9pm doors/9:30pm showtime
Michael O'Neill, AKA Hank , Hank and the skinny 3:
Most rock ’n’ roll musicians aren’t built to last. After a few years of getting chewed up by chasing the dream, the secure allure of the straight life takes hold. They trade their slashed seat in the ratty van for a cush chair behind some cluttered desk, thinking forever about what could’ve been. But then there are the lifers. The guys who do this stuff because they have to. Because rocking is it’s its own reward, the only thing that feels right. Michael O’Neill is one of these guys. And you hear it in every honest note, burning chord, and raw yelp in the timeless rock ’n’ roll he makes—especially with his current band, Hank and the Skinny 3.
Electrifried & Blue, Hank and the Skinny 3’s sophomore album, roars with the kind of rough, deep-rooted songs no one else seems to make anymore: the off-the-rails opener “Don’t Need You Now,” the alternately crashing and bittersweet “Everywhere I Go,” the deliciously bleak “All I’ve Known is Black.”
“My dad and my older brother worked at 3M,” says Michael, who grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. “But I just wasn’t going to work in some rust-belt factory.” He loved his grandfather’s country records and the rockabilly and surf on the radio, and at age 10 started playing Beatles and Rolling Stones tunes on a homemade basement drum kit before learning guitar and discovering Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan (Highway 61 Revisited was key); the Faces and T. Rex (The Slider) came later, along with blues gateway Lightnin’ Hopkins and the first wave of punk. After high school, Michael studied filmmaking and photography at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and by 1979 it was time to hit New York.
“I saw Richard Hell and the Dead Boys at CBGB and Crass at a Soho loft, went to Max’s Kansas City a lot,” he recalls. Dub music, No Wave, and the Cramps all became major influences, and he joined the Honeymoon Killers on guitar, playing on the swampy rockers’ self-titled 1984 debut. By 1987, however, New York had gotten “too crazy,” and Michael beat it back to the Twin Cities.
There, he formed Bad Thing, a now-legendary Minneapolis unit that released one single and an eponymous EP of heavy, dark, expansive rock recalling Crazy Horse at their grungiest, and toured like hell before spinning out in 1997. “I’ve always liked Michael’s songwriting style,” says Peter Jesperson, former Replacements manager/producer, Twin/Tone Records cofounder, and current New West Records senior vice president. “He has a unique sensibility that combines simple garage rock with brainier, arty stuff like the Velvet Underground—a great combination.” Michael’s solo debut, the desolate, psychedelia-tinged Pre-Millennium Blues, arrived in 1989, but he soon adopted the name Cash Carson for his working band, playing under that moniker around the Midwest and the Lower East Side upon returning there.
After Cash Carson recorded 2002’s Permanent Damage, the singer-songwriter moved his home studio to a 100-year-old farmhouse in Upstate New York. Named for “the ghost of Hank Williams and the guys backing him up,” Hank and the Skinny 3 debuted with 2008’s Coyote Speaks, further laying out their Stonesy, Johnny Thunders-cracking calling card with 2014’s Electrifried & Blue. But no matter what twists and turns Michael’s music has taken in the decades since he began, there remains its defining characteristic: a sidewinding sound that evokes dust-blown, mythically sprawling open spaces and the restless roads that run through them.
“When I’m moving is when I’m most at ease, I gotta keep working,” he says. “And I’m not done yet.”