While humanity trudges ever-westward through the rise and fall of empires—cloaked in bearskins, then togas, then Birkenstocks—a small group of modern troubadours have spent their time penning songs for the ages: the Mother Hips.
Their story can be found in documentaries like Patrick Murphree’s Stories We Could Tell and Bill DeBlonk’s This is the Sound, plus a coffee table book by Jay Blakesberg, as well as thousands of articles and interviews. In essence, it goes like this: in 1990, Chico State students Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono met, partied and found their voices to be two sides of a precious coin. Their landmark freshman album, 1993’s Back to the Grotto—which also featured bassist Isaac Parsons and drummer Mike Wofchuck—combined with their electrifying live performances, bound them heart and soul to the Chico scene.
The Mother Hips were adamantly not a hippie band, and not a jam band. They were searching for something new to be heard. The band’s look and attitude shaped the image, but it was their craftsmanship and dedication to songs that got the Mother Hips the attention of American Records, which released Part-Timer Goes Full (1995) and Shootout (1996).
In the last 27 years, the Mother Hips have not only released 10 must-hear albums that have redefined the contours of the American Dream, they’ve also carved a path allowing in their wake a wave of bands who see them as the pioneers of a sound dubbed California Soul. From the Dead Winter Carpenters to the Infamous Stringdusters, there is a legion of bands trekking the road the Mother Hips carved.
This year has found the band revolving their extensive catalogue into ever-changing set lists to appease old and new fans alike. Their latest album Chorus fits perfectly in line with their past releases; in fact, it is a representation of everything that has come before. It is also their most stripped-down effort, a straightforward exploration of the decade’s worth of sounds the band has mined, harvested and tumbled. This album is the work of rugged individualists—something John Muir might have listened to if he had an iPod with him as he traversed the redwoods, jagged coastline and snowy peaks of Northern California.
These days, co-founders Bluhm and Loiacono are the core of the band, along with longtime drummer (since 1997) John Hofer. Bassist Scott Thunes, who brought a spark of energy to the band over the last few years, is gone. While the band emulates a version of Spinal Tap Lite, the position of bass guitar is now in the hands of Brian Rashap.
Rashap has been one of the house bassists at Terrapin Crossroads in Marin since 2013. From his early work in a Southern California Grateful Dead cover band called Station EXP to becoming Phil Lesh’s production manager and bass tech on tour, it’s been nothing short of a long, strange trip.
Steely-eyed Loiacono is philosophical when it comes to the changes the band has been through. “I enjoy playing with different configurations and seeing what new people bring to our songs,” he says.
For the Mother Hips, the journey is ever forward, further and beyond.
The Mother Hips perform at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 30 and Monday, Dec. 31 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets $28 adv/$30 door on Sunday, and $50 adv/$55 door on Monday.