It started as a bit if a joke... a chance to fuse classic rock with the engaging Appalachian rhythms of bluegrass. Yet almost two decades on, we still can’t enough of Hayseed Dixie – or the genre they created: rockgrass.

The guitar, banjo and mandolin band – whose name is a play on rock act AC/DC – have released 14 albums, revelling in such names as Kiss My Grass, Weapons of Grass Destruction and Hair Down to My Grass. And their mix of hillbilly versions of rock and metal anthems and self-penned tunes has gone down as well in Europe and beyond as it has in their home in the American South. The band have played more than 30 countries and earned plaudits from many of those they have ‘borrowed’ from – including Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Queen’s Brian May and Kiss’s Gene Simmons.

No one is more surprised at the success of Hayseed Dixie than frontman John Wheeler – aka Barley Scotch.

“It was an accident, a fluke... a goofy idea,” says John. “But it has become our career – much to our mothers’ disappointment.

“People keep turning up after 19 years. But I can’t complain as it gives us a job.”

John is speaking before a show in Aberystwyth, on the wild west coast of Wales. “It’s about to rain,” he observes scanning the sky. “Just like it does most times here.”

Next Thursday they point their trucks at Oxford for a show at the O2 Academy. He is no stranger to UK life – or weather. Such is our love for the red-neck rockers that John swapped his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee for Cambridge – having fallen in love at the city’s folk festival.

John began the band with its own mythology – that of a bunch of Appalachian hillbillies finding a crashed truck containing a box of rock vinyls. They took the records back to their cabins in the woods, played them at 78rpm on old wind-up gramophones – and copied the songs.

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The band have been through many changes, with the current line-up consisting of John and good ol’ boys Jake ‘Bakesnake’ Byers, Hippy Joe Hymas and Tim Carter.

John laughs. “I never expected to get a commercial record out of it. I just thought we’d press around 20 or 30 copies for friends of friends, but we started getting played on local American radio. They loved it, the record sold 2,000 copies in a few months, and we started playing shows – and are still doing it.”

Their rockin’ hoedowns have gone a storm everywhere from Glastonbury to Roskilde and Wacken – with northern Europe and Scandinavia proving a particularly fruitful market and John belying his hillbilly roots by learning German and assorted Nordic languages.

“We are still a cult band that plays to clubs of 500 or 600 people and never headline arenas so our shows are more personal,” he says. “It means we can hang around after shows. Everybody wants to tell us what to do in their towns and most days we get out.”

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And there is politics in their music too – with the rise in nationalism and populist politics on both sides of the Atlantic bothering John.

“We make serious points but are not trying to bash people over the head with it,” he says.

“I’m not going to stand on stage and tell people who to vote for, but I want people to get involved in their communities and keep certain things in mind.

"I’ve never been down with that point of view that says you should just shut up and play. Sometimes something needs to be said.

"It went from being a joke when we went past selling 20,000 records. Not that our aim is to get rich... otherwise we’d have become property developers!”

But John insists his band is, first and foremost, a rock act.

“We are not a country band,” he says. “For the most part, the music being made in Nashville has got nothing to do with what we are making. Their music is pop and formulaic. Nashville is about more than just country though – I don’t know what young people there are listening to. I have no reference points for it. I can’t even pronounce the drugs they are taking!”

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He laughs: “Some people don’t get it. In France, for example, they ask whether we are trying to be good or trying to be funny. But we are trying to be both.

“We are a rock band playing hillbilly instruments and our biggest long term legacy will have been to turn rock people onto instruments that they wouldn’t have otherwise heard.”

And, far from being a parody, his is an authentic mountain voice. “I am only a couple of generations from being a hog farmer in the Appalachians,” he says. “So I am not completely making this up!”

  • Hayseed Dixie play the O2 Academy Oxford next Thursday. Tickets from