NOEL KING, HOST:
All right. Down home humor is a big part of country music's tradition, even though it's less popular now. Jewly Hight noticed that a new album from the band Hot Country Knights is a time capsule of inside jokes about the sounds, styles and personas of '90s country. Here's Jewly.
JEWLY HIGHT, BYLINE: A few years ago, a band started opening for country star Dierks Bentley with none of the professionalism you'd expect from an outfit performing in arenas.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HIGHT: Hot Country Knights seemed like they'd been plucked straight out of some country line dance bar in 1992. On the phone, frontman Doug Douglason brags about their weekly restaurant gig 45 minutes outside of Nashville.
DOUG DOUGLASON: We've sold the most wings ever on a Tuesday night in the entire county just because people love seeing us eat wings at the same time.
HIGHT: And there's a lot to see, including Douglason's snug hiked-up jeans, wraparound sunglasses and mullet hairstyle.
DOUGLASON: It's a lot of hip thrusts and spinning around on stage and roses get handed out. Babies get held. Sometimes those babies are ours. We don't even know it (laughter).
HIGHT: For a band that's supposedly been at it for three decades, The Knights have little to show for it besides big egos and a small following. But they finally released the debut album titled "The K Is Silent..."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOOSE KNUCKLE SHUFFLE")
HOT COUNTRY KNIGHTS: (Singing) Yeah, you shuffle to the left. You shuffle to the right. Put your hands in your pants and you hike them up high. No matter what you're packing under that belt buckle, everybody do the Moose Knuckle Shuffle.
HIGHT: Douglason is reluctant to admit that Dierks Bentley had anything to do with the project.
DOUGLASON: '90s country's hot right now. Everyone's trying to find the source like they always do. They found us, and they're trying to ride the mullet to success. And I think Dierks Bentley's probably had a little downturn in his career. And he sees how hot The Hot Country Knights are. So yeah, we let him come in the studio, pretend like he's producing.
HIGHT: Then Douglason hands the phone over...
DOUGLASON: Dierks Bentley. Yes, she wants to talk to you.
HIGHT: And Bentley gives the other side of the story.
DIERKS BENTLEY: Thanks, Doug.
HIGHT: He says he opened for the Knights back when he was a newbie.
BENTLEY: This is my chance to give back to them, help these guys out finally get a chance to be heard by more than just 200 people to go see them every night down there at Teasers (ph). So it was kind of a good deed for me to do this, I think.
HIGHT: As you can hear, Bentley and Douglason share the same brisk speech pattern because they are, in fact, the same person. Bentley's best known for racking up more than two dozen sturdy modern country hits. Like, this one...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I HOLD ON")
BENTLEY: (Singing) You see this here flat top guitar, has had my back in a million bars singing every country song. So I hold on.
HIGHT: It might seem a little unusual for a star at his level to go to the trouble of suiting up for an extra set every night.
BENTLEY: They have, like, these huge road cases and all they carry is, like, the clothes for this whole gig.
HIGHT: Country music historian and curator Brenda Colladay says there's a rich tradition of country performers creating comedic characters that exaggerated stereotypes.
BRENDA COLLADAY: You had that same kind of alter ego with Ferlin Husky who may have been the first country performer with a major record label deal who also got a major record label deal for his alter ego, Simon Crum.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COUNTRY MUSIC IS HERE TO STAY")
SIMON CRUM: (Singing) More and more everyday, I hear more people say, country music, that's the kind for me.
HIGHT: Husky and Crum were even signed to the same label that Bentley and The Knights are now. Bentley is a bit of a country history buff and a 15-year Grand Ole Opry member. And Bentley and his collaborators care about getting it right even when they're delivering a musical punch line.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ASPHALT")
HOT COUNTRY KNIGHTS: (Singing) Now I'm out here chasing what I've got to find. I sure hate to leave her behind. It ain't my fault. It's that asphalt.
HIGHT: Historian Brenda Colladay says fond country parodies have always gone over best.
COLLADAY: It works when you can tell that it's really done with a sense of affection and appreciation for what they've decided to send up and parody.
HIGHT: Hot Country Knights were preparing to headline their own tour when the concert season was postponed. They'd worked on their repertoire, their looks, their robot choreography.
DOUGLASON: The Dolly Parton quote, "it takes a money to look this cheap." There's a lot of work that goes into looking that dumb on stage and lot of time, rehearse to come across as the audience that we do.
HIGHT: And the willingness to not take themselves too seriously.
For NPR News, I'm Jewly Hight in Nashville.
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