If you want to hear Kalamazoo band Chuck Whiting and His Rowdy Friends, Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum might be your last chance. But Whiting says the group isn’t going away, just the name.
“We called ourselves Chuck Whiting and His Rowdy Friends because we were just a house band at a bar. Then we started getting gigs other places and started putting out albums and getting some radio play. And so we ended up being stuck with this stupid name for a band,” Whiting says. “We are three equal parts. When you just say ‘and friends’ then it just sounds like they’re your hired hands.”
Hastings native Chuck Whiting describes the band as Western swing from the Midwest or Appalachian hillbilly blues. Whiting says both those genres reflect what rural people were playing before the genre we now call 'country.'
“Western swing was essentially, from my understanding, it started just when guys out West wanted to mimic what was going on in New York. Guys like Bob Wilson, Spade Cooley,” Whiting says. “And they also incorporated fiddle and steel.”
Whiting’s interest in western swing is what drew him to Austin, Texas after college. He spent his time going to Dale Watson shows and open mic nights where musicians would play what they called “Texas music.”
“It’s just the music that comes from Texas, but to them it’s like this whole other genre. And I felt like when I was down there I encountered an element of spontaneity that I hadn’t before. Like you could play an open mic and someone would jump up on stage in the middle of the open mic and start playing harmonica along with you. And they would be good enough to where it wasn’t annoying,” Whiting says. “But there was this element of spontaneity that I really liked.”
Whiting even learned to yodel a little listening to Hank Williams songs while delivering pizzas. Despite the band’s influences, there’s something very punk rock about Chuck Whiting and His Rowdy Friends. It could be the funny yet racey lyrics in some of the songs.
“I’m a really huge fan of Blind Boy Fuller and Bill Carter. They would—back in the 30s and 40s—they did these sort of dirty songs with like these metaphors,” Whiting says. “I guess it was like…back then it was like subtle enough to where white people couldn’t figure it out.”
Chuck Whiting and guitarist Nick Lancaster both do stand-up comedy on the side and it shows in the band’s lyrics.
“I realized I’m never going to be like the cool guy. I’m never going to be like a Justin Towns Earle or someone like that who’s just cool,” Whiting says. “I have an inherent like goofy quality to me and so I just go for the laugh instead of trying to be smooth.”
On October 18th, the band formerly known as Chuck Whiting and His Rowdy Friends will debut their new name and their new album Love, Lust, Liquor, and Lies at Tip Top Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids. Whiting says the album has more of a swing sound, but don’t expect a copy of their live show.
“A couple of these songs we ended up recording them way slower then we play them live and they ended up being very different," he says. "Like 'Gone for Good Again' just ends up…when we play it live it sounds like a fun swing tune and then on the album it sounds sort of ominous.”