The Wilburys faded away in 1991 but, hot on their heels, came another group of “brothers” – the Burns brothers – Crashen Burns, G.W. “Wash” Burns, Side Burns, and Rug Burns, collectively known as Run C&W. They were, of course, a novelty bluegrass and country band but behind the humour was a bunch of excellent musicians with a clever musical idea. Where the “brothers” inspiration, hip hop band Run DMC, had taken rock songs and turned them into hip-hop recordings, Run C&W returned the favour by turning well-known R&B and soul classics into bluegrass-tinged country songs – and in most cases, it worked really well.
The band was, in reality, ex-Eagle Bernie Leadon on banjo and guitar, Russell Smith, formerly of the Amazing Rhythm Aces, on lead vocals, and Nashville songwriters and musicians Jim Photoglo and Vince Melamed rounding out the line-up, playing a variety of instruments. It was a relatively short-lived project. The band’s debut album, “Into the Twangy First Century” was released by MCA in 1993 and the follow-up, and final album, “Roe vs. Wade” came out in 1995, after which the band called it a day. A shame, in some ways, because it was a clever idea and they did produce some good music and, it could be argued, laid the foundations for bands like Hayseed Dixie and Gangstagrass to follow them.
Both albums were critically well received and performed moderately well, without troubling any of the major charts. The band released just two singles, their debut single ‘Itchy Twitchy Spot’, a parody of the Billy Ray Cyrus song ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, came out at the end of 1992, just ahead of their first album, and the second single, ‘Hold On, I’m Coming’, a cover of the Sam & Dave song, came from that album and was released in 1993.
Since calling time on the band the various members have had mixed fortunes. Bernie Leadon returned to making more serious music. Along with the rest of The Eagles, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and reunited with them for that event. He released his second solo album, “Mirror” in 2004 and returned to The Eagles for the History of The Eagles tour from 2013 to 2015. These days he lives in Nashville, working as a session musician and producer. Vince Melamed returned to Nasville and resumed his work as a keyboard player and songwriter. He branched out into Voiceover work and now has a successful career voicing a variety of video and phone games as well as various TV and Radio spots. Jim Photoglo also returned to his life in Nashville, where he was a high profile songwriter for the likes of Garth Brooks, Patty Loveless and the Everly Brothers. He released his last solo album , “Halls of My Heart”, in 2014, his 9th solo album since he started recording back in 1980. In 2016 he joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as a touring sideman, playing bass and guitar. Russell Smith, who had enjoyed a long career as the singer with the Amazing Rhythm Aces, and as a songwriter for the band and for artists such as Randy Travis and Don Williams, developed cancer in later life and died in 2019, ruling out the possibility of the four “Burns Brothers” making music together again.
Run C&W are little more than a footnote in American roots music but, if you’ve never heard them, they’re well worth seeking out. Good parody is a hard thing to pull off and, for all the silliness of the songs, these were consummate musicians at the top of their game; the results are a lot of fun – and include a lot of great music!
Another RB recommended album that is still played with great enjoyment