Before "Alt-country" was a marketing term, Deadly Earnest and his band were playing the sounds of "alt-county". Over a period of about 10 years, Deadly Earnest - the stage name for Denny Ernest - lead his band who recorded 3 LPs and had a fan base that extended over several states.
In the late 1960s Earnest played guitar as one of the many members of the Munx/Sheffield Rush. By 1975, he started the Honky Tonk Heroes by adding Greg Giancola on drums, who renamed himself G.G. Gregg. Joel Culp left the Buckeye Biscuit Band to join on mandolin. Danny Sheridan (who had played with Giancola in the Spontaneous Corruption) played bass for some of the early practices, but dropped playing to become the band's manager and mentor. Prior to the band formation, Sheridan had jammed with Earnest on a periodic "country jam" night. Jay Vecchio became the band's permanent bass player.
The band was doing pretty well playing clubs in NE Ohio and in 1979 they (mainly Deadly and Jay) started their own label, Wheeler Recordin' Co and released an LP of original songs. The record got some airplay on WMMS and thanks to some random acts of fortune, the band was noticed by former Monkee Mike Nesmith and the LP was released for national distribution, with a different cover, on Nesmith's Pacific Arts label. The LP was also issued in Europe on the Killroy label.
By the time of the LP the band added Karl (Denny) Jones on fiddle. Over time, other members of the band included Phil Baron (piano), Mike Balas (steel guitar), Bill Watson (bass), replacing Jay Vecchio, and Starr Smith (vocals) who was also a member of a late incarnation of Eli Radish.
The group recorded a follow up LP in 1980, again on their own, that was pretty consistent with the first LP. Along with the LPs, they released several 45s. In 1982, the third and final LP was released, which was not as successful as the first two.
The band ended in 1986.
New Mexico / Don't Make Me Laugh When I'm Drinkin' (PS) - Wheeler Recordin' Co 4501, 1978
Wheeler In Cafe / Leavin' For Texas - Wheeler Recordin' Co W2-45, 1979
LP- Deadly Earnest and Honky Tonk Heroes - Wheeler Recordin' Co 45 / Pacific Arts 134, July 1978/1079
Oklahome That's A Big OK BY Me / Stray Cat - Wheeler Recordin' Co 4503, 1980
LP- Deadly Earnest II - Wheeler Recordin' Co 80, 1980
Rock It Billy / Let's Go Let's Skoal (PS)- Wheeler Recordin' Co 4505, 1982
LP- The Modern Sound Of Deadly Earnest and the Honky Tonk Heroes - Wheeler Recordin' Co, 1982