Everybody knows Indiana is home to iconic musicians like Michael Jackson from Gary and John Mellencamp from Seymour, but do you know the nationally known band that got its start on a farm in Arcadia? The Hoosier Hot Shots might have had their heyday 90 years ago, but as notable events and people in history will do, their influence has survived. The Moontown Pickle Stompers make sure of that. (Bicentennial events will celebrate the Hot Shots on April 21 and 28. See details below.)
The modern-day Hamilton County-based band was founded by Geoff Davis in 2015 as the house band for the Harrison Center in Indianapolis. Two years ago, they got more serious about rehearsing. A few players dropped off while others joined. They knew they were doing something right when they first played at the Logan Street Porch Festival in Noblesville in 2021. During the 2022 festival, some 300 people came to hear them play.
“We are playing ’30s and ’40s jazz and Hoosier Hot Shots, and we have this huge fan base. It’s all fun and high energy,” says Davis, who plays tenor guitar and trombone and takes on lead vocals. Like the Hoosier Hot Shots, the Pickle Stompers know how to entertain and have fun. They’ll get off the stage and play in the audience. They’ve been known to toss pickles.
Ryan Shelton met Davis when he signed up for ukulele lessons with him. Davis is well known for playing and building the instrument. In the Pickle Stompers, Shelton plays harmonicas, washboard and slide whistle.
“There’s nothing that quite compares with doing something for the community,” he says. “We play for fun, but there is nothing better than to come together to play for the community.” Joining the Pickle Stompers has opened up a whole new world of music for Shelton, who loves the local connection to the Hoosier Hot Shots.
Arcadia brothers launch Hoosier Hot Shots
Brothers Ken and Paul “Hezzie” Trietsch from Arcadia founded the band with Otto “Gabe” Ward of Knightstown, known for his clarinet playing. Ken strummed the guitar and banjo while Hezzie played the washboard — as well as cowbells, horns, pie tins and more. They were later joined by Illinois native Frank Kettering, who played the bass fiddle, organ, piccolo and other instruments, according to a Hoosier History Live report.
They were regulars on National Barn Dance, one of the most listened-to radio shows in the U.S. During such shows, Ken would throw the band’s signature line out to his brother: "Are you ready, Hezzie?" The quartet ended up in Hollywood, hired on to perform in Western movies starring Gene Autry and the Three Stooges.
“They were headliners in vaudeville venues and recorded much of their music at Gennett Studios in Richmond, Ind., which launched the recording careers of many American jazz, blues, country and gospel stars during the era,” according to Hoosier History Live.
While Kettering got drafted, the three remaining Hoosier Hot Shots and a stand-in musician joined USO tours of North Africa and Italy during World War II. The band's popularity waned by the early 1960s.
History’s musical trickle-down effect
With the Moontown Pickle Stompers’ high-energy playing, the Hoosier Hot Shots are having a bit of a renaissance. The Arcadia band’s influence on the Pickle Stompers started with Davis. When he was in high school, he was really into jug bands, what he learned later was called “rural jazz,” and then he got interested in washboards. Sometime in the late 1970s, he was trolling for vinyl at Peaches Records & Tapes in Broad Ripple when he discovered the Hoosier Hot Shots.
Fast forward a few years and Davis started a band called the Key Strummers at the Indianapolis Public Schools elementary school where he taught. The band was made up primarily of ukulele players with a few drummers. To give his young students energetic, fun music to play, Davis reached back into the archives of Indiana music for some Hoosier Hot Shots tunes.
The Moontown Pickle Stompers play a mix of early jazz and early blues, and nothing from after 1940. But, Davis points out, musical genres are a rather recent notion. Back in the Hot Shots’ day, they were considered to be country music.
To get a taste of the Hoosier Hot Shots' signature silliness, check out “I Like Bananas” or “From the Indies to the Andes in his Undies.” You can also hear Louis Armstrong’s version of “The Dummy Song” by the Hoosier Hot Shots, which is also a favorite of the Pickle Stompers.
Keeping this kind of Hamilton County history alive is not only important — it’s fun! When the Pickle Stompers visited Hamilton Heights Elementary School, they performed “I Like Bananas,” which includes a line that calls for an audience response. To the musicians’ surprise, the kids knew exactly when and how to respond. They had studied the Hoosier Hot Shots in class.
As part of the Hamilton County Bicentennial, A Day at Red Bridge Park on April 21, 7-9 p.m., in Red Bridge Park in Cicero, you can attend a showing of the Ball State PBS Special “Now Entering Cicero” as well as a Hoosier Hot Shots movie! Plus, all day on April 28 at Remnant Coffee Shop, the Town of Arcadia will display a newly created timeline of the town’s history and celebrate the historic local talent of the Hoosier Hot Shots.
The Hamilton County Bicentennial is proudly supported by Duke Energy, Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, Hamilton County Tourism Inc., and Hamilton County Historical Society.