By day, he’s a marketer. By night, he’s leader of the Rats.
Neighborhood resident Brian Hurley’s love of swing dancing, old MGM musicals and the dance music of the ’30s and ’40s inspired him to establish the Lakewood Rats in January.
Already, the band is well-recognized in Dallas’ swing scene and appears regularly at Deep Ellum’s Jet Lounge and other clubs. Weddings and other special events fill out the roster.
Hurley gauges the band’s growth this way: “I don’t have to pay the players out of my own pocket anymore.” The band has three core members bass David “Blackie” Graham, guitarist George “Catfish” Bond and drummer Jeff Barbian and a rotating line-up of horn players that includes Brandon Lusk, Matt Heady, Jim Lenhart, Marcus Wolf, Jeff Fort, Frank Brasile and Dave Karlsgodt.
One thing that sets the Rats apart is originality. Swing bands typically play the old-time standards. The Rats perform original songs by Hurley, with a Cole Porter classic at weddings as the only exception to the “no covers” rule.
Hurley is jokingly called the idiot savant” by other band members, since he doesn’t write music and relies on humming to work tunes out with the others. He has no formal musical training, unless you count playing in a few ’80s pop bands. (He refuses to name names: “Just say I have a checkered musical past.”)
“My pride comes in the that whole deal getting to play my songs with the best players, and to have people like it.”
The band’s namesake was a gang (made up mostly of Woodrow Wilson students) that began in the ’30s and died out in the ’70s. Hurley chose the name because of his great affection for our neighborhood, where most band members live. HeÕs heard only a few complaints.
“My grandmother went to Forest Hills, and she hates the name,” he says. The Rats’ bad reputation made students from other schools fear that they “would show up and ruin the party.”
That in-your-face aggressiveness was a trait Hurley wanted to bring to the band’s performances. But these Rats aren’t out to cause trouble. Band members wear retro suits and ties to play, as part of what Hurley calls “having pride in your shows.”
That old-fashioned look and style is part of what people love about the swing culture. With swing, Hurley says, going dancing is about having fun. You can ask a girl to dance without it just being a pick-up line. Everyone can dress in their best and have a good time.
Hurley says he loves seeing people of all ages from 17 to 70 isn’t unusual on the dance floor. His whole family can come to a Rats show.
“It’s not just the music,” he says. “It’s the whole way the country is going. People are tired of grunge.
“People want something bigger than life.”
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