Darren Hoff sure can play him some country music.
Actually, the sound of Hoff and his Austin-based band, the Hard Times, is a blend of Bakersfield-style honky tonk, some outlaw twang and hefty doses of alt-country and jangly Americana.
A veteran of nearly a decade in the rootsy country act Weary Boys, Hoff is back in action and understandably proud of his new band's independently-released debut CD, Darren Hoff and the Hard Times, which came out late last year.
Darren Hoff and the Hard Times will be one of the headliners at the Tucson Weekly's Spring Club Crawl®, playing at 10 p.m. at the Bud Select Music Stage.
Surprisingly, Hoff didn't listen to much country as a kid. He was always a rock fan, and to this day, his three favorite bands are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Metallica and the Grateful Dead.
While growing up in Eureka, Calif., however, he was exposed to a bunch of country music while hanging around the radio station his grandparents owned and operated.
"It was actually two stations. One was kind of pop country, and the other station was older stuff: Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard and that sort of thing. Even then, I preferred the older stuff," Hoff recalled during a recent interview.
Hoff started working at the station when he turned 15, and at 16, he picked up his father's '64 Fender Jaguar guitar (which he still plays) and started rocking. "I had studied piano and bass as a kid, but it was the guitar that really captured my imagination and made me want to play seriously."
Before the formation of the Weary Boys, he only played in rock 'n' roll bands.
"I mean, it was in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s—you do the math, and you'll guess what we sounded like," he explained. "I never set out to play country music. One of the guys in one of my rock bands turned out to be a Weary Boy. He said to me, 'Wouldn't it be hilarious to play country music?' So we learned some Hank Williams tunes, and I have never looked back."
The Weary Boys moved to Austin, and they remained together for almost 10 years, playing hundreds of gigs (several in Tucson) and releasing six CDs. The group disbanded in 2007.
Hoff was pretty burned out at the time, and it took a while for him to, in his words, "get my bearings musically." He mulled over the future and started writing songs—something he hadn't done in the Weary Boys—while working at a guitar store.
"About December (2007) or so, myself and the guitar player, Ben Massey, kicked around some ideas. He was always someone I had wanted to play with, but it always had seemed like I was too busy with the Weary Boys," Hoff said.
"So I was writing a little; we learned a few covers, and it was a slow process. We got a bass player and played as a trio once a month. I wanted it to happen pretty organically and not to just happen overnight. I wasn't sure if I just wanted to play as hobby or what. As part of that two-year lag time, I was reconnecting with music."
The Hard Times eventually came together as a full-time group that now features Hoff on guitar and lead vocals, Massey on guitars, Jim Hawkins on keyboards and guitar, bassist Greg White and a rotating roster of drummers. Hawkins and Massey add vocals.
The band is firing on all cylinders, playing its first non-Texas dates in Tucson and Tempe this weekend and preparing for a longer tour of Louisiana in June.
Hoff, a red-headed bear of man, said that at 32, he now feels rejuvenated
"When the CD came out, we had a record-release gig and played a run of shows, but we really weren't sure if it felt like a band yet. Now, we are playing a lot—sometimes four or five times a week—and something has changed inside me and with the band. There's something exciting happening, and it feels like this is what I should be doing."