“Few things rejuvenate the soul like a warm fireside drink after an exhausting day in the snow. Hot Buttered Rum has that effect. Their original songs are instantly familiar and inviting.”
––San Francisco Chronicle
“As the band’s evolved, it has kept those [bluegrass] roots, but also incorporated the progressiveness of bands like Strength in Numbers and New Grass Revival, the looseness of a jam band like Phish, and the rock-and-roll edge of an acoustic band that opts to ad a drummer.”
“Stunning instrumental and vocal virtuosity.”
Evolution is an overused term in the music game, and doubly so in the corners of it frequented by groups like Hot Buttered Rum, those drawn to marry bluegrass and Americana with rock, swing and beyond in whatever proportion serves the song at hand. Evolving is what these musical matchmakers have always done, though, and it’s what they continue to do with their newest three-part album, The Kite & the Key.
Each panel of their tryptic paints a different way of making American music that Hot Buttered Rum loves, and each was shaded with the help of a different producer. Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone took the first crack at the band’s extensive song list (guitarist Nat Keefe and multi-instrumentalist Erik Yates always have an ample backlog). He chose the six most introspective cuts, curating a songwriter’s showcase that also made plenty of room for Bryan Horne (bass) and Zebulon Bowles (fiddle) to help bring the songs to life. Legendary dobroist Sally van Meter came in two months later to produce a sextet of songs from the Ralph Stanley canon. “Playing Stanley-style bluegrass off the record is incredibly tough, hero’s work, really, and Sally’s a hard hero to please,” Yates quipped. “After she kicked our bluegrass butts, though, she went away smiling. I’ll always be proud of that.” In true HBR fashion, the band then took a left turn and dove into a third EP with keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, who left his Wurlitzer plugged in throughout the tracking for on-the-fly arrangement and improvisatory ideas. “It made perfect sense that way,” Bowles reflected, “since he thinks so well through his instrument. Why talk about an idea when you can play it?” Drummer & mandolinist James Stafford, the band’s newest member, was thrown into the fire as a guest artist on the session and has been a rooted, driving presence in the band ever since.
With new music in their bellies and more simmering on the stove, the quintet’s ready to keep doing what it’s always done: entertain audiences through their headphones, their car stereos, their laptop speakers and, most importantly, at their local music venues. HBR’s 16 years of touring have given the band the chance to play for all kinds of audiences, everywhere from the divey-est bars to the most prestigious pop, folk, and bluegrass stages in the country: Telluride, Newport, Bonnaroo, Strawberry, Hardly Strictly, Kate Wolf, Horning’s Hideout, String Summit, Grey Fox, Merlefest, High Sierra, and many more. Seasoned veteran Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), acoustic guru Mike Marshall, and left-coast rocker Tim Bluhm (Mother Hips) have all produced studio albums for the group. Every show played and every record made has pushed HBR towards the next step in its evolution, and towards a sound that’s tough to describe and easy to love. What began as the pipe dream of high school and college buddies, cooked up around campfires in the High Sierra, has found its way into the ears and hearts of fans across the country. What’s next for these five? There’s only one way to find out – catch ’em at the next show. Like the Stanley Brothers used to sing, back when bluegrass music was too new to be named, “you know I’d like to see you, at my door you’re welcome in.” Come on in and make yourself at home.
double bass & vocals
Bryan began his musical adventure at age 10 with the cello. He grew up listening to mostly rock ‘n’ roll groups like Men at Work, Rush, Yes, and Led Zeppelin. It was in the Tamalpais High School Orchestra that he first met Aaron Redner, future fiddler for Hot Buttered Rum.
In college, Bryan began playing electric bass in the jamband Oversoul. While playing in Oversoul, Bryan became more interested in acoustic music; he eventually transitioned from electric to acoustic bass and never turned back. His musical influences include Old and In the Way, Edgar Meyer, Phil Lesh, Stanley Clarke, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Coming back to the Bay Area after college, Bryan played in some musical groups with the members of Oversoul, eventually connecting with Nat Keefe and Erik Yates.
banjos, guitars, woodwinds & vocals
Erik spent his Bay Area youth trying nearly every instrument and style he came across. Piano lessons, saxophone quartets, garage bands and folk songs had all weaseled their way into his life by the time he hit high school. College in Portland, OR, where he studied music and writing, brought new musical horizons, new conspirators (including classmate Nat Keefe) and a new project, Hot Buttered Rum, which would soon take over his life.
After enough time in the non-profit and teaching worlds to know that playing music was the world’s only sensible job, Erik hit the road with HBR to change the world “one bar at a time.” The group has become a platform for all his various trades, musical and otherwise. It pushes his banjo and guitar picking and his songwriting, which he now combines with his knack for wind instruments (flute and saxophones) to give HBR its unique musical palate. Erik has appeared with songwriters Peter Rowan, Tim and Nikki Bluhm, and banjoist Bill Evans (also his teacher). When not on the road with HBR, Erik can be found playing around Colorado and touring in support of his first solo album, Give it Time, out this year on Floating Records.
drums & percussion
James enjoys bringing spirit and musical support to live performance and recordings. He performs on the drum set for Hot Buttered Rum, but he also plays bass guitar, guitar and vocals in a variety of musical settings. He has lately taken an interest in the mandolin, too. He has studied music extensively and graduated from California State University Sonoma’s jazz program. An early member of Groundation, he had the pleasure of performing with some wonderful artists including the late Mel Graves, George Marsh, Randy Vincent, Bobby Vega, Phil Lesh and Peter Rowan as well as warming up the stage for Diana Krall and Robben Ford. The lessons he’s learned over the years are exercised at every performance and he always strives to bring high quality musicianship to any project. James believes that music offers a unique opportunity to convey emotion through sound; providing this experience can foster happiness, inspiration and a rewarding a sense of community.
guitar & vocals
Nat’s panoramic songwriting and baritone vocals play a defining role in Hot Buttered Rum’s sound. In the course of a decade of playing professionally, Nat has written hundreds of songs, including collaborations with Zach Gill & Dave Brogan (ALO), Brett Dennen, Tim Bluhm (Mother Hips), Fred Torphy (Big Light), and his bandmates. He’s produced nine albums of his own and others’ music. He’s produced almost a dozen Concert Carnival variety shows, bringing together artists to create new work. Most importantly, he’s performed over a thousand times, singing and playing guitar to the best fanbase in the world.
When not touring, rehearsing, and recording with HBR, Nat lives in the Hayes Valley district of San Francisco. Outside of music, Nat enjoys the same things he’s liked since he was a boy: flyfishing, backpacking, backcountry skiing, urban-adventure bikeriding, and SF Giants baseball.
Recently, Nat lead a group of American musicians to Ghana, West Africa and produced a ten-day program of workshops, jam sessions, and recording with Ghanaian music and dance masters. The resulting recording is Girl Thursday. It features Bonnie Paine (Elephant Revival), Kate Gaffney, Erik Yates & Lucas Carlton (HBR), Jeff Coleman (Big Light), Simon Kurth & Murph Murphy (Huckle), in collaboration with the Local Dimension Highlife Band and Ocherema Praa. This was Nat’s third trip to Ghana, and second recording project there.
1) “Swing and Sway”
2) “Bells Under Waves”
(purchase CD here)
Another of Nat’s ongoing extra-curricular endeavors is the Nat Keefe Concert Carnival. The NKCC is an annual multi-media variety show, and has become a Bay Area holiday tradition. The goal is to bring together artists from different bands and different mediums to create new work in new ways. Past shows have featured all kinds of acoustic and electronic music, burlesque dance, film, circus arts, trick dogs, hula hoop, body percussion, tap dancing. The NKCC recordings feature musicians from the Mother Hips, ALO, the Peter Rowan/Tony Rice Quartet, New Monsoon, Everyone Orchestra, HBR, and much more. Music and video samples are available on YouTube, and CDs are available here.
(purchase CD here)
Also produced by Nat Keefe:
1) “Hard Times”
2) “Lloyd’s Song”
New Old Cavalry – Carry Me Out This Way
1) “Carry Me Out This Way”
2) “Lonesome Road”
The She’s – Surfer Boys
(San Francisco, CA)
Ghana BOKO Paa 1999
(Field Recordings of Ghanaian music)
1) If You Have Millet and Don’t Share, You Will Die (gyile xylophonist Rallio Kapakpul)
2) Water (sound collage)
3) Goodbye (jam session with the women of Nandom)
(purchase CD here)
Nat Keefe – Music for Ordinary Motion (2001)
1) Spouting Violets (piece for soprano, baritone sax, and piano; ee cummings text)
2) Gahu Elegy (piece for symphony, based on Ghanaian traditional rhythms)
3) Clean as Key Soap (part of a 5 movement piece for 2 marimbas, based on Ghanaian gyile xylophone music)
4) The Crest (earliest studio recording of Hot Buttered Rum)
(purchase CD here)
Nat was inspired at an early age by musical parents and began playing guitar at age 11 and electric and upright bass at 16. The next year, guitar teacher Tony Khalife pushed Nat to study tabla – the north Indian drums. The rhythm section of the high school jazz band formed a rock band called STEW, in which Nat played bass. When Nat turned 18, his uncle Rodney Bolloni took him to Las Vegas for a crash course in the art of songcraft; Nat still cites his uncle as one of his biggest influences.
Instead of returning to sophomore year of college, Nat traveled to Nepal and India. Hiking and climbing in the Himalayas, Nat found that his passion is writing songs and singing for people. Nat returned to Lewis & Clark College, met Erik Yates, and formed the Foggy Notion Boyz, a stringband dedicated to the almighty Yeehaw Factor. Wild weekends with the Foggy Notion complemented long hours of study as Nat earned a degree in Composition and Ethnomusicology under teachers such as Joe Waters, Nora Beck, Vincent McDermott, Gil Seeley, Obo Addy, and Dan Balmer.
In three trips to Ghana, West Africa, Nat has studied polyrhythmic drumming, 14-key xylophone, and palmwine guitar. In 1999 a grant allowed him to travel there and produce a CD of field recordings (GHANA Boko Paa), a CD of original compositions (Music for Ordinary Motion), and a paper about the development of highlife music. He returned in 2001 to make a short film (Dances and Music of the Awudome Villages), and again in 2011 with twelve American friends to produce another CD (Girl Thursday).
Influences: David Lindley, Jimmy Cliff, Beatles, Rush, Ralph Stanley, Hot Rize, Gillian Welch, Rodney Bolloni, D’Gary, Oliver Mtukudzi, John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, Django Reinhardt, Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, Grateful Dead, Phish, Mother Hips, John Zorn, Bela Fleck, Mike Marshall, The Sweet Snacks.
fiddle & vocals
According to his mom, the first coherent sentence that came out of Humboldt County native Zebulon Bowles’ 2.5 year old mouth was, “I gunna bay buy-yin yike yitzhak do”. If you don’t speak early-toddler, this roughly translates to: “One day, I’m going to play fiddle in Hot Buttered Rum with a feel and zeal which will parallel that of the great Itzhak Perlman’s verve passion.”
Zebulon perfected pretend playing with a fork and chopstick after only 6 months of pre-meal performances. He quickly grew impatient for the real thing. After begging for a violin of his own, his dad said that he was going to need a teacher. Zebulon immediately handed Fred the phone and pretty much told him to make it happen.
Fast forward 33 years and, as one would expect, a lot has happened since then. On any given day, you might find him playing mandolin, octave mandolin, guitar, bass, trumpet, piano/keyboards, or a shaker. On long travel days you might bust him producing groovy EDM.
Of course, fiddle remains his one true love. On which he has developed a sweet slippery style all his own that has found the fancy of musicians and fans alike. He’s been invited to play with over 50 artists/acts. Zebulon has appeared on Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson, CMT Summerfest series, and numerous morning news spots. He’s toured with Big & Rich and Emmitt-Nershi Band, performed with America, Leftover Salmon, Keller & The Keels, Todd Snider, The Everyone Orchestra, Groundation, Randy Jackson, Kid Rock, Gretchen Wilson, Avenged Sevenfold (yeah Avenged Sevenfold)….to name a few.
Zebulon is thrilled to have recently relocated back to California after a 5 year stint in Colorado. More than anything he is Grateful and ready to rumble the rest of the best to come with Hot Buttered Rum!