After performing his country-tinged songs solo at open mic nights under the alias Earl Pickens, Billy Kelly finally decided to put a band together – The Black Mountain Marauders. The first incarnation of the band had two non-Bellmore members; Mike Hernandez (guitar) and Frank Cantelmi (banjo/harmonica), and two Bellmore members; Jess Hoeffner (guitar) and Eric Hoffman (drums). They didn't have a bass player but they'd take turns playing bass at their shows.
By this time Rat Bastard were on the verge of calling it quits so Earl and the boys had their eyes set on Dave Deluca to fill the bass player position. After seeing them perform once, Dave took the job. That's when the band became a force to be reckoned with. In the early 2000's, Earl Pickens and The Black Mountain Marauders had a large following in NYC and played for packed crowds at many clubs – most notably Rodeo Bar, Sidewalk Cafe, and Lakeside Lounge.
A large part of an Earl Pickens and The Black Mountain Marauders show was the stage performance – which came close to a Vegas-style show. With the band decked out in cowboy hats and western gear, Earl would jump up on tables, dance with the crowd, and throw panties out to the audience – like a reverse Tom Jones. Elvis himself was also known to swing by an Earl Pickens show and join in on the festivities. But most of all, Earl had the songs to back up the glitz and the antics. Billy/Earl is a great songwriter with witty lyrics and a keen ear for melody.
To go along with Billy's alter-ego the rest of the band also took on stage names...
Jess = Merle Twang
Mike = Reverand Jedidiah P. Houston
Frank = Tink Travers
Eric = Joe Horseman
Dave = Chief Dave Strongbow (but only once did Dave play up the indian angle...see the photo below)
You'll be seeing a lot of Earl Pickens videos here on the blog in the near future because they were going strong when we began filming Bellmore: The Unscene. But in the end they were cut from the movie – Billy's suggestion. After showing a very early (and very long) rough cut of the movie to Billy and his wife Jackie, Billy felt his story didn't fit in with the rest of documentary. He was right and I knew it but I needed him to tell me. Unfortunately, cutting the Earl Pickens story would mean cutting Billy and Eric out the movie altogether. That was hard to do.
Below are three segments I cut together for Earl Pickens. The first can be found on the Bellmore: The Unscene Extras DVD. In it, "Jelvis" introduces Earl Pickens and The Black Mountain Marauders...Billy talks about the Earl Pickens persona...and Joe Kollar, Dave Deluca, Eric Hoffman, Dave S, Mike Stamberg, Jim Burns and Ron Bianco add their opinions on the band...
In this second video, Billy and Earl continue to duke it out...
In the last video, Earl talks about the members of The Black Mountain Marauders...three of which being from Bellmore...
In 2003, Jess left the band to pursue his own songwriting. Earl and The Marauders continued to play as a five-piece for a while and eventually replaced Jess with non-Bellmore guitarist Andy Reidel. (Unfortunately, there's no photo evidence of Andy in The Marauders. If you have one, send it my way.) The closest Andy had to a stage name was that whistling sound you make when you are imitating the wind...like a tumbleweed blowing by.
Andy had a very different style to his guitar playing than Jess' dirty distorted sound. He was much more of a clean professional country musician. That much can be said for the whole band in fact. What made The Marauders unique was that their roots were in punk...the rhythm section at least. Country music was not their forte. They were more of a rag-tag country outfit. The threat of not knowing if the band was going to go off the rails mid-song made for a thrilling performance. And I say that in the highest regard. But that changed with the introduction of Andy.
I could totally be off the mark here but as an outsider (with insider relations) it seemed as if that's the way Earl wanted to go – the more professional route. And judging by Earl's recent work I'd say it's a fair assessment. I can only compare it to Jimi Hendrix... When Hendrix first hit the scene he was known for his wild show...setting his guitar on fire...smashing it...humping the amplifier, etc. But after a while he wanted to be known for his songwriting and guitar playing so he cut out the stage antics. I think Earl was feeling the same way. He started introducing new "serious" songs and played less of his "silly" songs – which were abundant in the early days. I'm not saying one is better than the other but change was blowin' in the wind.
The band continued on for a while but in 2004, Billy packed up his family and belongings and moved to Pennsylvania. The band just kind of fizzled out after that. Now with his home base in Lewisburg PA, Billy still writes and performs as Earl Pickens, gathering new fans and new backup bands...all of which I'll get to at a later date.
For current info... www.earlpickens.com
Here's a whole slew of Earl Pickens and The Black Mountain Marauders photos...