As befits their love of blues music, Hopeless Jack & the Handsome Devil are familiar with bad luck. In 2014, the Portland, Ore.-based duo caught the eye of the Bucket City Agency, which has handled booking for acts ranging from Black Flag to country music icon Charlie Louvin.
"We, like with most things, just kept asking until they came to our show," said Jack "Hopeless Jack" Beisel. "And then they saw us play and immediately picked us up."
HJ&HD couldn't capitalize on this new relationship right away, though. While driving to play a four-year anniversary show, Beisel was in a head-on collision. The accident totaled the touring van, forcing the duo to postpone touring to raise money for a new one, but Beisel and Pete "Smilin' Pete" Thomas aka the Handsome Devil used the time well.
"We have been taking a serious and much-needed refocusing break," Beisel told Boise Weekly. "We kind of stepped off that really heavy touring for a while to get ourselves ready to push again really hard."
They're ready now. After spending months off the road, Hopeless Jack & the Handsome Devil has five tours planned for 2015. The first, which has 14 dates spread out across the West Coast, includes a show at Crazy Horse on Thursday, Feb. 12, with local groups Gipsy Moon Rise, The Foxxtones and Parade of Bad Guys opening.
In spite of any hardships, Beisel and Thomas inject raucous, punk-like energy into their blues-steeped songs. Thomas' hyperkinetic drumming complements Beisel's baritone howl and slashing slide guitar. SSG Music described a live HJ&HD show as "the frenzy of the Stooges combined with a shock-and-awe strut gleaned from the early-era bluesmen."
It's surprising how well Beisel and Thomas fit together, considering how different their backgrounds are. For his part, Beisel came from a family of "blue-collar farmers." He grew up listening to punk rock and later, through his grandfather's record collection, discovered artists like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Nat King Cole. Eventually, Beisel's love of old-school country and R&B led to an obsession with the blues.
Thomas, by contrast, came from a musically inclined family. His dad played drums in a classic rock band, which is how Thomas became interested in the instrument.
"Actually, playing drums was like a family affair," Thomas said. "Everyone went through the phase of learning drums; I was the only one who stuck with it."
Growing up, specific genres didn't interest Thomas. Instead, he focused on honing his chops and finding the right chemistry with other musicians.
"I just got really interested in the players that I was playing with rather than the sound I was going for," Thomas said. "I wanted to build something awesome, special. I don't know ... just something that feels good."
The pair met when Beisel got hired at a bar Thomas worked at. While Thomas was training Beisel on his first day, Thomas mentioned he played drums. The two jammed at Thomas' house the next morning, and as soon as Beisel and Thomas started playing together, they knew they'd found that "something awesome."
"I just plugged in, turned my amp on, turned my back to him and started playing music," Beisel said. "I did that for about five minutes, and Pete was behind the drum kit just banging away. And then, all of a sudden, it hit. It just clicked. I turned around and Pete was smiling ear to ear, and I was smiling ear to ear."
The two formed the band that same day and played their first show a week later. For the next three-and-a-half years, they refined their sound and gigged relentlessly, playing several cross-country tours and one European tour.
The connections Beisel and Thomas have made are starting to pay off. In addition to signing with Bucket City, the duo played the 2014 Ink-N-Iron Kustom Culture Festival in Long Beach, Calif.; the lineup included Merle Haggard, Wanda Jackson, The Damned and Suicidal Tendencies. Plus, HJ&HD's song "Hali's Comet," off 2011's Shallow Hearts-Shallow Graves (self-released) was featured in an episode of the hit TV drama Sons of Anarchy.
"Pete took a gamble on our behalf," Beisel said of the SOA spot. "We knew the right people and were attached in the right ways, and it came through for us."
In the coming year, HJ&HD will open for The Reverend Horton Heat in Seattle in May and play a set at the inaugural Nashville Ink-N-Iron fest in August. Beisel and Thomas are also planning to film two videos and hope to record another EP this year. As hectic as it may get and as hard as Beisel and Thomas have worked to get here, Beisel is humbled by the opportunities
"As hard as this world has gotten and as hard as life can be, that people can... come support you and have fun while you get to do what you love—that's the stuff that blows me away," he said.