Don’t fence them in. Austin, Texas-based foursome Soulhat would prefer you not categorize the group’s versatile style, a thoroughly modern guitar-based blues groove of funk and fusion. It’s showcased on Soulhat’s debut album, Outdebox, its indie-label popularity having led to national distribution via Epic Records.
“I like to think that, as time passes, the strength of our songs will dictate our musical style,” says Soulhat co-founder Bill Cassis, a Maryland native who, with Kevin McKinney and Brian Walsh, formed the group three years ago while attending college in Texas. Meanwhile, Outdebox offers a fine sampling of Soulhat’s diverse influences, from the Caribbean lilt of the opening track “Prayin’ For Rain” to the country-style strains of “Build It Up, Tear It Down” to an 11-minute-plus workout called “Stink Pot” which embodies the jamming ethos of Soulhat’s live show.
Bill Cassis and Kevin McKinney first were brought together by a mutual admiration for the blues. Cassis had been exposed to swing and bluegrass music at an early age through his father; McKinney’s background was in alternative rock, but he was open to new possibilities. The lineup was completed with the addition of bassist Brian Walsh and especially by veteran drummer/percussionist Barry “Frosty” Smith. Over a twenty-year career, Frosty had played with Lee Michaels , Sly Stone , and Parliament -Funkadelic before relocating to Austin to work with such local stalwarts as Delbert McClinton and W.C. Clark.
Soulhat built its fervent grass-roots following by playing every Thursday and Saturday night at the Black Cat Lounge on Austin’s famed Sixth Street, where their three-hour-plus sets soon had crowds lining up around the block. A self-produced live tape, Soulhat Live At The Black Cat, won the 1992 Austin Music Award for “Cassette Of The Year.” By the following year, Soulhat were cited as “Rock Band Of The Year” and as runners-up to the Arc Angels for “Austin Band Of The Year.”
The band continued to build its area following, opening for such headliners as John Lee Hooker , Johnny Winter and the Neville Brothers . They eschewed early major-label offers, instead choosing to record and release Outdebox on their own Currant Records imprint (manufactured and distributed by Spindletop prior to the Epic signing). Tracks from Outdebox soon found their way onto local radio, while the group’s blues-based guitar explorations led to Soulhat being tagged as one of the new generation of improvising rock bands like Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors and Widespread Panic.
That’s fine with Soulhat, but they didn’t plan it that way: “It’s all a work in progress,” says Kevin McKinney. With Outdebox now getting a new life via major-label distribution, Soulhat is ready to win over the uninitiated.
“EPIC” Reg. U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
June 1996 by Sony Music Entertainment
Copyright © Sony Music Entertainment Inc.