At one point during the tune “Haypatch Hustler” from Walker & The Texas Dangers’ 2011 debut album Pay the Fiddler, Brett Walker shouts, “Balin’ hay, hey, it’s my job!” The lead singer and upright bass player for the neo-bluegrass quartet isn’t just striking an ironic hipster-hillbilly pose when he sings about fieldwork. He really does bale hay, among other duties, while running his family’s small farm in Parker County.
Walker, 29, a Fort Worth native, spent a lot of time on that farm growing up, listening to classic rock, ’90s grunge, and traditional country sounds from the likes of Hank Williams and George Strait. But he didn’t do much serious musicmaking until his mid-20s, when he formed the acclaimed cowpunk outfit The Dan Family in 2008 with drummer-guitarist Dan Hardick and singer-guitarist Daniel Payne. Walker, who was just then becoming a stone bluegrass and rockabilly fan, taught himself to play upright bass for the Family.
“I became a bass player by default, because we couldn’t find anyone else to do it,” Walker said.
Walker & The Texas Dangers began as a side project for Walker, who recorded Pay the Fiddler in early 2011 in Nashville with Hardick and a group of session players. Shortly after that The Dan Family dissolved, and Walker switched to full-time performing with Hardick as The Texas Dangers, later adding banjoist Stephen Simpson in time to record and release an EP earlier this year. Daniel Crim has since joined on mandolin. Walker and the Texas Dangers have more or less replaced The Dan Family as the Fort Worth scene’s foremost purveyors of psychobilly and other lightning-fast, high-octane acoustic twangage.
Besides playing local clubs, they’ve toured the Midwest twice and the West Coast twice, spinning a ferocious live show full of Walker’s original tunes and some unlikely covers (Nirvana, Weezer, The Misfits, ZZ Top). Walker has tried to combine essential ingredients from his two favorite artists: the gritty showmanship of the Rev. Horton Heat and the hard-charging unpredictability of The Legendary Shack Shakers, Kentucky’s proud standard-bearers of roots punk.
Walker is aware that the Texas Dangers are not exactly operating in the pristine bluegrass mainstream territory of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs.
“We don’t play on too many traditional bluegrass bills,” Walker said. “I’ve always wanted to try that, but I’ve been a little shy because our music is not as cleaned-up and pretty as Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley. I guess I’m kind of afraid of those old-timers.”
Not surprisingly, there’s one crowd that digs the Dangers’ sound. “We usually go over pretty well with punk rock bands,” he said. “Sometimes when they see us pull out the banjo, they’re like” –– he affects a disdainful tone –– “ ‘Oh, man, really?’ But it’s weird. It turns out that a lot of punk musicians really like old-time country. And they like our speed.”
When 2014 rolls around, Walker plans to head back into the studio with Hardick, Simpson, and Crim to record the Texas Dangers’ second long-player.
The Rangers are also talking with their friends, the Fort Worth country-metal duo Whiskey Dick, about doing a mini-tour of the West Coast together next spring. In case you’re wondering, the Texas Dangers don’t have a tour bus –– they travel to out-of-town gigs in the same banged-up 2005 four-door Chevy pickup that Walker uses on his grandfather’s farm. He predicts a busy year for the band, which he’ll have to schedule around his regular duties as the farm’s main caretaker. But between playing live shows and recording an album, Walker knows which one he’d rather be doing.
Walker & The Texas Dangers
Opening for Rev. Horton Heat w/ Dead Flowers and The Gypsy Bravado 7pm Wed at Trees, 2709 Elm St, Dallas. $10 and a canned food item for charity. 214-741-1122.