A “Jet Fueled Night” with the Starline Rhythm Boys

Photo and story by Cory Wells Lovell

Barbeque and bumblebees greeted us as we arrived at the Bayside Pavilion in St. Albans to see self-proclaimed “Stars of Stage, TV, and Radio," the Starline Rhythm Boys. Given the whiskey-soaked, throwback sound of this honky tonk trio, they couldn’t have picked a better spot to rock. Guitarist Al Lemery was busy threading fishing line into a rod for bassist Billy Bratcher’s son as we walked in. “He’ll go across the street and see what he can catch while we’re playing.” Bratcher explained. This laid back, down-home, family affair style seems to be a cornerstone of the Starline Boys’ appeal.

The band has a dedicated local audience, a wide range of fans best described by Bratcher as, “a hodge podge of Vermonters… cruisers, losers, and down and out boozers,” he was then quick to add, “ As well as Vermont royalty.” Peppering the crowd were mortgage brokers, woolen mill owners, newlyweds, and the son of Red Sutowski, whose gin joint inspired the band’s third release 'Red’s Place'. The enthusiastic turnout was no fluke. The Starline Rhythm Boys recently packed a rowdy crowd into Montpelier’s Charlie-O’s for a two-night barn burner. The shows were recorded for the boys’ upcoming release on Cow Palace Records. The album, “World Famous” due out August 22nd, is a blistering live collection of obscure rockabilly classics and fan favorites from their decade-long career. “We wanted to capture what we do live… there is something about being in the nightclub that you can’t get in the studio. We feed off of that crowd being so close to us, and in Charlie-O’s it was insane!”

The boys sure fed off the insanity at the Bayside as well; seasoned Vermont music veteran Danny Coane’s woody vocals and jangling guitar provided a steadfast foundation over which his partners cut loose. Bratcher strolled up and down his bass with confidence and swagger while Al’s searing guitar work resembled Ronnie Wood as much as Gene Vincent. The style and moves looked familiar but never fell victim to caricature. These guys meant business. “WE DON’T DO BON JOVI!” Al spit as a bar patron clad in a faded t-shirt of the Jersey icon approached the stage. Bratcher offered his own personal request, “Do the song, Danny! JET FUEL!” goading Coane into a full throttle version of the Jerry Lee Lewis classic, "High School Confidential." The three are a unified front, effortlessly combining tradition and originality with a distinctly Green Mountain flavor. “Billy will write songs that reflect the times. The song "Family Farm" is about farms going under in Vermont.” Lemery explained. “The old fashioned sound is there but with words that relate to today.”

The convergence of old and new is revealed in the trio’s varied influences. Al was initially taken by the country folk sound of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. Danny grew up listening to Merle Haggard on late night radio but soon gravitated to Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley, building an extensive rhythm and blues record collection while attending U.V.M. Billy, on the other hand, began his musical exploration with bands such as The Clash and The Specials, feeling a connection to the rebelliousness of punk.

Between the spitcurls, sideburns and spruced up leather shoes it’s hard to see how the honky tonk slap bassist and songwriter could’ve been influenced by the Sex Pistols, but Billy explained how it’s all the same to him. “It’s a natural crossover for me coming out of that late 70’s punk era that defined me and my path in my musical career. Let’s face it, if I was digging Queen and Styx I wouldn’t be sitting in a honky tonk talking to you right now. The Ramones playing at CBGB’s and Starline Rhythm Boys playing at Charlie-O’s is feeding off of that audience. The realness is there and that is what this music is. It’s everyday life, it’s suffering, it’s celebration of the weekend.”

Check out the Starline Rhythm Boys at www.starlinerhythmboys.com.