Hot Damn Scandal: Tipsy American gypsy blues

We’ve all heard the story a hundred times of how a band forms. People meet in school, at a party, or on Craigslist. “Hey man, I play guitar,” and “Sweet, I play drums, let’s start a band.” Flip that record onto the other side and you’ll find the story of how Hot Damn Scandal came to be. On his 19th birthday in Vermont, a friend of “Stinky” Pete Irving’s pulled up at his party with a van full of musicians and said, “Happy Birthday, I got you a band!” Thus began a band with players ranging in numbers from three to a dozen who traveled all around the US playing music… gypsies of sorts. Since that time, HDS has been whatever Pete has been doing at the time while in the company of motivated and talented musicians.

Today, Hot Damn Scandal is comprised of four players: “Stinky” Pete Irving writes all the songs, sings most and plays the guitar; “Mutha” Andy Ingram plays the upright bass and provides backing vocals; Harper “Stone” Stone plays the washboard as well as backing vocal; and Charlie Baby (Pete’s wife) plays the saw and sings.

Pete and Andy first met in Seattle back in 2002 in “group therapy as ‘troubled teens’”. They were both high school drop outs and were much more concerned with traveling around playing music than anything else. They drifted in and out of one another’s lives for years after. Charlie met Pete in the winter of 2008 in Seattle and they were instantly inseparable, or nearly so. For a short time Pete was in Georgia and Charlie was in Washington alone until Pete eventually came out here to establish some roots. “After being a traveler for so long, a home base is nice,” he said. As the traveling band of musicians moved from east to west, Pete and Charlie were the last two remaining members.

Fast forward to 2010 when Andy caught Pete playing a solo show at a camp in Oregon and the friendship was rekindled. Andy had been playing guitar for 12 years but switched to upright bass. “Anyone will tell you, it’s impossible to find an upright bass player who is not a flake or a prude and can actually play,” Pete said with a laugh.

At a Thanksgiving potluck in 2011 at the Oasis house in Fairhaven, Pete and Andy were reunited once again where they also met Harper, and the band was fully formed. Harper had moved here the previous November from Colorado after traveling around the West Coast and hearing about Bellingham from a fellow traveler.

“We made a commitment to grow and mature together,” Andy told me. Harper added, “We like the sound of us together more than we like the sound of us apart.”

The moniker stemmed from a whiskey brawl back in 2008 and stuck. It truly does seem an appropriate name alongside their subtitle of Tipsy American Gypsy Blues which was a stroke of inspiration when Folk Life asked them to classify their genre for the festival last May. It’s as if Django Reinhardt himself is sitting in with them, in spirit and sound. There is no need for amps or microphones, every instrument is heard equally, they harmonize perfectly, and the sound is very whole.

Andy gushes over Pete’s talent, “I have never met anyone who has such great lyric ability, local tone and interesting progressions that draw the listener in. Pete has all that!”

Harper adds, “The songs are unique, they don’t sound like other peoples songs or like each other, they span different genres and feature funky timing, chords and syncopation.”

They put out a third recording this past spring (the first with these four members) called 3 Thumbs and a Pocket Full o’ Nuthin’ thanks to fellow musician Louis Ramsey. It is their first recording made on the West Coast and features a six-song introduction to the band.