For June, South By Southeast is bringing us a roots-rock group that’s not quite a household name yet, except maybe throughout the upstate of South Carolina and North Carolina.
The Bad Popes are a popular five-piece group known for their own brand of Texas swing, their country leanings, their rockin’ roots and their folksy bluegrass.
At one show, you can expect to experience a combination of all that and more. Guitarists Jef Chandler and Charles Hedgepath handle the group’s lead vocals and the lion’s share of the songwriting. Hedgepath has also been known to pull out the mandolin. On bass is Greenville’s Chris Garrett. Kevin Heuer, who has been teaching all levels of drumset for 24 years is on the kit. Mike Bagwell is on pedal steel and dobro.
Right off the bat, I had to know: where did that name come from?
“Well,” Charles Hedgepath laughed, “I had borrowed this book from my mother-in-law. It was about these popes who weren’t exactly good … they were bad. It was strange and we like it … and now we’re The Bad Popes.
Both Hedgepath and Chandler are prolific writers. Charles said, “I started when I was 16. I went through a phase in my early 20s when all I wrote was instrumentals, but then I started listening to Hank Williams … what good songwriting. Now I take that energy … I try not to pigeonhole songs right away; I don’t set out to write any type of song. It’s never like ‘Oh, we need another ballad.’ I just write what comes.
“I’ve written, I think, about 30 songs with Jef. I like throwing ideas off someone else … and working together, it’s a good check-and-balance. We both work on lyrics and melody.
“If there’s a theme that runs through all our songs, I’d say it’s strong melody.
“Sometimes one of us needs help with a bridge. Or I hear something of Jef’s and I add a chord … or we add lines for each other. Sometimes we work from scratch and other times we help each other finish something already begun… We try to let the songs breathe … kind of cultivate. This lets us play whatever’s right for the song.”
Chandler agrees, “I write based on how I feel. I grew up listening to the Beatles, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan. Lyrics and music have always been important to me.
He laughs as he talks about his introduction to music. “I started playing guitar at 12. I was also playing piano, but I dropped it for guitar because I thought the guitar was cooler.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid, I think, when I was taking lessons.
“For me, the songwriting comes as I’m trying to pick out another writer’s song.”
A serious student, Jef was an English major at Furman University and then took classes James Dickey, who was a poet-in-residence at the University of South Carolina at Columbia.
How does it work with two guitarists, I asked. “We both play rhythm or lead, says Charles. It depends on the song. We look at what the musical situation calls for.”
The band members are also known for their work in other bands including the Jef Chandler Band, the Work, Vigilantes of Love, Matthew Nights Williams Band, William F. Gibbs, Danielle Howle and Seconds Flat.
The June 6 smoke-free performance of The Bad Popes for South By Southeast will take place at the landmark Myrtle Beach Train Depot. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for those under 21 if you’re a member, $25 if you’re not. Don’t forget, your price of admission includes not only the show, but also a pot luck dinner along with free wine, soda and beer Dinner starts at 6 p.m., music at 7 p.m.
If you’d like to support this wonderful grassroots nonprofit organization, membership in SXSE costs just $25 a year. This all-volunteer group is dedicated to preserving and promoting all sorts of American music that mainstream America sometimes forgets. For more information, log onto http://www.sxsemusic.com and download an application form.
Sponsors include New South Brewery, QROCK Radio, Sea Note Recording, Pepsi, Sounds Better Records and the Anderson Property Group.
For more information call Jeff Roberts, owner of Sounds Better Records at 843-497-3643 or Seth Funderburk, Sea Note Recording, at 843-455-6499.