By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


March 3, 2005

Andrew Hardin is a pretty fair guitar player ... for a drummer.

Yes, Tom Russell's accompanist and bandleader for about 25 years played the skins for the first 15 years of his musical life. A Navy brat, he had a 45-rpm single of the theme from "Bridge on the River Kwai," which featured martial drumming. "It drove me crazy," Hardin, 49, says recently from his home in Wimberley, Texas, about 70 minutes southwest of Austin. "I had to have drums. When the Beatles came along, it kind of filled in the blanks: You can really get a lot of attention with these things."

And it's the drumming that Hardin credits for the exhilarating guitar solos and bits of punctuation that fans look forward to whenever Russell and Hardin come to town. His trademark playing on Russell songs such as "Gallo del Cielo," "Haley's Comet" and "The Angel of Lyon" -- in fact most every solo -- are greeted with cheers and respectful "how did he do that" head shaking.

Russell says, "The kinetic energy between us has always been good. We don't rehearse a lot. It happens spontaneously that he relates to the story in the song. He's been around me enough that I can get up and play a brand-new song and he'll melt right into the story."

Hardin says, "My best responses are the quick ones. What I try to bring are drumming influences like pace and dynamics and rhythm. I try to focus the song more, create a setting, frame the vocal story and then bring some dynamics and excitement to it -- and stay out of way when I should, hopefully.

"A lot of these songs are long and wordy, so I like to keep the pulse going. I can control the emphasis a lot. I can create a bunch of excitement, then I can drop out and say (musically), 'Hey, really pay attention here.'"

And fans do pay attention, and to more than the guitar playing. Hardin is all but speechless when told how much members of the Tom Russell newsgroup at Yahoo! Groups look out for him. They worry that maybe Russell and Hardin aren't getting along, or complain that Hardin didn't get his fair share of face time on the pair's recent David Letterman appearance -- and that Hardin's solo as a cog in Paul Shaffer's band was too short and mixed too low.

"It's kind of interesting," he says tentatively. "It's interesting the way people respond. But I have to give Tom all the credit for the energy and initiative that he puts into the whole project. It's been my life for almost 25 years. When I met Tom, I realized it was an opening for what I could do, more music oriented, more rhythm oriented."

As we wrap up our conversation, Hardin suddenly asks: "What's that newsgroup again?"