Highway 54

Posted by Dee-Ann On August - 22 - 20105,035 views

You all heard of Wayne Hancock I guess. He had a tearjerker song, called Highway 54. Singer/ guitarplayer Pieter and his friend/guitarplayer thought that would be a cool name for a band. So in 2002 they founded Highway 54, a Train-a-Billy band, from Leeuwarden and Groningen, The Netherlands. They both loved Johnny Cash, and wanted the authentic sound of Elvis’ Blue Moon Boys or Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Two.
Wait, wait… “Train-a-Billy”? What’s that? Let’s talk to Pieter about that and his band.



Pieter, the band started without a drummer? How so?

It was hard to find a bassplayer who was willing to play with us, until we were playing outside. The neighbor was looking over the fence and asked if he could play with us some time. He played bass in a band once, and thought it would be nice to play music again. We were thrilled. Our problem would be solved if he would buy a standup bass. After some rehearsals, it really clicked, that’s when Highway 54 was born.
The guitarplayer and bassplayer quit four years ago. I found other musicians and added a drummer. So now we are Gert Top on guitar, Alje Mulder on drums, Roel Huizinga on bass and Pieter van der Bij, vocals/ guitar.

You play abroad very often. Is the Dutch audience different than elsewhere?
The audience is very different. Abroad you’re a foreigner and very interesting. They are curious about the music you’re playing. We played in Spain, Norway, at the Rockabilly Rave in England and a dozen of times in Germany. Although all the tours were great, we really fit in, in Germany. That’s why Germany is on our toplist. Especially our show on the Rockabilly Earthquake 2010 in Bremen. It was a great experience. The crowd was awesome.

How did rock and roll enter your life?
For me, it started watching Happy Days. As a little boy I always watched The Fonz, Ritchie, Potsie and all the others. I was hooked! My dad didn’t like rockabilly that much but played Jim Reeves and Johnny Cash a lot. There was a Eddie Cochran cd in the collection. As an 8-year old I sang “C’mon Everybody” every day at the playground.

Are your songs based on real life?
Everyting you experience, you listen to and do influences your writing ofcourse. Broken hearts, beautiful ladies, hot cars and lonely trains are my favorite subjects, eventhough you don’t want experience the first one too often. 😉

What are your do’s and don’ts on stage?
We’d like to look authentic in our ‘50s outfits. No Stray Cats style. There has to be a balance between cool and hitting the roof. Sometimes I see bands blowing their top the whole evening and not playing quite straight. But I also watch bands playing it cool, playing their thing, but they don’t excite anybody. I think a combination of both is the best. If you’re singing a tearjerker, don’t lay on the ground screaming. There’s a time and place for everything. The song has to be presented as it is played. We have both in our setlist.

How important is it for you to stay authentic? Do you stay true to your thing or do you play something else too?
Train-a-billy is not our main style anymore. When our new guitarist entered, we play more surf, country, blues and explosive rockabilly. We like to take it a step further, but we stay in the 50s style.

So you like other music styles too, other than rock and roll?

Sure. I love blues and country. Especially pre-60s! But I also listen to Chris Isaak and Norah Jones. As long as it has that fifties feeling.

Which todays bands do you like?
I like Big Sandy, The Paladins, Rip Carson, Sonny Rogers, Del Moroccos, Eddy & The Backfires and the The Barnstompers. Love those bands!

Where do you wish to play next?
At the big festivals in Spain. That would be great! Who knows?!?

I love band adventures. You probably have one story for us.
That would be our Spanish adventure in Mallorca! We stayed at the local motorbike club. It was very Spartan. Our personal guide was constantly telling us how many people he had shot when he was at the Brittish SAS. Great man. Buff on the outside, but with a kind heart.
And a show in Cologne got out of hand. During a gig in a tikibar the police force stormed in and we had to stop playing. Afterwards it got out of hand more. Barmen and owners at a fight. And we were so drunk… haha

Are you sorry about anything you have done or didn’t do?
No regrets. We’re grateful of having this chance in music! However… we were booked at a bar in Germany. The barkeeper didn’t know anything about it. So we arrived and we weren’t expected. But the owner understood and we could play nevertheless. Afterwards we collected money with a cap and our evening had been saved. He did not have a bad evening. The visitors drank a lot.

Do you have plans for the future?
Next year we’re going to record our 3rd cd and a videoclip. Within two years playing in the USA. And playing at festivals in Europe. I would be very content with that.

Anything you want to tell rockabilly newbies?
Don’t forget your comb and buy Murray’s at a discount. Just kidding! You don’t have to do anything! Just enjoy yourself, be yourself, just like your music. Pure, honest and straight forward.

Finish this sentence: we won’t ever…
have a bandstop for more than three months because of the summer holidays. It has been too long for me.

Curious about their music? Listen to their songs on myspace:


Or watch this:

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