Rock ‘n’ roll is full of characters. One of them is, Peter Holsapple, who ranks with rock’s finest journeymen and funniest wits. He has toured with critics’ faves R.E.M. and critics’ targets Hootie & the Blowfish, playing stringed instruments for each with a sly precision that has enhanced both bands.
As Holsapple said of his Hootie gig, “It was a great job for me. I’d rather do that than sit in a tuxedo somewhere playing lounge songs.
“I’m their avuncular presence. They’ve learned a lot on their own, but I’ve tried to help with the arcane stuff.
Holsapple’s heart, however, is with the Continental Drifters – a similarly rootsy band. The group opened Hootie & the Blowfish’s tour last year (with Holapple playing in both acts) and knocked many folks out with spirited songs and superlative harmonies. The unsigned band has been called “America’s best-kept secret.”
“We’re aiming for a record contract, but we’ve also been around,” the Lousiana-based Holsapple said. “We’re more interested in making sure this is about music than bout the intricacies of the music business.
“Really, it’s refreshing to find a group of middle-aged people who want to play music for themselves without falling over each other for the brass ring,” said Holsapple, whose Drifters, include Susan Cowsill (once with the teeny-bop group the Cowsills and now also Holsapple’s wife) and Vicki Peterson, formerly with the Bangles.
It’s an indictment of today’s music biz that the Drifters are not signed. “We’re dealing with a youth-oriented culture,” Holsapple said. “When (record executives) see people on stage who aren’t 20 years old, they think, ‘What are we going to do with them? My some of them are even losing their hair!’ “
Holsapple knows all about the youth culture, having once been a club favorite with the garage-rocking dBs. He has since made his bread and butter with R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish, but after a tour of Asia this spring with Hootie, he plans to leave them to focus on the Continental Drifters.
Also coming up is Holsapple’s first solo album, Out of My Way, due Tuesday on Monkey Hill Records. “It’s got some acoustic stuff and some heavier, sort of Stonesy rock stuff.”
In the past year he has also recorded with john Hiatt; Better than Ezra, Nanci Griffith and Cowboy Mouth. Quite a varied list. And with Hootie & the Blowfish, he was joined on stage by Al Green, Chet Atkins and Bela Fleck.
“I’ve had opportunities that have just been amazing,” he said. “Get it while the getting’s good.”