The Bodarks' Story
Banjo and mando pickin' wild and free
Two critters grinnin' 'neath a bodark tree
Along comes the Devil, horseapple in hand
Says, "Let's make a deal, play music in a band"
There's something about big city life that can disconnect you from folks, and from the earth itself. You feel all uprooted. Having grown up on farms, the original members of The Bodarks shared this sentiment when they met in Dallas in the spring of 2012. And the horse-apple bearing bois d'arc tree seemed an apt symbol for their feelings. That thorny, out-of-place hardwood can still be found growing wild in suburban medians and fence rows like a giant weed - a stubborn reminder of the old days when it was used to hedge in cattle.
Jeff Brooks and Jason Bell had been picking and writing tunes together since their college days at Texas Tech when they met double bassist Brian Kelleher and Kansas fiddler Shelly New. In contrast to the rock cover bands they'd been a part of, the foursome wanted to create more of an organic, rootsy sound, both traditional and progressive, with live performances that invited the audience in to participate. A sort of high-powered hootenanny.
So, electric gear was set aside for bluegrass, folk instruments as they covered tunes in old-time jug-band fashion. The guitar solo in "Crazy Train" was converted into fiddle. A washboard now carried the rhythm in "Thrift Shop." The banjo rolled through the twanged-up harmonies of "Fat Bottomed Girls." This twist found wide appeal with all ages and musical tastes as the songs they performed were familiar and yet new. And it was an ensemble that worked well for a wide range of venues, from pubs and restaurants to weddings and festivals. Soon The Bodarks were playing stages such as The Rustic, Trees, Wildflower Fest, Lava Cantina, and The House of Blues, and side-staging for such artists as Kansas, Pat Benatar, The Toadies, Jimmie Vaughan, .38 Special, Leon Russell, Peter Frampton, Gary P. Nunn, Randy Rogers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
As the band gelled, they began developing their own songs on top of the twisted covers, rendered in a unique style that defied traditional genre boundaries. At a time when makeshift monikers such as "indie-folk" and "punk-grass" were being thrown around, The Bodarks caught the same current that was catapulting bands like The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Trampled by Turtles, and The Devil Makes Three into the mainstream. This current had some bearing on the Texas country music scene in 2013, as The Bodarks were selected from among hundreds of contenders for Shiner Beer's Shiner Rising Star contest. Through a series of band battles hosted by Dallas' KHYI 95.3 FM, twenty-four artists were whittled away until The Bodarks were left standing as a finalist.
The old old is a new kind of new
A little bit Dylan and Mötley Crüe
Got livers of steel and our hearts are true
So drink a drink with us and be a Bodark too
THE FIRST ALBUM
They didn't win the final battle for the record deal, but thanks to the help of their enthusiastic fans and a kickstarter campaign, The Bodarks released their first full-length album in January of 2015. Mary Jane Farmer of SceneInTown reviewed their debut, stating, "The Bodarks, a genre-creating string band from around the Metroplex, opens their first and self-titled CD appropriately with 'Life Americana,' and then adds 12 more songs which prove they have developed their own unique Americana music."
Much of the album is an expression of early American innocence and imagination, flavored with folklore allusions and bawdy drinking songs. The opening track captures the spirit well with it's chorus:
It ain't discovered as much as dreamed
There's places over yonder that I ain't yet seen
And maps ain't made by those who stay behind
It ain't got law and it ain't got order
Ain't got a flag and it ain't got a border
Life Americana is just a state of mind
The original music of The Bodarks got the attention of several talent scouts both near and far. One song from the album, "Old Muddy Road," was chosen by Burly Records for its compilation of Dallas-area bands. And in 2014 and 2015, Wakarusa representatives seeking five original bands in each major city around the nation selected The Bodarks to represent Dallas in their Waka Winter Classic.
2016 brought a slight change in lineup as upright bassist Robert Carter filled Kelleher's position. This inspired another change in the way the band performed: In the true spirit of a hootenanny, they launched a series of concerts hosting "guest Bodarks," including such notable musicians as spoon-clicker Patti Steel, guitar virtuoso Jackson Eli, accordionist Anthony Nagid, bassist Jacob Dill, washboarder "Doc" Adrian Cook, mandolinist Daniel Mehalko, and many more. With these rotating line-ups, every show offered something different.
With a backlog of original songs, The Bodarks were eager to record a follow-up to their first album. This time, however, they wished for a more rustic setting that fit the spirit of their music. So they uprooted from the big city studios of the Metroplex and retreated deep into the woods of East Texas, and soon the Uprooted album was produced with the help of Tyler Bachor of Funky Frog Studios.
Not only is the album's title an expression of leaving home behind, it bears the theme of loss and a longing to go back throughout - from the opening track, "Caroline," in which a soldier of the Civil War struggles desperately to return to his woman, to "Windermere," the semi-autobiographical tale of Brooks' wandering in the English lake lands. "You're never going to find that Eden in your mind by going back to your home town," he sings in the title track.
The second album is somewhat darker in tone than the bar-songs that dominate their first. And the most haunting of all the pieces is "The Ghost of Alma Kelmer," based on the true account of girls who were murdered and dismembered by a serial-killing priest around 1917. The song caught the attention of True Crime podcasters and has been used for several of their shows.
Uprooted was released in February of 2018 which includes 12 original songs as well as a twisted cover of The Cranberries' "Zombie" in honor of the late Dolores O'Riordan, and the traditional "St. James Infirmary Blues."
This second round of original songs caught airplay and recognition both locally and abroad. In April of 2018, the band was selected as one of six national finalist to be showcased by Boulevard Brewing at its annual Kansas City festival. Back home, in the Fall of that year, The Bodarks were nominated as "Best Country Act" in Dallas-Fort Worth by prominent music blogger The Ghost of Blind Lemon's Ghosty Awards.
For years The Bodarks wanted to capture the energy and vibrance of their live "hootenannies" in recording - that organic slice of reality you get with spontaneous moments and crowd interaction rather than the sometimes sterile, disconnect of studio tracking. Recording their live shows worked better than they ever expected, and in November of 2019 they will release their third album, Live Americana, which offers some of their new material as well as twists on previous tunes. Though mostly originals, there are also hoedown covers of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," The Beatles' "Come Together," and the traditional "Deep Ellum Blues."
Wo-ho! Won't you come-a come along
Sing with us our Bodark song
Our fruits are rollin' and our roots are long
Always thirsty and we drink 'til dawn