It's been four years since Nic Roulette, best known in Fort Wayne as the energetic front man for the Blue Moon Boys, left for Nashville and the opportunity to expand his career in one of the country's music capitals. Now thriving with his new band, Hillbilly Casino, Roulette comes home next week, thanks to the Hillbilly Casino appearance at the Botanical Conservatory, and with his band brings a new CD to share with his fans.
With the release of Three Step Windup in May, Hillbilly Casino have taken lessons learned from their previous work, most notably their earlier album Sucker Punched, to make an album which captures the band at its best. Roulette credits his bandmates "guitarist Ronnie Crutcher, bass player Geoff Firebough and drummer Andrew "Dee" Dickson "with the outcome of their recording efforts.
"Geoff and Dee are pretty much behind all the recording stuff," says Roulette. "We recorded it in Dee's studio in Nashville, which helps a lot. The music people in Nashville make their money by taking money for people's dreams. But since Dee has his own studio we have basically no overhead at all. I'm really proud of Three Step Windup. I think we all are. When you compare it to Sucker Punched I think you can tell that Geoff and Dee totally have it figured out by now."
Garnering good reviews and already selling over 1,000 copies in less than three months, Hillbilly Casino are doing what they can to promote the CD, though Roulette says such efforts are somewhat limited at the moment, a situation that looks to be changing by next year.
"We haven't really promoted the album at all yet except for a few ads and some bulletin boards on the Internet, but I'm going to quit working my day job when my girlfriend finishes college, which will be in 2009. Then we can really start focusing on making some money with the band, like sending the music to publishing companies so our songs can be used for commercials and television. This is a great town for getting published, and I'd rather have someone own our songs than own the band."
Maintaining their independence and integrity is important to Hillbilly Casino, and Roulette says they have already made their mark abroad and hope to continue on that path next year.
"We just played in Norway and Ireland in early May when Three Step Windup came out," he says, "and we'd love to play more festivals over there. There's a lot of interest overseas in American roots music, and when you play the festivals, they'll pay for your airfare to get there, and then you just have to play."
Travel expenses have been a significant barrier to success for Hillbilly Casino, especially in light of escalating costs in recent years.
"With gas prices what they are, it's really hard to get in a van with four guys and travel around much. The economy is really making it hard right now. That's why I think if we're willing to get in our van and drive six, seven, maybe eight hours to play somewhere, people should be willing to pay seven bucks to hear us. We just saved you all that money it would cost to drive to us!"
Augmenting their ability to play around the country - and even around the world - has been the Internet, which helps to provide Hillbilly Casino a fan base abroad. Roulette says they have distribution as far away as Finland and Ireland, and the band has received fan mail from exotic locales like Indonesia, proving the love of American rockabilly has no boundaries. It has also proven its appeal to a wide-ranging audience, with Hillbilly Casino finding success even in a corporate environment.
"We're going to be playing at the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center from November 14 through December 24, doing a Christmas show," says Roulette. "It's slightly cheesy, and usually it wouldn't be cool to be cheesy, but as long as it's Christmas I'm totally down with that. We already have a song, â€˜Santabilly Boogie,' that I wrote with Kenny Taylor when we were in Blue Moon Boys, and we're going to write more songs and do a Christmas album. It'll probably be mostly originals, but we may do a few covers of songs in the public domain, put our own spin on them. We'll just make it a real rockabilly Christmas thing. It should be pretty cool. I'm really looking forward to it."
With the Christmas album and plans for a live release and a new studio CD in 2009, Hillbilly Casino should be pretty busy in the next 18 months. But it's good to know that no matter how far Roulette may go he'll always remember who loved him first.
"I love Fort Wayne," he says, "and I love playing in Fort Wayne."
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