Emptying the bucket

Hillstomp is a dash of punkabilly, a bit of Appalachia and a blues-thumping good time

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Genres are helpful to narrow down music styles into convenient buckets. But what happens when those buckets are flipped over, emptied of their contents, placed upside down and banged on for all they’re worth? You get Portland, Ore. duo Hillstomp, which has boot-stomped its unique sound on the live music scene for more than 20 years.

Hillstomp will play Eichardt’s Pub at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21 as members “Hurricane” Henry Hill Kammerer and John “Lord Buckets” Johnson breeze through town on their latest tour. There will be a $10 cover to attend the show.

“Hurricane” Henry Hill Kammerer and John “Lord Buckets” Johnson are Hillstomp. Courtesy photo.

This two-piece blues revival band is indeed something to behold. Kammerer and Johnson are known for inventive originals, unique versions of traditional material and energetic live performances. And buckets. Lots of buckets.

Called everything from “junkbox blues” to “do-it-yourself hill country blues stomp,” Hillstomp is one of those bands that’s fun to listen to, but absolutely mesmerizing to watch live. With Kammerer on the slide guitar and banjo and Johnson with an improvised drum kit made of assorted buckets, cans and barbecue lids, the music that comes from these two souls sounds somehow fuller than it should.

Attempting to pin a genre onto Hillstomp is like trying to place a greased pig in a bucket. Their music features elements of country blues stomp, North Mississippi trance blues, Appalachia, punkabilly, slide rock guitar and a dash of Zydeco to fill out their specialized sound.

Their 2005 album The Woman that Ended the World was named Album of the Year by Portland alt-weekly Willamette Week, and they’ve toured with notable blues royalty such as Reverend Horton Heat, The Devil Makes Three and Southern Culture on the Skids, among others. 

When asked who their main influences are, they credit noted American blues musician R.L. Burnside, who became famous late in his career for introducing bluesy elements to the punk and garage rock aficionados of the 1990s.

Close your eyes, and you’d think Hillstomp was more than just two dudes giving it their all on stage. Listen to Kammerer’s slide guitar and banjo work and you’ll know how he got the nickname Hurricane. Paired with Johnson’s furious banging on buckets, brake drums and broiler pans, and you’ve got an intricate, hand-crafted sound that will get everyone from barefoot hippies to boot-scoot hillbillies off their butts and onto the dance floor. You won’t have more fun with your pants on anywhere else in town.

The duo has received plenty of attention of late. Hillstomp’s 2010 album Darker The Night contains one of its live favorites, “Cardiac Arrest in D,” and after the 2014 release of Portland, Ore., the band attracted the notice of Dan Akroyd’s infamous blues radio show The BluesMobile. Akroyd said, “Hillstomp is a band out of Portland, hoping to bring the same energy to Oregon that the Allstars brought to north Mississippi.”

Film directing duo the Coen Brothers used a Hillstomp track for the trailer for their film Hail, Caesar! and one of the duo’s songs was also featured on the third season of the popular show Sons of Anarchy.

Despite this increase in national attention, attend the show at Eichardt’s and you’ll feel like you’re watching two musical geniuses busk on a street corner with homemade instruments and heartworn stomp ballads.

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