When Neal and Ian Sowers, the father-son duo that makes up the Hubcap Stealers, hit the road for a tour of the southwestern and southern United States, the trip very nearly started with a bang — a big one.
“At the beginning of our southern tour we were Flagstaff-bound,” Neal (the dad, guitarist and vocalist) says. “We barely made it to Santa Clarita . . . alive, that is. Our tour van was recently serviced days prior, and we started noticing the strong odor of gasoline while driving down the highway. . . . We decided to pull over and inspect — and our van was spewing gasoline from the engine bay like there was a garden hose that had been turned on! Quickly we shut down the engine, called for a tow . . . and thanked the stars we didn’t go up in a tour-van fireball!”
They missed the gig, but made a friend (the garage owner, who fixed the van and covered the lost income from the canceled show) and got back on the road.
Touring is the Hubcap Stealers’ bread and butter, after all, and its members have sung for their supper throughout California and the Southwest almost since the beginning. Being a part of the festival circuit sponsored by 805 Beer has taken the Sowerses to arenas, fairgrounds and even ski resorts (as part of the Rhythm and Slide Tour) far and wide. But the fall tour took them all the way to Nashville — a first for the two-man roots-and-roll outfit.
Adventure seemed to lurk at every corner.
“We woke one morning in Tucson, Arizona, only to find a tarantula chilling out on our hotel door,” Neal recalls. “Not the way you want to wake up. Trying to coax a full-grown spider of that size is not an easy task.”
The native wildlife proved troublesome in Tennessee as well.
“We slept in the van at a truck stop outside of Nashville,” says Neal. “So hot and humid that we kicked the van doors open in the middle of the night . . . and woke up with hundreds of mosquito bites on our feet and ankles.”
Some of the escapades were self-inflicted, like the night in Phoenix when Neal took off his guitar and jumped into the crowd. He surfed the audience over to the bar, “slammed a shot of whiskey,” and got “passed back to the stage without injury — other than my liver giving me the finger that night. The crowd loved it though! Ian kept the beat on the drums rolling throughout the crazy event.”
And then there was the night that the roof quite literally came down. A heavy rainstorm in Flagstaff caused the ceiling at the Hotel Monte Vista’s cocktail lounge to partially collapse. No one was hurt, but the drum was soaked. And in true rock-and-roll style, the show went on. “We just moved to the floor,” Ian (son and drummer) says.
Some of the young musician’s best memories are from New Mexico. “The cool thing about New Mexico — they know how to show a band some love. Santa Fe especially. They don’t get bands from California very often.” And when Hubcap Stealers took the stage at Boxcar, the crowds there got loud. Ian cites it as one of his favorite gigs on the tour.
The drinking age in Texas is 21, just as it is in California, but the Lone Star State does allow minors to consume alcohol when they are accompanied by a consenting, supervising family member. Which is how 18-year-old Ian found himself at a bar in Lubbock with his dad, having a beer after a particularly good show. The crowd was wild, and fans showed their appreciation by lining up shots of whiskey at Ian’s drum set throughout the night. “So we celebrated that [success] after the show . . . after signing CDs and boobs,” Neal says. Just another touching father-son moment.
The band left the Southwest bound for Tennessee with engagements in Memphis and Nashville. Being in the heart of blues country was inspiring for the roots musicians.
“It was really cool,” Ian says. “Everything was musically themed. Every single store is playing blues, classic rock or country.” Neal notes that, “Nashville is the only place I’ve been to with live bands playing 24/7.” Bands weren’t just on stage, either — they’d see acts holding court on the street, sometimes as many as 15 at a time. “These guys were pretty legit,” he adds.
A lot of talent could be found busking, too. “We’d meet with all these seasoned old blues guys on the street, buy ’em a drink or some food, and we’d listen to their stories. The background these guys have!” Neal muses, noting that his trademark derby hat proved to be a good icebreaker.
The Hubcap Stealers left a good impression on the locals, too. At the Hard Rock Cafe in Memphis, the audience didn’t seem to know what to make of these “outlaw roots and rollers” at first. “We just started lighting it up,” Neal says. “People would stop to look at these two guys who were producing this full-band sound.”
“From there, we went to Shreveport, Louisiana,” Neal continues. “We played at this club straight out of Boardwalk Empire. I don’t get scared of too many dudes, but the owner? He was intimidating.”
So how was playing in the South different from other tours?
“I’ve always been drawn to that Louisiana culture, the way people live down there,” Neal says. “Their cuisine. The scenery — everything is green as hell. They have weeping willows everywhere.” The experience inspired a song, “Dragonfly,” released earlier this year. “We kind of wrote that song on the road,” he says. “Every place we’ve gone, every place we’ve seen — we want to keep doing that. Being in the South kind of sparked the writing of that song.”
What Ian remembers most is the “amazing food” and the people. “They’re so heartwarming and open,” he says. “And they want to make a good impression on you so you’ll come back. It’s that kind of relationship that we kindle a lot on the road.”
“It’s very cool, being able to do what we do,” Neal adds. “Our high is getting to play.”
The Hubcap Stealers will perform on Saturday, June 9, at Sans Souci, 21 S. Chestnut St., Ventura. All music is available on iTunes, Spotify and CD Baby. For more information, visit hubcapstealers.com .