Hamfist: To thoroughly dominate, humiliate or destroy.

— urbandictionary.com

Certainly a fitting name for the local Ashland group that describes its music as "Americana/Bluegrass/Cowboy/Folk Blast."

The seven-piece band specializes in "hamfisting" covers such as "White Wedding," by Billy Idol, and songs by Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Cheap Trick in the style of boisterous bluegrass.

"We hamfisted the entire "Harvest" album by Neil Young," says James "Jimmy" Dean Jr., who plays mandolin and goes by Cletus T. Cornhauler. Each member has a trucker name, kind of a hamfist version of a stage name.

"We have no delusions about who we are," says Jesse "The Kid" Baldwin, who plays Dobro, banjo, guitar and accordion.

Baldwin says the band's name helps define its brutal folk sound. "It excuses our musicianship," he says. "We bash through tunes."

"We take pretty songs and make them 'purty,' " says Joe "Slim" Porto, who plays bass.

Adding to the eclectic sound is Ezra "EZ" Severin on guitar, ukulele and harmonica, Jon "Jonny B" Bates on guitar, Kirk "Sequoia" Pearson on guitar and Stephany "no-handle" Smith-Pearson on mandolin and accordion.

The members of Hamfist have been playing together for about 10 years, since they got their start playing on a dare at the old Jefferson State Pub. Five of the seven bandmates are co-workers at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

For the Tidings Café, Hamfist performed an almost unrecognizable version of "Are You Experienced?" by Jimi Hendrix.

The majority of Hamfist's songs are covers of old country and bluegrass tunes out of what Dean calls the "bible": "The Rise Up Singing Handbook."

"It's just like a spiral-bound music book that was published in 1965 and we just flip through it and find songs to play," says Dean.

Hamfist does have two original songs it plays regularly at shows.

Last year, Hamfist opened for Gypsy Soul at the Britt Festivals in Jacksonville, a definite highlight for the band.

"We felt like rock stars," says Dean.

"The crowd was a lot of fun, too. We stuffed the house," says Severin.

But as Dean explains, the group enjoys playing for charity just the same as large venue performances.

"We're a sucker for fundraisers. We've played for steak and pie," says Dean.

Hamfist has upcoming performances scheduled at the OSF Green Show on June 15 and Sept. 7, but can be seen playing local bars and restaurants as well.

At Tease, Hamfist members take turns playing together and tone down the bluegrass blast.

"We do play a lot of those hard fistable tunes," says Baldwin, "but when we play at Tease we generally do some of those softer tunes, some of the slower, mid-tempo tunes where we can feature a quieter side of the band."

"It's kind of like being back in the living room when we play Tease," says Smith-Pearson.

But at Alex's on Friday, April 8, Hamfist will let it out, unrestrained, the members say.

"We have a good time at Alex's, that's the loud rocking place we can play the dance tunes," says Smith-Pearson.

To scoot your boots to the Hamfist sound, join the band at Alex's on the Plaza at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at mandyv911@jeffnet.org.

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