Hammers give country a southern-fried injection

I'm not a big fan of mainstream country music. You won't find any Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, or even Foster Brooks CDs in my collection. But lately I've grown to appreciate Jason McCoy-2004's Canadian Country Music Association's male vocalist of the year-because of a shit-kicker project called the Road Hammers that he's formed with fellow country artists Clayton Bellamy and Chris Byrnes. The trio recently released a self-titled CD that's way more Georgia Satellites than George Strait. "The whole thing is the album has a huge southern-rock feel," agrees McCoy, on the line from his home in Nashville. "We're getting comments like, 'I don't normally like country, and I love this stuff,' or 'I didn't know how cool country could be.' But all we've done is taken the best of country and the best of southern rock to create a new thing. It just seemed to be the right formula."

The Road Hammers' guitar-driven boogie centres on the trucker lifestyle, with the album sporting original tunes like "Overdrive", "Nashville Bound", and "The Hammer Goin' Down". There's a smattering of proven highway classics as well, including Little Feat's bittersweet "Willin'?" and Jerry Reed's sprightly "East Bound and Down", which McCoy first heard when he was nine years old. "That thing is burnin' up the charts for us," he says of Reed's rollicking redneck rave-up, famously included in the 1977 Burt Reynolds flick Smokey and the Bandit. "We just didn't realize everybody else would get into it as much as they have."

McCoy's fruitful embodiment of the trucker's world isn't just a store-bought fantasy; he's actually spent time behind the wheel of a big rig. He did a promotion two years ago where he lived in one for a week, and learned how to drive the massive road-hugger. "We all have truckers in our families," he points out. "Clay's dad's a trucker, and we all figured we pretty much live the life of a trucker. We share the same hours, same restaurants-the same workspace, pretty much."

As heard in the comical ditty "Flat Tires (Bloopers, Out-Takes 'n Such)", McCoy's "hand-selected" trio enjoyed a few laughs in the studio. "We wanted to make sure first and foremost that it was fun," cites the singer, who brings his six-piece band-including pedal-steel ace Kenny Greer of Red Rider fame-to Abbotsford's City Limits Cabaret on Wednesday (October 12) and the Commodore Ballroom on Thursday (October 13) . "Every time you make a record that's what you want to do, but we really had an exceptional time doing this one."

Because the CD was such a gas to do, and the response to the intended one-off project was so positive, the Road Hammers plan to record a follow-up next year. No word yet on whether there'll be a return of the folksy voice that opens the disc by trying to explain what a "road hammer" actually is. According to this guy you find them at the hardware store, next to the "skyhook", and use them to "put the hammer down" when you're out on the road. "We call him Blind Lemon Pledge," reveals McCoy of the narrator, who sounds like an old bluesman from Mississippi. "It's actually a skinny white dude from Nashville."