She’s not a tall drink of water; she’s Betsy Badwater, and you’ll definitely want to take a sip. Since 2005, Badwater and her musical collective “The Hillbilly Chrome” have been performing their rockabilly, Americana-style music with such a writhing intensity it’s easy to justify packed venues of fans and future fans alike. For those who have missed Betsy & The Hillbilly Chrome at local venues such as Blazzues, Handlebar and several appearances at Vinyl Music Hall, the group will be performing at WSRE’s StudioAmped music series on Friday, March 4. The live taping will feature two bands—Betsy and Rumor Mill. Betsy shared with Independent News her upcoming performance as well as some insight on how she finds a holy spirit in music.
IN: So, “Hillbilly Chrome” is just a fancy, schmancy name for duct tape. Is there any connection between duct tape and the glue that holds your band together?
BADWATER: I used to joke that I could build a band out of duct tape and chewing gum. For years I would jam with any ole’ body who was willing to make some sounds. When I was in grad school, I got to travel the country a bit and would always take my guitar with me and find somewhere and some bodies to play with in Los Angeles or Chicago or Atlanta or wherever. I feel like Aesop in a boxing ring sometimes. The contributions made by each individual person that I play with are memorable and special, and that these people are willing to share their love for music, creation and pure celebration with me, on a whim, is evidence that music is all about love and community, and flow.
IN: You just opened for David Allen Coe. Did he teach you some profanity? How was that experience?
BADWATER: Profanity? Haha! Yes, I think I may have learned a few zingers over the course of the preparation and culmination of the David Allan Coe show! Opening for big famous acts is always like the first day of junior high: once the show has been opened and the main act is finally onstage, the opener becomes keenly aware of his or her own true level of inexperience. I tell you this: opening for Grammy winners and legendary performers is humbling to say the least. When Lang (Hollowman), Jeff Glickman and I opened for DAC at Vinyl Music Hall, I didn’t even get to make eye contact with Mr. Coe and didn’t expect to. David Allan Coe was the only performer we’ve shared a stage with, ever, who didn’t even say hello. But I will tell you this: his show was so moving. I think for all three of us, that anything he could have said to us would have had the potential to crush our perception of the night. I’ve said it a hundred times, and I’ll say it a hundred more—If we couldn’t play on a stage somewhere, we’d still be doing it on my porch. I will make music until I die.
IN: Your music partner Lang is no slouch with your duo Hollowman Badwater. What’s his story?
BADWATER: Lang is one of my best friends and a seriously dynamic man of whom I am so proud. He’s a Mississippi/Navarre boy raised on art and travel and hard work. He’s got a family, and a day job, and in a very sunny way, that man has got the blues about as bad as I’ve ever seen. He’s played music in Mississippi church houses and in traveling bands all over the country like I have, and as good as he plays it, I don’t think he’s ever going to stop either. We sat on my back porch tooling on a few songs, and it was like, “Man this is it, right here.” I can’t speak for Lang, but music is, to me, salvation in a damned world.
IN: You’re actually growing your group. Will these folks be regular performers with you or more fill-in roles for certain shows?
BADWATER: For about two years now there has always been a core of Lang and me. Jeff Glickman is like family to me, has been one of my major influences, and is a consistent presence in the HBC as a multi-instrumentalist. I play bass drum, tambourine, guitar and sing, and Jeff plays the other half of the drums, harmonicas, and sometimes National Steel. (On Feb. 18) we had the huge honor to open for multi-Grammy winning band Asleep at the Wheel and were joined by bassist Joey Harrison and drummer Devon Coon on hobo percussion. The very nature of The Hillbilly Chrome is that you never know who will be in the show. There could be eight people on stage, or it could be just Lang and me. We try to add players to create the best possible show experience for us and for the audience depending on the venue and the occasion.
IN: Rumor has it you’re the daughter of a preacher man. Should we just leave it at that?
BADWATER: That rumor is absolutely true, and I am humbled as well as gratified by that truth. I learned how to sing in church. I took my first steps down the aisle toward the pulpit with a funeral home fan in each hand. I learned how to read following along with the songs in the “Old School Hymnal” and the “Blue Book Hymnal”. I learned music by studying shape-note, and listening to my family sing—and my, what beautiful singers. Some people might not like to hear me say it, but there is a holy spirit in music, and it’s the one I believe in.
IN: What inspires you, musically?
BADWATER: I have a really acute sense of hearing, and I’m very aware of the range of frequencies that I can hear and feel. I don’t think I’m special in any way, but I am aware of what I’m experiencing, so the sound water makes dripping in the sink, the difference between the sounds tires make on the road when it’s wet or dry, the difference between the sounds birds make on a dry sunny day and a low-pressure foggy midnight all inspire me. In songwriting, I’m inspired all day long.
IN: You’re also quite an artist. Could you elaborate on your “day job?”
BADWATER: I am Apprentice to Andrew R. Trull at Black Sparrow Tattoo Studio in downtown Pensacola. Last year I illustrated two co-edition books for a publisher in London, and I have been painting and tattooing for two years now. I’m proud of my teacher and my shop. We are all good hardworking people who don’t cut corners, and I’m thankful to know that my life’s work is creativity.
IN: WSRE’s “StudioAmped” is going to be great. I know you’re excited. Is this your first time being tapped for television?
BADWATER: I’ve done a few things for television in the past, but this is the first time I’ve ever been involved in a production of this magnitude. I’m trying to frame it in my mind as “just another show,” but it’s really exciting.
IN: Rumor has it you still get a little nervous at times before you go on stage. What do you do to remedy that? (Besides picturing folks in their underwear…)
BADWATER: Oh my goodness, who told you that? Ha! Like this red head of mine, my stage nerves are no lie. I’ve gotten better over the years, but I still occasionally get a right fine case of stage fright that just doesn’t seem to want to let go. I have learned that the best way to combat pre-show nerves is to refrain from perception-altering substances (including refined sugar and caffeine) and just own the fact that I’m about to get up there and do what I do, how I do it, and that unless I act like a jerk, folks will most likely forgive me for being a little shaky in the beginning. It’s hard to be too scared when you know your posse has got your back, and for better or for worse, only we can do it like we do it.
IN: Anything else you want to get off your chest?
BADWATER: We want our town to know how much we appreciate living here. We try to do our part to make Pensacola better—we pick up trash and help raise money for good causes, we vote, we walk instead of ride when we can, and we buy locally as much as possible. We’re so thankful for the opportunities we’ve been given here, and we hope to inspire gratefulness and community in the people we meet because of it.
WSRE’S “STUDIO AMPED” FEATURING BETSY BADWATER & THE HILLBILLY CHROME; RUMOR MILL
WHEN: 6 p.m. Doors open. 7 p.m. Concert; Friday, March 4
WHERE: Jean and Paul Amos Performance Studio, Pensacola State College Main Campus, 1000 College Blvd.
DETAILS: betsybadwater.net or wsre.org/studioamped