The horses weren’t the only creatures running hard on the last Kentucky Derby Day. Ward Hayden and his band, Girls, Guns and Glory, were also in the Bluegrass State, playing countrified rock practically from sunrise until the last mint julep was served. But the Boston musician was buoyant the next day.
“It’s been fun, probably too much fun,” Hayden said by phone from a truck stop, en route to a place called the Revival Room. “We did about eight sets in 24 hours, probably more music than I ever played.”
Steely determination has marked the band since it formed in 2005 and released three albums in consecutive years. In 2009, Hayden revamped, recruiting two New England Conservatory alums and a former Berklee student. The quartet — Hayden, drummer Josh Kiggans, Chris Hersch on strings and vocals and upright bassist Paul Dilley — made Sweet Nothings in 2011 and in February released Good Luck.
The new record is appropriately named. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel produced it, after a serendipitous meeting.
“We were talking about where we wanted to go with the band, and we knew Eric’s work from the Bottle Rockets and Steve Earle,” explained Hayden. “While we’re trying to figure out how to contact him, he heard us on Sirius XM and sent us an email asking what we were doing next.”
They became fast friends — the group thinks of Ambel as “almost a fifth member of the band.” Together, they delivered a gem; Good Luck highlights include the honky tonk spiritual “All The Way Up To Heaven,” the true story ballad “Centralia” — about a Pennsylvania coal town rendered uninhabitable by an underground fire — and the laconic “Rocking Chair Money,” an obscure, never-released Hank Williams song.
Hayden is an inveterate Hank Sr. fan. He grew up on punk rock, then discovered his mother’s old-school country cassettes at age 18.
“The first thing I pulled out was a Johnny Cash tape, which was everything for me … I was at a point in my life where for the first time I had felt the pain of getting my heart broken,” he said. “When I found Hank Williams’ music, the words and the emotions really resonated with me. I just continued to dig deeper into country music. It’s really a well that has no bottom.”
A breakneck performing schedule has come in the wake of the new album. GG&G hit the stage nine times at South By Southwest 2014, with Hirsch, Kiggans and Dilley backing Boston alt-country rockers Amy Black and Sarah Borges for all of their gigs.
“Seventeen showcases in five days —nonstop action,” said Hayden. By the time the band left Texas, CMT’s Country Weekly had written a spotlight calling the band rising stars.
Borges and Hayden are longtime friends and share a record label. Her independently produced Radio Sweetheart was picked up by Kentucky-based Lonesome Day Records and will be released in June. An upcoming show at Portsmouth’s Press Room is the latest release party event. As in Austin, Girls, Guns and Glory will back Borges for an end of night set.
“Sarah and I have probably known each other for seven or eight years at this point, and we’ve done a number of shows together,” said Hayden. “These shows have been going really great. I’m hoping for big turnouts and continuing a fruitful partnership.”
Borges’ thoughts are summed in a blurb on the Lonesome Day website: “The combination of Ward Hayden’s heartthrob voice and matinee idol looks is a killer,” she said. “On top of that, he’s got an ass-kicking band and great songs. Conclusion: knockout.”
As seen in the May 15, 2014 issue of the Hippo.