The Dad Horse Experience

DHE1The Dad Horse Experience (TDHE) a.k.a. Dad Horse Ottn is an artist from Bremen (a.k.a. Left of Heaven), Germany and the second European artist (also from Germany) in this article series, see website. Dad Horse started out in 2006. The Dad Horse Experience is not complete obscure. TDHE has an obscurity level of 90,9 percent according to the Obscurometer, see link. Dad Horse Ottn’s real name is Horst-Dieter Hotten. Let me begin with saying that Dad Horse gives the concept of a “checkered past” a new and deeper meaning, with a strong emphasis on a hard and sinful past. The Dad Horse Experience is an unusual band name. The story behind the moniker name Dad Horse is intriguing. In an interview for the site Dad Horse revealed: “I hit bottom during a journey in the US when I was hard drinking with a girl in Mesa, Arizona. One morning I woke up on a motel room floor, naked, alone, without my wallet and full of fear and shame. The classic. A two-month hangover followed and I attended AA meetings held by some Hopi Indians. They gave me the name “Sad Horse” due to the fact that I was constantly crying all the time. I couldn't stop the tears from squirting for weeks. Later on children popped up and someone changed the name to Dad Horse. Adding that to my surname, I was walking as Dad Horse Ottn on earth since.” The “Experience” part of the name is a nod and reference to the Jimi Hendrix Experience. TDHE mission statement is "Keller Gospel of the Walking Dad since 2006". The “Keller Gospel” concept need some elaboration. “Keller” is German for “cellar” or “basement”. Keller Gospel isn’t the kind of gospel you would be likely to hear in a church, only in dark places where it’s most needed, in places like basements or bars where people with little or no hope gather. Dad Horse also lived in a one-room basement apartment when he began his musical project, so it’s “basement music” in a double sense. The gospel of TDHE is emanating from spirituality and not religion. However, the points of contact between them are so many and intricate, which makes it not very meaningful to try and decompose them in the one or the other. Religion seems always to pop up anyway. In several interviews Dad Horse has explained that he has no reason to expel Jesus from his songs. 

DHE3The Dad Horse Experience is labeled "keller gospel", “outlaw gospel”, "dark roots", “doom country”, "neo-appalachian folk”, "creepy americana”, “lo-fi country gospel” and “weird country” among others. TDHE makes both covers and original songs. Similar to artists like Uncle Sinner and Reverend Elvis and the Undead Syncopators it’s not covers in a traditional sense. Dad Horse makes deep personal and interesting interpretations of the songs, for example in “Wayfaring Stranger”, “Redemption”, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, St. James Infirmary” and “I Saw The Light”. In an e-mail Dad Horse explains on what basis or by which process he selects the songs: “Uhh, just, songs that I liked and that are not too difficult to play! For my first EP I recorded a small bunch of covers including some religious traditionals, Johnny Cash, a very quirky version of "Across the Universe"​ ​and "Stand by Me" which is simply the very first song I learned to play on the tenor banjo. For later albums I used to have at least one or two cover songs, always an old time gospel one, and last album had one of Hank Williams, which is also meant to be a tribute to a great musician who inspired me. I have a lot of mainstream songs from the Seventies I used to play live, like "Sailing" or "Porque te vas", for my next album I might work on a song from Nick Cave's The Birthday Party...”. That being said, Dad Horse’s best songs are his own compositions (“Through the Hole”, “Gates of Heaven”, “Lord Must Fix My Soul”, “Reach Out Your Hand”, “Kingdom It Will Come”, “WTC in Heaven” and “Ganz War Ich Nie” – the latter song sung in German). Dad Horse was 39 years old when he started playing (a late bloomer). After playing with other people for a while, Dad Horse got tired of it and went solo. He started out touring, traveling in his car. Dad Horse plays tenor banjo, foot pedal synthesizer and kazoo. In the aforementioned interview for the site Dad Horse tells the background story of the tenor banjo and the odd set of instruments: “The reason I play it is because it only has four strings and my fingers were too shaky to learn a 6 string guitar…believe me, I tried so hard to learn it for at least a week. It didn't work and I spent another week in prayer and God sent me a four-string tenor banjo, an instrument which I never knew existed before that point, but in the same evening I could play Stand By Me on it. I taught myself to play all this shit in a year or two but felt I should add some bass notes. I was looking for a bass player but I couldn't find one who was able to play dumb enough that it fitted to my pure and simple tenor banjo playing. Again I went into the inner shelter to pray and God showed me an Italian Eko K1 stand-alone bass pedal on ebay. Bang! I bought it, and was good. The kazoo, phh, I wish I could play some solos but I could not, so I got the kazoo to fill the boring parts of my songs, and it is easy to tune.”


DHE4The weird vocals together with, to say the least, a thick and distinct German accent in combination with instruments like tenor banjo, foot pedal synthesizer and kazoo makes it easy to dismiss TDHE as some kind of novelty act. To the music should be added Dad Horse’s stage costume: a formal old-fashioned but timeless suit (alternatively white shirt, tie and braces or white shirt, tie and slipover). After all, it’s not a gothic fashion style. To top it off further, always playing bass pedal in stocking feet or even barefoot. But, this is not any anxious effect seeking - it’s Dad Horse. In my opinion, the characteristic that makes Dad Horse so interesting is his headstrong personality and the unusual choices that he made in his life. The choice to become a traveling musician is not an obvious choice for everyone. Practice (almost) makes perfect. Dad Horse’s banjo playing is raw and simple, but very effective. The tenor banjo is accompanied by strange synthesizer bass lines (for example, the introduction to Kingdom It Will Come) and kazoo solos. The songs are simple constructed and the arrangements are not overly processed. Dad Horse has a peculiar singing voice ranging from low to high, from nasal to non-nasal and from in tune to out of tune. But, who cares - it fits the music perfectly. The lyrics deal with both religious and spiritual struggles filled with sin, redemption and rebirth. The lyrics are highly narrative, humorous and self-ironic (sometimes on the verge to self-depreciating) and often with an unexpected twist. A good example of this is “Gates of Heaven” where the refrain is both demanding and precatory: "I will stand before the gates of heaven with a bucket full of sins. Lord, I’m a bad ass motherfucker, but won’t you please let me in?" A second example is “Kingdom It Will Come”: "Right from the peak I'm going down down down, I found another way to live, And the whole world's turning round round round, You see me dancing in the street, An iron hall it's full of Light, And all the people that once died, They are dancing & having fun, They know the Kingdom it will come, (refrain) Ah dead babies singing in the skies, A song of marshmallow & apple-pie, There's no way to put them down, I see them dancing through the town"  A third example is “Merchandise Song”, a self-ironic song about the glitter and glamour in the life of a traveling musician in the “Keller Gospel” genre. "I gonna sing a song for you bout Jesus, I gonna sing a song bout heaven's grace, I'm sorry if I don't sing with the ladies, Only leave them a button with my face, I don't wanna drink their beer nor whiskey, I don't want to take your LSD, I just want to travel the next city, Try to sell more T shirts & CDs".


DHE2Most artists/bands in the “gothic country” genre follow a standard formula when it comes to their creative process, for example idea/theme first, then lyrics followed by arrangement and chords. In the email Dad Horse describes how his songwriting process looks like: “Depends actually, there is no "normal" procedure for me. I wish I had one, because then I could probably control and "manage" my output, but I can't do that.” In the email Dad Horse develops his views on the creative process when it comes to finding themes, moods and expressions: Sometimes it's just that a phrase or word I got somewhere catch my mind and I begin to search some decent chords and a melody. Like the expression "playing the Golden Harp", which I found in the Sacred Harp Hymn Book. I combined it with a little riff and thought that might be a nice song. I wonder how it would be playing the Golden Harp in Heaven, what might be the assets or hinders. Played the chords again and again, and tried to sing everything that rained into my mind, what I call "throwing flesh onto a song" - something might stick on it, some will slip. Or like throwing a little stone up into a snow storm and catch again. And again and again, till it might become a fancy snowball. That's how I wrote "Gates of Heaven" and that went pretty quick. I doubt it took me more than 3 hours. Similar it was with "Kingdom it will Come" but that took at least 6 months! Sometimes I have a good melody and chord progression which is crying to become a song, but the lyrics won't come. I can throw the stone up in the sky as often as I want, if there is no fucking snow in the air nothing will happen. Like "Tella Me Lord" which took 3 years to get finished, and actually I had to lock myself in under the pressure of a dead line to make it complete. Same with "Waiting at the Turnpike" for which I methodically gathered rhyme pairs over and over, and during the process I felt more than a verse accountant, counting syllables but not as somehow "inspired" songwriter at all. I hated the song and deeply doubted that something good will come out of it. Good means: that it will impress myself and - that it will surprise me. But - surprise! - when the song was finally written and recorded and I heard it, something melted inside me and i got an understanding of the songs that I didn't have, while I was working on it. Quiet funny and surreal somehow, and now it's one of my own favorites.


Many artists have a strong preference for writing and recording songs or performing live. In the email, Dad Horse develops his views on the two ways of expression: “Both have its merits. ​Occasionally writing a song is like falling in love. It’s a strange experience when a song I play or write starts to evocate very strong emotions and that is like if you were dating with a wonderful lady and became intimate the very first time. Quite exciting and not everything went perfect, because you both are nervous and inexperienced with each other. But it makes you happy and when you do it again and again it becomes better and better and you got happier and happier. Then you go to studio and that's a bit like in the phase when misunderstanding arise and you begin to have arguments with each other. You’re still so fancy with the song, but sometimes you feel like you should throw it to the wall! Then playing it publicly is a little bit like having sex on a pool table in the middle of crowded bar. Nothing wrong with it if it consensually, but actually not really my cup of tea. Sometimes I have to force myself to do it. And then again, if I see that people get fancy on the song as I did when I was writing it, it becomes more like a sharing of good energy or inspiration, which makes me happy again on another level. Actually it shows me, that it is not "my" song in a way, just a manifestation of something that is part of everyone and everything.”   

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Dad Horse have collaborated with other better known artists. Dad Horse contributes on “Psalm of Nod” on Sons of Perditions album “Psalms for the Spiritually Dead”. I asked Dad Horse if he could tell me something about the background. In the email Dad Horse explains: “Easy: Zebulon Whatley asked me to contribute some banjo and backing vocals and sent me a file. I really liked the song so it was a pleasant thing. He managed that that we met up at a little recording studio in South Wales with a spooky old church on the other side of the street. I had not met him before and was quite impressed because he's such a huge, dark guy who never smiles. So I was a little bit intimidated at the beginning - but then we become good friends and Wyatt from Those Poor Bastards, who was with him, turned out to be a funny & sunny little guy like me, so we had good fun together.” In my opinion, Dad Horse, Zebulon Whatley and Lonesome Wyatt collaborating is more than you can ask for. They constitute a “dream team”. I would also like to add Slackeye Slim as a fourth member to this already renowned lineup. In old age, they would be the “gothic country” equivalent to “The Highwaymen” (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson). I can imagine them touring and playing together, choosing songs from their extensive catalogue. But, now I have to stop day-dreaming and get back to reality. Let’s proceed. The affiliation to the gothic country” genre is not clockwork for Dad Horse. After all, TDHE belong to the “Keller Gospel” genre (a twig on one of many branches). Regarding the future for musicians/bands in the “gothic country” vein, Dad Horse writes in the e-mail: “Who knows? I don't feel as a genuine part of the gothic country scene actually. Sorry, but actually I am partly too funny & sunny as mentioned. I see that in the scene are some pretenders who are "so daaaark" and others who appear to be very truthful in their expressions. That's a darkness I can relate to and I think there will always be a need for truthful music. Hmm…But for false pretenders, too, so who cares? I wish everybody good luck who throw his stones into the snowy sky and those who work hard deserve some success. But then we are all dead and it doesn't mean anything anymore.” 


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The Dad Horse Experience has released one ep and four full-length albums. The first release, the ep “Modern Sounds in Country and Gospel Music”, consists of six covers and was released in 2008 on Fuego. The second album “Too Close to Heaven” was released in 2008 on legendary but now defunct Devil’s Ruin Records and re-released on Fuego in 2011. Dad Horse view this album as a reflection of his spiritual path in which he became a musician and found his mission. Americana-UK categorized the album as: "Primitive, crazed but surprisingly powerful spiritual blues”. The third album “Dead Dog on a Highway” was released in 2011 on Fuego. The album is based on the daily life of a traveling gospel musician (sooner or later you will come across a dead dog on a highway). A review on the reputable site Sepiachord (whose motto is "Music Now for a Past That Never Was") captures the mood perfectly. This is sinner music. Music about doing/having done wrong and the possibility, the need for redemption (absolution never really seems an option).” In the TDHE production is also included a live album “Live in Melbourne” with The Dad Horse Experience XXL (with an expanded lineup). Dad Horse doesn’t feel any particular hurry to follow up with a new album. At the appropriate juncture, in due course, in the fullness of time Dad Horse will make a new album. The album covers are very different from each other. The album cover on the ep “Modern Sounds in Country and Gospel Music” (with Dad Horse on the cover) makes you think of a fervent Jerry Lee Lewis in his heydays. The artwork is made by Friedel Muders and Dad Horse Ottn. The album cover on “To Close to Heaven” is astonishing. It shows Dad Horse with his tenor banjo in the foreground and a collage of overlapping colored photos in the background. The artwork is designed by talented artist Agnieszka Ledochowska. The album cover on “Dead Dog on a Highway” pictures just what the title says, a dead dog on a highway. The art cover was created by the artist, illustrator, cartoonist and letterer Christoph Mueller. The album "Eating Meatballs on a Blood​-​Stained Mattress in a Huggy Bear Motel" was released in 2011 on Sacred Flu Productions. The last album "I Am A Stranger Here Below" was released in 2017 on Sacred Flu Productions.


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The Dad Horse Experience has contributed with a song (Gates of Heaven) on one of the four compilations (Rodentia I) in Devil’s Ruin Records series "The Best Of Dark Roots". The song “Moonshiner” is represented on “Compendium”, another compilation from Devil’s Ruin Records. Below is a suggestion for a CD compilation.





Wayfaring Stranger

Modern Sounds In Country And Gospel



Modern Sounds In Country And Gospel


Will The Circle Be Unbroken

Modern Sounds In Country And Gospel

Through The Hole

Too Close To Heaven

Gates Of Heaven

Too Close To Heaven


Lord Must Fix My Soul

Too Close To Heaven

Schwarz Gruen Weiss

Too Close To Heaven

Find My Body Down

Too Close To Heaven


Dried Out River

Too Close To Heaven


Reach Out Your Hand

Too Close To Heaven


Too Close to Heaven

Too Close To Heaven


Kingdom It Will Come

Dead Dog On A Highway


Tella Me Lord

Dead Dog On A Highway


Merchandise Song

Dead Dog On A Highway


I Saw The Light

Dead Dog On A Highway

WTC In Heaven

Dead Dog On A Highway

Stairs Stairs Stairs

Dead Dog On A Highway

St. James Infirmary

Dead Dog On A Highway

Ganz War Ich Nie

Dead Dog On A Highway

Waiting At The Turnpike

Dead Dog On A Highway

Best album: Too Close to Heaven or Dead Dog on a Highway (can't decide). 

Best songs: Through the Hole, Gates of Heaven, Lord Must Fix My Soul, Reach Out Your Hand, Kingdom It Will Come, WTC in Heaven and Ganz War Ich Nie.


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