THE love of a fine British woman has brought many an American to these shores.
But Hayseed Dixie frontman John Wheeler is probably one of the few to decamp from country music’s heartlands in the Deep South to East Anglia.
Hayseed Dixie, inset, burst onto the UK music scene in 2004 with their record, Let There Be Rockgrass – an album of 1980s rock covers done in a country style – most famously a host of AC/DC’s greatest hits.
Just a year later the band’s cross-genre appeal saw them playing the Download Festival – Britain’s biggest metal festival – and the Cambridge Folk Festival in the same summer.
And it was the latter that wound up changing the Nashville resident’s life forever.
He explained: “Back in 2005 my band was playing the Cambridge Folk Festival and I met the lady that wound up being my wife.
“It was a total accident, I wasn’t trying to meet a wife, I was just rolling down the road drinking beer, riding a motorbike, playing rockgrass, loving it, and then there she was.
“Now I got this house payment and two kids!”
The UK move coincided with the band’s massive surge in popularity but John said while he had always been a musician, the success of Hayseed Dixie – especially in the UK – had been a bit of an accident.
He said: “When I was in university I played in a couple of different groups that played at fraternity and sorority parties, you’ve probably seen it in movies.
“After university I spent several years running around being side guy to various different country musicians.
“I played fiddle for a few and I got enough money to build my own studio to do demos in and spent a few years doing that.
“That’s when I met the guys that wound up playing with me in Hayseed Dixie. People had brought them over to play on various sessions.
“The whole Hayseed Dixie thing was actually quite a big surprise to all of us, it was just a record that we did thinking it would be something fun for people to play at parties.
“I kind of had the idea from back in my fraternity party days as I used to play, Shook Me All Night Long, country style and people would always dance to it and sing along.
“At the time I thought it would be fun to do a hillbilly record of all these songs – I never thought it would turn into a decade long career!”
While most of the band’s early music was covers, the folk rock fusion gained mainstream popularity and seems to have sparked more contemporary groups such as Mumford and Sons.
John said he was flattered if his little idea had ignited a new genre but confessed he hadn’t really thought about it.
He said: “For the last decade I’ve been so entrenched in the middle of it, doing 140 shows a year I haven’t had been able to get much perspective on it.
“I haven’t been able to step back and think – ‘Is my band significant?’ – it never crossed my mind.
“I saw an interview where one of the Mumfords said they decided to form a band after they saw our gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
“I don’t think they sound very much like us, but hey, they’ve got a banjo.
“I don’t know if it was down to us but if we had that kind of an impact then FANTASTIC.
“Maybe the band is more significant than just a party band.
“In 10 or 20 years when the dust has settled and I can look at it objectively, maybe I’ll be proud of that.”
With Hayseed on hiatus, John is now opening up a new chapter of his musical career playing solo-acoustic gigs at small venues around the UK.
John said: “Hayseed played Europe so much that some of the guys were really missing home.
“Everybody was just tired and feeling kind of uninspired.
“On top of that I’ve written all these songs – songs that didn’t really fit with Hayseed.
“So when everybody said, ‘Why don’t we take a year or two off and come back a little fresher,’ it seemed like a really good opportunity to do some of the material I couldn’t do with Hayseed.”
Having played Holmfirth’s Picturedrome twice before with the band he will arrive on his own – possibly by motorbike – on December 1.
He said: “I’m just taking an upright bass player with me and I’m going to bounce back and forth between guitar and piano, tell a few stories and sing songs.
“I’m going to try and keep it fairly informal, tell some stories, hopefully some of it will be funny, we’ll all drink some beer and I’ll say, ‘What do you wanna hear?’”
John’s solo album, Un-American Gothic is released next February, and he said most of the inspiration had come from discussions he’d had on the road.
He explained: “The songs are pretty much all conversations I’ve had with people.
“For example at Holmfirth, I’ve been to pretty much all the pubs round there to try and learn about the economies and histories of the places I’ve played.
“What makes that town special and what do you guys consider to be the struggles that you’re facing?
“What industries used to be here that maybe aren’t any more?
“Hearing people’s personal stories is what’s most interesting to me, trying to learn about a place.
“So the songs come from a point of view of populism and wanting to establish justice for the working man and an equal playing field for everybody who’s trying to thrive.”