The new collaboration between Ryley Walker and Charles Rumback is a highlight for both artists, but while you might be more familiar with Walker’s extensive output, there’s plenty to dig into with his foil’s career as well. The Chicago percussionist has worked with Jazz trio Colorist alongside John Hughes and Charles Gorczynski and found contemporaries in Fred Lonberg-Holm and Nick Macri in Stirrup. He’s touched through experimental country with The Horses Ha and led his own records exploring jazz under his own name. Rumback’s been a lynchpin in the Chicago scene for over fifteen years and so I asked him to drop in a pick to the Gems series. Interestingly he’s also chosen a collaboration, the late ‘90s team-up of Mike Halby from Canned Heat and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos under the name Houndog. Check out how this came into Charles’ life and the impact it’s had on him.
Charles recalls, “My little brother Mike got this cd when it came out. I loved Los Lobos, but I didn’t really know anything about Mike Halby or Canned Heat. We grew up knowing all of Los Lobos’ music because my dad has been a diehard fan since And A Time To Dance. My hometown hero Ralph Brown used to make tapes for me. He gave me a tape that had the first Latin Playboys album on one side when I was 14 or 15. my brother and I loved that so much, so we kept up with all the weird side projects Los Lobos did, looking for something like THAT! Latin Playboys might still be my favorite, but this record is the definition of a hidden gem.”
“Hearing the music for the first time back then, I had so many questions,” Rumback continues. “The vocals were slowed down in places, the DRUMS were slowed down in places. Sometimes it’s like there’s a blanket over everything in the mix, except David Hidalgo’s gorgeous jazz tone guitar chords. Really rough and tumble sounding, but presented perfectly and beautifully. David Hidalgo has the best feel. Voice, guitar, bass, drums, it doesn’t matter… violin, accordion, it always feels groovy. The space he leaves. he’s maybe my favorite musician — and Mike Halby’s voice on this is wild. It’s impossible to put into words, you have to listen.”
“Even though this came out on Columbia in ‘99, not too many folks I encounter know about this one.
even the ones who are big fans of Lobos or Canned Heat. David produced it and wrote about half of the songs on the record. Halby and Hidalgo co-wrote a few and there’s a cover. but it all sounds so much like David to me. I’m pretty sure he plays everything on the record too — drums, bass, guitar. background voice, violin, I’m pretty sure it’s all him. You don’t even need to see the credits; you can hear it.”
Further deepening his connection to the album, Rumback reveals, “I got a chance to ask him about the album a couple of years ago when he was playing in Chicago. I wanted to ask him about this haunting instrumental ballad on the record called “Eddie’s Gone.” It’s a slow, swampy kind of shuffle. almost a dirge really. It’s so heavy but still floating somehow. These long, sustained organ notes just sit there. David plays this incredible raw violin solo that sounds like a harmonica on it. Again, you have to listen. It’s gorgeous. It’s a very mysterious song and I wanted to know what kind of deep story was behind it. He told me this long story about this guy Eddie, who worked at a guitar store and was a huge fan. Eddie had been giving them the super bro deal, so they got their wish list together. When they got to the store, the manager said, “He don’t work here anymore. Eddie’s gone.” That talk also gave me reason to think there might be an unreleased second album out there somewhere.”
As Charles mentions, despite being a Hot Tuna fan for some time, I’m definitely unaware of this side-project. It’s a great tangent to get lost in, an album that despite all the right machinations behind it, still manages to get lost in the cracks of an era that was overstuffed with music. Also, as fate would have it, this album doesn’t appear to be in print, or even distributed digitally, It looks like second hand copies are pretty accessible, though, so the legend of Houndog lives on in Discogs’ database. I’d recommend getting into this one and if you’re still late on checking out Ryley and Charles’ latest for Thrill Jockey, now’s the time.
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