Don’t believe everything you’ve read about the Blue Shadows in their publicity.
They certainly don’t.
“Record companies. . .“ Jeffrey Hatcher says with an audible shrug.
“They’re totally in charge of marketing.”
And those record company publicity package have included references to the band’s “high and lonesome hurtin’ songs” and “classic hurtin’ ballads.”
That description hurts, says co-songwriter Hatcher.
“We don’t play for country bars,” he says. “We play for rock clubs.
“It’s not hard to fit us in there.”
Call it one of the perils of being a square peg in an industry forever trying to fit artists into round holes.
The Blue Shadows – four Vancouver country-rockers in the vein of Blue Rodeo and early k.d. land – is a shotgun marriage between ‘60s British pop and Hank Williams.
It’s tradition C&W, with the vocal harmonies of The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison meets George Jones.
Call it what you will, the roots rock (rockabilly? Rock ‘n’ twang?) engineered by Hatcher and fellow singer-songwriter producer Bill Cowsill has been the kind of stuff the critics love.
Industry types gave The Blue Shadows’ introductory 1993 release On The Floor of heaven a Juno nominee as country group of the year, but these guys open for rock acts like Jann Arden and The Crash Test Dummies.
And Luck To Me, the band’s sophomore release, is selling briskly as well – selling out in various markets.
The newest batch of 12 songs is a little rockier, a little poppier, than the sons written back in the 1990s, when the band was striving for attention from Nashville.
At that time, the band was built around Cowsill, who achieved some notoriety in the ‘60s family pop band The Cowsills, famous for “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” and “Hair.”
Cowsill, four brothers, their sister and their mother went from gigs to ladies’ socials and teen dances around Newport, R.I., to appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Today Show. Their story inspired The Partridge Family TV series.
Resurrecting either the sound or the image of the Cowsills is the furthest thing from everybody’s mind.
Sony music, Cowsill and the rest of The Blue Shadows are content to keep that past buried, despite its potential marketable familiarity.
“I don’t think it has had any affect at all,” Hatcher says.
“It happened so long ago, he left the band in 1969 and it broke up two years later.
It doesn’t have much affect on our lives, so we don’t have to live up to someone else’s expectations.”
For a while, they were trying to live up to Nashville’s expectations. Manager Larry Wanagas (also lang’s manager) was desperate to get Cowsill and crew a contract that just wasn’t forthcoming.
The current sound started to gel only after Cowsill, never a prolific songwriter, let Hatcher in on the creative process.
But it took a while to wean the sound away from straight country.
“When we first started writing songs (about 2 ½ years ago), the songs were steering themselves in a certain direction,” Hatcher says
“The only conscious decision we made, before I was a co-writer, was to write songs for Billy that were marketable in Nashville, so that Larry could sell ‘em.
“After a while, we gave up.”
The new plan is to let The Blue Shadows forge their own identity – even if it means giving Sony Canada’s marketers fits.
“We don’t listen,” Hatcher says. “We don’t do what they say.
“(Record companies) were part of the (Cowsills) ‘60s star marketing.
“It’s much more satisfactory to do something that comes naturally.”