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Members include Jeff Beres (born on February 23, 1971), bass guitar; Ken Block (born on November 23, 1966), acoustic guitar, lead vocals; Andrew Copeland (born on March 21, 1968), acoustic guitar; Ryan Newell (born on December 8, 1972), rhythm and slide guitar; Mark Trojanowski (born on January 26, 1970), drums. Addresses: Record company--Universal Records, 1755 Broadway, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.universalrecords.com. Website--Sister Hazel Official Website: http://www.sisterhazel.com.

In the summer of 1997, Sister Hazel's song "All for You" ruled the adult top 40 airwaves and topped the Billboardcharts. These were major accomplishments given that the track was the first single released from the band's major-label debut, Somewhere More Familiar. Even more impressive was the fact that the song had at first been ignored by the modern and progressive rock stations that were the band's primary audience. Instead, much to its record company's surprise, Sister Hazel was embraced by a more mainstream audience, one that gave the group its first hit song and eventually a platinum-selling album. The crossover success was no surprise to the band's lead singer and co-founder Ken Block, however. As he told Billboard in September of 1997, "There really is something for everybody.... But the element that really defines us is that there are a lot of hooks that allow people to take a closer look; they see that there's something cerebral in there. It bridges the gap between the poets and the partyers."

Most of the members of Sister Hazel grew up in musical surroundings. Block's father, who had earned a college degree in music, played piano and wrote music. The Block family always had musicians around their Gainesville, Florida, home. This was especially true of weekend gatherings, as Ken Block recalled on the band's website: "We always had these parties in Gainesville or in our place at St. Augustine Beach where people would bring all kinds of instruments to play, strum, beat on, pluck or blow and everyone sang--or at least tried to sing.... I learned a lot about harmonies, different styles of music and wildly entertaining storytelling." Block also played music outside the family circle, including some coffeeshop appearances with his acoustic guitar when he was 12 years old. In high school Block joined his first band, which played heavy metal music. He later performed with a succession of similar rock bands in the Gainesville area.

By 1994, however, Block returned to a more acoustic orientation that better reflected the spirit of his self-penned songs. Looking for musicians with a similar, eclectic outlook, Block began writing songs and performing around Gainesville with guitarist Andrew Copeland, where they soon attracted the attention of architecture student and part-time bass player Jeff Beres. Ryan Newell, originally from Fairfax, Virginia, joined the lineup as a guitarist after performing with another Gainesville band called Waterdog. Newell had been playing the guitar since the age of eight, and after winning a grade school talent contest, decided that performing music was his goal. Newell nevertheless took a more practical route by studying at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he majored in accounting.

Borrowed Name from Missionary Group

As for the band's unusual name, Block drew on a childhood memory of the operator of the Sister Hazel Rescue Mission, a Gainesville organization dedicated to missionary and outreach work in the area. Because Sister Hazel's philanthropic spirit was embodied in some of Block and Copeland's first songs, the name seemed a fitting one for the group. As Block commented in a September 1997 Billboard interview, "One of our basic philosophies is that we want people to think, feel, be moved, and at the end of the day or at the end of the show, we like them to leave feeling a little better than they did when they came in." In later years, after the group became successful, Sister Hazel herself met with the band and gave her blessing to carry on using the name.

Within a year of forming, the band released a self-titled album on the independent label Soul Trax, after which the band added drummer Mark Trojanowski to its permanent roster. Trojanowski had studied music at North Texas State University and later performed with the Guy Lombardo Orchestra before moving to Orlando and playing with several jazz and pop groups. After hearing the Sister Hazel album and learning that the band needed a drummer, he auditioned and was asked to join the band in July of 1995. Considering Sister Hazel's hectic touring schedule--limited only by the fact that Newell was still a student, completing his degree in 1996--Trojanowski's arrival was a crucial one to the band's success.

Part of a growing Southeastern music scene centered around college campuses, Sister Hazel joined bands such as Hootie and the Blowfish and Matchbox 20 with a reputation for energetic live performances. Following Newell's graduation, the band hit the road in earnest, playing about 200 concert dates that year alone, mostly throughout the Southeastern United States. As Newell recalled in an April 2001 interview with the band's hometown newspaper, the Gainesville Sun, "Back in the early stages, we had to entertain a bunch of drunks. We were doing the bar circuit." Looking on the bright side, however, Newell added, "Sometimes a crowd of frat guys aren't going to purely get off on the music, so we had to really learn how to talk to an audience. Those things, we definitely look at as positive."

Breakthrough Track "All for You"

As on its first album, Sister Hazel's second release retained some of the rough edges that came from its days as a bar band. Recorded and mixed in about two weeks, Somewhere More Familiar featured a mix of blues, bluegrass, folk, and rock, a combination that some compared to the Southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Black Crowes. Given the band's loyal following in the Southeast, Somewhere More Familiar sold well after its initial release around Gainesville in September of 1996. The release also garnered positive reviews. Q magazine noted that "Sister Hazel write excellent songs and play them with a controlled verve and panache," comparing the band to the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, and Jackson Browne. After signing a contract with Universal Records later that year, the band seemed poised for even greater success.

Although the record company ordered a remix of the album to give it some professional polish, the January 1997 Universal-released Somewhere More Familiar was essentially the same album the band had released months earlier. Leading its promotional efforts was the single "All for You," a mid-tempo, acoustic-flavored love song with rich vocal harmonies reminiscent of the band Blues Traveler. Unfortunately, Universal's marketing of the band missed the target, at least at first. When the single was shipped to modern rock stations in January, it failed to make it on most play lists. The song got a much warmer reception at adult contemporary and top 40 stations, however, and it built momentum throughout the summer until it reached the number one spot on the Billboard Adult Top 40 chart. For 1997, "All for You" ranked sixth on the year-end Adult Top 40 chart and number 36 on the final tally of the magazine's Hot 100 Singles chart. Powered by the hit single, Somewhere More Familiar placed among the top 200 best-selling albums of the year.

Delayed Follow-Up

In the wake of its hit album, Sister Hazel continued to tour relentlessly and contributed its efforts to a number of charitable causes, including the American Cancer Society and Children's Miracle Network. Considering the hundreds of concerts they performed, perhaps the band's members were stretched a bit too thin; going into the recording studio to record its third album, the band's initial sessions left its members feeling that they had failed to produce a worthy follow-up to Somewhere More Familiar. Retreating to write some more songs, the band regrouped for another recording session that finally resulted in Fortress, released in 2000. The album was similar in spirit to Somewhere More Familiar. "It's a formula done right...," a Rolling Stone reviewer commented. "It thoroughly recaptures its predecessor's wailing guitar jams, vocalist Ken Block's Southern-grunge affectations and his narratives lionizing wayward women and their hard-living men." Fortress even featured a leadoff hit single similar to "All for You," the rollicking "Change Your Mind," which gained extensive airplay on adult top 40 radio stations. Its other tracks ranged from the Southern rock track "Surreal" to the anthemic ballad "Your Winter," featured in the teen-oriented movie 10 Things I Hate About You.

Sister Hazel also continued to live up to its reputation as crowd-pleasing concert performers with more tour dates in support of Fortress. "We're always on the same page, and that's something you can't really practice," Newell said in a 2001 interview in Guitar Player. "I guess it's one of those things you grow into, gig after gig, year after year."

by Timothy Borden

Sister Hazel's Career

Formed group in Gainesville, FL, 1993; released debut album, Sister Hazel, on independent label, 1994; released second album and major-label debut, Somewhere More Familiar, 1997; released Fortress, 2000.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

January 20, 2004: Sister Hazel's album, Live Live, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_6/index.jsp, January 21, 2004.

Further Reading

Sources

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over 9 years ago

looking for piano sheet music for World Inside My Head, Sister Hazel