What is The Hollins & Hollins Mortuary Entertainment Show?
Photo by Sparkle Obscura
Proceeding from a series of in-jokes, The Hollins & Hollins Mortuary Entertainment Show is, first and foremost, The Pine Box Boys. That being said, anybody who knows anything about The Pine Box Boys’ front man Lester T. Raww knows that he has a tremendous affinity for coming up with side projects. These projects include Lester T. Raww’s Graveside Quartet, Lonesome Lester T. Raww and His Acquaintances, The Hollins & Hollins Mortuary Horns, and now, with the addition of Gentleman Jimmy Hadley to the line-up, we have Gentleman Jimmy and The Swindling Dwindlers.
How, then, does one balance limited touring schedules, band member availability, and audience demand? The answer seemed simple to Lester: VARIETY SHOW. The Hollins & Hollins Mortuary Entertainment Show behaves as if it were an old time radio show from the 1930’s, sponsored by The Pine Box Boys’ fictional sponsor, Hollins & Hollins Mortuary Services (As they say, “We’ll be the last ones to let you down.”). Other fictional sponsors are referenced as well: Amalgamated Breakfast Ltd., Snakes In A Can, Skinflint Cigars, to name a few. In between the tongue-in-cheek advertisements, the various “bands” perform - now a song by The Graveside Quartet, now a song by The Pine Box Boys - with occasional announcer cues by Vang Kruntz (the fictional DJ for WRAW - Music For Ghosts). Think of it as an antidote to A Prairie Home Companion.
All of this is fairly easy to pull off considering that all the bands have the same members. Lester T. Raww sings while plucking guitar or ukulele, blowing trombone, occasionally providing an extended kazoo solo. Alex “Possum” Carvidi plays banjo, saxophone, musical saw, piano and accordion. “Gentleman” Jimmy Hadley sings and picks guitar, but he distinguishes himself as the ensemble’s trumpet player. In each of the groups, the rhythm section is held down by Col. Timothy Leather on bass and Slade Anderson.
The Pine Box Boys are familiar to most as darkgrass darlings, offering songs in the tradition of the murder ballad. The Pine Box Boys released their fifth album, The Feast of Three Arms, last year. The other iterations of the band may be less familiar to audiences. Lonesome Lester T. Raww and His Acquaintances is the name Lester uses for his smaller local gigs in San Francisco, focusing on Tin Pan Alley favorites, as well as some original material. In this format, Lester performs solo or invites a variety of other local musicians to join him as one of his “acquaintances.” Lonesome Lester released an album in 2014, Anarkansas. Lester T. Raww’s Graveside Quartet grew out of numerous requests to record a children’s album. Lester feels as though their album Lester T. Raww’s Graveside Quartet SINGS YOUR CHILDREN TO SLEEP does not accomplish what it was intended to do. This is due to the fact that the album is more likely to produce nightmares in children than warm, fuzzy, Raffi-esque feelings. This is, however, the band that Lester is focusing on the most recently; they will begin recording their second album this fall. Gentleman Jimmy and His Swindling Dwindlers is the latest project. The Boys put this band together to accompany trumpeter Jimmy Hadley as he performs newer material or songs from his previous band, Col. Jimmy and The Blackfish.
The fun thing about The Hollins & Hollins Mortuary Entertainment Show is how blurry the lines have become. The guitar/banjo duel of “The Tardy Hearse” has changed into a conflict betwixt trumpet and sax. “Pretty Little Girl” swings at a steady, sinister pace. Crowd favorite “Mr. Skeleton” now sounds like something more suited to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins than a bluegrass band. All of this gives the musicians in The Pine Box Boys more room to express their gallows humor worldview, and if Garrison Keillor were dead today, he’d be spinning in his lonesome grave on the prairie.
Lester T. Raww
Vocals, guitars, ukuleles, trombone, kazoo
Alex “Possum” Carvidi
Vocals, banjo, accordion, saxophone, various sundries
Col. Timothy Leather
“Gentleman” Jimmy Hadley
Vocals, guitar, trumpet