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Old 97's is strumming its way to fulfilling goals - and beyond

Playing guitar and getting a band together stemmed from two unrelated situations, said Texas-based Old 97's guitarist Ken Bethea.

"I really wanted to play the piano," Bethea said during a telephone interview from San Fran-cisco. "But I couldn't afford it. So my friend and I bought guitars, and I've been playing ever since."As for getting the band together, I had been in different bands since I was a teen, but they were the kind that wouldn't get anywhere. When I got together with this one, it was a friendship situation. The others were playing in coffeehouses, and I joined them and added drums. Things just started getting better and better. So we wanted to see how far it would go."

Old 97's - featuring Bethea, bassist/vocalist Murry Hammond, drummer Philip Peeples and guitarist/vocalist Rhett Miller - will play the Zephyr Club, 301 S. West Temple, Wednesday, Feb. 18. Doors open at 7 p.m.

"The three main goals we had when we started doing this band seriously were to put out a CD, become a known band in (our native) Dallas and to eventually play Memphis," Bethea said. "But we had no idea we'd be where we are now."

The three original goals for the band have been realized many times over, said Bethea. In addition, it has toured the world, signed with a major record label (Elektra) and released a major CD to critical acclaim.

"It's hard to make new goals when we look back at all we've accomplished," Bethea said. "But we'll continue to tour all through the summer and, after we see what the label has in mind for our current album, we'll make plans to head back into the studio to make a new record."

Things appear to be going well for Old 97's, said Bethea, who is getting married in September. "I can't ask for much more."

Keeping that low-key attitude with the success is a good strategy for Old 97's, which got its name from the 1906 country/folk ballad, "The Wreck of the Old 97," a song Johnny Cash recorded in 1964.

And keeping with the feel of early Americana/folk/country, Be-thea said the style of this band was planned and worked out.

"We made a conscious effort to incorporate the country style in our music," said Bethea, who didn't become interested in country music until he was 20. "We didn't really grow up listening to country music. But I liked the idea of blending it in our music so we can introduce it to other people. But our idea of country isn't the typical Nashville stuff. It's a mix of old style with a '90s production - with an edge."