THE HILLBILLIES ARE COMING

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WHEN they first unleashed their tongue-in-cheek interpretations of AC/DC tunes a decade ago, Hayseed Dixie were pegged as a short-lived novelty act at best. But judging by the enthusiastic reactions they still get everywhere they go, these hillybilly hellraisers have not yet outstayed their welcome.

“We didn’t think we were starting a band when we made the first album,” says frontman John Wheeler (aka Barley Scotch), speaking ahead of the band’s visit to the HMV Picture House on Sunday. “We were just having fun.

“We keep touring because we don’t really want to do anything else,” he goes on. “We’re really a bunch of guys who love to play live music. I like our records, but I think you really have to see the band live to understand what we’re trying to do.”

When the group hailing from the Appalachian mountains in south-eastern USA first appeared they were known as AC Dixie - but they were forced to change their name.

“The first record was all AC/DC songs done in our style, but someone at Electro Records - who at the time owned the trademark to AC/DC’s name - said it was going to be trademark infringement and they would sue us,” explains Wheeler. “So we changed our name to Hayseed Dixie, which was kind of a door opener, as it allowed us to branch out and not just play AC/DC songs, which we ended up doing.

“And we wouldn’t have foreseen ourselves doing that when we made the first record, as we were doing something as a one off,” he adds.

In the early days, they were seen as a joke by the music press - until AC/DC singer Brian Johnstone started waxing lyrical about them in interviews, that is.

“At the beginning most people were saying I can’t believe you’re desecrating this great music, I can’t believe you’re trying to make fun of this great band,” says Wheeler. “Which we weren’t - we were just playing songs we enjoyed.

“But Brian started turning up at all these interviews talking about our record, saying ‘We’re riding down the road on the tour bus listening to this Hayseed Dixie record and it’s great. It’s like all our songs done in Hillbilly style’.

“After that, the press completely changed,” he adds. “What were they gonna do, say ‘AC/DC love them but we think they suck’?”

Their debut proved popular with the public, too, selling over 100,000 copies in the US alone. Since then, the blending of hard rock and cotton-pickin’ bluegrass has been Hayseed Dixie’s raison d’etre.

“I’ve never heard anyone else do quite what we do,” says Wheeler, whose band incorporate a mixture of instruments including fiddle, mandolin and banjo. He does concede, however, that doing a rock ‘n’ roll song this way is not something they created themselves.

“Flatt & Scruggs and people like that were doing bluegrass Beatles songs in the Sixties, but I think we may be the first band to put a personality with the bluegrass stuff,” he continues. “Me and Jake Byers are from a rock ‘n’ roll background, and the other two guys in the band, Dale and Don Reno, are defiantly bluegrass players. So I think the combination of the four of us is what creates the sound of the band really.”

After a three-year hiatus, the foursome returned in February with eighth album Killer Grass, which serves up Dixie-fried interpretations of well-known songs by the likes of the Prodigy and The Who, with original tracks.

By their own admission, the new record is either the band’s ‘absolute greatest musical achievement or absolute worst offence yet’.

“There’s still plenty of drinking, cheating and hell in there too, as them four elements all go together like stink on poop,” laughs Wheeler.

Love them or loathe them, no one can deny that Hayseed Dixie has a sense of humour. And the foursome’s showmanship is never less than crowd-pleasing, either.

“I think it’s important that a rock and roll show should be fun,” says Wheeler. “I like to think we’re all pretty good musicians, but we’re really just trying to throw a big party every night.”

Asked what fans can expect from Hayseed Dixie’s return to the Capital, Wheeler smiles, “We will play songs from all of our records. And we’ll drink a lot of beer.”

Hayseed Dixie, HMV Picture, Lothian Road, Sunday, 7pm, £15, 0844-847 1740