When he started writing songs for his band’s first album in a decade, Scott Hobart decided he had written enough about misery and heartbreak.
“I’d written sad songs about cheating and drinking and heartache for four albums,” said the man who’s also known as Rex. “I’d gotten over that. I think that’s one reason why I didn’t write for 10 years.”
Saturday night, Hobart will celebrate the release of “Long Shot of Hard Stuff,” the first recording since 2005 by Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys.
“Long Shot” doesn’t necessarily avoid the topics of love and heartache, but it delivers them in a mood that’s livelier, more outlaw country, than the classic honky-tonk balladry that Rex and the Misery Boys were known for.
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“I’m really happy with it,” Hobart said. “It’s such a fun record. We finally did some things we’d dared ourselves to do but never tried.”
The impetus for the new record arose last spring, when the band played in the Westport Saloon for the Westport Roots Festival. Afterward, Jody Hendrix, who owns the local label Little Class Records and who books shows at the saloon, brought up the idea of a recording.
“I dropped a bug in Hobart’s ear about working with Little Class Records, and he was into discussing things,” Hendrix said. “It was a crying shame the world hadn’t heard from them in over 10 years.”
Forming the band
That 10-year drought was preceded by eight years of writing, recording and heavy touring. Hobart founded the band in 1997, but he’d been been tinkering with the idea of a country band for a while, itching for something different from Giant’s Chair, the rock band he’d been playing in since the early 1990s.
“That stuff was loud and pretty abstract with weird guitar stuff,” he said. “I wanted some respite. I wanted something more minimal. I wanted to write narratives, lyrics that were linear and I wanted to write about love and tell stories and make these character things happen.”
He already had some songs in the can when, during an East Coast tour with Giant’s Chair, he bought a George Jones cassette tape at a truck stop and popped it into his Walkman. Something clicked.
“I had these songs I wanted to record, but I hadn’t settled on any style or genre,” he said. “It could have been folk or blues. I just wanted it to be something I had some formal history with.”
While raised in St. James, Mo., a town just northeast of Rolla, Hobart was exposed to plenty of classic country.
“I essentially grew up in a shoe shop with a hair salon in it, and the radio was always on standard country music,” he said. “My mom was a member of the George Jones fan club. So I grew up hearing that stuff and all that background came together.”
He recorded a demo of that new batch of songs and started recruiting band members for a classic country trio. The first to join was bassist Tilden Snow, who helped find other members.
“Tilden had played with Tony Ladesich, who was in an alt-country band called Sandoval,” Hobart said. “Tony became our first drummer, though he’d never played drums.”
The trio eventually became a quintet when two more Sandoval members joined: Brendan Moreland on lead guitar and Nate Hofer on pedal steel.
“I started out just wanting a stripped-down three-piece, but they kept bringing guys in,” Hobart said, who also plays guitar. “I basically stole everyone from Tony. Including Tony.”
Meanwhile, Hobart had sent that demo to Ken Wagner, owner of Hit It Records, a Chicago label that had issued a split 7-inch featuring Giant’s Chair and Boy’s Life, another Kansas City band. Hit It helped pay for a full band recording, but the label lost a distribution deal and couldn’t finish the project.
Wagner gave the recording to friends at Bloodshot Records, a Chicago label that specializes in alternative country and roots rock.
“They liked it, and that’s how Bloodshot got involved,” Hobart said. “We recorded a few more tunes to make it a full package.”
And in 1999, Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys released “Forever Always Ends,” their debut and the first of four albums on Bloodshot.
Ladesich left the band after “Forever,” and was replaced on drums by Mike Dolembo. That lineup has been in place since. Like Hobart, they all have stage names. Snow is Blackjack Snow; Hofer is Solomon Hofer; Moreland is J.B. Morris; and Dolembo is T.C. Dobbs.
They would release three more albums: “The Spectacular Sadness of Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys” in 2000, produced by the late Lou Whitney, who also produced “Forever”; “Your Favorite Fool,” released in 2002 and produced by Pete Anderson, former guitarist for Dwight Yoakam; and then, in 2005, “Empty House,” produced in Kansas City by Chad Meise.
By then, Hobart had left Kansas City, first for Buffalo, N.Y., then Sante Fe, N.M., where his wife, Paula, was finishing her academic degrees. They moved back to Kansas City in 2006, but by then, momentum behind the band had slowed.
“We’d pushed as hard as we could,” Hobart said, “but things never popped to the point where we could make a living at it.
“So we all settled in and kind of caught up with life. We never really stopped playing. We would just pick and choose the gigs we wanted, two or three gigs a year. We stopped writing and didn’t practice much but we’d played those songs so much we really didn’t need to.”
The deal with Little Class was signed in September and a December recording deadline was imposed. Hobart wasn’t sure what the album would comprise. He had a couple songs in the can, but he hadn’t written anything more than a few lines or title ideas in 10 years. He considered doing a split recording.
“I thought we could use the songs we had, write a couple and give us five songs, then do five more as just weird spaghetti Western instrumentals,” he said. “We all like that stuff.”
But Snow found a live recording of a song the band had never recorded. And as Hobart started writing, more songs started arriving.
“It was daunting at first,” he said. “But I knew I didn’t want to get bogged down worrying about it. I had some ideas and I just started throwing out lines and not thinking too much about it.”
They’d end up with 11 songs on “Long Shot,” including a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Shotgun Willie.” It was produced by Johnny Kenepaske at Dead Horse Sound Co. in Raytown. The process was invigorating, Snow said, and the encouragement from Little Class was crucial.
“It was refreshing getting back in the studio and working again,” he said. “We would come up with stupid ideas often and do nothing with them, but when we discussed doing another album with Little Class, their excitement for the idea motivated us to get off our butts and get back to work. The deadline they gave us didn’t hurt either.”
“It was fun, like getting back in the van with the boys,” Hobart said. “It felt like we were back together again.”
Right from the start, “Long Shot” sounds like a departure from previous Misery Boys albums. The title track opens the album, and it sounds like pure outlaw country, something Waylon Jennings would record. Next comes the upbeat “Get’n My Honky Tonk Back On.”
There are moments of levity and whimsy, like “Ain’t No Bras in Austin” and “Jonesin’ for Merle Haggard,” which name-checks nearly a dozen country music legends and which Hobart wrote in the studio as the album was being recorded.
“I love (the album),” Hendrix said. “It reminds me of George Strait and John Anderson in the early to mid ’80s. That era was slick but still edgy.”
Saturday night, the band will celebrate the official release of “Long Shot” at the Westport Saloon. The band will also perform April 18 at the RecordBar as part of a fundraiser for the Crossroads Academy and at this year’s Westport Roots Festival on May 23.
Hobart said there are no plans for extensive touring at the moment. Jobs are keeping everyone rooted, families, too. He and his wife are expecting their second child this summer; Hofer and his wife just became the parents of twins. For now, the plan is to keep the band simmering with shows here and there and maybe do some festivals, like South by Southwest, next year.
Ten years is a long time between recordings, but the band kept the flame kindled all the while.
“We never stop communicating with each other or razzing each other,” Hobart said.
Snow said that after 18 years, the band’s longevity is due to that camaraderie and to the music it plays.
“We play straight-up classic country; it’s timeless,” he said. “Another thing that helps is we’re all on the same page. And three of us work together so getting sick of each other isn’t an option.”
Hendrix recalls falling for the band right after it released “Forever,” when he was living in Alaska, more than 15 years ago.
“I was a couple years in the military and obsessed with keeping track of Kansas City’s music,” he said. “I had just rekindled my love for the country music I was brought up on, so Hobart was always on the radar for me.
“Obviously I’m beside myself being able to work with (them).… They’re part of the history of Kansas City.”
Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys will perform Saturday night at the Westport Saloon, 4112 Pennsylvania Ave. The Ready Brothers and A.J. Gathers are also on the bill. Showtime is 8 p.m.