Maybe it’s fitting that in the city that spawned King Records’ legendary recordings, including Mr. James Brown, Soul music still sweats and pulses in our Queen City. Los Honchos are the new Soul contenders on the block, and this six-piece combo brings plenty of heat and horns to the party.
Nominated for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award in the R&B/Soul category this year, Los Honchos have been revving up their inimitable brand of raunch, roll and soul since 2005. They’ve perfected their potent cocktail on their debut record, Viva Los Honchos, which will be released at the end of January.
The Honchos’ Web site describes their sound as like the “liquored up lounge band from Pulp Fiction,” and it’s hard to improve on that self-appraisal. You can imagine John Travolta and Uma Thurman strutting in their loafers to the riotous, gritty Honchos’ groove. Cheeky grins all around as the band swaggers in with cadenced, bravura blasts of sax and trumpet, courtesy of Dan Barger and Rob Mulhauser.
I spoke with Mike Huegen and Little Bill Boeddeker, the Honchos’ guitarist and singer, respectively, over a few beers about the group’s origins. Mike explains, “We’re not trying to recreate anything from the past at all — we’re more straight-ahead Soul with a blend of lounge, and even Punk Rock. Everyone in the band brings an insane amount of influences.”
That’s a fact. Between Huegen’s vast vinyl collection of ’60s and ’70s nuggets, Boeddeker’s Garage Rock aesthetic and bassist Nick Lloyd’s sheer musicianship, Los Honchos tap the vintage veins of these genres’ best.
To give their music even more of a reference point, Boeddeker chuckles, “I was looking to start a Cramps-style band. How it evolved into this, I don’t know. But it felt like a natural progression.”
The Honchos mention The Cramps several times during our conversation, which shows how game these guys are.
Mike continues, “I got tired of the loud three-chord stuff and so we wanted to take stuff from the past and mash it up and come up with something totally different. You think of the early ’60s as this sanitized time, but then you hear this other stuff that’s out and out psychotic, and you think these people are nuts. That was kind of an inspiration. And then digging into Hawaiian music and lounge, really oddball stuff.”
It’s a kick to see these guys play live, whether at Junie’s Lounge in the Southgate House or at the Northside Tavern. They take over the place and get the crowd moving, one way or another. Boeddeker’s charismatic testifying seizes the room as he growls out Arthur Alexander’s “Soldier of Love” from the top of a bar table, and Huegen spins out spider leads on his Telecaster.
The band’s not-so-secret power boost goes back to their excellent drummer, Chip Blome, whose strong presence ricochets off each snare and fill. It takes a fine musician to balance the staccato rush of Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin’” next to the Salsa accents he injects into a Coasters’ song. His versatility anchors the band and makes their genre-skipping possible.
Boeddeker says, “We’re trying to excite people, and get energy flowing ‘cause that’s what we feed off of. We don’t want to put anyone through ‘Mustang Sally’ again.”
In both a nod to their throwback influences and just a way to stand out, the guys wear matching suits on stage. Bill laughs and says, “We like wearing shiny, Baptist minister suits.”
Mike chimes in, “Plus, they’re all we can afford.”
Viva Los Honchos captures their live experience as much as a digital platter can. Boeddeker says, “The band needed to make the disc — it was the next step. It was more for ourselves than anything.”
Mike adds, “A lot of music nowadays lacks the joy of life, that sex-energy, whatever you want to call it. It’s not there, part of it might be because of the technology.”
Obviously, Huegen is still a vinyl junkie, and it‘s no coincidence that their CD recording crackles and breathes with the life-force of their shows. It was recorded live in the studio.
“Nick Lloyd did an incredible job mixing the songs. He made it sound really hot and alive,” Huegen explains.
From their crowd-pleasing version of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “Baptize Me in Wine“ to the defiant heartbreak of Bettye Swann’s “I Will Not Cry,” Los Honchos offer their own unique take on this classic music. Garage-Soul might be the best description, but it’s clear this band has updated its influences with a twist of rye and has the fervor to take its music forward.