Freelancer Crysti Couture caught up with the members of Hillside Gamblers, the EP rockabilly cats who'll release its new album March 9 at M's Lips Lounge.
Here's what she came up with:
Set against a dark background on a dimly lit stage, four pompadoured figures quickly set up their instruments and prepare for the evening's performance at House of Rock. As the first bluesy twangs erupt from a Gretsch acoustic guitar, the platform is bathed in blue and red and couples begin jiving to the music.
It's just another night for El Paso rockabilly band the Hillside Gamblers, who'll strut their new, 12-song album, "You Lose!," at 8 p.m. March 9 at M's Lips Lounge, 510 N. Stanton.
Ironsides, Rockabilly Strangers and Los Reyes Negros will open. There's no cover.
Theirs is a sound rooted in the past, mixing rock 'n' roll, blues and country. It may be an old sound, but its enjoyed some renewed interest around here. Rockabilly, the band members say, comes pretty naturally to them, having grown up on early Johnny Cash, Stray Cats and Rev. Horton Heat, among others.
The Hillside Gamblers are Joey Moneyshot on vocals, Hex Mattos on guitar, Eddie Saloman on bass and Jesus 'Z' De La Cruz on drums. The band has been together for about a year and came together by pure accident, introduced by a mutual friend.
At the time, Mattos was looking for members to create a band in El Paso after he moved here from California. Moneyshot was primarily a stand-up bass player at the time, but they met Salomar, who was living in Phoenix, but moved to El Paso to join them. They found De La Cruz when they auditioned for a drummer.
The small local rockabilly community — recognizable by their swing dresses, pin-up styling, retro hair and penchant for all things 1950s — is a "growing and very tight-knit unit," Salomar said. "When we first started, we only had about 20 people coming out to see us."
The Gamblers perform regularly in town, notably at the House of Rock and M's Lips Lounge, and appeared at last year's Rockabilly on the Rio festival at the El Paso Museum of History.
In their short time together, the group's sound has grown to incorporate other influences, such as the Doors, Los Lobos and blues pioneers such as Muddy Waters.
"Believe it or not, our band is very democratic," Moneyshot said.
"When we practice, we run into magical accidents," Mattos added. "We start playing something that sounds right and just work on it. We don't tell each other what to play, we just instinctively know how to play off each other's sound. It's like trying to explaining a magic trick. When we run into any challenges where the song just doesn't sound right, we just stop right there and move onto something else."
Their eclectic album ranges from stories about beautiful women, such as "Baby's Got It All," to high-energy hijinks, such as "Drunk In Juarez," which Hex wrote six years ago. He tried it out with his group in California, but it didn't sound right. The Gamblers learned it and named it only after playing it several times, describing as a song you might hear over there.
"I remember getting drunk in Tijuana when I lived in California and it was just a blur and the guys told me that it was the same in Juarez," the guitarist said. "It's a song that's very fun to play but we need to concentrate a lot on it. If any of the tempo's change, the entire feel of the song changes."
"Six Feet Under" is about a couple arguing. Moneyshot wrote the first part, his wife wrote the second. "Saint Becomes a Sinner," which Hex wrote, was influenced by the idea of a woman corrupting a man, specifically the character of Baby in Rob Zombie's film "House of 1000 Corpses." Salomar wrote "Baby's Got It All" for his girlfriend.
They'll follow the album release party with a five-day swing through Arizona and California and two shows in Austin in April.