Music Premiere: Blair Crimmins' "You Gotta Sell Something"
With a click of the incredibly unique Blair Crimmins & The Hookers' track below, you'll be able to tell why their soulful, jazz sound is lighting up bars around the South. We got to catch up with Blair Crimmins to talk about his inspiration, his songwriting, and how Atlanta, Georgia's influenced his eclectic sound.
What’s the inspiration behind your album? It’s a return to basics. Good songs with good lyrics needed to be first priority. When I was writing my very first album for The Hookers, I didn’t have a touring band. I was traveling as a solo act and just pulling the band together for local shows. The sound of the band developed in the studio, then we took the band on the road. Once I had a solid band, I started writing with them in mind. I thought up a lot of instrumental hooks and horn arrangements.
I was having a lot of fun using everything the band had to offer. The songs were good but they relied on having a full band to perform them because of all the instrumental sections. With this album, I wanted the songs to stand on their own, then write the horn arrangements to support them. The band and horn section are an exciting addition but not the foundation of the song. Most of these tunes I can play by myself. I feel like it’s a very well rounded album because of that.
Where did you pull inspiration from for this track, specifically? The inspiration started from a story from back in those days when I was touring by myself. I was playing one of my original songs on piano when one of the bar patrons walked up to me and asked, “Hey man. Did you write this song?” He was trying to strike up a conversation with me while I was still playing! There weren’t a ton of people in the bar so I just kept playing and said, “Yeah, I wrote it.” He replied, “This song is so good. It could be in a commercial!” I just laughed and finished the tune. In my head, I was wondering why the measure of good song is whether it can be placed in an advertisement.
"You Gotta Sell Something" is a funny, maybe slightly sad, satirical song about the way the industry is these days. CD sales are down, and drawing crowds to concerts is really tough if you’re not playing cover tunes. People don’t want to hear songs they don’t know. A lot of great bands throw in the towel because they just can’t afford to keep going. There’s not enough support out there for them to make a career but if you place a song on a commercial, not only will you get paid, but you’ll be validated by the public because they heard you on the TV. That’s the current state of the music industry. Like the song says, you gotta sell something if you want to play.
How would you describe your band’s sound? Supercharge Ragtime Jazz with a touch of Rock and Roll! I draw most musical inspiration from the sounds of the 20s and 30s but we’re not real traditionalists. We like to play hard and loud.
Which artists are your musical icons? David Bowie and Bob Dylan were the biggest influences on me becoming a songwriter when I was 18 or 19. Specifically, Bowie’s early glam hippie stylings of Honky Dory and the rebellious nonsensical lyrics of Dylan’s electric stuff. Then, later, I got into Tom Waits which brought more jazz and blues elements. I think you can still hear some of their influence in my songwriting. It wasn’t until later that I became engrossed in the musical sounds of Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, and Django Reinhardt which you can hear more prominently in my music today.
How does being in Atlanta affect your songwriting/style/sound? People are usually surprised when I tell them we’re from Atlanta. Most folks think we’re from New Orleans. I love New Orleans and I owe much of my sound to the music from there, but being from Atlanta has added a different flavor to my style. There aren’t many people here doing what we do and the local jazz clubs are more focused on contemporary jazz, so we found our place in the rock clubs playing on bills with rock bands. We played for rowdy, beer-chugging rock crowds. They were open-minded, though. They didn’t care if we wore suits and played jazz, but we better damn well rock. So, we did. The band might sound differently today if we grew up among other traditional jazz bands–but being from Atlanta put us in a unique position to develop in a different way.