Legendary Rock Interviews: Q & A with longtime Rockford rocker Mike Hysmith

By John Parks

Jamie Campbell and the Redneck Romeos will be bringing their own unique blend of rock and country to District Bar & Grill, 205 W. State St., downtown Rockford, this Friday, Feb. 7. The band plays a unique mix of well-known covers and homegrown originals and is quickly becoming known as one of the most sought-after live acts in the area. I recently had the chance to chat with bassist (and longtime Rockford rocker) Mike Hysmith about his band and the show coming up.  

 Q: Hi, Mike. Thanks for talking with us. Before we get into the band, I wanna ask you a bit about your history in the Rockford music scene. What kind of music had you concentrated on and what were some of your favorite former bands that you were a part of?

A: Thank you, John. I’ve been in the local music scene since the mid ’80s. I was mainly involved in rock music from punk, classic rock, heavy metal to the new hard rock. I was in a glam band in the ’80s that only the local musicians would remember, named Zartruce. In the early ’90s, I played with Essie Ecks, which was quite a popular band in the regional area. I played also in the punk band FUBAR, a new hard rock band called Grieving for Gwendolyn, and a variety rock band called Poor Man’s Fortune, to name a few. Jamie Campbell and the Redneck Romeos is the first country band I have ever played in.

Q: How did you come to know Jamie Campbell and become a Redneck Romeo?

A: Well, I had just quit Poor Man’s Fortune. I had reached a crossroads in my music career where I was very tired of playing the same old, same old, and was actually thinking about “hanging it up.” I felt I had a local music career that had satisfied all my music needs, until I got a phone call that would change a lot about how I felt about hanging it up.

The same week I left Poor Man’s Fortune, Mike Armato, another well-known local drummer, contacted me with a project that I would be perfect for, and the ultimate goal was to take this project to another level other than just a local act. I asked Mike if it was a “country” project, as he had gone country a few years earlier (laughs). He said that it was and not to turn my head until I heard the covers they were intending on playing and until I heard their lead singer, Jamie Campbell. So, I listened to the covers and thought that they were cool and met Jamie at Mike’s house and was completely blown away by his vocals.

He is THE best singer I have ever had the opportunity to play with. Talked it over with my wife Denise, and she said, “You have played every kind of rock, why not county?” She said she would support me in this new endeavor 110 percent if I wanted to go for it. So, I became the “last Romeo” to join Jamie Campbell and the Redneck Romeos.

Q: The band crosses genres a bit and appeals to both rock and country audiences. Most people can relate to that mix. Was that one of the things that attracted you to the band to begin with?

A: Absolutely. Jamie Campbell and the Redneck Romeos (JCRR) is definitely a country band with a big influence of southern rock and roll. We do a few traditional country tunes, but for the most part, it’s the newer country and some great old rock songs. I really don’t think we could be totally traditional with the players that make up this band.

Q: The band plays a lot of live shows in a calendar year and keeps you plenty busy. Does the schedule ever get to be a little hectic for your lives, or do you welcome the opportunity to get out there even more?

A: We love to play. We all knew what we were signing on for when we joined. All of us want to take this to another level, and the only way is with a lot of hard work, dedication and playing whenever and wherever we can!

Q: If you could keep one song in your set list every single night, what would it be and why would you choose it?

A:  As far as cover tunes, I would play “Hillbilly Shoes” by Montgomery Gentry every night. It’s a great opener with a lot of punch. As for our original songs, “The Love You Can’t Have” is a country power ballad that Jamie sings the hell out of.

Q: I know stateline audiences can be a little frisky and/or rowdy. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen go down before, after or during a JCRR gig?

A: Ya know, we have not had any real craziness at our shows, to be completely honest. However, I feel the real craziness for me is seeing our audience sing our original songs, word for word — that just can never get old — and the first time I saw that, was the most incredible thing. I also still find it humbling that our fans will still wait in line after a festival show for the meet-and-greet just to get photos with us and autographs. I think to myself,
“We are just a local act right now,” but all of us are so thankful they still line up for us.

Q: I happen to know that you’re an old-school KISS fan. If you could pick one song from the band to cover in country twang, what would it be?

A: Well, the obvious is “Hard Luck Woman,” and we have kicked that idea around lately. I have heard KISS do a country version of “God of Thunder,” which would be pretty cool, but I would like to country up “I Stole Your Love” or “Love Gun” (laughs).

Q: Thanks again for talking with us, Mike. Last question … if someone reading this was new to the band, having never actually heard you, what might they expect if they come out to your gig coming up at District?

A: A lot of people tell me that they never did care for country music until they saw us. Now, we have many rock fans that come to our shows faithfully. So, I guess be ready to be entertained by a band with a heck of a lot of energy, that gives 120 percent to each show, large or small. A band with a lead singer who is amazing and talks a LOT about chicken (laughs). A band that loves to get the audience involved with the show. We like to pull them up on stage to dance or play the trampoline (tambourine) and the rubber chicken. A band that hopes that when the show is over, you will be texting your friends or telling them the next day that they HAVE to see JCRR and a band that is truly grateful to be doing what we are doing and reaching the amount of success we have had so far with the help of some pretty awesome fans.

Posted Feb. 5, 2014

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