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Published on August 20th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann


The Hibachi Heroes Serve the Funky Rock in Their Own Way

It’s always challenging to form a band that knows how to work together musically, personally, and professionally. Egos and musical ideas can clash, and tempers and rivalries can flair up. Luckily for Charleston-based groove ensemble the Hibachi Heroes, the six-piece team works quite well together to draw the funkiest, slinkiest elements from every corner of the rock ‘n’ soul spectrum.

Fronted by singer/harmonica player Rob Lowe (no relation to the slick movie actor), the band operates more as solid team than a backing combo with a bandleader.

“It’s very much a group effort, on stage and behind the scenes,” Lowe says of his bandmates — keyboardist Brittany Puite, bassist Keene Fleck, guitarist Rick Zender, banjoist/guitarist Zeke Lowell, and drummer Jeff Llewellyn. “We’re lucky enough to have five songwriters in the band, four of which sing, so this really helps give the group a wide range of influences, styles, and voices to pull from.”

Formed in 2011, the Hibachi Heroes started out as an original music project with plenty of cover songs in the mix. These days, they emphasize their own tunes over the standard bar-rock fare.

“We’re an original music band that plays some covers,” Lowe says. “At the very most, our setlist will have up to 50 percent covers in it — and those will be tunes that really showcase something unique about the band. We don’t do songs just because people will know them and will sing along. But there are hundreds of solo acts, duos, trios, and cover bands in town that will play those and more for you all night long. I’ve challenged the band to pick and learn cover songs that, for the most part, you won’t hear other bands do.”


The Hibachi Heroes already have more than two dozen originals ready to pull from for a forthcoming studio session. They plan to track nearly everything by the end of 2013 or early 2014.

“Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that paying by the hour to record is expensive, stressful, and not as fun, so we’re going to record just about everything in a home studio record and then have it mixed and mastered by the pros,” Lowe says.

Lowe grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and relocated to Charleston in 2007 after a stint on Los Angeles.

“My parents had moved to Charleston, and I decided I may as well do my due diligence and check out Folly Beach,” Lowe remembers. “Needless to say, I haven’t looked back.”

“I’d just moved here and didn’t know anyone, and then I saw [singer/guitarist] Graham Whorley’s band at Snapper Jack’s,” he adds. “After the show, I asked him if I could sit in with them the next time they were at the beach. Without hesitation, he gave me some ideas, and we lined something up either the next night or week. After that show, guitarist Kris Woodrum invited me to join him the next night with Jerry Cooper at Taco Boy. From there, it just tentacled out.”

Lowe’s been into music and the idea of performing since his youngest years. Instrumentally, he started out playing the recorder in elementary school. He gradually progressed to clarinet, French horn, and musical theater (in college). Eventually, he settled on the harmonica.

“Harmonica was kind of an accidental thing I stumbled upon,” he says. “It was a track on a 1995 compilation/tribute album titled Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon — Blues Traveler’s rendition of “Imagine” — that sparked my initial interest in learning harmonica.”

Lowe’s first harmonica was a Hohnor Pocket Pal his father bought for him years ago. That Hohnor Pocket Pal just happened to be in the right key with the Blues Traveler track, so Lowe worked on mimicking Blues Traveler’s John Popper’s harmonica solo.

“I first thought harmonica was easy and that playing Blues Traveler songs was a piece of cake, but I was wrong … very wrong,” Lowe says. “It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I decided to try and play out on harmonica. I put together my first band [High Water Junction], recorded our practices and gigs, and realized I was kind of terrible. It’s taken a lot of work over the past 10 or so years to get to where I am now.”

Lowe worked at playing in various styles, from the typical blues to funk, jazz, rock, and fusion. “I tried my best to emulate John Popper, all the while learning out how to play the darn thing through the right combination of guitar effects, amps, and mics in an effort to broaden the range of the instrument and get the type of sound I was hearing in my head.”


The Hibachi Heroes (provided)

Soon after settling in the Lowcountry, Lowe began collaborating with a healthy mix of musicians at local clubs and jam sessions from Dangermuffin and Johnny Mac and the BootyRanch to Weigh Station, James Justin Burke, Wyatt Garey, Tommy Thunderfoot, and others. He also hooked up with the long-running Lowcountry Blues Club, who congregate weekly at Home Team BBQ in West Ashley and at Smokey’s Place in North Charleston.

He eventually formed a bar band called Kings of Thieves, and he regularly filled in with the Jefferson Coker Band. Under his guidance, Hibachi Heroes started taking shape two years ago.

“We billed ourselves as ‘Harmonica-powered funk rock,'” Lowe says. “It’s high-energy and upbeat-sounding … to get people’s heads bobbing and butts moving. We’re not very good at being background music. We’re whores for attention, and our music spans the ins-and-outs of rock, funk, and blues to keep people listening and engaged. We have very little sympathy for the people that want to come to a bar, sit down in front of us, and have a quiet, deep conversation.”

“We tend to improvise a lot and come up with our own interpretations,” he adds. “It’s completely standard for us to decide that we want to lengthen or shorten a given section of a song, adding something here or there, and just doing it our own way.”

One of the biggest challenges for the Hibachi Heroes has been tightening up a solid lineup and rhythm section. They went through several drummers and bassist before landing Fleck and Llewellyn last year.

“Now that all six of us have played together for about a year, we’re really starting to hit our stride,” Lowe says. “Original music is hard, and none of our songs are easy. There are so many stops, key changes, time changes, and intricacies in what we do that the backline doesn’t have a prayer of winging it at a show. So it took time to gel. The great thing is that we’re all in this because we believe in what the band is doing and where we’re going. We are truly having the time of our lives on stage, and I think that comes across to the audience.”

The Hibachi Heroes will perform at Loggerhead’s on Folly Beach on Fri. Aug. 23 at 10 p.m. Admission is free. They’ll perform at the “Band Together for ALS 2013” event at the Brick Yard Kitchen on James Island on Sat. Sept. 14 as well.

Visit facebook.com/TheHibachiHeroes and reverbnation.com/thehibachiheroes for more.



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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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