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Cracker’s got soul

Laura A. Ball

VAIL – Cracker guitarist Johnny Hickman prefers Carr’s Water Crackers.”Cause you can put anything on them and they taste good,” said the 49-year-old rocker Tuesday. It’s that same versatility that Hickman prides his band on, not to be confused with tasty little snacks or Uncle Kracker (Kid Rock’s DJ), Cracker refers to the band who can play rock like Led Zeppelin and soul like James Brown. “My favorite thing about being in Cracker is that the musical landscape changes. I think it would drive me crazy otherwise,” Hickman said. “When you see us live, you’ll hear a big difference in our stylings of songs. It makes for a more interesting show, but it always ends up sounding like Cracker.”

Hickman, who formed the band in 1991 with frontman David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven fame, has just returned home to Loveland from a 10-show stint in 11 days. His wife got called into work, so he’s at home with his 3-year-old son, who’s napping in the next room. “You guys are crackers, but you crackers got soul,” Hickman says laughing through the telephone, recalling something a neighbor once said to him after they were practicing in the garage when they were living in Richmond, Va. The term stuck. Cracker soul was the very music the band’s founding fathers were influenced by back in the day, like The Band, who, oddly enough, were originally going to call themselves The Crackers. “They’re very white – folk and country and hillbilly,” Hickman said. “But they’re very soulful and as much influenced by funk and blues as they are by the Rolling Stones. We consider what they do definitely as cracker soul. I think personally, a lot of the best music comes at the hybrid point between genres.” Hickman and Lowery met on the Redmond airbase in California as teenagers. Both military kids and both heavily into music, the two bonded and kept in touch as they moved away and through their everchanging musical engagements, including Lowery’s popular Camper Van Beethoven. When Beethoven called it quits in 1990, the first thing Lowery did was call up Hickman.

“We had always had a mutual admiration for each other’s songwriting,” Hickman said. “So we got together and wrote a lot of songs in a couple weeks, and it was pretty obvious that we could do it if we wanted to.”They signed on with Virgin Records and once they had some songs and a band together, recorded their self-titled debut in 1992. A year later, Cracker issued “Kerosene Hat,” which included the popular MTV/rock radio hit the “Low,” as in “Being with you girl, it’s like being low. Hey. Hey. Hey. It’s like being stoned.” The group issued several more albums – “The Golden Age,” “Gentleman’s Blues,” “Forever” – each a musical exploration in their own right, each drawing on the same influences. In 2003 the band released its sixth studio album, “Countrysides.” As the title would suggest, the record was an exploration of the band’s country roots. The band’s newest release, “Greenland,” written almost entirely by Lowery, drops in June. “Greenland” gets back to Cracker’s rock roots.”People that have heard it compare it to early Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin,” Hickman said. “It’s some of the best songs David’s ever written – really dark and beautiful rock.”In step with the new record, Cracker’s music, Hickman said, seems to be a little smarter than your-average-rock-band, a little more obscure. “Rock lyricists tend to say the same thing over and over again,” he said. “Not all of them – you’ve got people like Beck and the White Stripes.” He tributes this to the reason Cracker’s never received all-out fame.



“Cracker, except for a few moments here and there, has lived in that nether world between huge success and utter failure,” he said. “We’ve never been so big that we’re a household name, like Nirvana. I think we’re a little too weird for the mainstream.” Perhaps if the band had gone mainstream, they wouldn’t have had the shelf life or the fans.”David and I decided our fans tend to be a little hipper than your average bear,” Hickman said. “They’re not the uber-hip, like they tend to change bands like socks. It’s those people in the middle world that give you a career with longevity.”Billy Holmes of West Vail grew up listening to Camper Van Beethoven. He became a Cracker fan. When Holmes founded Great Knight/Avalanche in the valley, he brought the band to Vail several times in the ’90s and became a big fan.

“To me it was a little more cerebral type of music than what was out there right then and they played in a little more innovative way than most bands out there,” Holmes said. “They’re one of those bands that you know a ton of their songs that you didn’t know you knew; Americana music for the sinking man.”Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or laball@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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