Ending a nearly 13-year musical adventure that both achieved great successes and endured utter heartbreaks, Dezeray's Hammer, led by Spartanburg singer, songwriter and guitarist Aaron Whisnant, and original drummer Kenny Hogan, play their final performance Friday night at The Showroom.
Along with guitarist and vocalist Arthur Brooks and bassist Michael Williams, the band will present a semi-acoustic performance in a listening-room environment, likely to be as poignant as it is as intimate.
Showtime is , and tickets are $10.
A day after the band's final fully electric performance last week, the finality of the band's tenure appeared to be setting in for Whisnant.
"Last night was tough, because I realized it was the last time we were going to be doing an electric show," he said. "The feeling that you get when you see a packed house … (there) is nothing like it."
The level of success he has achieved with the band has been rarely matched in the Upstate; it's perhaps been surpassed only by the Marshall Tucker Band's remarkable run in the 1970s. Whisnant appears ready to appreciate his accomplishments.
"Looking back on our band, I mean, to keep a band going for 12 years in a town this size, and have people consistently come out and see us, man, I couldn't be more grateful," he said. "They've paid our bills, and they've given me a reason to get up in the morning."
For those unfamiliar with the band's storied history, it dates back to 1994, when Whisnant met with Hogan about putting together new material he had begun writing.
Hogan said Whisnant's artistic and creative talent immediately impressed him. "The way he gets a thought across with a melody, just still, to this day, blows my mind," he said.
Whisnant, in turn, was taken with Hogan's musical sensibility. "When I hooked up with Kenny," he said, "I found somebody whose musical opinion I respected."
Clicking musically and philosophically, and complementing each other's abilities, the pair soon formed the band Albert Hill with guitarist Joel Cook and bassist Chris Francisco. The group made the album "Fistunderfinger," and the recording found acceptance rapidly.
Hogan played the group's recording for drum instructor Paul Riddle, the Marshall Tucker Band's original drummer, and Riddle developed an immediate interest in the burgeoning band.
"We wouldn't be sitting here right now talking had it not been for Paul," Hogan said of Riddle, who not only managed Albert Hill in its early years, but also helped the band get a recording contract with Universal Records in 1996.
Riddle began producing sessions for the band's new record, a remake of
"Fistunderfinger" with additional tracks to be titled "Volume
One" in a
Suddenly, things never looked better for the group, and after a five-song promotional release by Universal subsidiary Fuse Records, the band's music began appearing on the soundtracks of hit MTV reality programs "The Real World" and "Road Rules."
The good fortune faded fast, however, as a change in label leadership, during which the company president who signed the band departed, brought a change of heart in the label's attitude toward the band. The label released it from its contract, and recordings of Albert Hill's major label debut were shelved. They remain unreleased.
In hindsight, Hogan said, rather than re-record "Fistunderfinger" for Universal, he would have preferred to keep the momentum the band had generated with the single "North Bound" and simply repackaged, remixed and re-released the album.
"We wanted to re-record the album, because we wanted that experience," he said. "I guess, in certain ways, we were not a guinea pig, but we were definitely a blueprint of what not to do."
Whisnant said their contemporaries in the band Sister Hazel learned from Albert Hill's tribulations, ultimately earning a great deal of success.
"Sister Hazel was another one that we toured with a lot," he said. "They signed with Universal after we signed, and as we were leaving Universal, their record was coming out, and like Kenny said, there were bands like that, that learned from our mistakes.
"They took the record that they had done independently and just put it out."
"When they got so much momentum," Hogan said of Sister Hazel, "they were like, 'Guys, we don't want to lose the momentum, let's just repackage it and keep it going.' "
Albert Hill pressed forward, following-up its Universal Records experience, sans original guitarist Cook, with a pair of independent releases, 1997's "Machine Called Company," one of Whisnant's favorite recordings, and 1998's "The All For Me Theology."
Despite the band's perseverance, however, after extensive touring stretches, Albert Hill's days were numbered, Whisnant said.
"By the time we got around to the 'All For Me Theology,' we were a little road-worn," he said. "We had been playing a lot, and Robbie and I were moving a little bit in different directions creatively."
He said it was time for the band members to put distance between themselves and the recording industry roller-coaster ride they had experienced.
"With the name Albert Hill, we had gone through the ringers," he said. "We had just come off the extravaganza … we got real close to several deals, on many occasions, after the Universal thing, and we just felt at that point a name change, you know -- it was time."
Renaming the band Dezeray's Hammer, after the title of an Albert Hill song, was more than a surface change, Whisnant said. He also wanted to take the group in a new musical direction, especially in light of Bowen's departure, toward a more guitar-driven sound.
"We just decided, the three of us, that we'd get back to what we were doing, back to basics, the beginning of Albert Hill, which was guitar rock," he said.
Dezeray's Hammer began to gain momentum, and its new approach appeared to be paying off.
"It seemed to work," he said. "Pretty much immediately we started garnering some label attention."
Just two years later, after two independent releases, Dezeray's Hammer signed a deal with Neutron Records in partnership with Edel Entertainment, and the label agreed to release a new record, "Immune."
The album came out
And just as that fateful day affected so many lives, it sent the band's future into immediate uncertainty.
"They were right in the financial district," Whisnant said of
their record label's
With the nation and the world preoccupied with little else but the implications of the terrorist attacks, "Immune," in spite of its name, was anything but, and it became lost in the shuffle, unsupported by a label that itself was barely able to survive.
Whisnant said in spite of the tragedy, the band regrouped, ready to push forward strongly to promote the album on its own, just as it received more bad news from the record company.
"We were on the road when we got the call," he said, "and they were just like, well, you know, they (were) filing bankruptcy."
"You can only control the writing and what you do," Hogan said. "And everything else you just -- if it's meant to be, you know, if it's in the cards for you, it's going to happen."
The band continued to release albums until 2004's "The Past That Decorates Me," which contained some of the band's strongest material, including "King's Highway" and "Something About the Way."
It added guitarist Brooks, and Williams replaced original bassist Francisco. The band signed a new deal with Rock Ridge Music shortly thereafter, and the label repackaged and re-released the album in 2005.
The album didn't receive the airplay the band had hoped for, however, Hogan said, and as he formed another band, The Sheriff's Daughter, with new bandmates Brooks and Williams, Dezeray's Hammer's concert appearances began to become less frequent.
Ready and willing to explore musical possibilities after Dezeray's Hammer, Whisnant said he intends to venture to Nashville this summer and try his hand among amid the most prestigious songwriting circles in the world, most likely composing for other artists, and perhaps traversing styles outside the rock arena.
"My primary focus is going to be songwriting," he said, "and just selling myself as a writer."
"For me," he continued, "going to
"I hope to take what we've done in the last 12 years, and what I've learned, and hopefully (I'll) be able to apply it."
Hogan said he's enthusiastic about the musical prospects for Whisnant.
"I'm a fan of Aaron," he said. "I hope he goes to
"That's how much faith I've got in him," he said. "I think I've got more confidence in Aaron than he does."
Hogan said that while he has enjoyed playing integral roles on and off the stage in shaping the band's success, he said he plans to assert himself exclusively as an instrumentalist. He looks forward to immersing himself in drumming.
"I'm going to focus on teaching, but over the years we've had offers from nationals (big-name recording and performing artists) … and I may test the waters there," he said.
"I'm ready to be a drummer, and not a day-to-day businessperson," he said. "I've always been a drummer, don't get me wrong, but I've also … had to do the calls, the day-to-day (operations of the group)."
While perhaps a surprise to many, Hogan said he and Whisnant have discussed parting ways in the past.
"We talked about this before we did 'Everything Whatsoever,' but I've always struggled with it because we worked so hard together, (and) I was like, you know, 'I want to see us get the fruits of it together.' "
But Hogan said sees no shame in finally bringing the band's journey to its conclusion.
"I don't look at us breaking up as even disheartening or failure or anything like that for us, because … I've learned a lot, not just from Aaron, but with Aaron," he said.
"I want to take what I've done to complement Aaron, what I've learned from him, (and) want to complement other people."
Want to go?
What: Dezeray's Hammer: A Farewell Show
Where: The Showroom,
Venue information: www.hub-bub.com, 582-0056
For more about Dezeray's Hammer, visit www.dezerayshammer.net.
Listen to Dezeray's Hammer songs on the Herald-Journal's GoTunes jukebox at www.GoUpstate.com.