Music

The Hi-Strung Downers are Calgary rockabilly royalty

One badass funeral
One badass funeral

“Greasy.”

That’s how Earl Garnet, lead guitar slinger for Calgary four-piece the Hi-Strung Downers, wants the band’s songs to sound. The Downers, all upright-bass-slapping and stuttering drums, is a highball of rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll and punk-rock attitude.

With its sharp suits, pompadours and clean shaves the group looks like it could be right out of the ’50s—but its songs have a definitive bite.

“I played lots of punk rock when I was a kid,” Garnet says over the phone from Calgary, taking a break from his day job running his contraction company. “It was easy to go from that into ’50s honky-tonk. We play with really high energy and we found it really important to not have any delay between songs, Ramones-style.”

Garnet and his bandmates Joe Love, T-Bone and Greg Callsen are veterans of the Calgary rockabilly-roots scene, their chops honed throughout the ’90s in the Black Coffee Cowboy, the Surefires and the Southern Twisters. The Hi-Strung Downers released its debut album Here She Lies last summer, a reverb-soaked document of decades of failed relationships.

The songs are unapologetic, with the boys blaming their heartache on the ladies who done them wrong. The results aren’t PC, but Garnet says they are cathartic.

“I wrote so many self-loathing songs in other bands over the years, so for once it was nice to say: ‘we broke up and it’s your fault,'” he says. “They’re all true stories that happened to members of the band. But everyone has moved on since. Personally, for me, it was really great writing these songs because it dealt with those old feelings.”

The music the Downers play is a throwback to the rebel days when rock ‘n’ rollers stepped out of the box and embraced rhythm and blues. It’s the music of Johnny Burnette, Johnny Carroll, Hank Williams Sr, Johnny Cash and Buck Owens. It’s not mainstream, Garnet says, but it’s a blast to play and audiences love it.

“The last band that got any kind of mainstream success was the Stray Cats,” he adds. “But it’s interesting that everyone seems to like it. It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s just a lot of fun.”

Wed, Dec 17 (8 pm)
Black Dog, No cover

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