Here it is — Cousin Harley's first all-instrumental recording! Band leader Paul Pigat and Cousin Harley fans alike have waited for B'Hiki Bop for a long, long time. Twelve original tracks (and one smokin' cover) bring classic western swing, hotrod country, surf, psychobilly, lounge, and west coast jump blues all together.
The CD is musically and sonically diverse, bristling with breaks that give each member of this powerhouse trio a chance to shine. Paul's guitar, along with Keith Picot's doghouse bass and Jesse Cahill's drums, create a wide palate of tones by utilizing almost everything in their arsenal. From Gretschy twang to blistering Telecaster, not to mention a healthy dose of classic 8 string steel guitar and an unusual treatment of electric 12 string (à la western swing virtuoso Jimmy Bryant), this outing is unique in the Cousin Harley catalogue. The relentless B'Hiki Bop will keep listeners on the edge of their seats. Followers of Cousin Harley wouldn't have it any other way!
Whether he's opening for Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot, flying in to support Jakob Dylan at a showcase in New York, or playing a searing solo to elevate the soaring vocals of a traditional gospel rave up from The Sojourners, Paul's singular dedication and peerless work ethic have earned him a growing respect within music's inner circles.
However impressive the list of credits he's compiled over the last few years has been—earned by supporting artists such as Neko Case, Jim Byrnes and Carolyn Mark—it's when you get to hear Paul on his own that his star really shines. To paraphrase the old blues song, Pigat's got so many tunes he don't know which way to jump. So, instead he simply gives into his muse and exuberantly follows wherever it carries him. When he takes on the guise of inbred rockabilly hero Cousin Harley, the energy is cranked up so high that no one can resist digging deep into their pockets to pay the wages of sin and dance around the still to Pigat's exhilarating hillbilly squonk.
Called the 'Motorhead of Rockabilly' by a delirious fan after a particularly raucous show in Holland, there's nothing tentative about Cousin Harley's pedal to the metal approach to this stripped down form of rock and roll. As Pigat notes, "Cousin Harley's been my main project for 14 or 15 years now. People think it's easy to play rockabilly, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone has to be on board from the first note or it just doesn't work." And judging from the people who drove or flew hundreds of miles to attend shows on the last European jaunt, everything's working just fine.
Cousin Harley tours annually in Western Europe, and debuted at Australia's Byron Bay Bluesfest in 2011. New tours of North America, Europe and Australia are in the works. So, perhaps it would be better if we all stopped thinking, buckled up, and held on to enjoy Cousin Harley's wild ride for all its worth.
1 Rigby's Romp
2 Winkle Picker
3 Chicken Feed
4 Dreaming Of You
5 4 Wheels 9 Lives
6 Catchin' the Break
8 Dirty Saddle
9 B'Hiki Bop
10 Weasel in the Henhouse
11 Southern Fried
12 Main Street Breakdown
13 Bender of El Swartho
All songs by Paul Pigat except 12.
Although it's not billed as such, Cousin Harley's new instrumental LP, B'hiki Bop, is essentially a tribute disc, filled as it is with subtle homages to the six-string greats of a bygone era. Bandleader Paul Pigat makes no bones about being one of the biggest guitar geeks going, with an encyclopedic knowledge of artists such as Les Paul, Jimmy Bryant, Scotty Moore, Duane Eddy, and Dick Dale at his fingertips. But he's more than a mere copyist: although each tune on the new record can be dissected to reveal its influences, B'hiki Bop can also be heard as an enjoyably edgy and personal take on the original heroes of the electric guitar.
There's one number that could use further explanation, however. "The Bender of El Swartho" does pay tribute to an instrumental great, but this one doesn't play six-string.
" 'El Swartho' is Keith Picot," Pigat reveals, referring to Cousin Harley's upright bassist and rockabilly fashion plate. "Funnily enough, I wrote that song after Keith quit drinking. He's a vegan now; he's completely straight-edge. But I've had some really fun times with Keith completely blasted out of his mind, so it was just my little way of remembering what Keith was like when he was a party animal.
"It sounds like after the gig: really late, when everybody's kind of calmed down and the postgig high is over… It's when it gets sloppy," the guitarist continues. "There are many intentional stumbles on that—and a couple of burps and hiccups. There's nothing really to that song; it's just a basic old-time country progression. I literally showed it to Keith and Jesse [drummer Jesse Cahill] in the studio, and three minutes later it was down on tape."
The imprint of country music turns up in less bent form on B'hiki Bop's "Southern Fried", a bit of a throwback to Pigat's formative years in southern Ontario.
"Growing up in the '80s, you had two groups of guitar players you could look at," he explains on the line from Afterlife Studios, where he's putting the final touches on a new effort from local gospel trio the Sojourners. "You could look at all the metalheads, which I did a lot; I'm a self-proclaimed metalhead from the '80s. But the other great hot-rod guitar players of that era were Albert Lee and Danny Gatton and all the guys from the Hellecasters, and I studied a lot of that music. In the '80s and into the '90s, the majority of music you could make a living at in Ontario was country music. I played a lot of that, so I think it's a reference to those cats, especially since I got a chance to play with Albert Lee last year. That's probably where that tune came from: it's an homage to Albert Lee."
Elsewhere, Pigat demonstrates his range on the Ventures-flavoured "Catchin' the Break" and gives a nod to Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet on "Dirty Saddle". B'hiki Bop's real gods, though, are comparatively obscure: six- and 12-string guitarist Jimmie Rivers and steel player Vance Terry, whose main musical legacy is a single astonishing full-length, Brisbane Bop, recorded in SoCal during the early 1960s but not released until 1983.
"It's the pinnacle of western-swing guitar playing," Pigat enthuses. "Jimmie Rivers is the culmination of every western-swing player, and some bebop guitar as well. And it's not only about Jimmie Rivers: there's Vance Terry on that record, who's basically like listening to the Duke Ellington Orchestra on one instrument. And they're both digging in. You can hear them just going for it. There's people talking in the background, and I think at one point, if you listen really closely, you might hear a fight break out. It's a bar gig!"
Things probably won't get that rowdy when Cousin Harley hosts a launch party for B'hiki Bop at the WISE Hall this weekend: Pigat's wife, venue manager Erin Frizzell, will take care of that. And an entirely different side of the guitarist will be on display at the following week's Guitar Cabaret, also at the WISE: he'll kick things off with an acoustic set focusing on his John Renbourn–inspired fingerpicking. But the night won't lack electric fretwork: also on the bill is a young Spanish upstart named El Twanguero, who more than lives up to his moniker.
Pigat met the man otherwise known as Diego García at a Mexican guitar festival, and within minutes they'd become fast friends. "When we sat down we both sang the solo from [Jimmy Bryant's] 'Night Rider'. When you can do that, you know you're with someone who's on the same wavelength," he notes. "He's a very, very delicate player, though. Whereas I like to attack the guitar with a hammer, he really has a lot of subtlety in what he does."
For his Guitar Cabaret appearance, Pigat will set García up with Neko Case sidemen Barry Mirochnik on drums and Paul Rigby on bass; after that, everyone will jam on some instrumental classics for the finale. It's almost certain to be a blast, with one small caution: it might get loud.
- by Alexander Varty in The Georga Straight (2013).