With the release of last fall's The Grand Theatre: Volume One, the Old 97's seemed a rejuvenated bunch. After 15 years together, the alt.country stalwarts made one of the best albums of their career, and this summer's Volume Two promises even more future greatest hits. While singer Rhett Miller has launched a successful solo career, horned-rimmed bass player Murry Hammond insists the Dallas quartet's in it for life.
"When people were saying, 'Rhett's got his own thing now and the rest of the band must be calling it quits,' we were saying, 'No!,'" enthuses Hammond. He pauses to laugh. "None of that ever came from us. Today is like yesterday and tomorrow is going to be like today, that's just kind of like how it is with this band. We're honest. The only thing that would end the band is somebody dying. We're going to be old men together. It's a nice feeling."
One of the tunes getting a lot of attention on Volume One is "Champaign, Illinois," which matches Miller's words to the melody of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row," a nifty songwriting feat, but also one that came with Dylan's permission.
"We've had the song since 1995," Hammond relates. "Rhett wrote it while he was driving, as an exercise of putting his words to somebody else's tune. We've been playing it in our little acoustic duo thing for years. Now our manager has longtime old connections with Dylan, and I brought it up. I told him, 'If there's ever a time that we could get this song okayed, it's now.' I thought let's just attempt it. He did, and it was pretty easy after that. He got past the lawyers and gatekeepers and once that happened, Dylan wanted to see video of Rhett singing it. He saw it and he gave the okay."