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01 Jan 2020

Rockabilly Bliss: Molly Hanmer and the Midnight Tokers Offer the Power of the Blues to Pioneertown

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Molly Hanmer and the Midnight Tokers. Molly Hanmer and the Midnight Tokers. Dave Clancy

Is there anything as cool as that good ol’ rockabilly sound? The old greats really knew what they were doing … but we haven’t heard much of that classic sound recently.

Then again, maybe we just haven’t been looking in the right places: If you’ve got the no-blues blues, check out Molly Hanmer and the Midnight Tokers. Debut record Stuck in a Daydream covers all the bases of blues essentials. “Take a Walk with Me” kicks off the record with a rockabilly jam that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Johnny Cash record, while the title track is a soft, somber, slow-burning blues song that’ll rip your heart out with a tale about a lack of confidence. Hanmer’s voice is perfect for these different scenarios; it sounds so meaningful on the slower tracks—and playful, yet sinister, on the faster ones.

The group will perform at Pappy and Harriet’s on Thursday, Jan. 23.

“My love for music started when I was a kid,” Hanmer said during a recent phone interview. “My mom and dad were always playing music around the house. My dad listened to The Beatles, The Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead; my mom was more into Etta James and Aretha Franklin.”

I could hear bits of these inspirations sprinkled throughout the album, with a little Etta on “Outlaw Blues,” and a little Paul McCartney on “Dead Happy.” Hanmer explained how she started to be more of a music-maker, and not just a listener.

“My dad always had this guitar lying around the house,” said Hanmer, “a Lyle Dove, which was a copy of a Gibson Dove. He would play around just for fun on it, and I started to get interested in it. He showed me some basic chords—C, F, G. Then he got me lessons, but I was only 9 years old at the time, so I ended up not being able to hold enough attention. When I turned 13, though, I got my first electric guitar, and things took off from there.”

Another of Hanmer’s inspirations is Bob Dylan. You can hear this love for him on her “Mama’s in the Spirit World Now.”

“I wrote my first song when I was 17. It’s called ‘Song to Bob,’ and it was a play off of Bob Dylan’s song to Woody Guthrie,” Hanmer said. “After that, I didn’t write songs for a couple of years; I just didn’t have the self-confidence to do it. I met my friend Claudia Miles, who is my manager now, and she got me back into writing, and helped me figure out how to approach it—to just sit down and write whatever comes out. Once I tried that, I wrote a song called ‘Little Song,’ which is on my first EP.”

Hanmer went on to play and write more, steadily increasing her musicianship skills and confidence, before the inception of her current band.

“In high school, I didn’t really want to sing,” Hanmer said. “I mostly considered myself a guitar player. But then I realized: I really didn’t have anyone who could sing, so I had to start doing it myself. For a few years, I was just playing at home, but after I turned 21, I started going to open mics around San Francisco, where I lived at the time. I played mostly covers and a few originals, until I moved to L.A. and met my band.”

The move to Los Angeles shifted Hanmer’s dream into high gear.

“I was a little wary about moving to L.A., because everyone in Northern California has this negative stigma about Los Angeles; I think they’re just jealous of the sun,” Hanmer said. “My manager convinced me to move to L.A., so I did, and met John Bird, my keyboard player, and Keith Palmer, my drummer, through a friend of my dad. I met our bass player, Alex U’Ren, at a bar three years ago, and he’s been playing with us for a year. I was kind of nervous to ask them to play with me at first, because they’re older and more experienced, but they were more than happy to play with me.”

As for the name, Hanmer explained that an unintentional bit of plagiarizing proved fateful.

“When I first moved here, I was trying to figure out what a cool band name would be,” Hanmer said. “After brainstorming a few names, I came up with the Midnight Tokers. I thought it was a great name and that I was so clever, but when I presented it to the guys, they said, ‘Like the Steve Miller Band?’ and I realized I subconsciously stole that. But it really fits the vibe of the band, so we’ve stuck with it.”

Blues music has always been popular in some circles, because everyone has experienced pain—and sometimes, it helps to just sing about it.

“The blues is a very authentic and genuine genre,” Hanmer said. “You’re just laying out life and the struggles that everyone goes through, and putting it to beautiful music. That’s really what I love about it.”

Molly Hanmer and the Midnight Tokers will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan 23, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.

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