The Bottle Rockets, Americana Torchbearers For 28 Years, Have Broken Up


The Bottle Rockets are packing it in. - CARY HORTON
  • The Bottle Rockets are packing it in.

The Bottle Rockets, the Festus-born, St. Louis-based band of alt-country stalwarts some 28 years running, have announced today that they have broken up.

The news came via a statement on social media. According to the post, guitarist, frontman and co-bandleader Brian Henneman has decided to retire, and the group simply can't go on without him.

"Although he’s in good health, he’s been feeling the passage of time and has lost interest in anything that distracts from or takes him away from home," the post reads. "Unfortunately, this means the Bottle Rockets can’t continue as we know it. This is a difficult and emotional outcome for the band, and we share the sense of loss over this ending, but it can also be framed as an opportunity for new directions."

Accompanying that post is a statement from Henneman himself that makes clear the decision was not made lightly.

"Been thinkin’ about it this entire time off," Henneman writes. "I’m more certain of it than anything I’ve ever been certain of before. I’m turning 60 this year. Including my time with Uncle Tupelo, I have been doing this recording/touring thing for 30 years. I don’t consider myself too old to do it anymore, but I do consider myself too old to want to.

"Every musician has their own shelf life for doing what they do," he continues. "Some go on into their 80s, some quit in their 20s and never look back. Ol’ Number 60, that’s me. 60 o’clock, that’s quittin’ time for this guy. Kickin’ off my travelin’ shoes and slippin’ on my house shoes. Home is where my passion lies these days. That excites me now the way the band used to."

The Bottle Rockets formed in 1992 out of the ashes of outlaw country act Chicken Truck, and following a stint for Henneman as a guitar tech and additional musician for Uncle Tupelo. Henneman's fellow Chicken Truck members Mark Ortmann (drums) and Tom Parr (guitar, vocals) would join him as founding members of the Bottle Rockets, alongside bassist Tom V. Ray. The band's most recent lineup consisted of Henneman, Ortmann, guitarist John Horton and bassist Keith Voegele.

The Bottle Rockets released their self-titled debut record in 1992, following it up two years later with 1994's The Brooklyn Side, which would catapult the band onto the airwaves and into the public consciousness. The band was soon picked up by Atlantic Records, which re-released the album, and the single "Radar Gun" hit No. 27 on Billboard's rock chart.

But the Bottle Rockets would part ways with Atlantic within a few short years as relations between the band and label soured. The Bottle Rockets would go on to a career releasing albums through revered indie labels including Doolittle (now New West Records), Sanctuary Records and Bloodshot Records in the years since.

The band's latest album, 2018's Bit Logic, saw it proceeding down a more traditional country path than previous offerings. As RFT's Roy Kasten noted, the record is "driven by phase-shifted guitars (an homage to outlaw hero Waylon Jennings) and its fullest embrace of straight-ahead country music."

In an interview with Henneman and Ortmann, Kasten also noted that the band had seemed to have found itself a comfortable touring niche, which saw it sharing the stage with the likes of Marshall Crenshaw, Chuck Prophet and James McMurtry, popping up regularly on SiriusXM's Outlaw Country station and even landing a slot on 2017's sold-out Outlaw Country Cruise.

But in the end, it's just not what Henneman wanted for himself anymore.

"It’s all about where I’m at on the walk of life," he writes. "I no longer want to travel, don’t really have any burning desire to write songs anymore either. I just want to be a good husband. A good neighbor. A responsible homeowner. A little dog’s daddy. A guitar repairman. A guitar player in my kitchen, and in some local country cover band whenever that scene comes back around. That’s how I want to spend the rest of my days."

Fans may mourn that the COVID-19 health crisis robbed them of the chance for a proper farewell show, but to hear Henneman explain it, that's partially by design.

"With a year off, and nothing on the books, this was the perfect intersection of time and timing," he writes. "There would never be a time when leaving would disrupt less. That’s why I did it now. Didn’t wanna make a big deal outta my big deal. Wanted it to be as painless as possible.

"So this is where the cowboy rides away. Goodnight now ladies and gentlemen. It’s the end of the show, now it’s time to go," he adds. "Maybe I’ll see ya at Home Depot or somethin’."

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