Photo by Matt Arkins
A Seattle native, Brandon Hale has roots in small Montana towns from Nashua to the Yaak. Tom Day, the band’s steel pedal guitarist, describes Hale as “a combination of an ideas man and an action man.”
As a band, the Dirty Shame has been together in some iteration for over four years, and recently produced their first album. Hale wrote most of the songs on the self-titled cd, and his lyrics describe characters from a hard-living western life. In the thread of classic country, his bar-goers and modern highwaymen accept hardships with a mix of party, mourning and a touch of sweetness.
In “Lonesome Highway,” Hale sings:
Got this aching in my heart, got to get the hell out of here
I don’t recognize the face staring back at me in the rear view mirror
Nobody said it would be easy, nobody said it’d easy to be free
I guess it’s just time to pick up the pieces, pick up the pieces of me
Hey there bartender I’ll have one more beer and I’ll be on my way
Before I take my first steps on this Lonesome Highway
Listen to “Lonesome Highway”
Where does the name ‘The Dirty Shame’ come from?
My grandpa had a bar in Yaak, Montana called the Hellroaring Saloon. It’s on a stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere, right on a river with just mountains and forest. When I was kid, I spent summers there, and I learned the Willie and Waylon off his jukebox. I wanted to name the band after something from the Yaak, and there’s a bar up there called The Dirty Shame. It was my grandpa’s regular joint to go drink.
When did you start playing music?
When I was 14, I picked up the guitar and some songbooks and taught myself some chords. I was in Alaska working in my dad’s restaurant that summer. I was really into Neil Young.
Do you ever sing duets?
Our recent single release was a duet. It’s a song I wrote, “Lonesome Me Lonesome You.” We recorded it with a gal from Nashville. Once in a while, if a girl wants to come up and sing with me at a bar, sure, we’ll usually do Jackson.
How do you make your voice sound exactly like Waylon and Willie?
I listened to Willie Nelson and Family live on the eight-track player in my mom’s old Volare. It was my favorite album when I was like 16, so I just tried to sing like him. I taught myself vibrato by imitating Willie.
What do you like most about country music?
I like the simplicity and the rawness of country. I’m not a huge fan of new country. The stuff from the 60s through the 80s—Willie, Waylon, Johnny Cash, Coe, Hank Jr.—that’s my style. It’s mean and gritty and real.
What other styles of music do you like?
I like harder music. Being from Seattle, and being a teenager in the early 90s, I was a big fan of grunge – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden. I really like Chris Cornell’s other band Audio Slave, and I like Metallica and Black Sabbath.
What’s your favorite show you’ve played?
When we were first starting, we opened for David Allen Coe in Great Falls. I used to get really nervous on stage, and we played for 3 or 4,000 people, as the second of three opening bands. When we finished our set, we started drinking. Then David Allen Coe’s gear didn’t show up, so he called us back on stage and we played his whole slot. His semi finally came, and he played for a half hour. That jumpstarted us in the music scene. People saw that show and started booking us.
What makes a show fun for you?
The crowd’s energy, 100 percent. If they’re giving the energy, we give the energy back.
Tell me about your special hot sauce. What’s it called?
Brando’s Buffalo Sauce. I love Buffalo wings, but when I moved here, no place had good wings or a fresh tasting sauce. It took me years to devise this one, and now I’m making it for the Murray in Livingston. I go there on Mondays and have beers with people, rep the sauce and sometimes play music.
You just produced your first cd. Tell me about that.
We’re a live band, but usually when you record, you’re in a booth by yourself listening to what the other guys did. We checked out some recording studios, but nothing seemed right. Then we met Doc Wiley, a Grammy-winning engineer who worked for Island Records before moving to Montana. We recorded our album live in Doc’s studio on Peach Street. The last track on the cd, “Into the Darkness,” is about my grandfather. I wrote it three days before we recorded the album, and none of the other band members had heard it. I started playing it, they joined in, and that’s the take on the cd. It wasn’t perfect, but it had emotion. That was awesome.
The Dirty Shame is available on iTunes and thedirtyshame.com