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By Lauren Wise
By New Times
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The Hosty Trio, in its original form, was a sewn-up-tight combo that swung freely from funk to blues to sweet soul, with remarkable alacrity and an unerring ear. They were tapped to play shows with everyone from blues legend R.L. Burnside to surf-guitar honcho Dick Dale, and managed to win wowed respect from those luminaries and others who blew through town. Unequivocally a locals' favorite, the Trio laid down the dirty boogie for Norman's bar scene.
But the music drew from more directions than Detroit and the Delta. To wit: Just before Wiser's departure, the trio put out a beautiful bastard of an album called One Too Heavy, under the bogus moniker "10 Pound Hammer."
"Charles Bronson inspired most of that album," reports Hosty. "We'd played a lot of country stuff for years. We had all these country songs in our repertoire -- we still have a bunch -- and we decided to put some on one album and make it kind of a really old, lo-fi recording . . . with gunfighter ballads, and a porno Western trumpet line, and a bunch of other things. Just make it kind of a silly album like you'd find in a bin at a truck stop. We're all fans of the truck stop tape genre, so that was our goal. [One Too Heavy] aspires to be $3.99, on Flying J Records."
One Too Heavy -- which didn't fool anybody, particularly with that "The Hosty Trio Presents" banner on its cover -- is a funny record; boasting songs like "Truck Stop Shower Stall" and the Charlie Daniels-esque story-song "Cleveland County Cage," it couldn't be anything else. But it also happens to be goddamn wonderful Nashville country, largely in the vein of the Buckaroos or the Jordanaires. It's a tour de force along the lines of Ween's 12 Golden Country Greats, but without the hipper-than-thou overtones (especially on the south-of-the-border epic "Que Haya": "The smell of tequila on my breath/And refried beans upon my chest/And lovely Maria").
Moreover, where Ween hired Nashville session musicians to fill out the sound, the Trio played all their own instruments, from keyboards to pedal steel guitar. And they nailed it.
Those familiar with the Hosty Trio's work inevitably wonder how the sound has changed, as a result of the trimming down. "There's still some of the funk, blues, soul sound, but it's a lot different now. We like to call it 'hic-hop,'" says Hosty. "Just a couple of hicks trying to play funk and rhythm and blues."
Recent months have seen the duo take a slight breather from recording, in part as a result of a broken hip that laid Byars up for the first half of 2001. Hosty thereafter took to the road on the strength of a solo set, a one-man-band circuit on which he played bass with foot pedals.
"When [Byars] came back, we relearned everything all over again," he says. "He uses a lot of drum samples and loops, and the music is a little edgier than it was before, less jam-oriented. A little rawer. It's tougher."
Last year's ambitiously titled Un Hombre Mallo [sic]: A Mike Hosty Anthology, which collects tracks from the Trio's previous releases as well as new versions and solo cuts, is the most recent release. Given the productivity and manic pace of the past five years, this lull might look like a seventh-inning stretch, but the pace and frequency of live shows have remained constant.
"If anything, we've played more, and farther away from Oklahoma, in the past year than we ever did as a trio," reports Hosty. An extended tour with Roger Cline and the Peacemakers expanded their fan base to the Southern and Western U.S., while one memorable performance with R.L. Burnside saw Hosty and Byars backing the venerable bluesman as he delivered an impromptu rap.
"Yeah, 'hic-hop,'" says Hosty again. "And I guarantee you, somebody's going to steal that term. It'll probably be some tank-top-shirted rapper from South Carolina on MTV. But when you see him, you just remember ol' Hosty."