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Artist Spotlight: Bottle Rockets

-Kerry Souder, Roots N Blues Intern

The Bottle Rockets are a foursome who introduced and capitalized on one of the most unique styles of music: Punk-Rock Country. Yes, you heard me correctly. Punk. Rock. Country. The band was created in 1993 by lead singer and guitarist, Brian Henneman. The story, however, starts before the band’s conception.

In 1977, Henneman started his first band, Waylon Van Halen & the Ernest Tubbadours, with his two friends, Tom and Bob Parr. From their humble beginnings in Festus, Missouri, the band went through a series of names and continued to improve their music skills until finally they began booking shows locally and in surrounding states. When they reached Illinois, they met the future members of Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy.

By the 1980’s, Henneman’s band had gained a drummer, Mark Ortmann, and evolved into The Chicken Truck. They predominately played a honky-tonk style of country, but by the end of the decade, they had broken up. At this time, Henneman became a roadie and went on tour with Uncle Tupelo and ended up playing on one of their albums.

During his time on the road, Henneman focused back on his own music and re-formed his band with Ortmann and two new members: guitarist Tom Ray and bassist Robert Kearns. The four called themselves Bottle Rockets.

It is important to note that throughout the evolution of Bottle Rocket’s music, they never veered away from creating the songs they wanted to create. By combining three very diverse genres, they essentially fused together three starkly different audiences.  From their first album, self titled “Bottle Rockets,” to their 2011 release of “Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening,” one can draw similarities between the songs and the messages behind them. The key to their continued success was that they never altered their sound to appease their fans, regardless of being told they were too country, not country enough, weren’t hard enough for rock, too mainstream…the list goes on. The point is they didn’t fit themselves into anyone’s box; they made their own.

Today, Henneman and Ortmann remain key pieces in the band, in addition to John Horton on guitar and Keith Voegele on bass. They continue to build their unique music as they grow, while experimenting and discovering new sounds. “We were so much older then,” said one of the members, regarding the journey. “We’re younger than that now.