is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Squirrels' Rex Hart Happy to Keep the Beat

"My true 'talent' is being able to work effectively with all kinds of people from the boardroom to the storeroom. I bridge the gap between these worlds on behalf of my clients. I suppose my drumming is also a coordinative role, as well. I am not the leader, but I bring the band along wherever the leader (at that moment) wants to take us. -- Rex Hart, The Squirrels

When I decided to write a series about The Squirrels, the hippest hillbilly jazz band in town, I had a feeling that their unique sound comes from the incredibly skilled individuality of each of the players - all virtuosos in their own right - and the sense of ease with which they collaborate.  Certainly, the slick guitar licks of JP Pennington and Roger BonDurant complement one another, supported by Bob Goff's backbone bass, the dulcet tones of Wanda Barnett's voice and fiddle (more about her soon as well as the rest of this frisky bunch) -- all the players seem happy to play off one another's whimsical runs or riffs which can take you anywhere from galloping gospel to cantering country standards, and yet in the background, what seems to be the bulwark bridle that keeps the band melded together is the tame and temperate percussion of drummer Rex Hart.  

After all, It doesn't take a pounding bass drum to keep such a band afloat, although they could certainly handle such an overriding beat with great aplomb (proven by the success enjoyed in groups with whom they currently or formerly played).  However, much of The Squirrels' appeal lies in the fact that Hart simply rides the wave of the music and provides the audience with persuasive percussion somewhat akin to a tender, pulsing heartbeat that almost goes unnoticed, it's unobtrusive, yet unyieldingly enriches the band's relaxing swing sound.

So it's nice to hear the kinder, gentler drum voice of Rex Hart, who is happy to be such a sideman.  There's a selfless generosity in his music that draws in the listening ear and deliciously defies you to not be swayed by the combination of all the gorgeous voices and instruments that blend so easily with his jazzy drum style.

The Squirrels
Rex tells me, "In short, I’ve played music all my life. I’ve been very fortunate to play with many name artists through the years. I have always been happy being in a support role. I do not crave the spotlight, in my music or in my production vocation. I’m just happy to be there. If those attending either type of event had a good experience, then I’m happy."

Like most of the other Squirrels, he supports other bands. "I play drums with The Nick Stump All-Stars Blues Band. Nick was in The Metropolitan Blues All-Stars and brings that same sensibility to this band.  I am also in The Sons of the Frigidaires; the loudest garage band on the planet."

Hart talks about his role with The Squirrels.  "I am the drummer and also work on video promotional materials. As we find larger venues, I will work on some of the stage d├ęcor or even video accompaniment to some songs."

Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years as far as your music goes?  "Music has always been a part of my life. I don’t really want to 'make it.' I just want to keep playing a variety of styles in a variety of bands. It is more my therapy than an artistic calling or drive from within."

What was the first instrument and/or song you ever played?  Probably percussion instruments in elementary school...Louie Louie.

The Squirrels emerged from the cloud of dust! Hot Western Swing -
Sultry Blues - Quirky Nostalgia. They are old school mostly because they are
 old and they are scorching hot because they can't help it.

They're all terrific songs, but could you name some of your favorite tunes that you Squirrels perform?

"I don’t have a specific song, but I love the genre that has us all doing Big Band type licks together. The real treat for me is I use almost exclusively brushes in this band. It’s all much more subtle and understated."

When I asked Rex the hypothetical question of being stranded on a deserted island and to name only 4 albums he would choose. His answer was in keeping with his contemplative nature.  "Well, this may be a surprise, but I really don’t listen to music much. I would choose recordings of books or speeches."

Who (famous or not) was the greatest influence on your musical development -- who has given you the best/worst advice?  "All of my school music educators.  My wife, Pam, has really educated me on tons of bands that I would have never taken the time to be aware of.  I have scrupulously avoided taking advice, both good and bad."

Secret Talent:  "I spend a lot of time in the corporate world. My true “talent” is being able to work effectively with all kinds of people from the boardroom to the storeroom. I bridge the gap between these worlds on behalf of my clients. I suppose my drumming is also a coordinative role, as well. I am not the leader, but I bring the band along wherever the leader (at that moment) wants to take us.


Rex M. Hart received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Education from Georgetown College in the mid and late 1970’s.  His professional career has revolved around artistic and creative endeavors.  

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Mr. Hart, a drummer and percussionist since age 8, had the opportunity to perform live with artists such as Tanya Tucker, The Gatlins, Bo Diddley, Brooks and Dunn, & J.D. Crowe.  His musical career also extended to the recording studio with Bela Fleck and band members from many prominent artists such as Willie Nelson, Exile, and Montgomery Gentry.

In the mid 1980s, he began turning his attention to the visual arts.  This evolved into Hart Video Services, which served the corporate, advertising, and independent film/documentary markets until 2003.  This adventure took him across this country and literally around the globe.  Mr. Hart and his team won many “Judge’s Choice Awards” and a “Best of Show” in ADDY competition.  

Since 2003, Mr. Hart has offered his services on a consultant basis, serving the educational and pharmaceutical industries and working on educational grants from the National Institutes for Health, The National Institute for Mental Health and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various State agencies.

His “pet projects” center around issues of social justice.  One example is the Calvert McCann Collection.  Mr. McCann (brother of the Jazz great, Les McCann) was a Lexington teenager during the 1960’s civil rights movement in central Kentucky.  His simple, yet compelling photographs are virtually the only pictorial account of this era.  The mainstream media, by design, did not cover these stories of struggle.  Mr. Hart worked with Mr. McCann, and others, to create an exhibit designed to educate and impact the viewer regarding this incredible time.   

When I hear The Squirrels play their diverse and delightful song list, the Big Band sound takes me back to a time when all my cares and woes could easily be put on the back burner simply by hearing a good song by a terrific group, their many voices and notes combining like a great river and pouring over the rocks and pebbles of my soul.  Whether I am happy or sad, I know when I make it through the door of CCI on any given weekend night, I will instantly find the comforting tones of this great band, and if The Squirrels proper aren't on-stage, there will always be some element of this up and coming group performing there, whether it be Roger BonDurant, who has the longest standing gig of twenty-six (26!) years at CCI, or The Squirrels "Lite," which will play next weekend, March 19.  If I should be so lucky as to find the means and ways to make it to this great little musical oasis, I hope to see you there.  

No comments: