By Drew Olson Special to Published Aug 01, 2006 at 5:15 AM
With the heat index soaring past triple digits and the air conditioner in my beat-up truck blowing nothing but hot air, I decided it was time to pop in a CD and think cool thoughts.

Thank heaven for Jim Hoehn.

My friend and former colleague at the Journal Sentinel, where he is a production coordinator for the paper's Web site recently released a compilation disc called "Thongs in the Key of Life, Volume 3." Following the feel of its predecessors, "Thongs 3" brings to mind ocean breezes and the deliciously painful brain freeze that comes from slurping rum runners in the hot sun.

Hoehn, a singer / songwriter and satellite radio host, has been influenced by Jimmy Buffett and the Parrothead culture as well as guys like Jerry Jeff Walker, Todd Snider and Townes Van Zandt. In addition to his regular job, he writes a monthly parenting column, has produced two CDs -- "Deadline Penitentiary" and "Playa del Pressbox" -- and he has a semi-regular Internet radio show "The Three-Chord Barbecue," which recently moved to Permanent Vacation Radio after two years on Radio Margaritaville.

Hoehn took a break from his gig in "the corporate world of cubicle journalism," to answer a few questions via e-mail.

OMC: "Thongs in the Key of Life, Volume 3," has been out for awhile now. For the uninitiated, how did this one come about?

Hoehn: The third volume of "Thongs in the Key of Life" came out in the spring. I hesitated after the first two, because I didn't want it to be more of the same. But, I kept coming across more and more good independent music that fit the basic format. Once the decision was made to move ahead, my kids and I listened to a lot of CDs to select the lineup. Thongs 3 has generated renewed interest in the first two, but those are out of print.

OMC: How is "Thongs 3" different than its two predecessors?

Hoehn: I've tried to make each one a little different, yet still keep them popular with those who like the sunburn-circuit independent musicians. "Thongs 3" has the benefit of a song by Keith Sykes, who co-wrote the Buffett classic "Volcano" and also a memorable Buffett song, "Coast of Marseilles." He’s also written with the likes of John Prine and Guy Clark, among others. The other two "surprises" are Dr. Zog out of Texas and The Bonedaddys from California.

OMC: How did the explosion in downloadable / grassroots music help with the marketing of these discs?

Hoehn: Almost all sales are through direct Internet orders through me or the other musicians’ Web sites or online retailers such as CDBaby or Amazon. Individual cuts also have gotten a lot of airplay on Internet radio shows.

OMC: How did you select the bands for this one? Given the success of the first two, did you have bands contacting you to be involved with this one? Also, are there any bands you're dying to include on a "Thongs IV"?

Hoehn: Cuts for "Thongs 3" were selected much like the first two, mostly by listening to lots of CDs and seeing some of the musicians live. There’s also been a fair amount of "If you ever do another 'Thongs' CD, you should listen to..."

OMC: What is it about the Buffet / island music culture (and the Texas songwriting cartel) that makes fans more adventurous about checking out music that they've never heard via compilations, XM, Sirius, iTunes, etc?.

Hoehn: The so-called Parrotheads, who are for the most part huge fans of Buffett’s music, are extremely supportive of just about any kind of music. There’s a long-standing connection between Jerry Jeff Walker and Jimmy Buffett. Basically, they're storytellers. Blend in the tropical escapism and you've got a pretty attractive package.

OMC: How has working on these projects helped you with your own work, like "Deadline Penitentiary?" Obviously, the contacts had to help. But, what else did you learn about the recording business and the craft of songwriting?

Hoehn: As a hobbyist, the main business aspect of any of my music projects is to not lose a lot of money. So far, so good. Each of the "Thongs" projects has done pretty well for a local release. Then again, we're not talking major label numbers. But, each of the songwriters is paid the standard royalty and I've been able to funnel a small amount from each Thongs CD to charity. Music in general has brought me in touch with a wide range of musicians, including those who carried the load on "Deadline Penitentiary." Those Texans can flat-out play.

OMC: Is there anything new with your own career?

Hoehn: The song "Bone Island Mambo," which is on both "Deadline Penitentiary" and "Thongs 3," is scheduled to be part of a project called "A Merry Band of Murderers," a collection of short stories by well-known mystery writers. The book will be accompanied by a CD of music by the authors. "Bone Island Mambo" was co-written with mystery novelist Tom Corcoran, who also happened to co-write the Buffett songs "Fins" and "Cuban Crime of Passion." Last I heard, that song is in the mix somewhere.

Two new songs have been recorded by other regional bands. "Dark Side of the Island" was just recorded by a San Diego band, Stars on the Water. The newest one, "Callin’ In Gone," should be out any day now on a new recording by the Boat Drunks from Champaign, Ill. on a small label owned by the guys from Little Feat.

Other than that, I've got upcoming gigs in New Orleans and Key West. I might even be tempted to learn that elusive fourth chord.

Song list for "Thongs in the Key of Life, Volume 3":

1. One World, Dr. Zog
2. Down to the Islands, PHINS
3. Summer Days, Larry Joe Taylor
4. Hollow Man, Boat Drunks
5. Run Jumbles, James White
6. Slow Down Summer, Rob Mehl
7. Beer Drinkers and Sail Raisers, Hanna's Reef
8. What happens in Key West Never Happened, Stars On the Water
9. Personal Assistant, The Bonedaddys
10. Sailor's Prayer, Keith Sykes
11. Monkey See, Monkey Do, Unkle Monkey
12. Gone Surfin', Gary Seiler
13. Practical Dreamer, Tropical Soul
14. Where the Gulf Meets the Ocean, John Frinzi
15. Down There, Jim Morris
16. Bone Island Mambo, Jim Hoehn
Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.