Every year, dozens of bands that have been around for three decades roll through Central Oregon, and very few of them — if any — boast the same lineup they did back in their early days.
This is a point of pride for the Old 97’s, the veteran Texas quartet that will play Bend’s Domino Room on March 26 as part of its 30th anniversary tour.
“As soon as we started edging toward 15, 20 years, it’s been on our mind, like, ‘Wow, we’re sort of doing something that hasn’t happened that much,’” said bassist Murry Hammond. “We’re four people who were lucky (to be) very similar in very core ways.”
So what does that mean, exactly? It means Hammond and his band mates Rhett Miller (guitar/vocals), Ken Bethea (lead guitar) and Philip Peeples (drums) all have family lives that allowed them to be in a touring band for 30 years, Hammond said. It means their personalities work well together, thanks to similar temperaments, similar goals and similar work ethics.
It means none of them went way off the rails.
“We don’t have, you know, the one wild guy that knocks over the gas station or whatever,” Hammond said with a laugh.
The exact origin date of the band is lost to time, but Hammond says he, Miller and Bethea played their first gig with Peeples in the spring of 1993, a year before they released the debut Old 97’s album “Hitchhike to Rhome.” That fine record kicked off a string of releases — including the 1997 classic “Too Far To Care” — that juxtaposed the group’s brawny twang-meets-punk sound with Miller’s sharp pop-song sensibility and put the Old 97’s into the pantheon of alt-country.
The current tour is just the first to be billed as a 30th anniversary celebration, with more to come later this year, Hammond said.
“We’re going to go everywhere and play the deep cuts,” he said. “But we kind of do that anyway.”
That means Old 97’s fans old and new will hear all the elements of the band’s distinctive and dependable sound: Peeples’ locomotive shuffle, Bethea’s live-wire solos, Hammond’s bouncy bass lines and indispensable vocal harmonies, and Miller’s charming Texas drawl and mischievous late-night tales. Now 12 albums into their career, those four guys have made an admirable career out of killer tunes and incredible consistency.
“In so many ways, it doesn’t feel like 30 years because we operate this band very similarly to how we’ve always done it. There’s no real moment when we get terribly nostalgic,” Hammond said. “We definitely trade old tales, but honestly, I don’t know how much pure nostalgia is in there, because we’re still very interested in what we do.”
He continued: “I think nostalgia kind of fills a vacuum left by inactivity. And we’re just not usually inactive, really.”
As evidence, consider Hammond’s plans for after his interview with The Bulletin: sorting through a spreadsheet of new songs and trying to figure out what might make the cut for the next Old 97’s album, to be recorded later this year — with those same three guys he’s been making music with since they were kids, more or less.
“That’s the beauty of being in a band with your friends,” he said. “When musicians ask me how to make it, I just tell them, ‘Give your friends a shot.’”
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