A REGGAE bass player, a cowboy poetry scholar and a teenage classical violinist wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of dream team but audiences on both sides of the Atlantic agree that 3hattrio has something special.

Greg Istock, Hal Cannon and Eli Wrankle are the only musicians in the small town where they live, Pocketville, on the edge of Zion National Park in Utah, and when Wrankle’s father asked Istock and Cannon to play with his 15-year-old son at a small recital in the family home to raise funds for the youngster’s high school orchestra to perform at Disneyland, they felt they could hardly refuse.

“Greg and I hadn’t played together before,” says Cannon, whose interest in folklore extends to having researched and presented radio documentaries on John Lomax’s field recordings as well as having played in string bands in the 1970s. “When I moved into town I heard Greg was a very good musician but I thought, why would a reggae bass player want to play with a cowboy singer – and Greg thought much the same thing about me.”

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Being classically trained, Wrankle had never improvised before but he enjoyed his first jam session with Istock and Cannon so much that he asked if they could play again.

“There was some kind of chemistry between us from the start,” says Cannon. “Even though none of us listened to or played the same music, something spoke to us all. It just felt right.”

So 3hattrio was born and rather than try to find a style of music they could all agree on, they decided to come up with something new. This involved getting together every morning at Istock’s house, which doubles as an artist’s studio.

“Greg lives on a cliff overlooking the Virgin river and just as the view from his house inspires his visual art there’s something really powerful about this vast expanse in front of us that makes us want to create music,” says Cannon. “We don’t really fit into an existing genre so we came up with American Desert Music as a description of what we do because our music reflects our surroundings. In the same way that mountain musicians will be inspired by the mountains and Delta blues players play in a certain way because of where they live, we associate with our landscape and there’s something spacious about what we do that’s like a soundtrack to that vast expanse.”

From the start, the trio decided that they would have to travel to play. There’s one pub in town where they occasionally play for free but other than that, their gigs take them to Idaho, Montana, Colorado and the UK. They’ve already proved a big hit at Celtic Connections and Cannon, who visited England with his previous group, the Deseret String Band, is delighted to be getting a chance to play in Scotland again this weekend.

“We don’t play many cover versions,” he says. “But one of the few that we do include from time to time is a song that John Lomax collected in Texas but has its roots over this side of the Atlantic, as Marrowbones.”

Another connection he has with the folk scene over here is that his guitar teacher when he was fourteen was Bruce Phillips, the cowboy songwriter whose The Goodnight Loving Trail was once a favourite in Glasgow-based troubadour Rab Noakes’s repertoire and features on Noakes’s imminent Bridging the Gaps collection of long out of print albums from the 1970s and 1980s.

“Bruce was a great talent and never really got the attention he deserved,” says Cannon who has made a specialism of studying the African-American influence on cowboy songs and poetry. “I grew up in Salt Lake City and we were really lucky to have Bruce and Rosalie Sorrells, who often toured with him, around us.”

The one other non-original song that 3hattrio concerts sometimes include is Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up. Cannon owns up to never having heard it before Istock introduced it to the band and this, he says, underlines the unlikely circumstances of 3hattrio not just coming together but thriving.

“We all contribute songs to the set now,” he says. “Eli is coming up for twenty-one now and he has started composing instrumentals – he has a couple on our forthcoming album. The age gap between this young classical musician and us two guys who have been around quite a bit longer doesn’t bother us but it can lead to some amusing situations. We went round to a neighbour’s to celebrate his eighty-fourth birthday the other day and he looked at Eli, then looked at Greg and me and said, I can see why you brought Eli into the band. He can act as the bait.”

3hattrio plays Eastgate Theatre, Peebles on Saturday, September 16; Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine, Sunday, September 17; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Monday, September 18; and Performing Arts Centre, Kilbarchan on Tuesday, September 19.