The Ghost Wolves: when rock'n'roll goes feral

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The Ghost Wolves are rock n’ roll turned feral. It’s groin thunder stripped down to it’s most basic elements, a reverse White Stripes with a one-string guitar and a fistful of dark, rustic magic, a furious bellow of maximum swamp boogie with blood in its teeth and lust in its heart. Formed in 2010 in the snarled hills outside of Austin, Texas, the Ghost Wolves are a two-human one hybrid-wolf wrecking ball of Saturday night fever that’s currently swirling through the US like a dust devil and setting its sights on the rest of the world.

Jonny Wolf is the Ghost Wolves’ drummer, driver, keeper of the flame. Carley is his bride, the band’s shamanistic visionary, and perhaps the only practicing one-string guitar player in operation. You’d think one string would sound thin and reedy. It doesn’t. It sounds like your guts unraveling on a rusty pole.

“I only know one other person that’s playing one now, and that’s some dude in Jamaica,” explains Jonny, from somewhere in the dustbowl of America. “I do know there was a guy in the 1950’s who played one, and he called it a ‘Unitar’. It wasn’t a guitar body, it was a plank of wood with one string and some pick-ups. I can’t remember his name, but he played this unitar and he had a couple of 45s. Carley didn’t invent it but there’s only one or two people who play it and I’m pretty sure she’s the only one in the states. She calls it the one string wonder.” Truly it is. That’s part of the enduring appeal of the Ghost Wolves, that two people could make such an unholy racket. “It’s not because we didn’t want to deal with anybody else, we just found that we could do what we want with what we had,” explains Wolf. “We just like the duo thing. It’s interesting to have shoulder that much responsibility and to fill up a whole show with just two people. We like it.”

Photo: Dawn Laureen

Of course, even though there’s only two of them on stage, the Ghost Wolves might more accurately be called a trio. As the title of their new album, Man Woman Beast suggests, there’s a third member of the band, a wolf-hybrid named Winter, who travels with them everywhere. Winter is the grandson (grand-puppy?) of Ice, the original inspiration for the band.

“Carley’s family has had these animals for thirty years,” says Wolf. “They’re a real special part of the family and they live out in the country, west of Austin. They have a ranch. It’s really beautiful out there. Anyway, the one we have now, Winter, his grandpa, Ice died. He was a real bear of a dog, just beautiful. They lived their whole life out on that land there. So they’re all very connected to that property. We always bury the dogs there, we don’t cremate them or anything, we give them a burial ceremony. So Ice died and it was really sad, but Carley said that she was out there at night and she saw his ghost. You can feel that out there, man. The dogs are born and then die in the same place. There’s a real mythical vibe to it.” Wolf confirms that Winter is snoozing comfortably next to him. It’s a dog’s life, although it seems like a half-wolf has to eat better than a touring band usually does.

“We all suffer a little bit on the road, man,” laughs Wolf. “He eats better at home, for sure. We give him a lot of raw meat at home, like venison and stuff. We get a lot of scraps from hunters. But we don’t have a freezer in our van so it would be pretty messy to try and keep meat in it.”

Perhaps he should let Winter hunt audience members sometimes.

“There’s been a couple where we really would have, if we didn’t have to go to jail for it, that’s for sure.”

Jonny and his wife and his dog-wolf and their rock n’ roll dreams have been criss-crossing the USA for five years now. They are road warriors in the classic tradition.

“There’s a lot of ways for people to get their music known these days. Youtube is a big one, for example. But for getting good, playing in front of audiences every night for a month, nothing beats that. If you can do it and not go crazy, it’s a great thing.”

That’s the key, of course. Not losing your mind, not succumbing to the rigors of the road, not giving up and going home, ever.

“There’s times where you’re like, fuck, I have to drive five hours today and there’s only going to be twenty people at this show, which happens sometimes when we’re in some little podunk town somewhere that we’ve never been before. But then there’s always moments where it makes all that bullshit worth it. You can almost count on it if you’re out there for awhile, there’s gonna be those moments where you’re just like, ‘I’m so glad we didn’t quit. I’m so glad we’re still here.‘”

They’re still here, and they’re heading your way. But beware: even ghost wolves bite.

Man Woman Beast is out now.