The members of The B-Stars often share festival stages with rockabilly combos devoted to what came after country and blues got mashed up inside Sun Studios, but the San Francisco band sticks firmly to the pre-Elvis side of things as far as retro hillbilly music is concerned. It roots itself within the rather specific niche of late-’40s and early-’50s country—the lonesome shuffle of Hank Williams and the Western swing of Bob Wills.
The sound and look are faithfully re-created, and the lyrics focus on such classic country tropes as whiskey and women … with the occasional modern wink. Witness the opening track to the band’s 2010 album Behind the Barn with The B-Stars, “Ink Free Baby of Mine,” in which singer Greg Yanito laments that his newfound ladylove is devoid of body art: “No hearts, no birds, no four-letter dirty words. She’s ink free, that baby of mine.”
Yanito’s interest in the genre started with hearing breakthrough rockabilly group The Stray Cats on the radio in the ’80s, which led to an interest in the No Depression movement of the ’90s.
“I just got a little curious,” he said. “Why are these guys playing this? So I started digging into what Jeff Tweedy and Uncle Tupelo were listening to, and it got me moving further and further back into the history of country music.”
Couple that with a love of swing music fostered by his jitterbugging parents—he also teaches dance—and it’s little surprise that the Ohio native quickly set about forming a Western swing group when he moved moving to the Bay Area six years ago. Once he linked up with similarly inclined bass player Eric Reedy, the stage was set—although it was a while before they settled on a name.
All The City Lights: So ……. how’d you get that name?
Greg Yanito: (Choosing) the name of the band was a long, drawn-out process to come up with a very simple name. We thought if we named the band The B-Stars, that would always leave us room for improvement and becoming The A-Stars.
We were trying to name the band something that would subtly reference the genre we were playing. The B-Stars refers to the Western (movie) B-stars: John Wayne, Buck Taylor, Gene Autry. We decided if we were the Western B-Stars, that would pigeonhole us and drive people away. If we don’t tell people we’re country, they don’t realize we’re country. Everyone that sees us likes us and says we should change our name to The A-Stars: “You’re better than B.” …
So Eric and I sat down with my wife at a sushi restaurant about five years ago and made a long list of band names, and eventually The B-Stars came out of that list. …
Eric and I tried to name our band The Heel Draggers because we dragged our heels so long before putting the album out. We had an electric guitar player, Bill McKenna. He was from Alabama, and with his Alabama accent he kept saying “Hill Draggers.” He hated the idea, so we finally said, “Fine, we won’t call the band that.” Ironically, last year we added Mikiya Matsuda on the steel guitar, and he’d been playing in a western swing band called Lady A & The Heel Draggers.
ATCL: Can you remember any alternate names that you considered, other than The Heel Draggers?
GY: I’m sure I could find the list if I gun for it. We just did a show this past Sunday. It was a benefit for Japan, and one of the promoters asked us to use an alternate name. We took my wife’s band’s name, Little Anne and the Tune Wranglers, and changed it to Little Anne and the B-Star Wranglers.
I’d have to think what else. I should have done my research before I called you. I’ll tell you what, I’ll find that list and email it to you. I’ll send it to the guys, too: “We could have been called this.”
[Bloggers note: True to his word, Yanito sent an email with a sampling of names from the brainstorming list, including “The Dry River Drifters, American Standards (think of all the free advertising in restrooms!), The Dim Lights Electric Company, Double Wide Deluxe, Red’s Feed and Tractor Sales and The Humble Stumblers.”]
ATCL: Do people ever get it wrong?
GY: Oh yeah. We’ve been called The B-Sides, The B-Side Players. We’ve got a review in the East Bay Express. Somehow in the middle of the paragraph, it referred to us as The B-Sides.
ATCL: I think that’s the review I found out about you guys through.
GY: It might be. I think there is a band called The B-Sides, at least there was in Cleveland when I was living in Cleveland.
We’ve gone back and forth between having a hyphen in the name. Right now we’re pro-hyphen. Last year we were anti-hyphen.
ATCL: How attached to it are you at this point? I’d assume five years in you’re pretty committed.
GY: Yeah, we can’t change it now. It would be starting all over again. Whenever a new band comes out of an old band, the advertising says “Featuring members of (blank) and (blank).” That’s just more text. Just go with the name. As long as it’s not terrible, just deal with it. I had a band in Ohio called The Cap Gun Cowboys. I think people liked the name more than the band.
ATCL: Any other advice for the young bands out there searching for that perfect name?
GY: We play rockabilly festivals, and it’s always “So and So and the Somethings.” I think your name can tell a lot of people about your genre if you do it right. If I see a band called “So and So and the Somethings,” I’m going to think they’re probably a retro something-or-other—they’re probably not a hip-hop artist—and there’s at least a 50 percent chance I’ll like them. If you do your research a little bit, you can find a name that gets across the genre. Do your homework kids, that would be my advice.
The next opportunity for local fans to see The B-Stars live is 1 p.m. June 19 during the monthly A Fair to Remember street fair in Jack Kerouac Alley in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. The alley is between City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., and Vesuvio Cafe, 255 Columbus Ave.