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Hadacol: elixir of the heartland shows it's not "All In Your Head"

By Andy Turner, January 2002

The description on amazon.com calls Hadacol a "kind of CNN of the heartland." That's sounds about right. Perhaps an actual broadcast from the Missouri band would go something like this: This is Hadacol reporting live from somewhere in the Midwest. Grandma's asleep on the divan, resting up to sing a few hymns out of tune. A drunk in the corner says he feels like Gerald Ford.

The St. Louis Cardinals are on the tube. RC Cola's are available for 10 cents. There's a front porch swing built for two out front.

Okay, so maybe that makes more sense in the context of the 13 songs on "All In Your Head," the band's sophomore effort. But the point is you can't deny the Midwestern bent and rural qualities of the music of Hadacol. That's unavoidable, according to lead singer and guitarist Fred Wickham.

"It's like they say: You are what you eat," Wickham explains. "We live in the middle of the country, and it's obvious that this record came from people in the Midwest. You can't avoid it. It don't know if that's what we strive for. It's just what we are."

Wickham, brother Greg, who sings harmony vocals and plays guitar, and bassist Richard Burgess played together in several bands in the early ‘90's. Drummer Scottie McCuiston joined the fold in 1996, with the group appearing as Big Iron, a name taken from the Marty Robbins gunfighter song. The band continued to go by Big Iron for a few years until its members got tired of non-Marty fans thinking they were a heavy metal group.

So, in 1998, the band adopted the Hadacol moniker after the cure-all alcohol elixir that sponsored Hank Williams' radio show in the late 1940's. Incidentally, a group that includes a former member of The Starkweathers is now playing around the Kansas City area as Big Iron (no, they play surf music, not heavy metal).

Hadacol released their well-received first album, "Better Than This," in January 1999 on Chicago's Checkered Past. After recording the album, McCuiston became seriously ill and was forced to leave the band. Brian Baker took over on drums in the summer of 1999.

For "All in Your Head," the band again enlisted Lou Whitney to produce and changed labels, signing with the up-and-coming Crane, Mo.-based Slewfoot Records. The Morells and the Domino Kings, fellow Missouri bands, are on Slewfoot, and Georgia's The Star Room Boys also made the switch from Checkered Past to Slewfoot, all of which made his band's decision easier, Wickham says.

"Slewfoot seems like they're doing the right things for us," he adds. "They're a small independent label, and for us, it seemed very attractive to go in that direction."The band has no hard feelings, however, towards Checkered Past, Wickham insists. As for asking Whitney again to produce, Wickham says the decision was easy. "Lou's like family," he says. "It's like going to your uncle's house to make a record."

Whitney has produced or engineered highly praised albums by the Domino Kings and Dallas Wayne and has been a member of The Morells and The Skeletons.

"Lou is the greatest guy in the world to work with," Wickham says. "He's an incredibly hard worker. He'll do anything to get you to sound like you want to. He's also very knowledgeable of all music styles. Plus, he's a lot of fun to work with."

"All in Your Head" finds Hadacol branching out a bit.

You get the dirt-stomping rockers like "Down Again" and "Little Sadie" (a traditional song favored by Doc Watson) and perfect Sunday-afternoon toe-tappers like "Another Day" and "Be With You," but there's also the Beach Boys-like pop of "Airplane Song" and the Alejandro Escovedo-styled introspection of "Already Broken."

"The record sounds considerably different from ‘Better Than This,'" says Wickham. "Of course, it sounds like the same band, but I think the playing is better."

Having Baker on drums this time around added a lot, Wickham says.

"He's just an incredibly talented drummer," he says. "He can change what he's been doing if there's a suggestion. When you're making a record, he's a huge asset. He could be more flashy if he wanted to...Everyone wants the song to sound the best that it can. A lot of times that requires playing less instead of more...Brian really has been a nice fit. It's been a very good thing having him in the band."

Burgess became close friends with the Wickhams after answering a local newspaper ad for a bass player. Fred was his best man when he tied the knot.

"Richard is a huge part of the live show," Wickham says. "He's not one of those guys who just stands there. He's very energetic and it shows when he performs."

Due to the transition time needed after switching labels, the album was actually finished eight months before finally being released in November. According to Wickham, the band is well into the writing for the next album and hopes it doesn't take as long to get that one out.

"I think everyone thinks we should have 10 records out by now," says the 41-year-old Wickham. "We're late bloomers."

Wickham and younger brother Greg, 34, wrote all the songs on the new album except for "Little Sadie." But they wrote separately, with Fred writing seven and Greg credited for five. The brothers are very involved, however, in each other's songwriting.

"It sort of has to pass the test of the other liking it," the older Wickham says. "We seem to work better together apart. It's more of a personal thing than whether we work well with each other."

He says sometimes it's hard for others to tell who wrote which songs, but he thinks Greg's songs come more from personal experiences, while his are more from observation.

"However, even in his songs that are personal, there's a pretty good dose of fiction there," Wickham says. "And several of mine come from personal experience."

"Gerald Ford," a Fred-penned ditty on "All in Your Head" about the upstanding (if not always standing up) 38th president, is obviously not one of the personal ones.

"I just always remember Gerald Ford looking confused," he says. "The guy looked totally lost. That's not good if you're the president. I've seen that look on George's face a few times."

A self-described "huge Doc Watson fan," Wickham claims the band was simply using "Little Sadie" as a warm-up song before recording, but the band was pleased with how it turned out and decided to put it on the album.

"It was nothing like Doc Watson," he says. "It was a lot of fun. Kind of like, if Doc had of been a punk rocker."

Wickham hopes "All in Your Head" will help to expand the ever-growing Hadacol fan base.

"It's been incredibly satisfying," he says. "When you start off, you say you want to make an album. Once you do, you want to expand your audience. The reaction has been so positive from people we've heard from....We used to want to just make good music, but now that we think we have we'd like more people to hear us."