Central Valley’s Moonshine Bandits takes national charts by storm

02/21/2014 11:57 AM

09/11/2014 2:15 PM

Sure, lots of bands have their own T-shirts. But do they have their own line of beef jerky?

Los Banos-based duo the Moonshine Bandits have been making their mark on the music industry by creating more than just a signature sound. Bandits bandmates Brett Brooks, known as Bird, and Dusty Dahlgren, known as Big Tex, have created a whole lifestyle.

Since Brooks and Dahlgren began making music together some 15 years ago, the pair have gone from playing Modesto clubs to climbing the Billboard charts.

Their latest album, “Calicountry,” released earlier this month, has hit No. 22 on the Billboard Country albums chart and No. 126 on the Billboard Hot 200 national albums chart. Their national chart ranking put them between the Zac Brown Band and Jay-Z for the week.

“We’re very blessed; hard work pays off,” said Brooks, in a phone interview from the Nashville, Tenn., airport, about to fly back to Los Banos. “If you stay persistent and don’t take no for an answer, you’ll go somewhere in life.”

“To put it all in perspective, last night me and Big Tex were sitting in a hotel bar, reflecting on the video shoot we did yesterday. We were riding in the original General Lee from the ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’ There’s no way we ever thought we could be doing this,” Brooks said.

The pair return to the Central Valley to play a CD release party for “Calicountry” at the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge on Saturday. The homecoming is a welcome return to the band’s roots.

“We’re really looking forward to getting back to the Fat Cat. That’s the birthplace of the Moonshine Bandits in Modesto,” Brooks said. “We’re proud to be from the Valley. That’s home. Playing in the Valley has been very, very beneficial to who we are and how far we’ve come.”

The Valley is also where the Moonshine Bandits cultivated their sound – a country rap, Southern hip-hop mix – that neither man is interested in pigeonholing. The group’s influences range from Tupac Shakur and Beastie Boys to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.

“Calicountry” is the duo’s fifth national solo release and third on their label Suburban Noize Records. It is co-produced by country star Colt Ford and features guest appearances by Ford, labelmates The Lacs, Danny Boone from Rehab and “American Idol” finalist Sarah Ross.

It’s a long ways from the four-song demo Brooks and Dahlgren put out together after high school and stocked in their hometown music store, the now defunct Fantasia Records & Tapes.

“We sold out a couple of thousands units on our own, and our friends kept saying we needed more song,” Brooks said.

The group put out a full record and began playing heavily throughout the area. Fat Cat promoter Chris Ricci got behind the duo, and their fanbase grew from the hometown crowd to California faithful and eventually across the United States.

The group calls its fans Shiner Nation. At shows, it often has bikini-clad dancers affectionately called Shiner Girls.

“We’ve talked about since we started how it’s about more than just music, it’s a way of life,” Brooks said. “This is more than some band singing songs. This is actually how we live our lives.”

Along with normal rocker paraphernalia like clothing and hats, the Moonshine Bandits also market their own line of energy drink (51Fifty), barbecue seasoning (Big Tex Rebel Rub), alcohol (Outlaw Moonshine produced by Modesto-based distillery Valley Spirits) and a self-titled mobile app (available for free on iPhone and Android). And, yes, there is that beef jerky (Whiskey River Beef Jerky) launched last year.

“Opportunities have been presented to us,” Brooks said. “To be successful as a businessperson and as an entrepreneur, you have to recognize a good opportunity and have to act on it. If you don’t take a risk and take a chance, who knows. And so far, fans have been really receptive to it.”

The band will begin touring nationally behind “Calicountry” and its first single, “Throw Down,” in March.

“This will be a big year for us. There’s so much coming up,” Brooks said. “But no matter how far this thing takes us, (the Valley) is home. The Valley keeps us grounded.”

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