By Esther Sanchez
The Techno Hillbillies are a group of guys who could individually be considered musical icons in the Coachella Valley. An ever-evolving group of musicians, they generally thumb their noses at the notion of being categorized into a signature genre or style. Frankly, this trio of world-class musicians can look down the barrel of any musical challenge with a raised eyebrow and a sly grin. That is because they can pretty much do it all and do it well.
Shannon Graham, founder and keyboardist: “The concept for the Techno Hillbillies was inspired by my observations of DJs and various EDM artists & their explosive influence over music in recent years. I wanted to create a kind of acid-jazz fusion that is all improvised and combines various grooves that transcend genres like bossanova, ska, funk and techno beats, all with live musicians.”
Graham, a pianist since childhood, is an unassumingly charismatic dude who emits a warm, inviting energy & classic Southern charm. Graham grew up along the Mississippi River north of Memphis, Tenn. where he studied under a well-known, Southern Big-Band pianist for over 10 years and became seasoned in classical, jazz and rag-time piano. Graham: “What we are doing is similar to what a DJ does with a dual deck spinning perpetual grooves. My vision is only made possible with top-notch musicians. To me, it’s a new form of jazz.”
When he is talking about “top-notch musicians” he is not blowing smoke. I have had the pleasure of jamming with these guys at a fantastic property in Sky Valley and the skills they are packing are impressive on any level. In my experience, a typical Techno Hillbillies’ set begins something like Santana on psychedelics. Much of that feel comes from guitarist, Alex A.
At the ripe age of 28, Alex A has built himself an impressive resume and is known amongst valley musicians as a highly-skilled guitarist with capabilities that far surpass his age. I have personally described Alex many times in casual conversation as the, “Hypothetical love-child of Carlos Santana & B.B. King.” He has demonstrated mastery in genres from classical Spanish & bossanova to flamenco, jazz, blues, rock and beyond. He has performed throughout Southern California as a soloist and in many bands including Tribe-O and The Road Runners. An “Honarary Shondell” from Tommy James & the Shondells, he has played the Stagecoach Festival with Jon Linn and finally fulfilled a boyhood dream when in 2009 he, as a guitarist for Tribe-O, opened for his hero, B.B. King at the Rhythm Wine & Brews Festival. Alex A: “It was a dream come true and of course I was going to take the opportunity to meet my hero. Unfortunately, Mr. King’s staff was not interested in me meeting my hero because they basically intercepted me and threw me out of the venue. It was like slapping my dream right out of my hand as soon as I was able to grab hold. I had to try, though.”
The trifecta is completed by the diverse styling of veteran drummer and Palm Springs Native, Alfredo Hernandez. Best known as drummer for desert rock bands Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Brant Bjork and the Bros and Yawning Man, he studied at Musician’s Institute. He currently drums in other local bands including, Whiskey & Knives, Brave Black Sea & Family Butcher. Hernandez: “Music has always been a huge part of my life. My Dad always played his vinyl throughout our home every day as I grew up. At MIT I was able to learn & be exposed to music from all over the world which really nurtured & enhanced my playing. This project, however, will be the first time I have ever had the opportunity to play with a pianist and guitarist in a manner that allows us to change the style of music to whatever we are feeling at the moment, which is unusual.”
Techno Hillbillies are a band that can fit your mood and style, whatever it may be and are continuously transitioning. Graham: ” We became affiliated with the solar company, Hot Purple Energy and were happy to perform events for them as the, ‘Hot Purple Energy All-Stars.’ Through the solar company we were able to perform at various events with icons such as Robby Kreiger from The Doors, Michael Bolton and members of Culture Club, which were all fantastic experiences.”
Check out the Techno Hillbillies on April 25th at Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert along with Right On, Right On and Fearless Moonshiners. Also, keep an eye out for their newest project in the works, “Dance Cartel.”
You can find Techno Hillbillies on Facebook, for booking info contact David@hotpurpleenergy.com
Photos by Esther Sanchez