Matt Hill (foreground) and Chuck Cotton commit an act of the blues in a garage. (photo by Ryan Snyder)
“Goooood evening, Chapman Street garage,” guitarist Matt Hill yelled out from behind his microphone as he greeted the crowd of roughly eight onlookers at a Thursday night gig. The sparse audience wasn’t because of a slow night at the bars he’s accustomed to playing, but literally because he was playing someone’s garage at the corner of Chapman and Brice in Greensboro. Hill and venerated drummer Chuck Cotton were scheduled to play Grey’s Tavern as a duo that night, but discovered that they were double-booked with Walrus only a short while before they were to go on. The show must go on, as the axiom says, and one-half of the Buzzkillz (www. myspace.com/buzzkillz) packed up and moved to the residence of Evan Kornegay and Katei and Kelly Cranford, no strangers to putting on shows themselves. Aside from their garage existing as a haven for underground punk shows, some of the residents are musicians. Kornegay plays guitar for Devastation Proclamation (www.myspace.com/devastationproclamation) and Kelly Cranford is the bassist for the Nondenoms (www.myspace.com/nondenoms).
The garage itself was a roughly 15-by-25-foot concrete hot box accented with extracted minivan seating, fishing rods, Christmas lights and remnants of the last neighborhood yard sale. As Hill tunes his guitar, he asked the few people present what they want to hear in his thick backwoods drawl that was vaguely reminiscent of his self-proclaimed hero Unknown Hinson.
“How about some Manilow? I’ve been practicing my ‘Mandy,’” Hill said. “Rock’s gonna be brought in this here garage tonight.” There was no Barry Manilow to be heard, thankfully, but instead there was nearly three hours of gut-busting blues, rockabilly and R&B coming from Hill and Cotton, who generated an inexorable amount of sound for just two people. If that weren’t enough, Hill could cut a record of only his between-song banter and earn a decent living. The fact that they were playing in a residential neighborhood on a weeknight didn’t seem to deter them in the least, as Kornegay noted that a handful of his neighbors regularly throw parties louder than their shows. Hill and Cotton’s opening salvo included Eric Clapton’s “Bad Boy,” the Butterfield Blues Band’s “Mystery Train,” and plenty of Jerry Lee Lewis covers mixed in with their own stylistically similar originals.
Despite being in his late twenties, Hill is a true musical throwback whose live performances pay homage to just about every great rock and blues performer from the ’50s. He has the foot shuffling of Jerry Lee Lewis nailed and the glottal stops that Buddy Holly made famous both accentuate his originals and sneak their way into covers where they might not belong so organically. His wicked guitar chops, on the other hand, are in a class all by themselves. He effortlessly blends boogie and swing styles and doesn’t shy away from mixing chord progressions within the same piece. Cotton, on the other hand, is simply as old-school as they come and he’s able to do more with his simple five-piece kit than most can do with much more complex set-ups. It’s hard to imagine a better complement to the almost feral stage persona of Hill than the smooth and subdued, yet effortless rhythms that Cotton creates.
The crowd at the garage maxed out at around 20 onlookers at around midnight, as Hill and Cotton were joined by bassist John Tucker, who supplied them with a little walking bass. For a pair of musicians that thought they were getting a paying gig that night, the alternative wasn’t totally ideal, though no one could be unhappy about playing in front of a group of friends. Hill and Cotton didn’t exactly come away empty handed, as their tip jar at least covered their beer and gas. “If y’all like what you hear then throw a couple dollars in there here bucket,” Hill said as he gestured toward a painted can at his feet. “I got all kinds of mess I want to get.” “Habits,” Cotton added softly as Hill reiterated, “Yeah, we got some habits to feed.”