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Interview: Texas ‘bandito country’ band Crooks joins lineup for Tumbleweed Calf Fry, kicking off Thursday in Stillwater

by Brandy McDonnell Published: April 24, 2013

A version of this story appears in Wednesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.

Texas ‘bandito country’ band Crooks joins Calf Fry lineup
The emerging Austin six-piece outfit will perform for its first time at the long-running Stillwater festival, which plays Thursday through Saturday at the Tumbleweed Dance Hall.

Crooks happens to be a pretty apt name for a Texas band playing what they’ve dubbed “bandito country.”

“It’s like outlaw country but you’ve got the Mexican flair in there,” explained multi-instrumentalist Sam Alberts in a recent phone interview his home in Austin. “It’s definitely not polished. It’s kind of a little bit more raw.”

The roguish name also suits the attitude of the six-piece group, who might not steal something just to live up to it — but again, they just might.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to,” Alberts said cagily.

The emerging Texas country band wouldn’t mind stealing the show when it plays one of the legendary after-parties at Stillwater’s 22nd Annual Calf Fry at the Tumbleweed Dance Hall.

Crooks has developed a reputation in the past few years for putting on rowdy late-night shows that should help them fit in nicely with Josh Abbott, Randy Rogers, Casey Donahew and the other bands at this year’s Calf Fry, which kicks off Thursday and continues through Saturday.

The “bandito country” band — Alberts, 28, who plays guitar, banjo, mandolin and trumpet in their live shows; Josh Mazour, 31, singer/songwriter/guitarist; Rob Bacak, 29, drummer; Joey McGill, 24, stand-up bass player; Doug Day, 32, trumpet player/guitarist/percussionist; and Anthony Ortiz Jr., 20, accordion player — crossed the Red River for the first time earlier this year. They’ve played just two Sooner State shows — at Grady’s 66 Pub in Yukon and the Mercury Lounge in Tulsa — but considered both successful.

“None of us are very familiar with Oklahoma in general, but we all really liked Tulsa. We liked the downtown where we were staying. We took kind of a scenic route out of town and went by a little flea market in Shawnee. Saw a classic car show there and bought about 30 VHS movies for our van at the flea market. So it was pretty cool. We’ve had a good time there,” Alberts said.

“We’ll play a little Merle Haggard there to get the Oklahoma crowd on our side and then launch into the set. We’ve been pretty well received. We’ve got a lot of followers from both of the shows that we played there,” Alberts said.

The band’s sound has been steadily evolving since Mazour founded it as a stripped-down duo back in 2007, but Haggard has always been among their influences.

“Josh he’ll write most of the lyrics, and … his heroes are like Townes Van Zandt and Billy Joe Shaver and Hank Williams Sr. You know, he tries to convey a certain level of just honesty through his lyrics, and when we’re writing music around that it kind of tends to fall in those same veins,” Alberts said.

“We’ve not really done a whole lot of planning of our sound. When Josh and I got together, it just kind of came out that way: He was writing some country songs; I was coming at it with a trumpet and a desire to kind of paint these large cinematic pictures. And our sound kind of came together for that.”

The multi-instrumentalist became one of the first additions to the growing band when Mazour posted a Craigslist ad looking for a trumpet player to perform on his dark story-song “My First Gun.”

“We both grew up in San Antonio, so there’s a lot of Hispanic culture that we’ve kind of grown up around. That’s part of the reason we wanted to … have this southwestern-y feel rather than just straight-up outlaw country,” Alberts said.

“You definitely don’t think trumpet in traditional country. But everyone thinks trumpet in spaghetti westerns, and you know, it used to be country-western (music). So there is kind of a natural progression there.” when you think of old western movies and the trumpet flourishes. People kind of seem to realize that and connect to it.”

The band has let its sound develop organically. While recording the 2012 album “The Rain Will Come,” they wrote two songs — “Pull up Your Boots” and “Heart Achin’ Town” — that cried out for an accordion. So they recruited accordion legend Flaco Jimenez of the Texas Tornados to play on the album and then added “accordion wunderkind” Ortiz to the live lineup.

“We to kind of do everything we can to bring our recordings to life live, but when we’re in the studio, we just kind of see it as a canvas. And we just try and paint the picture we’re imagining,” Alberts said.

Along with regional acclaim, “The Rain Will Come” garnered Crooks national attention from American Songwriter, and MTV Hive, which has made it possible for the band to expand its reach outside Texas and join the Calf Fry festivities for the first time.

“We’re pretty excited to do it,” Alberts said. “We’ve heard that it’s gonna be pretty crazy there at the after-party, a lot people are gonna be a little bit tipsy, gonna be in there shoulder to shoulder, having a good time. That’s kind of where we thrive. We like our crowds drunk and rowdy.”

He doesn’t yet know if he likes the event’s signature delicacy, but he’s willing to find out if someone slides a basket of calf fries his way.

“That’s my philosophy: You’re crazy if you don’t try something once.”


22nd Annual Calf Fry

When: Thursday-Saturday. Shows start at 5:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Where: Tumbleweed Dance Hall, Lakeview and Country Club roads, Stillwater.


2013 Calf Fry lineup:


Josh Abbott Band

Whiskey Myers

The Cadillac III

Bri Bagwell

After-party with Taylor Atkinson Band


Randy Rogers Band

Wade Bowen

The Departed

Jake Moffat Band

After-party with The Quaker City Nighthawks


Casey Donahew Band

JT Hodges

Kyle Park

Chad Sullins

After party with Crooks


by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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