If Old and Dirty were any less dedicated, they probably would have called it quits when the once five-piece band devolved to a duo less than a year ago. Perhaps another reason the band is still around after two years of sporadic activity is because they never developed or nurtured any grand ambitions beyond just jamming with friends who share mutual tastes in music. With its current lineup of Pete Dio on vocals and guitar, Hope Wherle on fiddle and Joe Bent on bass and backing vocals, Old and Dirty have focused on honing their rather unique style of bluegrass and country music.
If one were to consult the band’s Facebook page for information, it would imply that Old and Dirty are of the cowpunk genre (think Meat Puppets). And cowpunk sounds exactly like what you would think: country, folk and bluegrass music, but with a faster-paced, aggressive edge. Founding member and guitarist/vocalist Dio, however, doesn’t necessarily agree with the description on Facebook.
“When we started out, we were doing some bluegrass renditions of punk songs,” Dio said, “We did some Rancid and Fat Ass, but [we’re not punk] aesthetically or sound-wise; it’s just our approach to it.”
Even though a song like “Untitled” (posted on the group’s ReverbNation page) seemingly contradicts Dio’s claim, that original punk element still persists.
Unless it’s at a family-friendly venue like the Botanical Conservatory, an Old and Dirty show might include mouthing off at the audience, accepting donations from audience members in the form of alcoholic beverages and, after ingesting them, loosening up the structure of the songs to make them all the more unpredictable. After all, the way Dio prefers to describe Old and Dirty’s repertoire is “drinking music.”
Appropriately, the venue formerly known as the Berlin (now christened the Skeletunes Lounge) played host to Dirty Thursdays where dollar drinks were offered while the band provided the musical entertainment. The Dirty Thursday shows that ran throughout 2012 funded the recording of the band’s debut album. However, as the album entered the mixing stage, most of the band members decided to exit the group.
“Sometimes ... you think you’re being funny when you’re not,” Dio said by way of explaining how the band began to fall apart. “Some of it’s too personal, and if you read close enough into the lyrics, you can understand why the band had a sort of regrouping. It’s self-documentation of life imitating art and art imitating life. It started out with good intentions, like releasing tension, but ended up creating tension.”
A subsequent low point for the then duo of Dio and Wherle came at a performance at the Woodcrest Lanes bowling alley in Union City, Ohio. According to Wherle, nobody knew Old and Dirty or their style of music, and to make things worse there was no bass player to provide backbone to the songs, so the set became an emaciated shell of what it had once been. Though Dio and Wherle laugh about it now, the experience at the time was enough to make them question the future of Old and Dirty.
An embarrassing episode like the Woodcrest Lanes fiasco might have destroyed another band. However, instead of completely imploding, Dio and Wherle decided to move forward by enlisting Dio’s mutual friend and bandmate, Joe Bent, on bass.
Dio and Bent are in several other bands togther (including the new incarnation of Left Lane Cruiser with Bent on bass and Dio on drums). And, according to Dio, they also have the same kind of musical brain, making it easier to set the band’s new course.
“[Wherle’s] like, the focus,” Dio said, “which is a lot better than what she used to do with a five piece. She would have to fight in order to be heard. Once we started rocking as a three piece, and we got Joe on bass, Hope just blossomed, and I like the sound that we have now much better.”
Dio also credits Wherle for keeping Old and Dirty going.
“I like to say it’s Hope’s band because she’s the one [who] makes it worth paying attention to,” Dio says. Her role elevates the band’s music beyond what Dio calls “boring, regular, sad bastard stuff.
“She’s the heart and soul of the band because she’s a pretty positive person, and if it wasn’t for Hope sticking around when the band had its hard times, there wouldn’t be no band,” Dio said.
While the group is still together and rehearsing, Old and Dirty are also currently in a state of limbo due to Dio recently undergoing surgery on his back. After he fully recuperates, the group plans on pressing and releasing that full-length debut album featuring the original five-piece lineup.
Future plans include working on a new set of songs and eventually playing at the Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, Tennessee.
For now, it appears as though Old and Dirty have earned themselves a fresh, clean start for the second phase in their career.
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