Folk legend Michael Hurley has written a short piece exclusively for us about two of his old bands, Automatic Slim & the Fat Boys as well as Sheriff Mocus & the Deranged Cowboys, his time living in central Vermont in the 70s and how he got into fiddlin'.
With these bands, Hurley created the lost album Fatboy Spring, which includes unreleased tracks from the mid-70s and will be issued by Secret Seven/Mississippi Records this summer. Read the piece below by Mr. Hurley and check out an exclusive track called "Automatic Slim & the Fat Boys" here!
Automatic Slim & the Fat Boys
Formed: Vermont 1972
They lived in dwellings along the Lost Nation Valley Road, barns, sugar shacks, partially collapsed and low rent or no rent houses. Or; they built their own house. None of the Fatboys were actually fat. I had thought we might make a better stage presence if we all put pillows in our shirts while performing and I furnished the down pillows which we tried wearing for the first few gigs but we found that you soon get overly warm performing with a big old down pillow in your shirt and eventually the pillows would be removed and after a while all of them had been forgotten at the venues where we played. We played ski lodges and seedy taverns, the Bearcat Snowmobile Club and bar-b-cues and house concerts.
The original band was called Puddledock, which was the locals' name for their town of East Fairfield. I would attend their gigs and they would ask me to get up and play a song or two and eventually they asked me to join their band. The original founders were Robert Iwaskiewicz, Davy Bessett and Robert Nickson. They put an ad in Rolling Stone magazine for a bass player and Doug Southworth showed up from Dartmouth College and then I joined.
I had moved to the area from central Vermont, which I call the insanity belt. It seemed that in the insanity belt a lot of crazy things could happen that would not go down in southern Vermont or Northern Vermont. The colloquial insanity belt was preserved intact thru neglect. The town of Chelsea is the capital of the insanity belt, if you ask me.
The Fat Boys were being absorbed into the culture of the local dairy farmers who owned large tracts of land. We helped them get their hay in, sometimes repaired their field equipment, partied with them and were as entertained by them as they were with us. In the Lost Nation Valley, the farmers welcome the influx of young musicians and homesteaders from elsewhere. When we were playing sometimes we would be asked, "which one of you guys is Automatic Slim?' And none of us would want to say he was. This old geezer, Jimmy Griffith, who floated around from household to household, very sociable, was always willing to anywhere so we took him to our gigs. And we would say that Jimmy was Automatic Slim. He only weighed about 90 pounds.
"The bull got loose!" he would exclaim.
The mood of the people in Franklin County was friendly. We helped each other out. It has to be like that in conditions as those up north along the Canadian border. The winters were harsh. It could go 29 below or below for a week or so. You frequently needed to be pulled out of a snowbank that your vehicle had slid into. You had to have a tractor and a chainsaw, a comealong and a certain kind of a bumperjack called a handyman jack that would raise your tire about two feet off of the ground, and chains. And ruber boot that would reach your knees, or rubber snowboots with wool felt liners. If you wanted to watch TV there was only channel 3. You didn't need a TV. You needed firewood. About 29 cords of it to get thru a winter. Chimney fires were a frequent cause of a house burning down. In my time of dwelling there I had chimney fires in three of the houses I lived in but I got each one checked before the house could burn.
I wrote the tune "Automatic Slim& the Fat Boys" while I was there and it was supposed to be a theme song for the band. Eventually, with musicians going their own ways, the Fat Boy band morphed into another group called Sheriff Mocus (moakus) and the Derangen Cowboys. And then I formed another band called The Redbirds. Original members of the Fat Boys who were on the Rounder record Have Moicey were Robert Iwaskiewicz, Robert Nickson, and myself.
Robert Iwaskiewicz: guitar and vocals and song arrangements
Robert Nickson: drums and public relations manager (talking bar owner into hiring us)
Doug Southworth: piano, bass guitar, mandolin, songwriting and vocals
Davy Bessett: guitar and vocals and songwriter
Michael Hurley: guitar and vocals and fiddle and songwriter
I had heard fiddlers before but I never wanted to play one until I heard them play fiddles in Vermont at the fiddle contests. It was the geezers of Vermont & New Hampshire and Quebec who inspired me to fiddle.
I was there when Jesse Winchester had a hit with his tune "Yankee Lady." And we had many chuckles over the open line, "I lived with the decent folks in the hills of old Vermont, where what you do depends on what you want."
Players in Sheriff Mocus & the Deranged Cowboys
Tom Hayes: guitar and vocals
Casey Dennis: bass guitar
Rob Hykus; pedal steel guitar
Robert Nickson: drums
Michael Hurley: guitar, vocals, fiddle