Playing music that honors the roots of bluegrass while blazing new trails for the genre, the eclectic Colorado band Hot Rize performs traditional bluegrass, jazz, and rock as well as progressive bluegrass. Hot Rize came together in 1976 and were named after the secret ingredient in Martha White Self-Rising Flour, the product Flatt & Scruggs had promoted via radio early in their careers. The bandmembers were Tim O'Brien on lead and harmony vocals, mandolin, and fiddle; Pete Wernick on banjo and harmony vocals; Mike Scap on guitar and harmony vocals; and Charles Sawtelle on bass guitar, guitar, harmonies, and lead vocals. Mike Scap departed in 1976 and was replaced by bass player, guitarist, and vocalist Nick Forster, who also became the group's MC. Hot Rize made their official debut in 1978, and the group recorded their self-titled debut album, a blend of traditional and new material, in 1979. Their second LP, Radio Boogie, came out in 1981. A year later, their alter ego Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers, a loving parody of hardcore '50s country music, recorded their own album, Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers. In 1984 Hot Rize released a concert album largely comprising traditional hits, and in 1986 they released a studio effort, Traditional Ties. In 1988 another Red Knuckles album, Shades of the Past, followed. After Take It Home came out in 1990, Hot Rize broke up and O'Brien and Wernick went on to successful solo careers, while Forster went on to executive-produce the syndicated radio variety show Etown.
Despite the split, Hot Rize played annual reunion shows until Sawtelle passed away in March 1999 after a two-year fight with leukemia. Hot Rize regrouped in 2002, adding Bryan Sutton on guitar, and they began doing shows again, sometimes under the Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers moniker. They issued the live set So Long of a Journey (recorded in 1996), in 2002. After over a decade of silence — and nearly a quarter century since their previous release — Hot Rize issued their sixth album, When I'm Free, on Ten in Hands Records in 2014. Two years later, early member Mike Scap lost his life after a battle with cancer.
In 2018, to celebrate four decades of Hot Rize, the group issued 40th Anniversary Bash, a 26-song set commemorating their long and storied career. Recorded in Boulder, the concert also featured guests Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Stuart Duncan. ~ Johnny Loftus & Steve Leggett