“The old rockabilly bands used to always be ‘Somebody and the Somebodies’,” explains Jim Rotramel whose rockabilly band, Skinny Jim and the Number 9 Blacktops, probably never graced your iPod.
The band is based in Illinois, the southern tip to be exact, and they create a sound so unique that I needed to share it with everyone in Philadelphia. A good friend of mine handed me the band’s CD a few weeks ago and I was compelled to make Rotramel and his band-mates the first group to be part of this blog’s new music series. Every time I find something I guarantee the readers have never heard before, I’m going to pimp it. These guys are good, trust me. This summer, they’re recording their 4th album and gearing up for another European tour. Thanks for the interview, Jim.
BH: So…the name?
JR: Well, it was given to me actually by my friend Sean Hopkins, who fronts the band Dallas Alice. The Number 9 Blacktop is an old road outside of my hometown, and “Skinny Jim” is an Eddie Cochran song. It just kinda stuck.
BH: What are your ties to Philly/the east coast?
JR: We booked a tour in 2007 and had a Philadelphia show. We played the Tritone with the Road Hogs, the Flying Graysons, and Toothless George. We had great feedback from the rockabilly crowd there and have came back to the area about 10 times since then, doing most shows outside of town at the Blue Comet (in Glenside). The rockabilly and roots Americana scene in the Philadelphia area is amazing!
BH: Your band is from Illinois. What types of music/genres/sounds/instruments/etc can be found there?
JR: Being at the southern part of Illinois, we’re very close to Kentucky and Tennessee. Many traditional music genres float around our area. On the other end of the spectrum, our closest big town is Carbondale, IL, home of Southern Illinois University. Many Chicago students come south to SIU, bringing their musical influences. Carbondale has a great diverse music scene, we’re blessed with tons of genres, and tons of great musicians.
BH: What are some bands you guys are inspired by? According to your website you refer to yourselves as a cross between Chuck Berry and ZZ Top. So, I assume you listen to a lot of that?
JR: I’ve always been a Chuck Berry fan more than anything. We’ve played with him 3 times now in St.Louis. I always liked Chuck’s rock style more than many of the early rockabilly guitarist style. Chuck focuses more on the down beat tempo of the song, giving it more of a rock-n-roll feel as opposed to a rockabilly feel. His songwriting is the best there is and he has the best stage presence of anybody. The thing that I dig most about ZZ Top is the way Billy and Dusty make a visual show of a performance as well. They just look cool. They look like rock n roll stars!
BH: What are some bands in your circuit in Illinois? Besides yourself, what other bands can you tell the people of Philly to check out from your neck of the woods?
JR: Geez we’ve got hundreds of amazing bands around here! For similar genre bands, check out Dallas Alice, The Trip Daddys, and the Swamp Tigers. Great guys, great bands.
BH: You’ve toured Europe? What parts? What was that like?
JR: We’ve toured Europe 4 times now, and going back again in a few months. We’ve been fortunate enough to play in 10 countries. I dig playing overseas. The crowds respond different than in the States. Not really better, not worse, just different. They’re a lot more honest to me in regards to my songs. If they don’t care for a song on the album, I’ll hear about it! Anytime I’m on tour I’m happy. It takes my stress away to be in the van and headed out to shows. Sure, I get homesick and miss my wife, etc., but some guys just like to tour and I’m one of them.
BH: What are your band’s plans this summer?
JR: We are recording our 4th album this summer! We’re proud to announce that our good friend Eddie Spaghetti from the Supersuckers will be producing the CD! The Supersuckers are probably my favorite band of all time, and I’m stoked to be working with Eddie. Over the past two years I’ve become burnt out on rockabilly, so the new album will definitely be more rock-n-roll. You’ll hear some rockabilly licks in there for sure, but the tones will be thicker and the songs will be edgier. A band must progress or else all the songs sound the same. It’s gonna rock, I promise!