Catching Up with Bozeman’s Hooligans Ahead of Railroad Earth Show at The ELM

We recently caught up with Tom Garnsey, founder of The Hooligans, Bozeman’s longest-running roots rock/Americana/blues/jam band. He shares a bit of the band’s history, their influences, memorable collaborations and more as we gear up for their opening performance ahead of Railroad Earth on February 19th.

How did Hooligans come together in 1990?

Ha! The original two Rich Robiscoe (bass) and myself (guitar/vocals) started playing together in 1982 after a chance meeting at Al’s Bar (Zebra) in Bozeman. Ron Craighead (drums/vocals)  came on board in 1990. In many ways, the band is a collective of musicians with shared interests and material as we have some leave the earth and some move away, and others that come in and out depending on availability and type of event or setting. We have the core trio and many offshoots. Large band/ trios etc.  For our set on Sunday, we’ll have Robiscoe, Craighead, Ryan Garnsey (keys/vocals), Bill Payne (keys/vocals), and myself.

As Bozeman’s longest-running roots rock/Americana/blues/jam band, what do you think sets your music apart from other bands in the area?

Mostly the intuitive nature of playing that only comes with the length of time playing together. It has become one long improvisational musical conversation which any and all members contribute to. Like the Dead, when it works it can be magic. When it doesn’t, it can be a trainwreck but we’re always  willing to take that chance. When you have trust, you’ll likely land on your feet.

Which musicians or bands have been the biggest influences on your sound and style?

The Band, Grateful Dead, Dylan, Hot Tuna and lots of folky John Prine type writers.

Hooligans have played alongside some well-known musicians throughout your career – who has been your favorite to collaborate with, and why?

Bill Payne (Little Feat) stands out as we have played scores of gigs with him and he’s been a mentor and an inspiration to us musically as well as personally. We’ve co-written songs with him and he helped us make our record. Pretty heady stuff when you’re playing with a guy you first saw on stage in 1977! We’ve been blessed with amazing band sit-ins over the years and all add to the sauce. Sam Bush,  Rodney Crowell, Melvin Seals, JJ Cale, Darol Anger, Nikki Bluhm, Jeff Austin (RIP), Elana James are just  a few. And all of the various members of Hooligans that weave in and out all share the blame for what this thing is all about. David Troy (RIP) Jimmy Lange, Betsy Wise, Tom Murphy, Ryan Garnsey are all factors in important ways.

What do you hope the audience takes away from your performance at The ELM on Feb. 19th? 

That music heals when it is played with sincerity and joy.

Does the band have a history with Railroad Earth?

Having produced a couple thousand shows (Vootie Productions) and producing 25 years of Grand Targhee Bluegrass, I’ve had the pleasure of working with them dozens of times and it’s always a hoot. They are the real deal and Mr. Payne has also performed with them at festivals.

What’s the most memorable show or performance that Hooligans have played?

We’ve been so lucky to have shared stages with many heroes over the years that that is a tough one for me to answer. One that sticks out is opening for The Band in Big Sky in 1994 and spending the day with Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson.

What’s changed the most in the Bozeman music scene over the years? What’s remained the same?

We’ve been in the Bozeman music scene for so long that it’s hard to see what changes as we just keep doing what we do and it seems to work. The biggest thing is probably the completion of actual venues in town (thanks Logjam). For decades we produced shows and performed in middle and high school theaters and smoke-filled bars. Now we have several venues with world class production and a comfortable setting for audiences.

What’s the band looking forward to most in 2023?

At this point, we play music in places we like with people we like to do it with for audiences that support it  so more of the same please! “When it hits, you feel no pain”.