In Music

Jim Hoehn plays road gigs in locals like the Tropical Isle in New Orleans ...

In Music

... and beach stages in Key West.

Hoehn makes a stop at the "Royalty Check Hotel"

As a journalist, Jim Hoehn has worked for wire services, magazines, newspapers and Web sites and has chronicled a Super Bowl, a Rose Bowl, countless rugby matches, high school events and the perils and pitfalls of fatherhood.

Small wonder, then, that his songwriting covers a diverse spectrum, too.

Adhering to his motto -- "Six strings, five fingers, three chords, no problem" -- Hoehn pumps out witty tunes tinged with sunny island themes and shady characters in dark scenarios. There is enough of a Jimmy Buffett flavor to his original music and compilations like "Thongs in the Key of Life," that Hoehn gets booked to play yacht clubs and Parrothead parties from Kenosha to Key West.

If you listen to "Playa del Pressbox" or "Deadline Penitentiary," you can also hear shades of Buckwheat Zydeco, Jerry Jeff Walker, Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen and other influences as well.

Hoehn's latest CD, "Royalty Check Hotel," is a 10-song compilation produced by his friend John Inmon, guitarist of the legendary Lost Gonzo Band. One of the tracks, "Callin' in Gone," reflects Hoehn's love for the beach culture:

I'm dialin' the office
Put the boss man on
I'm not callin' in sick
I'm callin' in gone

Hoehn, who practices "cubicle journalism" for Journal Interactive, has opened shows for Warren Zevon, Walker, Keen, Todd Snider, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and others.

Though he'll gladly appear at events like DesertFest in Las Cruces, N.M., and at Pardi Gras in New Orleans, Hoehn seems to like writing music more than performing. His treats his trips as a chance to sneak in family vacations and to expand his network of like-minded music fanatics.

Before the interview was published, Hoehn provided an update. The song "Three-Chord Barbecue" was included last week on a radio show called "Amarillo Highway," which the DJ calls a "multi-ethnic hillbilly show" in Moab, Utah.

"Nothing like fame and fortune," Hoehn said.

We caught up with Hoehn via e-mail earlier this week: Let's start with the basics -- what is the story behind the title for "Royalty Check Hotel?"

Jim Hoehn: Another journalism / writing inside joke ... sort of like "Deadline Penitentiary." Based on the cover photo, it refers to the zillions of dollars I have not and will not make as a writer, songwriter, journalist.

OMC: Here is something even more basic: how does a suburban father with a full-time job find time to write, much less record a CD like this? Do you wait until you have 10 strong songs or until you have 10 free minutes to think about getting them down on a CD?

JH: Because of being the aforementioned father -- and we have three really active, involved kids -- along with the full-time journalism gig, I don't write on a schedule. The songs kind of evolve over time, then I play them out in public during those rare occasions I get out of the house. Eventually, I had enough songs that I was comfortable with.

OMC: The "island" feel permeates a lot of your own songs and the "Thongs" compilations, which is interesting for a guy who has to wear a parka and snow boots to get the mail most days. Obviously, Buffet was a big influence, but what else is it that draws you to those themes?

JH: Actually, the last two records I think are more Americana than tropical, both in terms of writing and production. Then again, when you have John Inmon from the Lost Gonzo Band, it's not surprising to have more of an Austin sound than pseudo-Buffett. As for Buffett, I always liked the older, storytelling songs. As for the rest of the beach themes, I'm as big a fan as anyone else of an escapist lifestyle. I wouldn't mind being retired, but I want it to be on my terms, not the Human Resources department's.

OMC: Your background as a reporter comes through in the detail of your narratives. Which do you like more,
describing scenes or developing characters?

JH: A lot of the songs are based on a kernel of truth and then given some editorial license. A lot of "Humanity Night on the Redneck Riviera" was true, at least based on my observation. "Poker Night at the Purgatory Lounge" was just a weird concept that popped up. I'm obviously not a pop song tunesmith, so I tend to focus on storytelling, you know -- a basic B.S. artist.

OMC: On the opening track, "Howie Played Accordion," you make a squeezebox guy into an Yngwie Malmsteen type music god. Did you ever attempt to play that instrument? Where did that one come from? There are some tinges of polka sensibility in your melodies. Is that impossible to escape for a guy from Wisconsin?

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High_Life_Man | Sept. 2, 2009 at 2:52 p.m. (report)

Gotta love the Tropical Isle. The owners love Wisconsinites as well. They bombarded us with Packer Super Bowl stories when we drank there.

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