Bottom Of The Hudson: Muddy Waters

bottom-the-hudon520Eli Simon, leader of Philadelphia-based Bottom Of The Hudson, claims to be an unrepentant control freak: “The only reason I don’t tell the other musicians exactly what to play is because I can’t afford to pay them.”

Simon is half-joking, but there’s truth lurking inside his offhand comment. Aside from some guest spots scattered over a few tracks, Bottom Of The Hudson’s 2003 debut, the decidedly mid-fi The Omaha Record, was the work of Simon entirely. But his rotating roster of players has expanded with each subsequent recording, and the recently released Fantastic Hawk (Absolutely Kosher) is the work of five musicians, the group’s largest incarnation to date.

“If I said [reworking the recording process] was very hard, I wouldn’t even be coming close,” says Simon. “I’m still the songwriter, but for this record, I wanted to give up a lot of control.”

In fact, what works best on Fantastic Hawk is largely due to the caliber of musicians Simon assembled for its recording and the collaborative approach to the album’s writing. Arriving at the studio with lyrics and chord progressions, Simon played his song sketches for drummer Chris Coello, bassist Trevor Butler and guitarists Mike Prince and Chris Doyle. The band members then worked out individual parts solo or in collaboration with each other. The result is the band’s most rewarding and complex collection of pop-friendly music, closer in execution to Nick Lowe than Nick Drake.

“I’m drawn to stream-of-consciousness stuff in writing,” says Simon. “Guys like Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut, who would put something into their writing for no reason except they wanted it to be there.”

Sadly, Bottom Of The Hudson had just concluded a short East Coast tour to promote Fantastic Hawk when an auto accident changed the band’s plans. As BOTH was returning home from its final date on July 29, a tire blew out on the group’s van, sending it out of control and flipping it several times. Butler was thrown from the vehicle and killed. Drummer Greg Lytle, who’d replaced Coello for the tour, suffered a fractured skull. After a brief stay in intensive care, Lytle has been staying with his parents; neurologists are monitoring him for signs of nerve damage. The other band members thankfully sustained only minor injuries.

“I’d known Trevor for 12 years,” says Prince, who spoke with MAGNET before and after the accident. “Trevor and Eli were very close. I was often the butt of Eli and Trevor’s jokes, which I didn’t mind at all. We had a lot of fun with each other, right up until the last second. We’d pile into the van and drive and talk and play Travel Scrabble. That’s what we were doing when the accident happened.”

The sense of camaraderie that pervades Fantastic Hawk, Prince believes, is a testament to that friendship and the quality of the group’s material.

“What drew me to the band initially was Eli’s music,” says Prince. “I really do think he’s as good a songwriter as anybody writing today. But when we got into the studio, he brought stuff in and said, ‘OK, here’s what I’ve got so far.’ And then the rest of us went at it. Eli knew what he wanted, but he mostly got out of the way for this record.”

—Eric Waggoner

Like many working musicians, Butler and Lytle had no health insurance. Those who wish to make contributions to help defray the cost of Butler’s funeral and Lytle’s medical expenses may do so through Paypal at