By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Hurd Band's annual "South by South Austin" party, held Saturdays at Young's Texicalli Grille during South by Southwest, is one of the high points of the annual South By Southwest music conference, featuring guest stars like Kirchen, Bush, and Doug Sahm, among many others. So why is The Cornell Hurd Band not as celebrated or successful as it deserves to be? No doubt because the band's average age is well past today's country music prime, and they are hardly pretty boys -- although the women, Gordon and Biller, are both as beautiful as they are talented. ("My band looks like the cast of a B Western," jokes Hurd.) And finally, they happen to make music for the sheer joy of doing so, and not with any commercial or financial goals in mind.
But as Hurd stresses, "I can never overstate that, if you don't enjoy doing this with the people you're doing it with..."
"You'd better stay home," interjects Skelton.
Yes, The Cornell Hurd Band does it for the original reason many people started playing rock and roll, at least in the days of yore before it became a career choice rather than rebellion from convention -- the sheer fun of it. Proof of that can be found in the fact that three of the current members -- Young, White, and Gordon -- all started with the group by sitting in.
What keeps them there are a number of special qualities they feel the experience offers them. White -- who has played with Jo Carol Pierce, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock -- says that The Cornell Hurd Band is "by far my favorite of anything I've played in. And by far the best. It's good music, and they play it well." But for him it's also "the humor, and the wit, and the mind of the band" that help win his loyalty. White also asserts that being in the band "keeps our inner child alive. It also molds character, kind of like being in the Boy Scouts. I'm a better person for being in the band."
"The style of music that the band plays is what I enjoy playing, which is a lot of old-time Western swing, which there is precious little going on around," says Steiner. "There's also straight-ahead country, which I also love doing. So it's the style of music that keeps me there, and the fact that I have a palette with which I can occasionally influence some arrangements to do things that I've always wanted to do, but was always in a commercial situation and couldn't do what I wanted to do. It's fun, and there's also a creativity to the situation."
Biller also enjoys the musical freedom, as well as a certain love they've found together. "Cornell is real good about letting everybody stretch out and letting everybody be in the spotlight at some point. That's why everybody sings or does a feature tune at some point. That's why people stay in the band for so long," she notes.
"It's more like being in a family. Everybody's great to each other, and everybody likes each other. We're not like we're getting rich or anything, by far. I'm sure there are other gigs that pay better. But you don't have this camaraderie type of feeling, like a family."
Hurd spent time leading his previous bands on the California scene in the '70s, as well as touring the country. After a hiatus from music in the early '80s, he landed in Florida and put The Cornell Hurd Band back together when he found himself living near his childhood pal and longtime bassist Frank Roeber (who returned to Florida a few years back but is still a member in absentia).
Eventually, Hurd knew he needed to relocate from the Sunshine State to make the music he wanted to. "I was at that age in my late 30s, and I said, man, if I am going to do showbiz, I am going to do the thing that I want to do. I am no longer going to worry about anything other than playing the kind of music I want to do. There was only one place to do it, as far as I was concerned. We talked about Nashville, Los Angeles, New York City, and Austin, and it was never really a contest."
Since hitting Austin in the early 1990s, The Cornell Hurd Band has released five excellent CDs, which of late have not gotten the local media attention enjoyed by lesser Austin acts. "It certainly isn't a money gig," notes Steiner, "but it is a fun gig."
"We're not bound for glory, unless tastes change," adds White. "But I think we're good enough."
So in the end, it all comes down to the music and the pleasure they have in making it and in sharing one another's company. "Honest to God, we take nothing serious but the music. Period," Young notes. "If we become big stars, that's immaterial. We just love playing this style of music. And we just love playing it with Cornell. It is fun. Just play the music well and have fun in between."