In ancient lore, the fabled High Hawk was the winged messenger of peace. The High Hawk would deliver his message through music, bringing a shining ray of joy and light from above. In modern times, bassist Brian Adams explains that High Hawk took its name from when Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman wandered deep into the mountain forest outside his home looking for some kind of spiritual sign.
“He had rolled a fat doobie to take with him,” says Adams. “When he found what appeared to be a sacred place atop a mountain he pulled the giant hogleg out of his shirt pocket and held it high in the air and closed his eyes before he planned to spark it up. Out of nowhere a hawk swooped in and grasped the enormous jazz cigarette with its talons and gracefully pulled it away from Vince’s fingers. The hawk flew high into the air with the joint until it disappeared from view.”
Both of those stories may be true…or not. But while the origin of the meaning of High Hawk may be in question, what they as a band are is not. In the vein of supergroups like Blind Faith. Souther Hillman & Furay, and the Traveling Wilburys, the High Hawks have assembled an all-star roster of talent from the jam and roots scene with guitarist Herman (Leftover Salmon), keyboardist Chad Staehly (Hard Working Americans, Great American Taxi), guitarist Adam Greuel (Horseshoes & Handgrenades), the rhythm section of bassist Adams (Great American Taxi) and drummer Will Trask (Great American Taxi), and fiddler Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth).
Adams says, “This lineup is quite a cast of characters who are all also some seriously badass musicians and I can’t wait to see what we get into musically.” While not physically present, Greuel says Jeff Austin, “may be gone now, but I think he will be with us in many ways during these High Hawk shows.”
Also sure to be felt is the spirit of the late Col. Bruce Hampton, who Herman often refers to as, “our ascended father” from stage, and whose idea of letting the music play through you will influence much of what they do. And Herman says what they are going to do is “use the tools of country rock music to send out a warning and a lot of love in these strange, strange times.”
For the outspoken and politically-minded Herman, the High Hawks provides the perfect outlet, as the band has a clean slate; there are no preconceived ideas or notions of what to expect. A front-man like Herman and the seasoned band of veterans in the High Hawks assures almost endless possibilities, and will surely involve Herman tapping into his stream of consciousness to share his thoughts on today’s politically troubled times.
With this blank canvas upon which to work, the band is looking to try new things out of the normal comfort zone of their own bands. “I have been writing with this lineup in my mind, which has been fun thinking of Vince and Chad’s strengths,” says Greuel, “And they have also been thinking and writing on that same concept.”
Staehly agrees that the freshness of the project has inspired everyone to write some new tunes with the High Hawks specifically in mind. They’re also dusting off some tunes “from everyone’s back catalogs, as well throwing in some fun covers.”
The High Hawks will convene for rehearsals prior to their first shows in Colorado. Staehly says it will be a chance to “hop in the woodshed and see where this machine wants to go.”
Greuel, the youngest member of the High Hawks, is excited to work with people he has looked up to for so long, to see how they work together to create the band’s musical identity. “You have to trust that if you throw something out they will chase it with you,” he says. “Tim is such a widely interesting musician and I can’t wait to see how he and Vince work with each. Them having the most musical years behind them and the most tricks up their sleeves, I think a lot of how we function will be us taking cues from them.”
While Greuel talks deeply about the vision he sees for the High Hawks, when Adams is asked what he sees for the band musically, he simply jokes, “We are going to figure that out soon. Or maybe not.” The High Hawks recognize that much of who they will become as a band will come about organically, and not from some predetermined plan.
“I think when you have good personal chemistry that will translate into musical chemistry, and we started this band as a product of wanting to spend more time together with each other,” says Greuel. “I am stoked to explore with these musicians and see how their brains functions and see what happens when stuff gets weird on stage. That is where a lot of musical gold comes from. Those fun moments when people are forced to react to something uncomfortable, which is not that much different than life where shitty, shit hits and you have to decide how to react. You can run from it, or utilize it to fuel your fire for a better tomorrow.”
Even with rehearsals, the band expects their full identity won’t take shape until they hit the stage the first time in front of a live audience and see what energy is there to fill the room. The High Hawks all mention how live music is circular, and that how each night’s progress will be the product of the energy the crowd brings to every show.
Greuel says it will be like “all those Col. Bruce projects in the past or the Everyone Orchestra – where they end up being a conduit to the universe.” He recognizes the beauty when a band’s music takes shape and provides a comfortable musical identity, but he is also very excited for the unknown.
“I really like the idea of keeping an open mind and not following a road map with this project,” he says. “There is a raw excitement and curiosity of what a night may bring in a band’s infancy like the High Hawks when we take flight in Colorado in a few weeks.”
The band’s on-stage connections come from the members’ shared histories. Four of the members – Staehly, Adams, Trask, and Herman used to play together in Great American Taxi.
Greuel has known Staehly since he was a teenager, and in the years since Greuel says, “He has been a great guide in both my life and career.” Greuel met Herman a few years ago on Jam Cruise when Herman asked Greuel if he would like to sit in for his Col. Bruce tribute set. From there, the two realized they were kindred spirits.
With those connection established The High Hawks came together when, “Me, Vince, and Chad wanted to do some kind of project and the rest just fell into place,” explains Greuel. Everyone seemed to have some time in the coming fall with both Leftover Salmon and Horseshoes & Handgrenades having slower than normal tour schedules.
“It was just a real organic thing that happened with no real plan behind it,” says Staehly. “Adam and I had been talking about doing something together, while Vince and I have also talked about doing more playing with Tim Carbone. We lucked out that he had the weekends available as well. Call it serendipity.”
The excitement of schedules lining up and being to get everyone together is clear among the High Hawks. “You have a million of those conversations when you are all hanging out together at festivals or shows,” says Staehly, “but nine out of ten times nothing comes to fruition. This time some things lined up and up and it got just enough of a push behind it to materialize.”
For all the talk about mythical winged-creatures, legends, stories, doobies, and musical plans, the beauty and simplicity of the High Hawks lies with the deep relationships among the six musicians. “I’m looking forward to the spontaneity, the camaraderie,” says Adams, “all the thrills and chills and bells and whistles of what it takes to make the recipe for a great band. I’m ready to get High Hawk’n.”
Greuel agrees, “I just feel so lucky that I get to jump on a musical train with people I respect so much and who I have grown to love, first as musicians and now as buddies. That is really exciting for me. I just try and focus when I go into projects like this in being grateful for the experience and that people come to the show and support it.”
Staehly sums it up simply, “This is really about a bunch of old friends from various circles playing music together, there is going to be a lot of laughs and just a free spirit behind this project, no holds barred.”