The Road to Cranford Hollow
Hilton Head Island’s resident boot-tappin’, fiddle-shredding rock stars have toured the country, conquered the recording studio… and mellowed into one of the most musically rounded, dynamic live shows in the South.
When the band that would become Cranford Hollow hit Hilton Head Island’s music scene in 2011, the impact was akin to an airboat roaring over the still waters of a serene marsh, upturning the stillness and sending up a spray in the wake of their sound and fury that ripples to this day.
Not to denigrate the island’s hard-working musicians, but in those days you were far more likely to hear a bored acoustic cover of “Brown Eyed Girl” than anything approaching originality. That all changed the moment Cranford & Sons (as they were called at the time) arrived on a blistering shockwave of searing fiddle solos and the signature throaty growl of frontman John Cranford.
Their early shows, with nearly nightly appearances at venues all over the island, were a hyped-up punk-flavored mashup of American roots music in all its glory. They were a Gaelic rock band. They were pop country. They were spit-and-sawdust honky-tonk. Within the span of a single song they could be all three, with tracks like “Black Gypsy” serving as the soundtrack to every night out and festival on the rock. They called their sound “Lowcountry Stomp,” and invited listeners to interpret what that meant on their own.
“When we were young guys doing this thrash and bash rockabilly style, that was fun and it was a high-energy show… It was not quite like a punk rock show, but it was this spectacle,” said Cranford, adding with a laugh. “But we weren’t very good musicians, either.”
The intervening six years have seen the band undergo at least two, possibly three radical transformations. To start with, the name was changed to Cranford Hollow in 2013, as the old name ran a little too close to a certain British band that had suddenly blown up. At the same time, original drummer Randy Rockalotta left the band, returning two years later. Guitar player Yannie Reynecke was added to the original lineup of Cranford, Rockalotta, bassist Phil Sirmans and fiddle player/vocalist Eric Reid.
But most importantly, the boys of Cranford Hollow doubled down on their musicianship, honing their craft and redefining their sound.
“Our set’s really different nowadays – it’s more atmospheric, with nods to Southern rock and nods to bluegrass,” said Cranford. “But there are so many elements these days, we’re so far from where we were. We’re well-rounded enough that there’s something for everybody now.”
They not only took their sound to new places, they took their touring schedule in new directions. Club shows and festivals on Hilton Head Island are still a huge part of their breakneck schedule, but their regular stomping grounds now run from Savannah to Charleston, with occasional forays west to Colorado and north to Ohio and Cranford’s native Wisconsin.
“When we were young guys doing this thrash and bash rockabilly style, that was fun and it was a high-energy show… It was not quite like a punk rock show, but it was this spectacle. But we weren’t very good musicians, either.”
All told, of the 203 shows Cranford Hollow played last year, 150 were on the road.
So how does a Southern band from a resort island in South Carolina wind up in Colorado?
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Cranford Hollow’s latest album is Color/Sound/Renew/Revive. You can catch them live at this year’s DineSouth (dinesouth.com).