Hot Buttered Rum
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Hot Buttered Rum

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"Activism: Hot Buttered Grease and a String Band’s Well-Oiled Machine"

What if I told you, you could drive anywhere you wanted burning free fuel. What if I told you there was a fuel that produces much less harmful emissions than any fuel widely in use today. You’d probably tell me I was nuts, right? Well you’d be wrong. A miracle fuel does exist, and it’s just waiting to be recycled burned in your diesel engine. That fuel is used vegetable oil, and you can get it for free from practically any restaurant.

It almost seems too good to be true, but that’s just what I thought until I looked into it for myself. People have been running diesel engines on all sorts of junk since their invention in 1910. Dr. Rudolf Diesel actually invented the diesel engine to run on a myriad of fuels including coal dust suspended in water, heavy mineral oil, and, you guessed it, vegetable oil. In 1912, Diesel said, “The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in course of time as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time.” Time has taken its course and here we are in the 21st century with a petroleum shortage. What better time than now to convert diesel engines to burn veggie oil.

A weekend is all the time you’ll need to convert your vehicle to run on veggie oil, and if you want to take the simple route, $800 for a conversion kit from (opens a new window). The conversion kits transform your vehicle into a 2 fuel tank veggie oil recycling plant. The car/truck first must be started using regular diesel fuel or bio: diesel from the vehicles original factory fuel tank. The vegetable oil fuel in the secondary tank is then pumped through the vehicle’s radiator allowing it to be heated by the engine, and then pumped back into the secondary tank creating a secondary tank of hot veggie oil. Once the engine reaches regular operating temperature (around 200 degrees) the vegetable oil in the secondary fuel tank has also reached nearly 200 degrees. This process usually takes anywhere from 5: 15 minutes depending on the outside temp and weather the car is idling or being driven. When vegetable oil is heated its viscosity is increased therefore allowing it to be injected into a diesel engine and most importantly combust inside the engine. Inside the vehicle the driver has a veggie oil temperature gauge, a fuel level gauge, and a switch to change over from regular diesel to SVO or Straight Vegetable Oil. Once the temperature gauge reaches 175 degrees the switch can be flipped and the car will immediately begin burning SVO. Contrary to popular conception the engine will get the same mileage running on SVO as it would with regular diesel. 1: 2 minutes before the engine will be shut down the switch needs to be flipped back to regular diesel allowing the vegetable oil to be purged from inside the engine so it will not solidify when the engine cools.

There are many common misconceptions about SVO fuel systems. The first one is that they are “biodiesel” fuel systems. Biodiesel is a type of fuel that is made from refined vegetable oil and can be pumped into single tank diesel vehicles in place of regular diesel. It is sold at fueling stations around the country and costs nearly $3.00 per gallon, but it can be used during heating process of SVO fuel systems. Another misconception is that vegetable oil is hard to find. Almost any restaurant that has a deep fryer has to pay to get its old fryer oil taken away. Most restaurant managers or owners will be happy to let you take their oil on a weekly basis. Once you obtain the fryer oil, before it can be used as fuel, it must be filtered through a 10 micron filter also available at (opens a new window) for about 20 dollars. Once all the French fry particles are filtered out of the oil it is ready to be recycled inside your engine.

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Zach Matthews of The Hot Buttered Rum String Band, and their touring veggie oil tech Sean MacFarland. HBRSB are pioneers in the alternative fuel movement and actually run their tour bus “The Well Oiled Machine” on Straight Vegetable Oil. They have a 200+ gallon veggie oil system and an onboard filtration unit allowing them to simply place a filtered hose in a grease dumpster, and suck clean and ready: to: burn vegetable oil fuel right into their tank. Here’s what they had to say:

KyndMusic: In a scene where there’s a whole lot of talk but not enough action how does it feel to be the frontrunners and hopefully trendsetters in an alternative fuel movement?

Zach Matthews: We’re really excited to be able to show a lot of people about veggie oil fuel because a lot of people surprisingly haven’t heard of it at all. As a touring band we have no choice but to drive around the country all the time. We figure by doing it using vegetable oil were doing it with a lighter footprint. As our shows get bigger, and more and more people come we’re able to talk about the bus and write songs ab - Brad Keats

"Hot Buttered Rum - Well Oiled Machine"

Admittedly I took a bit of back alley path into the jamband world. Unlike most, I started off with Bluegrass and old-timey music and was spinning records by The Louvin Brothers, Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Dock Boggs and various string bands before I’d ever cared to listen to Old and in the Way. But eventually I found my way around and was hooked for life at the electrified Americana rock, traditional covers and forays into bluegrass, string music and jazz that Jerry Garcia took.

Now I find that the circle truly remains unbroken as I spin Hot Buttered Rum String Band’s (HBRSB) latest album Well-Oiled Machine. Their instrumental virtuosity and wide-ranging influences have led them to rise out of the acoustic side of the broad jamband scene and in fact, in 2005 alone, they have shared the stage with Phil Lesh, Ben Harper, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Chris Thile, Bela Fleck, Peter Rowan, Billy Nershi and Mike Marshall.

So bluegrass led me to the Dead which led me to HBRSB. Go figure.

Either way, their aforementioned instrumental virtuosity is very evident on this album, as their vaunted and deep influences. they implement jazz, reggae and even rock and roll influences with a frightening ease and their skill and talent allows them to do so without ever stepping outside of the old timey string band sound. Add a background hiss and some pops and I’d swear I was listening to old 78 of the Louisville Jug Band from 1931 as they backed up the original genre-blending genius that was Jimmie Rodgers.

Above and beyond that, the songs that I’d pull out of the 11 tracks stand out due to their lyrical content, at least for me. “Guns and Butter” is the first. Its follies-like rhythm perfectly highlight the sharp political commentary; “well what are we gonna do, teach our kids to read or invade Timbuktu? Less guns more butter.” Amen.

Next up is the up-tempo “Poison Oak.” This wistful song can be interpreted in multiple ways but reflects, for me, a general caution against hubris. Then there is the inescapable title track, “Well-Oiled Machine.”

You see HBRSB is famous for their alternative fuel (veggie oil) tour bus and has been on the forefront of the alternative fuel movement in the jam scene. So much so in fact that KyndMusic/RightAction interviewed them exclusively about that subject in a December article entitled Hot Buttered Grease and a String Band’s Well-Oiled Machine by Brad Keats.

The song itself is brilliantly composed with lilting strings and wonderfully witty lines like “when I say I want to fill my bus with their cooking oil, the restaurant owners don’t know what I mean. But I’m picking and singing, slipping and sliding, rolling in this well-oiled machine.”

I say amen again. HBRSB has continued to build upon their well-deserved success with this most fantastic of albums. Creating instantly recognizable but new songs, raising consciousness and continuing to expand the repertoire of traditional American music, they remain a priceless treasure. - Dave Terpeny


Well Oiled Machine (2006)
In These Parts (2004)
Live at The Freight & Salvage (2002)

Check out for sound clips and information on buying the CDs.



Hot Buttered Rum, one of the hardest-working and fastest-rising stars in the musical firmament, has become, over the last five years, a group that is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. It began with a core of five uniquely talented musicians writing and singing songs on the mountaintops and city streets of Northern California; five musicians who, on the night they realized they loved playing together too much to ever stop, were sipping a warm buttery winter drink from which the group derived its name. Since that fateful night, the organization has steadily expanded to include a rich tapestry of fans, friends and family reaching from coast to coast.

In the Fall of 2006, itching to release their first live album featuring the whole band, Hot Buttered Rum announced that it would be recording a handful of shows for official release. Live in the Northeast (released May 2007) beautifully reveals the true core of live Butter: music that is forceful without being flashy, serious without being stuffy, intricate without being inaccessible, and diverse without being distracting. Often described as a rock band playing bluegrass instruments, no prior Butter recording has so perfectly displayed the band’s bolder and heavier side. That full sound permeates Live in the Northeast — from the reggae-tinged “Return Someday” and psychedelica of “Desert Rat” through definitive covers of the Grateful Dead’s “Cumberland Blues” and Leo Sayer’s “Feel Like Dancin’” — winding the listener through a robust and intense set of acoustic rock.

The widespread appeal of HBR’s music stems not only from the band’s musical versatility and prolific songwriting, but also from the magnetic chemistry the group creates onstage together. It was this chemistry that drew the group together, and that holds it together still through the rigors of their involved professional life together. It is this chemistry that audiences are consistently drawn to and caught up in, comment on effusively at shows and in online chat groups. It is this chemistry that is propelling the band to ever greater success.

Hot Buttered Rum is just as comfortable plugging in at a large-scale rock festival as it is inviting the audience to enjoy its quieter repertoire at an acoustic folk session. Perhaps this is why the band has enjoyed success at such diverse festivals as the Newport Folk Festival, Bonnaroo, Grey Fox, High Sierra and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. HBR has managed to do all of this without the use of drums, opting instead to channel their music through the guitars, mandolins, fiddles, banjos and string basses of traditional bluegrass. These, along with their occasional flutes, accordions, and other sundry instruments, are amplified with both electric pickups and microphones, giving them the volume and punch to carry through even the largest sound systems.

The band has shared the stage with some of today’s most accomplished artists, such as Phil Lesh, Bela Fleck, Ben Harper, Chris Thile, Mike Marshall and Peter Rowan, the last two of whom worked with the band on its recent critically-acclaimed studio release, Well-Oiled Machine. The support and encouragement the band receives from these and other musical elders is important, since HBR has such a great love and respect for American musical traditions, as well as those from Africa and Europe. Blues, folk, bluegrass, jazz, and rock permeate the group’s performances, while the members’ varying degrees of classical training lead them to invest heavily in group composition. One of the things the band enjoys most is its ability to turn on a dime and leave its audience wondering what new realms their songs will explore, while at the same time assuring them that, above all, the music’s purpose is not to impress but to entertain and to inspire.

HBR is committed to achieving its musical goals in an environmentally sensitive manner. Since 2003, the band has toured in vehicles that run on vegetable oil and biodiesel instead of fossil fuel products. Doing this has not been easy, especially in the early days. But, being in a business that requires driving thousands of miles each year, HBR knows that using alternative fuel is one of the most effective ways it can reduce its ecological footprint. The band enjoys performing for educational assemblies and benefit concerts, and many of their songs seek to raise awareness about the socially and environmentally volatile era in which we live. Above all, HBR’s goal is to satisfy their audience’s minds, hearts and dancing feet with a unique and uplifting blend of progressive American music.