The Happy Curmudgeons

Dave Hamilton’s Studio Exploration of Different Musical Genres Gains Traction With a Little Help From Some Famous Musical Friends

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, , Artist Feature,   From Issue 931   By: Robert E Martin

16th June, 2022     0

It was through a mutual friend that I recently was introduced to the music of Dave Hamilton and his band The Happy Curmudgeons, who in many ways is the Michigan equivalent of Donald Fagen and his band Steely Dan.

Formed back in 2015 with Stu Cameron, Hamilton says “The Happy Curmudgeons are essentially a studio band who’s  primary goal is to play different genres of music for the sheer pleasure of it; and they were created as a chance to create and record original songs and afford me the opportunity to play with other talented musicians.”

When their first album, Meant to Be, and the song Soulsville came out it eventually clocked 250,000 streams on Spotify, leading Hamilton to believe he might be onto something bigger. After a mutual friend led him to videographer  Max Davenport, based out of London, England, the next thing Hamilton knew the video were hitting over 50,000 views.

While the first producer on that album was more into Jazz and Hip-Hop, the co-producer on that project was none other than Mark Byerly from The Bob Seger Band, who Hamilton says he felt a mutually cohesive bond with. “He’s been with Seger for over 20 years and when you hear the song Come to Papa, that’s Mark playing congas on all that stuff.  He also put a horn section together for Justin Timberlake and did three tours with him.”

The pair started crossing over and joining forces when Hamilton’s fiance’, Amy Dixon-Lavery, wrote a follow-up titled Second Chances. “I went to Mark with this idea and we pulled this musical alliance together with Jeff Warner and Rick Beman on drums and that track right now posted on YouTube with no video and just artwork has clocked 320,000 streams and sold over 100,000 copies on Apple Music.”

While Hamilton says that particular song really got the money streaming in once they hit 350,000 listeners  on Spotify, the sad reality is to date that’s amounted to less than $1000 returned to the artist. “Nowadays, unless you have 2 million streams, it’s a sad situation for local artists doing things worldwide that a publicly traded stock only delivers a small pittance to the artist.”

Be that as it may, a silver lining managed to form around this cloud when Second Chances managed to win a W.A.M. Music Award for ‘Best Song’ in 2020 in the Americana category.  The W.A.M awards are a nationally voted Independent Music Award presentation based out of New York, and the next year the group hit again when they came in second with another song titled. I Know How You Feel.  “Out of 5000 artists considered, we knew we were on to something, which has pretty much brought us to the place we’re at today,

Now the four main members of the Happy Curmudgeons, Dave Hamilton, Amy Dixon-Lavery, Jeff Warner, and Tumbleweed are working on their second album that will also be titled Second Chances, and with Byerly’s production skills and connections, have just recorded a new original track called Rustic Glory that will be released in mid-to late June.

True to form, it will also feature more notable talents such as Billy Cox (from Band of Gypsies) on bass, Todd Glass on drums, and Jim Moose Brown  (also from the Bob Seger Band on Hammond B3, along with Bay City’s own Bobby Balderrama from Question Mark & the Mysterians and The Robert Lee Revue on guitar.   Byerly produced the track and it’s currently being mixed by Bill Skibba at Third Man Records in Detroit.  

Hamilton says his biggest surprise was securing the legendary Billy Cox. “I sent him several different tracks and about five days later got this call,” he explains. “The guy on the other end said, ‘Do you know who this is?’ And I replied, “Yes, this is one of my all-time heroes, Billy Cox.’  He went on to say, “I cut my teeth on the kind of music you play and like that you work all these different genres. I can’t fit into everything you do, but I do think I’m right for Rustic Glory. I think I’m destined to play that song.”

Hamilton says that Balderrama’s involvement evolved from their friendship, but that he hadn’t spoken to him since 2018.  “We discussed a few things and Bobby found out about me winning that songwriting award along with Amy for Second Chances, so asked if I could help him with a song and then I brought up the fact that I had a new song blocked and wondered if he would like to handle the lead guitar solo,” he explains.

“We exchanged favors and he got his solo down in two takes,” continues Hamilton, “but one thing that struck me was when he said he didn’t know how to approach the vocal I was doing in the last verse, but remembered when he opened for Jeff Beck once and Beck told him, ‘When all else fails use a slide into the vocal with your guitar.’ He went back and used that tip when cutting his solo on this track and it worked perfectly.”

While The Happy Curmudgeons primary work together in the studio, they also perform occasional live shows between the Metro Detroit,  Pontiac and Flint area and are next scheduled to perform at Horrock’s  in Lansing on September 1st.

“Even if you didn’t know all the musicians performing on Rustic Glory, it’s still an amazing track, but once people hear it they say it makes sense,” reflects Dave. “Our harmonica player goes by the name of Tumbleweed and can play anything from Magic Dick to Paul Buttefield.  Whenever we have a unit that can do a show for an audience that’s worthy to come and see, we’ll try to schedule it.  Bobby told me if we ever book a gig in Saginaw or Bay City he would be there with us.”

Hamilton says he first got interested in music by minoring in it at college and ended up in an electronic music program.  Before winning his W.A.M. award for songwriting, he entered a competition for 89.X and at one point in his career had the opportunity to meet Lou Reed.  “He told me that he thought I was one hell of a songwriter and said even though I hadn’t written an established song yet, I would find my audience. He said:  ‘I’m only one out of four judges, but I like you and that should mean something to you.”

“Later that same year I had the opportunity to meet Neil Young,” Dave concludes. “He came out after I  got done playing a show and had his guitar and thought I was part of his entourage. We talked for 20 minutes after sound check and he asked where I was playing, and I told him I was playing a nursing home at the time and he said, ‘That’s great! Not only do you bring people joy but you can work your own songs. I don’t care if you’re  playing for one person or a thousand people, you never know who will be sitting in the audience who can change your life around.  Every show give it your all and it will mean something in the end. That’s what happened to me.’

To learn and hear more from The Happy Curmudgeons be sure to visit their facebook page and website at



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