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Good bet Hillbilly Casino show will be memorable

Rockabilly group ready to throw down during holiday show at Rail

Hillbilly Casino will perform Dec. 17 at The Brass Rail.

Published December 14, 2022

Things are bound to go off the rails when Nashville, Tennessee-based rockabilly band Hillbilly Casino comes to The Brass Rail on Dec. 17 for their annual Christmas show.

As if the holiday show would not be wild enough, this year’s edition will have the added bonus of including Chicago’s “psychobilly pioneers” Three Blue Teardrops to help celebrate the birthday of Hillbilly Casino lead singer Nic Roulette’s former bandmate in Fort Wayne’s The Blue Moon Boys, Kenny Taylor.

“Kenny is the first person I was ever in a band with in Fort Wayne,” Roulette said in an interview with Whatzup. “He kind of got me started in this business that’s ruined my life. I hold him responsible.”

Introduction to rock n’ roll

Growing up north of Fort Wayne in Howe, Roulette took part in the Fort Wayne Ballet and would get rides into the city with the ballet master that also taught the North Side Dance Skins. It was while he was in dance that he got his first chance to get behind the mic.

“I got a gig dancing in Wisconsin, and they wanted me to be a singer, too, but I didn’t sing,” Roulette said. “I had done some Elvis karaoke, because my mom thought I looked like Elvis. But there was a night when the lady in charge couldn’t sing because she had laryngitis, so everyone in the cast had to pick a song to sing with the live band. I had never sung with a live band before, but I picked ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ and people went crazy. I thought, ‘This is kind of cool. I kind of dig this.’ But I got fired because I didn’t do any Andrew Lloyd Webber-type singing, and I couldn’t really sing.”

After moving to Fort Wayne in 1991, Roulette found himself a little out of place among his peers.

“I was a hip-hop ballet dancer, and I didn’t know anything about rock n’ roll music,” he said. “I grew up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, so when everyone was listening to Sex Pistols, Misfits, and Social Distortion, I was listening to George Michael and Elvis.”

That would change when he met Taylor.

“I put an ad in the PennySaver saying I was looking for a drummer, a guitar player, and a bass player for an Elvis gig, and that’s when Kenny got in touch with me,” Roulette said.

Forming the band

After getting his first taste of rockabilly from Taylor and Joe Bel Air of the Fort Wayne group The Bel Airs, Roulette was hooked, and he formed The Blue Moon Boys with Taylor, Jerry Sparkman, and “Flava P. Coltrane.”

“The Boys are pro enough to impress anyone with enough sense and maturity to admit it,” Whatzup writer Chad Beck said in a 1998 article. “The Blue Moon Boys are taking rockabilly boldly into the next millennium by redefining its boundaries.”

After releasing three albums, including a Christmas record, The Blue Moon Boys disbanded. Roulette then formed a Fort Wayne version of Hillbilly Casino before moving south to Nashville.

“I needed to get out of Fort Wayne,” he said.

Drawn to Nashville to host an open mic at Mercy Lounge, Roulette reformed Hillbilly Casino with bassist Geoff Firebaugh, plus drummer Andrew Dickson and guitarist Ronnie Crutcher formerly of Brian Setzer and The Nashvillians. Matt Arnn replaced Dickson in 2012. That lineup held until COVID hit, when Arnn and Firebaugh opted to step aside.

With two holes to fill, Roulette was able to infuse some new, young blood into the group with Kenny Taylor’s son, Colin Taylor, and his friend Sam Clay.

“Like he ruined my life with rock n’ roll, I’m trying to ruin his son’s life with rock n’ roll,” Roulette joked about the Taylors.

Youthful exuberance

Colin Taylor and Clay got their start as teenagers in The B-45’s, then Uncle Muscle, before joining on with Roulette and Crutcher, while also working on other projects that have kept them in Fort Wayne.

“We’ve been a steady mainstay in rockabilly, and we need to kick it up a notch,” Roulette said. “I feel like with Colin and Sam being younger and more energetic, they can keep up with me … and sometimes I have to keep up with them, which is rare.”

Because of his relationship with Kenny Taylor, Roulette was already familiar with Colin Taylor, but not so much with Clay … but that soon changed.

“I had some trepidation at first,” Roulette said. “It was like, ‘You’re a very exceptional kid,’ because at the time, Colin was barely 21. It was like, ‘You are an amazing example of a young man who can really play stuff and understand it … I don’t know this Sam Clay character. I’ve hung out with him a few times and weirded him out.’ But he came in, and Sam is just as much of a musician as Colin is. I was like, ‘Wow.’ ”

With the young guys joining in August 2020, Hillbilly Casino has continued their momentum, which includes cross-country tours with a journey on the west coast slated in March. 

“It’s a weird combination for a band,” Roulette said. “That’s newsworthy enough. We have these two kids playing with two old guys and writing new stuff.”

Getting into holiday spirit

Regardless of who he’s performing with, Roulette is there with a high-energy show that includes a spinning microphone, jumping, and plenty of combing of his hair.

“Every time I get on a stage, I do it to have fun and to play with people that have fun,” he said. “I don’t think that sort of thing will ever die, even though there are a lot of shows now that go on tracks that are more electronic and not as natural. I’m always going to do what I do, and feel that people will always want to see it and hear it. If there’s people in Fort Wayne that like music and haven’t seen us, they should definitely be at The Brass Rail.”

And the holiday show will certainly feature more than your average high-octane Hillbilly Casino show.

“Christmas music, of course, and there might be a few presents,” Roulette said about how the show will differ from others. “We’ll do some of the songs you expect and some you don’t. Kenny will also get up with us, but you never know who might else show up.”

The show will also be the best time to catch the band outside of summer, when they performed at last year’s Three Rivers Festival. Although he says he likes coming back to Fort Wayne, there’s at least one thing Roulette despises about it.

“I can’t do winters in Fort Wayne,” he said. “I can’t do it.”

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