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Highway to Hicksville

Hayseed Dixie puts a bluegrass charge into AC/DC.

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They'll shake us all night long: Hayseed Dixie at Taste of Cleveland (Monday).
  • They'll shake us all night long: Hayseed Dixie at Taste of Cleveland (Monday).

Drinking, cheating, killing, and going to hell -- that's what all the best songs are about, says Hayseed Dixie mastermind John Wheeler. "And that's especially true for hillbilly music."

Wheeler's Nashville-based trio contemplates these subjects on its debut album, A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC, a bluegrass interpretation of the Aussie rock group's greatest hits, rendered with traditional country instruments such as banjo, mandolin, and fiddle. AC/DC classics, such as "Big Balls" and "Highway to Hell," become barn-blazing jams that juggle redneck fun and down-home musicianship.

"I sort of always viewed AC/DC as the quintessential roots-rock band," explains Wheeler, whose band plays Taste of Cleveland on Labor Day. "Unpretentious, three chords, and the truth kind of stuff. [Late singer] Bon Scott was singing about getting drunk, fight the power, fuck the Man, you know?"

Onstage, between the AC/DC classics, Hayseed Dixie is prone to recounting its history. It's the history of no-good Appalachian banditos, who love stealing as much as they love playing music. A history that involves the mangled wreckage of a muscle car near their hometown of Deer Lick Holler, a dead motorist, and a stash of AC/DC records in the backseat. A history of love for bluegrass-based rock and roll.

That love for bluegrass inspires Hayseed Dixie's new album, A Hillbilly Tribute to Mountain Love. "We took this notion of drinking, cheating, killing, and going to hell, and boiled it down to its core key element," Wheeler says. "We figured that to be mountain love."

The album reinterprets eight classic rock songs -- including Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever," Bad Company's "Feel Like Making Love," and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," all of which are bound by their theme of good old-fashioned lust. With fellow Hayseeds Dale and Don Wayne Reno, Wheeler arranges the moldy cock-rockers as bluegrass ballads, twisting them into fun-loving tracks while retaining their familiarity.

"I was just trying to remind people about how horny, racy, and fun some of these songs really are," he says. "These are songs people grew up with and have been singing for 20, 25 years, but never really paid any attention to the words."

The band has also moved on to writing its own songs, two of which appear on A Hillbilly Tribute to Mountain Love. One of those is the George Jones parody "I'm Keeping Your Poop."

"I just kind of thought of a healthy, productive way to not romanticize the past," Wheeler explains. "So I imagined, instead of sitting a picture [of a lost love] on the stand by the bed, that you manifest a reminder of what your relationship was really built on.

"And [you can] contemplate that before you call her up, all drunked up, at two in the morning." "Hells Bells," indeed.

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