UCR INTERVIEW: Murry Hammond of The Old 97’s

The Old 97’s will be headlining Schellraiser Festival in McGill, Nevada on June 3. The festival runs from June 2-5. We had the opportunity to chat with The Old 97’s bassist, vocalist, and acoustic guitarist, Murry Hammond. We talk about the festival, his favorite concert, and how The Old 97’s have stayed together all these years. Enjoy!

UCR First and foremost, I just want to thank you for taking some time with me. I’m really excited about this festival, and I would love to see it have continued success. So I appreciate you talking with me. 

Murry Yeah. Well, it’s the first festival of its kind, right? 

UCR I believe so, yeah. How did you get connected with Schellraiser? Did they just reach out to you or had you heard about it? 

Murry No. You know, they reached out to us, and when I heard what it was, I was explaining to our management company that, oh, yeah, that’s for the Nevada Northern. So, yeah. They reached out to us not knowing they had one of the be an engineer customers in one of the bands. 

UCR So they found the right headliners it sounds like. 

Murry They found the right headliners. Thank you. 

UCR Well, I’m excited. I have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with it, and one of my reviewers brought it up to me. And after looking it up and seeing how close it actually is to Utah and Salt Lake City, I thought we’ve got to be a part of this. So we’re really excited.   Some of the best festivals are in the most random places, but I think this has potential. 

Murry You know there’s that one up in, um. Gosh, is it Idaho that these brothers put on? It’s another one that’s just out in the middle of nowhere, but it’s this really significant big festival. And for whatever reason, it works. And people go. It becomes a destination. Music tourism. 

As long as it’s not boiling hot like the surface of Mars or anything, you know? The Old 97’s, we had a festival that we did a few years and it was pretty nice. But man, you know, heat was a problem. And then when it wasn’t heat, it was rain. I don’t think the McGill will have any trouble with the rain.  I just want people to come out and I want them to be able to raise some money for their cause. And that’s just my hope. 

UCR Yeah, of course. So in our correspondence, you mentioned that you’re back in the studio. I think it’s so awesome. The Old 97’s have 12 albums, not including the EPs you also have out. And you’re still cranking out music. I think that’s the coolest thing. Is it just part of the experience of being in your band? Do you guys just have so much music coming out that you can’t stop recording? 

Murry Well, now the studio stuff I’ve been doing that’s, that’s been solo stuff. But, yeah, what you’re saying is actually true about the band. We just cut kind of like an Old 97’s does Johnny Cash, EP.  But, yeah, we’re always kind of planning the next thing. It’s rare that we hit that little coasting, that little section where you just kind of coast between records. We never coast very long and if we’re in that kind of middle area between the records is always filled with traveling and touring and playing live and that kind of thing.  There’s very little time where we’re not doing some Old 97’s thing.  Rhett and I, we have our little solo projects and that kind of thing, but it’s the 97’s, they’ll keep a person busy. 

UCR I’d say! Well, and that’s the thing that was impressive to me the most is not only that you guys have 12 albums but then I believe you have solo albums and Rhett has I think over five, maybe seven. So that’s a lot of music in you guys. I’m impressed. 

Murry Yeah. Yeah, he’s got quite a few.  I’ve got the one out. I’ve got a several in the pipe right now.  Between, mine and Rhett’s output and the band, it’s just a crap ton of records out there. I mean we’re crawling up on two dozen records. Once you kind of like fold in all these side projects and all that.  There’s just a lot that comes out of us. I mean, Rhett and I both are still very prolific songwriters. At least in numbers. So far it’s been good quality. We haven’t stuck up the joint yet. 

UCR I would agree. 

Murry But man, we got the numbers down. We definitely have the numbers.

UCR You guys have been around a while now.  I’m sure, from when you started as a band that was, you know, making your way in the Dallas bar scene to then being signed and touring nationally and hitting a certain height of music. It just seems like there always comes a time where maybe it doesn’t go down or anything, but it just changes and shifts. Maybe you see more of the business side of it or even the dark side of the music industry. When do your eyes open to where you’re like, “Okay, well, this is how we have to approach our careers”?  Because I’m sure in the beginning you just want to play, you just want to write. But then there’s the business side.  When do your eyes become open to that?  Does it happen quickly? Or is it further down the road? 

Murry Well, you know, I mean, we had a very simple economy when we first started. It was the days when the only money you ever made was playing live and that sort of thing. And we even managed to put out a couple of records before any real business anything crept into our lives. We had done a record on a local label, and then we also did Bloodshot Records. Which is a fairly visible indie label out there. Especially where we came from and that sort of thing. I would say really wasn’t until we signed with Elektra Records way back in 1996, that we had to really kind of figure out business stuff. We had to figure out everybody’s role in it and what everybody made out of it and that kind of thing. And we’ve all been pretty egalitarian. 

Every member of the band, we don’t make exactly the same amount of money, but everybody has significant ownership in everything. To where it’s really worth it for everybody to be here. But we had to figure all that stuff out. That’s the first time I ever felt like it got really kind of big. We’re like, Okay, well, now we’ve got an accountant. We never had one of those before. We had a manager from the early days and but now we’ve got a booking agent. We didn’t really have one of those before the manager did all that, or we would get gigs ourselves. 

It was all pretty old school until the Elektra years and then there were so many people involved. You talk about the so-called team. There are a lot of people on the team all of sudden.  It was just too complicated in order to cover the territory that we were now being asked to cover. Just pure touring was to go from coast to coast and maybe a trip to Europe or two.  It’s kind of weird. You just sort of have to really kind of look at each other, go, okay, nobody’s going to lose our heads here. We’re just going to make it where everybody feels valued and everybody shows ownership in it. And nobody can be greedy because it’ll sink everything and it’ll ruin songwriting and all that, you know? So we’re pretty sober about our business. But yeah, we had to organize it. But we kind of got everything in place way back then and we functioned almost identically these days to what we did in those days. There’s been a tweak here and there. But we got enough of it right in those days to where we haven’t really had to make hardly any changes at all to this day in 2022 and that was 26 years ago. 

UCR That’s awesome.  And it seems like having that relative equality is what sustains you guys as a band. Because I don’t think you guys have changed the lineup, have you? 

Murry No. We’ve been the same four people since 1993. And we put out our first record in 94.  Three of us were playing a little earlier than that, but only for a few months. We didn’t find our drummer till we were about six months into our thing. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of about us that we’ve been able to be together and have everybody be basically happy. It doesn’t mean we’re not dysfunctional.  We’re dysfunctional as hell sometimes. But we got the big things taken care of. There’s a basic affection there. And everybody’s ethics and values are similar in things that are important. Our humor is similar. Just our mindset and our worldview is not wildly different from each other. We are able to spend a lot of time around each other without any problems that sometimes befalls people having to be thrown in with each other. 

UCR I do think that is something you should be proud of. I think it’s sometimes just human nature for someone to eventually leave a band. I do admire that because sometimes you see somebody leave or get kicked out and the percentages show that it’ll most likely happen. So good on you guys for keeping it going. 

Murry Thank you for that. Yeah, I guess we’ve probably gotten over many, if not all, the humps that people often go through. And I think it’s just going to be like this from here on out. 

Photo Credit: Vivian Wang

UCR I think you’re right.  Here at Utah Concert Review, we focus a lot on the live music experience. I’m interested in some of your concert history. Do you remember the first time you performed live? Whether on your own or in the Old 97’s? 

Murry Yeah. It was at a party. It wasn’t the 97’s. I had a band. I had just learned to play my first guitar ever in May of 1984. Then October, I played at a punk rock party. And so that was it. The band was called Peyote Cowboys, and it was just a bunch of people in the hardcore punk scene. We were psychedelic music basically but like the whole surface kind of stuff. That was it. And I had my back to the room. I couldn’t, I couldn’t face the people in the room when I played. I had to turn my back to them because I was so nervous.  I’m like, I can’t look at people I don’t know. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just going to try to sit here and play along with the drummer, and then not screw up, that’s it. That’s the only way I was going to be able to do this. I stared at the carpet and my little effects pedals. 

UCR I love that. Do you remember the first concert you went to? 

Murry It was The Cars in 1980. The Cars’ third album had come out. I was already kind of starting to go into the Ramones and the Pistols and that whole world and everything. But I really wanted to see The Cars. I never got to see them when they toured the first two albums.  They played at downtown Dallas with the Motels. The Motels were opening for them.   It was great. Nosebleed seats.  My friend’s mom dropped us off, so we were by ourselves figuring out everything.  That was my first concert.   

UCR Do you have a favorite concert you’ve performed?

Murry When the band first started. The first time we really had anything on the radio and things just started really truly amping up, I remember we had already signed our deal with Elektra. In fact, we were on her second album for Elektra. It was the first time we ever really started having radio airplay and all this. Things were just really quite big compared to two years before. We were playing little bars and things like that. And we had our first bus and we were out for a long time. We’re out for ten weeks. And when we came back to our hometown, it was like a return to the hometown after the stuff really kind of started starting amping up. We played this show in Denton, Texas. The place was sold out. It was just massively sold out. It was well over the fire code. It was just bonkers compared to what it used to be. 

When we started into our first song, everybody was singing along so loudly we couldn’t hear ourselves sing. It always reminded me of how The Beatles always talked about that so much of what they did was muscle memory live because they couldn’t hear themselves. I thought, wow, not that we’re as big as The Beatles but this is like that. It was this club, there was a balcony above you that wrapped around behind the stage. And there were just human beings everywhere. It was like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.  The birds were everywhere! And there in that show, I had a heat problem where I actually fainted during the middle of my own song I was singing. I just fainted. I just rolled out onto the floor. Out cold. 

I didn’t drink enough fluids before the show.   I just passed out from a standing position. I didn’t hurt myself. I landed well, I kind of rolled out, and I didn’t land on the monitors or anything, so I was okay. But it stopped the show. I wake up, the whole place is in a hush. They carry me out, and a song and a half later with me pounding liquid back there. I get back in there and we start the song right where I passed out, and then we finish the show. So that was always my favorite show because it wasn’t just me passing out being the story of it for me. It was just that feeling like, wow, I don’t think anything’s going to be the same ever again for this band.   I think it’ll always be some version of this. Things are different now. And it was really an extraordinary feeling. It was just, it was very happy. We were very buoyed. It was a great moment. And to have the crazy thing of me fainting was also fun for the story. But even if that didn’t happen, I think I would always remember that as being like, you know, we’ll never have a local show again like it was. Those days are behind us now. 

UCR Wow, that’s an awesome story. 

Murry That was my favorite. That was my favorite one. We’ve had others that just made me feel like a million bucks. But that was my favorite one because it signified such a change in our lives.  Those early days are still some of my favorite days that we’ve ever had. They’ll never top them. Because there was something really so lovely about those early salad days.  

UCR Thank you so much for your time Murry. We’ll see you at Schellraiser! Safe travels.

Murry Take care!

Schellraiser was founded in late 2019 as part of privately funded efforts to help revitalize McGill’s small but historically significant downtown core. Work is slowly but steadily underway to restore the town’s long-abandoned movie theater and Odd Fellows meeting hall, where a new coffeehouse/restaurant and community event center are taking shape.

The festival is also developing the Schellraiser campground in the spectacular Steptoe Valley, just minutes away from the High Schells and Bristlecone wilderness areas near McGill.

For information about or tickets to Schellraiser click here.

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