Henry Kammerer and John Johnson play traditional music in an original style. - alice-foto.com

Hillstomp at Stillwater

Henry Kammerer on slide guitar and John Johnson on percussion are Hillstomp, a rambunctious Portland-based duo that make enough sound to call itself a band.

"Anyone who thinks that two guys can't be a band needs to come out and hear us," says Kammerer. "We call ourselves a blues band, though we sound a lot like rock."

While Kammerer's personal influences include Delta blues guitarists and songwriters such as R.L. Burnside and Fred McDowell, Johnson's drum kit consists of "found" percussion, buckets, Weber grill lids, plastic buckets and cans, along with a few drums. It's a brand of junk box blues that's drastically different from the traditional 12-bar blues chord progression.

Hillstomp will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, at Stillwater, 1951 Highway 66, Ashland.

"I started out trying to play like Burnside and McDowell," Kammerer says. "Then John and I got together and found a rock 'n' roll kinda place, with punk rock influences like The Clash and The Cramps. We also do a lot of traditional songs, songs that have been part of the American culture for 100 years. There's even some country in what we do, but you won't hear us playing a Hank Williams song.

"Our stuff is mostly original," Kammerer says. "The covers that we do are unrecognizable to most of our audience. And when we do stuff by Burnside and McDowell, we screwed it up so bad that we called it original."

Kammerer says that there's a rough-hewn quality to the old Mississippi blues and Americana music that draws him.

"Rawness is a difficult thing to aspire to," Kammerer says. "But I feel blessed on some level to be able to play that way."

Hillstomp came together in 2001 as a guitar and drum duo at an open mic session in Portland. In 2004, Hillstomp released two EPs and a full-length album, "One Word." The band performed to a sold-out crowd at the CD release party at Portland's White Eagle Saloon and began getting airplay for its songs at radio stations across the country.

While touring behind "One World," Hillstomp found time to record "The Woman that Ended the World," released in 2005.

"We realize the grammar is wrong," Kammerer says. "But it's a lyric from one of our songs called 'Boom Boom Room East Blues.' It just sounded like a great name for a record."

The album made it to the No. 15 slot on USA's Roots Airplay chart and was chosen as best local album of the year by Willamette Week, ahead of regional indie favorites The Decemberists and Sleater-Kinney.

In 2006, Hillstomp found receptive audiences at the Open House Blues Festival in Belfast and the Spitz Festival of Blues in London, England. The group toured Italy in 2007 and were featured on BBC and Italian radio.

"The European blues festivals look for obscure bands, something new, bands that play a traditional style of music but in an original way," Kammerer says. "We're playing a truly original American art form. And because of networking Web sites such as MySpace, it doesn't matter whether we are from Oregon or Tennessee or Mississippi."

Hillstomp's newest album, "After Two But Before Five," was taped at John Henry's in Eugene and at Mississippi Studios in Portland.

"It's my favorite record so far," Kammerer says. "It captures the energy of our live shows. It's as queer and good as a glamor shot that you can get of our band."

Cover for the show at Stillwater is $5. Call 482-6113.

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