BR5-49

One of the most critically acclaimed alternative country bands of the '90s, BR5-49's sound, style, and even look were unabashedly retro. Dressing in old, budget-friendly clothes, the band played a mixture of classic '50s honky tonk, Western swing, boogie, Bakersfield country, rockabilly, and Gram Parsons-style country-rock. The group was founded by guitarists/vocalists Gary Bennett and Chuck Mead in early 1993, not long after they'd moved to Nashville from the Pacific Northwest and Kansas, respectively. Bennett led an informal band at Robert's Western Wear, a combination bar and clothing store on Lower Broadway in Nashville's old district, and Mead -- an alumnus of roots rockers the Homestead Grays -- worked at a nearby bar before joining up. They later added upright bassist Smilin' Jay McDowell, who'd previously been a guitarist in Hellbilly; drummer Shaw Wilson, a friend of Mead's from Kansas; and fiddle/steel guitar/mandolin/Dobro player Don Herron, an old cohort of Bennett's. The group took up residency at Robert's Western Wear, playing for tips three nights a week, and built a strong local following among both country and alternative rock fans, thanks to their eclectic repertoire and punkish, left-of-center attitude. They adopted the name BR5-49 from a phone number in a Junior Samples sketch on Hee Haw, and signed with Arista in 1995.