Category Archives: TVD Nashville

BR-549′s Chuck Mead,
The TVD Interview

As a member of BR-549, Chuck Mead helped revive both hardcore honky-tonk and the Lower Broadway district of Nashville. The band’s performances at clothing-store-turned-venue Robert’s Western World drew people back to an area where Ryman Auditorium was collapsing from disrepair and most of the businesses were either pawn shops or porn emporiums. Lower Broadway’s reinvention as a “hillbilly Bourbon Street,” with rows of packed shops, saloons, and, indeed, Nashville’s new-found reputation as an “it city” owe much to the sweat equity Chuck and the band laid down in the early ‘90s.

Full disclosure: I have known Chuck for several years and I do work for Plowboy Records, his current label home. What follows is a discussion between friends about his new album, Free State Serenade, ‘70s AM radio, and growing up in the strange and wonderful state of Kansas.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a concept record about Kansas from you (laughter). How did this idea come about?

A few years back, I wrote a song about my wife for her birthday, “Reno County Girl.” After I wrote that, a couple of other songs cropped up that seemed to be about my past in Kansas. During this time I got involved with the “theater thing” [Ed. note: Mead is the musical director for the musical Million Dollar Quartet] which made me think about things more conceptually. I thought, “Yeah, it would be a good idea to do an album of short stories about things I thought I about when I was a kid, growing up in Kansas, including legends that loomed large in my psyche.” Once I made that decision, I started writing toward that goal. I did it in spite of people thinking that Kansas is not interesting, but it is. A lot of creepy things have happened there.

While there are some sweet and happy-go-lucky moments on the album, some very sinister things are also chronicled. On “Evil Wind,” for example, a rollicking, high-spirited beat conveys what is, essentially, a demented murder ballad.

Dick Hickock & Perry Smith were the boogeymen when I was growing up. [Ed. note: Hickock and Perry murdered the Clutter Family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, which became the subject of Truman Capote's first book, In Cold Blood.]

If you grew up in Kansas, people my age and older clearly remembered that happening. When they filmed the movie version of In Cold Blood in 1966, they went to Holcomb to film it and Robert Blake looked so much like Perry Smith that it really freaked people out all over again. It’s something that happened in a place you’d least expect it. Since it happened in the late ‘50s, I thought it should have a rockabilly feel, so I took it there. The only way I could figure to get the whole story across was to tell it through the eyes of Perry Smith, the guy who supposedly pulled the trigger on everybody.

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Robbie Fulks,
The TVD interview

Robbie Fulks’ 1996 debut album may have been titled Country Love Songs but the type of country music he was creating was miles away from contemporary genre fare. With songs about a drug overdose, the Pennsylvania pork mush known as scrapple and a forgotten 45 RPM record, it was a perfect country album for those listeners who felt alienated by the boot scootin’, bland pop that commercial country radio was offering (and still does, for the most part).

In the intervening decade and a half, Fulks has continued to write and record songs that challenge the listener as much as they entertain. Stylistically, he has explored rock, Bakersfield twang, smooth countrypolitan, and bluegrass all while keeping his unique songwriting voice intact.

Blessed with a high, lonesome tenor and razor-sharp fretboard skills, Fulks is a masterful entertainer who can hold an audience in rapt, pin-drop attention or make them convulse with laughter over an acerbic aside. His new album, Gone Away Backward, finds him in a quieter, more contemplative mood with sparse, mostly acoustic arrangements framing his songs. We spoke with Fulks prior to his recent set at storied Nashville bluegrass club The Station Inn, a room he hadn’t played in over twenty-five years.

I’ve been reading your blog and frequently laughing out loud. What made me chortle recently was your description of rock clubs, those “shoals of silliness,” particularly the venue where your son entered a battle of the bands. I would imagine such clubs are an occupational hazard for you.

Really, I don’t play them much anymore. I don’t know how many of them I do every year, but I would guess it’s no more than four. The rooms I tend to play are places with seats: community centers, “folk nazi” rooms, listening rooms, and places like that. Over the years, I winnowed it down and I know where I like to play. I don’t play a ton of new rooms, in other words.

Good rooms like The Station Inn?

Yes. I haven’t played there since the ‘80s but I have attended several shows there in the interim.

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Rosanne Cash,
The TVD Interview

To find her voice as a musician, Rosanne Cash had to work diligently to move beyond the long shadow cast by her iconic father. In that journey, she felt compelled to move away from her native South and become a New Yorker, reveling in the creative chaos of Manhattan.

However, a series of life-changing events drove her to get in a car and drive across the South, visiting historic sites and touchstones of her early life. As she did, songs began to flow and she and her husband John Leventhal began writing what would become her new album, The River and the Thread, a concept album chronicling her recent travels.

Did moving away from the South help draw it into sharper focus for you?

Oh, yes. I think I pushed it away for a long time, it felt a little suffocating to me. In my mind, I was a New Yorker and I had to get away from it. I thought the South was in my past except for the people I love who are still there and I’m connected to. Two of my daughters live in Nashville, my sister lives in Nashville, my cousins live in Memphis, so I have family scattered throughout Tennessee in particular. But having a perfect storm of events happen in my life between 2011-2013 gave rise to a lot of songs.

Could you have written this record if you still lived in Nashville?

No. I do not think so. You have to get perspective. To try and write these songs there, it would have been too close. I had to let my heart expand and let down my defenses. That was crucial and my heart did expand when Marshall Grant died, when my friend Natalie Chanin taught me to sew, when I took my son to Sun Records in Memphis and to the place where I was born…those things were powerful.

What is it about the South that makes it such fertile ground for music, literature, and art?

I wish I had the answer. A huge part of this record is the mystery of that situation. As we say in “Money Road,” “we left but never went away”– that haunted quality stays with you. Why did Faulkner come from right down the road from where Emmett Till was killed and the Civil Rights movement began? Which is just down the road from where B.B. King, Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Pops Staples started, which is next to where Eudora Welty grew up…you can’t help but be flabbergasted! My husband John and I kept saying, “What is it about the Delta? What is it?”

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TVD Video Premiere: Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden, “Looking Around”

So much about Kate Tucker reminds me of Audrey Hepburn’s character, Ann, in the classic film Roman Holiday.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know Ann is an anxious crown princess touring Europe. Kate Tucker isn’t royalty, but she has a nomadic spirit that moved her from her home in Akron to Seattle, where she harnessed her inner recording artist and learned to speak French. The singer moved to Paris, which plays a prominent role in the official video for “Looking Around.”

“Looking Around” is the first single from The Shape The Color The Feel, an incredibly ambitious collaborative film and music venture from Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden. Jason Smythe, owner of Silver Point Studios, is one of ten filmmakers involved in the project, making his directorial debut here.

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Elvis at Stax: The King’s Last Great Crusade

For Elvis Aaron Presley, 1973 was a crossroads. He was in the midst of a career resurgence kick-started by the television special Singer Presents Elvis (aka, the ’68 Comeback Special), fortified by a string of hits recorded at Memphis studio American Sound (“In The Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain”) and kicked into the stratosphere by a return to live performance after a decade mired in formulaic, unsatisfying films.

Indeed, 1973 was the year of Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite, a live concert television special broadcast in over 40 countries which later became a best-selling double LP. In the show, Elvis offered undeniable proof of his performing prowess, backed by a crack band including Telecaster master James Burton, heavenly vocalists The Sweet Inspirations, and driven by indomitable drummer Ronnie Tutt. He was also basking in the glow of two hit documentaries, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (1970) and Elvis On Tour (1972), which offered indisputable proof that The King was in command.

However, despite outward appearances, all was not well for Presley in 1973. He was deeply depressed over his divorce to Priscilla Ann Presley, which was in its final stages. Friends and colleagues commented on his weight gain, which would ebb and flow until his death four years later. Also, it was alleged that his prescription drug dependency, which began during his Army tour of duty in Germany, had become increasingly problematic. Finally, he was at odds with his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, who seemed to care more about his prodigious gambling debts than he did about developing his client’s career.

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JD McPherson:
The TVD Interview

“You’ve gotta hear this record!” That was the emphatic statement uttered by roots music legend Chuck Mead at an informal vinyl listening party in Nashville a couple of years ago. The album in Chuck’s hand was Signs & Signifiers by JD McPherson on Hi-Style Records from Chicago.

As he cued up the album’s first cut, “North Side Gal,” any skepticism held by the assembled vinyl hounds vanished instantly. JD’s voice, combined with a red-hot backing band, poured from the speakers in delicious analog splendor, combining the past and present in an intoxicating mix. We listened to several other cuts from the LP, and our initial impression was confirmed song after song. Driving home, I was left wondering, “Who is this guy?”

I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Rounder Records re-released Signs & Signifiers to universal acclaim, and suddenly, JD was everywhere, on tour, on late-night television, and in heavy rotation on the BBC and other radio outlets. Raised in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, JD was first captivated by punk/alternative rock and came to vintage recordings courtesy of a free Buddy Holly double-LP collection given to him by a record store clerk.

When JD and I sat down in the offices of Florence, Alabama-based designer Billy Reid, prior to JD’s performance as part of Reid’s annual “Shindig” celebration, the conversation naturally revolved around records.

(After relating the Chuck Mead story) Wow, that blows my mind! I used to go see BR-549 at Cain’s Ballroom…jeez Louise, that’s crazy.

Signs & Signifiers has been out for a while now and I imagine you’re ready to start working on the follow-up. Do you have plans to record again soon?

Yes, we go back in the studio in two weeks.

Your debut album has a timeless sound, so much so that some people might imagine you grew up listening to a stack of blues and country 78s. Is that an accurate assessment?

No, among the first records I bought was Dinosaur, Jr.’s Fossils, which I remember was pressed on red vinyl. Actually, to hurt my feelings, a girl broke that album over her knee in front of me! She knew that was the worst thing she could do. [ED: Vinyl lovers everywhere shed a tear in sympathy.]

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Smooth Sailing at the Forecastle Festival

PHOTOS: ELENA HIBBS | It is my entirely biased opinion that the South has the country’s best music festivals. Austin has SXSW & ACL, Tennessee is host to behemoth Bonnaroo (along with the jorts-ridden CMA Fest), and New Orleans stages the grandaddy of all modern music fêtes, the Jazz & Heritage Festival. Slowly, steadily, and with a confidence born of experienced execution, Louisville’s annual Forecastle Festival has risen to join the ranks of these elite gatherings.

Founded eleven years ago by John Kelly “J.K.” McKnight, from the start, Forecastle emphasized “music, art and activism,” as their slogan declares. The festival grew naturally and received a major boost when McKnight persuaded Bonnaroo founder Ashley Capps to partner with him and bring the organizational strength of Capps’ AC Entertainment to the Louisville event. Though it is tempting to call Forecastle a “mini-Bonnaroo,” it has its own distinct personality, reflecting the charm of its host city.

Located in a Waterfront Park along the Ohio River, Forecastle’s nautical theme blends naturally with its surroundings. With plenty of adjacent parking, hotels and easy Interstate access, it is an ideal setting for music connoisseurs wanting maximum enjoyment with minimum hassle. For three days, artists from a plethora of genres appeared on the site’s four stages and delivered a joyful noise that even Mother Nature couldn’t drown out. Being Kentucky, there was also bourbon. Barrels and barrels of bourbon.

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von Grey:
The TVD Q and A

It isn’t every day that you see a group of four teenagers making their way through the music stratosphere as successfully as the sisters of Atlanta’s von Grey. Hell, when I was a teenager I don’t even think I watched Conan or Letterman, yet the folk quartet has successfully graced both stages, on top of performing a set at Bonnaroo and having embarked on a nationwide tour, all before the age of 20.

With a vibe similar to other folk-based artists like The Civil Wars and The Lumineers, von Grey enlists their classical background to create a sound decades older than the ladies of band themselves, and they have already released a self-titled EP recorded at Third Day’s studio in Kennesaw, Georgia with the help of producer Nick DiDia (of Bruce Springsteen, Train, and Pearl Jam fame).

After catching the band at Bonnaroo this summer, I was able to chat with Annika von Grey to get a fix on exactly what these girls are doing so right.

As teenagers I find it amazing that you’ve been able to break into the music scene so successfully. How early did you start to make music?

Well, growing up we started with classical music. We did weddings and events like that. I guess about four or five years ago, we decided to break out and explore more representative styles to our tastes. It was a slow evolution, but eventually we got there.

Did playing classical music first help you figure out your sound?

Yes, definitely. Playing so many instruments is most helpful with folk music because it allowed us to understand the components of the instrumentals better. We love older country like Dolly Parton and the new folk sound like Nickle Creek and Mumford & Sons, so those were also influences for us in realizing how to get the sound we wanted both organic and synthetic.

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Alabama Getaway,
TVD Style: The Anniston Record and CD Show

As every record enthusiast knows, you can never have too many records. Most collectors will travel in search of elusive vinyl grails, rummaging through decades of dust in hope of making that one big score.

That’s what makes a record show so attractive: the sorting and hunting has been done for you. All you have to do is show up and start plowing through the bins. Thus, I thought you should know about a brand-new record show launching in Anniston, Alabama on July 20th.

anniston map 131
The Anniston Record and CD Show is the brainchild of Travis Atkins, longtime Birmingham record dealer and Larry May, owner of the CD Cellar in Anniston. The show will include dealers from AL, TN, GA, and FL with specialists in Jazz and Funk and a Beatles specialist from FL (feel free to look them up and make a gratuitous “Octopus’s Garden” joke.)

Travis and Larry are doing a healthy amount of radio, print, and television advertising in addition to the usual social media push, so it looks like they’ll have a nice turnout.

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Doubled Down: The 24 Finest Moments from Bonnaroo in Year 12

BY CHARLES GRAY AND MORGAN SWANK | The reigning champ of American music festivals happened this past weekend, leaving in its wake lengthy documentation of great performances, memorable moments, and a lingering afterglow (aftertaste? aftersmell?) somewhere between Burning Man and a late-’90s MTV Spring Break special.

This year marked the 12th iteration of the festival, so we thought why not go twice as hard and give you the 24 best moments of Bonnaroo 2013. Stupid sunglasses, Teletubby outfits, and an ignorance of 90% of the better acts not required.

24. Satirical cover king Weird Al conducted a fast-paced comedy assault late Saturday Night. His show was sewn together from splices of video bits from years past, which gave Al the chance for costume changes between “I’m Fat,” “Polka Face,” and “Yoda.” Not to be satisfied with one set, Weird Al had an active weekend…

weird al

23. Bluegrass can be a real hit or miss with me. I appreciate the twangy banjo solos, but it takes someone incredibly talented to be able to whip out a song in the bluegrass genre for me to appreciate it. Surprisingly, the comedians have this down to a science. First, it was Steve Martin, and now, The Hangover and The Office funnyman Ed Helms reigns supreme.

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