’ll see ya’ll there.