Revisiting The Mother Hips Rockin’ Arc With ‘Back To The Grotto,’ ‘Part-Timer Goes Full’, ‘Shootout’

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Mother Hips, their label, Blue Rose Music, began rereleasing ten of the band’s original albums on vinyl (one album per month). The Hips are currently working on a record of new material to be released at the end of the year as well as an undisclosed project to also be released at the end of 2021. It truly is a good year to be a Mother Hips’ fan. Andrew Quist takes a dive into the first three rereleases . . . 

It’s March. At least on the coast of  Central California, we’re starting to get a taste of spring. This is a brilliant time of year in this part of the Golden State, the birds are out and bees have begun buzzing from one flower to another. The poppies are popping and beer tastes better in the sunshine. It’s a heady season full of promise and this year it is even sweeter because the first three vinyl rereleases of the Mother Hips catalog have been sent and received. We now have Back To The Grotto, Part-Timer Goes Full, and Shootout – all on vinyl – in our record collections. It’s kind of like being in the Columbia House Record Club for Mother Hips fans. 

First, If you’re reading this and don’t know who the Mother Hips are, you need to remedy that. This is a band that has worked on the road and in the studio continuously for three frickin’ decades (there was a quick hiatus in there but in the scheme of things it was a wing flap in their ascent) and you owe it to yourself to take a dive. Many a fan has been there since the beginning and they have seen this band mature as they themselves have grown over the years. It is important to remember, however, that this band has been producing their own brand of kick-ass rock and roll since 1991 and one day the annals of music history will call their unique brand of California Soul a genre and the Mother Hips the progenitors. And let’s just say right here, that this band was always good. Greg Loiacono and Tim Bluhm on guitars and vocals were born to write songs and sing together and the early harmonies on these records bear that out in spades. The original Mother Hips’ lineup also included Mike Wofchuck on drums and Isaac Parsons on bass. 

This four-piece was a monster of sound and their amorphous stylings caused them to often be lumped in with bands like The Black Crowes, Widespread Panic, and Phish. The Hips didn’t like these jammy comparisons in the day but, honestly, they were, in the least, understandably apt. These guys could (and did) jam and changed up their setlists regularly but were far more focused on the Rock and the song. If you were to throw Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, The Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard, Donovan, the Bee Gees, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Gene Clark, The Who, Johnny Cash, and maybe a dash of Parliament into a blender and pulsed the shit out of it, you might come close to what these guys were in the early ’90s. But let’s not for one-second limit this band to comparisons. Almost from the get-go they were creating their own original songs and that is what brought them fans. 

They started writing songs, creating harmonies, and eventually swapping riffs with a two-guitar attack that left stages smoking piles of rubble and fans wet and sweaty. They took the dorms and campus parties of Chico State and bars around town by absolute storm. It was a normal night to see crowds spilling out of Juanita’s and onto the sidewalk where kids too young were content to stand there craning their necks to hear the fire thrown from the stage. When their first demo tape was leaked, it was handed around from person to person until it spread up and down California.

In Chico, it was normal to hear those songs played from multiple houses on the same block as you rode by on your bike. But the Hips wanted more and in 1992, they entered the studio to begin recording their debut record, Back To The Grotto. The album was released in early 1993 and while it certainly changed the lives of the band members, it also changed the lives of fans.

More than a few long-time followers of this band will tell you that their first exposure to Grotto both massively influenced their direction in the music they listened to as well as the direction in which they took their lives. As the fanbase grew, the Hips began to spread tendrils throughout Northern California and gather crowds largely by word of mouth until they became a standard on the music scene. As their debut gained exposure, so did the record companies begin to take notice. 

The Hips signed with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings in ‘94 and by that point they were playing upwards of 200 shows a year! Upon signing, they promptly re-released Grotto and got to work on their sophomore effort, 1995’s Part-Timer Goes Full. Taken together, Both Grotto and Part-Timer are a tour de force psychedelic tsunami of music. Sure there are some breaks in which things tend to settle down for a song or two but those seem almost merciful. Succinctly put, If you’re looking for sentimentality or albums by which to introspect, don’t spin these. Perhaps the most impressive thing about these two records is how many of the songs remain cornerstones of today’s live shows and that is what keeps these two releases completely relevant. You’re talking about Alice talking to the Cheshire Cat level trippers when you hear “Hey Emilie,” “Stoned Up The Road,” “Chum,” “Been Lost Once,” “Figure 11,” and “Magazine.” And if those don’t work for you, don’t even consider the acid-laden freak rock of “Poison Oak” and “Tehachapi Bloodline!” This is stuff that might make Ray Manzarek shake his head in disbelief and Jimmy Page nod righteously in approval. In fact, it is simply astounding that this band is not a household name at this stage or an icon in the American Rock and Roll lexicon! 

And then came the band’s third album. While many consider Shootout to be their favorite record, somehow it got lost in the shuffle. American Recordings failed to properly promote it and ultimately the band was dropped from the label. Not only that but once the band was dropped, American owned the rights to both Part-Timer and Shootout and they stopped being distributed . . . for decades. Long story short, after some sleuthing to figure out who owned the present-day rights (a three-year odyssey), the folks at Blue Rose were finally able to get the albums back and get both out to fans once again in 2020 (RAD!).

Shootout is a departure from the band’s previous two albums. With this one they traded the balls to the wall rock for some real poise. For one, Danny Eisenberg, a long time Hips’ collaborator and widely considered the fifth member of the band, guests on organ . . . a lot and that rounds out the sound and gives it some real soul and fuller dimension. There is also a strong country tinge that hints of things to come with the band’s 4th release Later Days but all that is for another time. There are still those signature rockers that persist in being well represented at shows to this day. This record is laden with classic Hips’ compositions that mark the growth of these guys as a cohesive unit. Songs like “Can’t Sleep At All,” (a consistent second set closer) “Transit Wind,” (a consistent mid-set heater), “Honeydew,” (a funked up often live set opener) and “Mother Hips,” (a typical encore swooner) and “Two River Blues,” (an absolute live show barn burner) illustrate how creative these guys were at this stage despite the increasing pressures of the business. This is where the band began to find a stride that would take them forward for the rest of their career – rockers punctuated by slow, thoughtful turns ruminating on girls and the downward spiral into the hole of hard drugs.

In the end, the arc of the Mother Hips follows a lot of the same peaks and valleys that so many other hardworking bands experience, but here we are, thirty years and counting, revisiting the building blocks, celebrating the victories and putting the defeats in perspective with the benefit of hindsight. The coolest part of all of this is that the band is continuing a creative peak that has not flagged for the better part of the second half of their career to this point. There aren’t a lot of bands that can boast that feat, it is an exclusive club to which the Mother Hips have just gained membership. Now, While most of these vinyl rereleases are selling out at a dizzying pace, be sure to check-in at the Blue Rose Music page link below to snag the errant unsold copy, get in on subsequent pressings,  and get on the good foot to grab your copy of the remaining releases (there are 9 more coming after all!). 

Finally, as has been said before, God Bless the Mother Effing Hips. 

Preorder all of the reissues here!

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