Questions for Hood Smoke
The band’s leader, Chicago-based, Milwaukee native Bryan Doherty, got his start playing drums to Beatles songs.
Bryan Doherty, 30, bass player, writer, and producer of the jazz/rock fusion band Hood Smoke is a native of Glendale Wisconsin, but has quickly become one of Chicago’s rising musical talents. Doherty and the band, including vocalist Sarah Marie Young, drummer Michael Caskey, keyboardist Rob Clearfield and guitarist Dave Miller, take inspiration from the 1970s. The band has played with such acts like Quincy Jones, Koko Taylor, Steve Coleman and Howard Levy. The bass player talked at length with us about his musical career and band’s origins. On Thursday — tomorrow night — the band performs at Jazz in the Park, the summer series in Cathedral Square.
How did you get your start in music?
For me it all started with the Beatles and a drum kit. My dad had a 1949 green sparkle Slingerland Radio King kit in the basement so I first became familiar with what drums looked like and sounded like. It’s a great kit. I now have it in my apartment in Chicago. My drummer friends’ jaws drop upon seeing it. Around the same time I began to notice the drums, when I was about 4 or 5, I started paying attention to my parents’ record collection.
I remember The Early Beatles and Beatles ’65 being the first albums that jumped out at me, both of which were just U.S. releases. I completely fell in love with that music. The sound of those albums was somehow familiar to me because they replicated the tone of that Slingerland kit bouncing off the basement walls and the style of my dad’s drumming. From that point on I became a sponge, soaking in every album my parents had.
What drew you to jazz?
I was playing a couple of instruments by age 11 and attended the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s summer jazz camp on bass. It was there I was introduced to jazz and the music library the conservatory offered. The first jazz album I borrowed was My Favorite Things by John Coltrane. I tried so hard to get into it but it went way over my head. I thought, “What about this do people like?” but I kept working at playing jazz because it was blues based, much like all the other music I was into at the time. It wasn’t until about a year later when I found the album Workin’ by Miles Davis in my dad’s record collection. When the needle dropped on side one and “It Never Entered My Mind” came crying out of those speakers I was sold. To this day, that track remains one of my all-time favorite recordings.
Selfishly, as a bass player, my favorite is probably “Thick as Thieves” because of the bass line. I write all the songs for the band, mostly on guitar and piano, but when I get up there and play them live I have to put on my bass face. Throughout a set I’ll be making sure everything’s in its right place, but when “Thick as Thieves” comes around I kind of forget about all else, let loose, and dig in on the bass.
What is your favorite thing to see in the audience while you are on stage?
Movement. Whether it is a couple dancing together or someone bobbing their head, I love to see that people are feeling what I’m feeling and trying to emote.
How did your band’s name originate?
The name Hood Smoke comes from my car, a 1997 Toyota Corolla. She’s a beauty. The radiator broke and smoke began to billow from the hood. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to use that as a band name until I realized I couldn’t even afford to get it fixed. I took shortcuts and used inexpensive, temporary means to maintain the coolness of the engine. Because I make my living hustling gigs as a musician, some things are put off in terms of what needs to be taken care of in life.
When the music started coming together for this new band, I thought, “What best represents the state of where I am right now? I’m broke and can’t even afford a new radiator for my car, let alone other things like clothes, because I’m trying to make a living playing music. Smoke is constantly coming out of my hood because I’m trying to maintain something that’s broken instead of getting to the root of the problem and fixing it.” It dawned on me that not only do those two words sound cool together, but they also represent facing what life has to throw at you and figuring out how to make it work.