If you’ve been in the Carolinas for any length of time, most likely you know Charlie Snuggs. You may not remember which band you know him from, but you definitely know him.
“I’ve played in so many bands, even I can’t remember them all,” laughs the versatile guitarist during lunch in Little River, S.C. this week. “I’ve been with country bands, dance bands, blues bands … all of them.”
Born in Highland Park, Ill. to native N.C. parents, Charlie moved to Pittsburgh, Pa., Lakewood, Fla. and Thomasville, Ga. all before he was five years old.
“My dad was a municipal manager,” Charlie explains. “He’d be fired and rehired with every election. We lived all over the place.
“Blues was in the air in southern Georgia, when I was there in the 50s. The old men playing on the street fascinated me, and I’d put a penny in the cup, and sit to watch them.”
Family life revolved around music, too. Charlie’s old sister played classical piano. His father sang in the choir at church and community events.
Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964 was a pivotal date for a young Charlie Snuggs. He, along with a reported 73 million others, watched The Beatles for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show.
“Watching John Lennon, it hit me. That’s what made me get a guitar.
“It took me two years to learn my first song. I did it by ear. It was ‘Love Me Do’ by the Beatles.”
His next big musical moment would come in 1967 with the release of Cream’s critically acclaimed psychedelic rock album Disraeli Gears. It catapulted the young guitarist into a whole new area of music – blues.
“I started really listening to British music … the Yardbirds … the Stones … I didn’t know it was blues, but I knew I liked it.”
During this time, Charlie was busy playing. At 14, he had his first gig, playing for a teenage center (By now the family was living in Mooresville, N.C.). A few years later he landed a spot with a more experienced band, Nova’s IX. They had recorded a record and appeared on American Bandstand. The band included Bobby Nance (trumpet player for the Catalinas), vocalist Gary Brown and guitarist Sammy Ingram (now a professor at Clemson).
“They hired me to take Sammy’s place … a 17-year-old in a happenin’ band … I think Gary Brown got me drunk for the first time!”
Later on, in Charlotte, N.C., Charlie met drummer Earl Truette, and then the Barkley brothers – Rusty and Johnny.
“We toured the hotel and fraternity circuit, playing Top 40. Then one day the Barkleys walked in wearing cowboy hats and boots. ‘We’re shutting this band down. We’re going to play country.’
“So now we’re a country band,” said Charlie.
Rusty Barkley’s comment to me about this, when I reminded him of the incident during a phone conversation this afternoon? “That was the only way we could get out of playing disco … And doing country really opened up another kind of playing for us. Charlie’s dad had told him, ‘You’re never going to be a real guitar player until you can play Chet Atkins.’ So Charlie started doing “Yakety Axe” [the Chet Atkins 1965 single, which was an adaptation of "Yakety Sax" by his friend saxophonist Boots Randolph.] Then doing James Burton‘s chicken pickin’ stuff and playing with Jim Brown, a guitarist for Charlie Daniels Band, who had a big influence on both of us … well the country thing opened us up to a new kind of playing.”
So the newly designated country group hooked up with Larry Presley, who built the Beach Wagon on Business 17 in Myrtle Beach and Kaleidoscope Productions.
Continuing his saga, Charlie says, “We opened the place and played there for a couple years, opening for folks like George Jones, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and others, until the band broke up. Rusty and John went back to Charlotte. Earl and I stayed here.
“My next adventure was at Sock’s [Myrtle Beach club on Hwy. 501]. It’s around 1979, and I’m working the 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. gig.
“I played with Kerry Michaels and Mike Stevens for about a year. It was a crazy place … gambling, hookers. John Jenrette [from the FBI ABSCAM debacle] used to hang out there.”
“I moved to Nashville; that didn’t work out. Went back to Charlotte, got a great gig with the Country Underground [now Morehead Street Tavern]. Upstairs was the blues band and downstairs, it was country.”
Back at the beach in the late 80s, Charlie was again playing country music with Silver at the Beach Wagon. After Hurricane Hugo, he joined Party Sharks playing the hottest gig in town at the Holiday Inn in downtown Myrtle Beach.
When Chicago Bob Hess quit his gig with Blues Express, the house band at House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, Charlie took his place.
“It was great,” he says. “They sent us to Orlando for two months. We opened for Johnny Winter … we opened for
Robin Trower – one of the highlights of my life.”
In the mid nineties, Charlie played at Sandpipers. “Bo Diddley came in, hired a local band, so we hung out, another great time. What a storyteller he was. And I ran Smokehouse Brown’s band for a while.”
After that, Charlie played with local musician Jaynie Trudell, for some 15 years. In fact they still work together sometimes and pull in the crowds when they do.
“I decided at some point I wanted to have a blues jam band. And that’s the Sharks [formed in Fall 2011], with Earl Truette on drums, Terry Harper on bass, and me on guitar. It’s sort of Widespread Panic meets Albert King,” he says. “You can’t just mimic old Elmore James sound. The rhythms are different now. So our jam band sound is appealing to a pretty broad crowd.”
Charlie Snuggs is all about the music. When he’s not playing, he’s practicing or listening to music.
“I study music all the time,” he tells me.” I’m fascinated. I like it. I like hip hop rhythms. I listen to Rihanna and Mary J. Blige. I listen to Derek Trucks and Jimmy Herring.”
Chicago Bob, Ambassador of the Blues for the State of South Carolina elected by the National Blues Society Hall of Fame, told me, “Charlie Snuggs is probably the most accomplished musician I’ve ever had the pleasure to share a stage with … He probably knows more styles of music then anyone I’ve ever met … Charlie is the absolute best
I’ve ever worked with and I’ve been at this business for over 40 years.”
Kerry Michaels and bandmate Terry Harper concur. She said, “Charlie and I go way back [He is a] great, great guitar player as everyone knows, but with Charlie this is no other guitar player as sincere and honest. He has always been my friend.”
Terry adds, “Charlie has such great stage presence. He brings a personality to the stage before he even opens his mouth … and his playing …. it’s just topnotch.”
Rusty Barkley was happy to elaborate. “Charlie’s ability to set a groove helps other players sound better,” said Rusty Barkley. “He’s never selfish, always does his best to help. It was Charlie, back in the day, who pulled me along. He knew theory and taught me … I always loved playing with Charlie … He was playing like Jeff Beck; I was playing Clapton. We put it together and got rock & roll … oh, and Charlie on slide…
Charlie told me that a great guitar player doesn’t want to play a bunch of notes. “We want to make the guitar sing like a voice … like B.B. King says about Lucille.”
“I hear so much emotion in Charlie’s playing,” adds local blues legend Michael “Pops” Stallings. “It’s not just technique. It’s more.” And when you go see Charlie Snuggs play guitar. That’s what you get. More.
You can catch Charlie jamming with the Sharks at 2001 Night Club on Sunday nights, beginning at 9:30 (often along with pals such as Chicago Bob, Kid Drew, Anson Funderburgh, Jaynie Trudell, Scott Cable, Digger Tozzi, and Calabash Flash. On Wednesday nights, he’s usually there, too, playing with the Coco Loco Party Band. And if it’s country licks you’re lusting for, look for the Most Wanted band, with Charlie Snuggs on guitar.
I first heard about Royal Southern Brotherhood (RSB) from the band’s drummer, Yonrico Scott. He was in town last Dec. for a South By Southeast show and during an interview, I put the standard query to him, “So what’s ahead for you?”
The enthusiasm and intensity of his answer caught me by surprise. “I’ve just joined this band,” he told me, “Get on Facebook, check it out! This is big! Devon Allman, Cyril Neville, Miko Zito, Charlie Wooten … and me! We’re already working on a CD. We’ve got bookings lined up! This is big!”
Okay, this sounds big.
Guitarist Devon Allman is, after all, the son of legendary Southern rocker Gregg Allman and successful leader of his own Honey Tribe band. Percussionist Cyril Neville is from the first family of funk, the Neville Brothers (and the groundbreaking Meters) – and of course, some of the best vocalists around. Guitarist Mike Zito took home a Blues Foundation award last year for his tune Pearl River, which he co-wrote with Cyril Neville, and his newest recording, Greyhound is up for best blues album this year. Charlie Wooten, the group’s Louisiana-grown bass player, founder of Zydefunk and the Charlie Wooten Project, is into everything from R&B to funked up jazz and reggae. Drummer Yonrico Scott has his own band, is a 2011 Grammy winner (with the Derek Trucks Band) and has played with Col. Bruce Hampton and Ike Stubblefield.
So I started following their progress on Facebook. With Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines they were recording at Dockside Studio near Lafayette, La.
Pretty soon they were posting snippets of tracks … harmonies for “New Horizons,” then guitar dubs … vocals for “Left My Heart In Memphis.”
They had me at the harmonies. I had to interview this band. And after talking to them, I’m more excited than ever about the music that’s in store for all of us.
Devon was my first phone call. We talked a little about his famous dad, but mostly focused on the new group and their debut 11-track self-titled CD, which will hit the streets on May 8.
“There’s a real blend of styles,” he tells me. “But it all comes from old school blues and rock.”
Devon is the founder and bandleader of Honey Tribe, a St. Louis, Mo. based blues-rock band known for their musicianship and jam band leanings.
“RSB is definitely more laid back than Honey Tribe,” he says. “But we’re stylistically similar. I’m really stoked that we came together.”
Are there any highlights of recording that you can share, I asked him.
“Any time Cyril stepped up to the mic,” he answered. “He really inspired me. There’s a tune that he sings,
“Moonlight Over Mississippi. It’s a standout. I honestly like the whole album, but this might be my favorite.”
Every one of the band members is excited about the new group. “We all came ready to work, said Cyril. “We wound up doing 12 tracks in two days, finished in five. We’re all putting 150% in.
“We needed a solid rhythm section and that’s what we have.
“What you hear on the recording, that’s performance on there, not all studio trickery and overdubs. It’s performance.
“Devon and Zito, they’re amazing guitarists. I like the blend between them. They never stepped on each other.
“And I’m very excited about the singing. Devon’s vocals are topnotch. Each song is different, but they all come together.
“All the elements of what I’ve been exposed to in my life are mixed up in this beautiful musical gumbo. Every member of this band has been involved in some of the seminal Southern musical ensembles.
“I’ve known Gregg Allman for over 35 years, so I don’t believe this is a coincidence or accident that I’m in a band now with his son.
“The music, to me, feels a lot like what Gregg’s brother – and Devon’s uncle– did and what I did with my brothers and my uncle.”
I really had considered Mike Zito a guitarist, but in reading about him, I found reference after reference to songwriting.
“I’ve been writing my own songs since high school, 20 something years,” he explained.
“I don’t ever write with intention for style. Usually just sit down and pick the guitar up and start singing. Or I’m driving.”
So how would you describe yourself, I asked, guitarist, vocalist or songwriter?
“Six years ago – would have been guitar, love guitar. I didn’t get it that singing and songwriting was where it’s at. These days, guitar isn’t my strength. Now I pay more attention to my voice.
“Used to be I wrote songs to play guitar. I found some songs off my old independent releases. I think they’re stronger than my guitar. Over the past five or six years, it’s come together.”
I knew Mike had some addiction problems in his past, which we spoke about briefly.
“I started playing in bars, six nights a week in bars … drinking a lot … drugs … too much partying,” he said. “I got in trouble with it, quit playing music. I was out on the streets.
“But I got into recovery. I had people helping me and eight years ago I started playing music again, different this time. Nothing came between me and the music. My newest album is Greyhound, produced by Anders Osborn.”
“Pearl River, the album before, was my first experience with Cyril, and my first ever collaboration.”
Cyril talked about it, too. “We had never met. I sent him lyrics. He asked what I felt about music. I had Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ ‘I’ve Got a Spell On You’ in my head and we went from there.”
The respect these guys have for each other is evident with every sentence.
“Charlie Wooten and Yonrico? First time playing with them, we hit it off instantly,” Zito said.
“The first night before anyone else got there, we recorded guitar, vocal, bass. They’re the backbone.”
Until Royal Southern Brotherhood rolls into your town, they’re as close as your computer. They have released their official video of “New Horizons.” It was uploaded to YouTube on Feb. 20. Check it out.The band’s website is: http://www.royalsouthernbrotherhood.com. And if you’re on Facebook, find them and “like” them. You’ll enjoy the exchange.
It’s become a wonderful tradition for South By Southeast concert goers in Myrtle Beach. Right about this time of year, the Randall Bramblett Band – and we’re talking the full band here – head to the Grand Strand for a fast-paced, high energy show at the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot. And when I tell you they blow the roof off the place, that Davis Causey’s guitar work defies description, that Michael Steele is a monster on bass, I’m not exaggerating.
Randall Bramblett has performed and recorded with Sea Level, the Allman Brothers, Steve Winwood,Traffic, Levon Helm, Bonnie Raitt, Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule and more. His tunes have been covered by scores of others. In fact, Bonnie Raitt is covering his “Used to Rule the World” from Randall’s 2008 Now It’s Tomorrow CD on her next release. It’ll be the lead track and the second single to be released. Plus, they co-wrote another tune together that will be one of Starbucks’ free releases.
Randall Bramblett is a multi-talented icon in the music business. He’s more than proficient on guitar, saxophone and keyboards. His raspy vocals are passionate and soulful to the bone. But songwriting for this Jesup, Ga. native is akin to breathing, and that’s what I wanted to talk to him about during our telephone interview last week.
He was happy to oblige.
“I have a lot going on,” he tells me. “I’ve been writing, getting ready to put out another album. I’m in the process of demo-ing songs that I’ve written since The Meantime [his beautifully sparse 2010 recording that featured Randall on grand piano, Gerry Hansen on drums and percussion and Chris Enghauser on upright bass].
“I think I have enough for a record. I have to figure out a direction now.”
Did Randall write his songs as a concept album, I wanted to know.
“I’ve never done a concept album. They have a ‘feel’ after the fact, and I always like to think of it as an ‘album’ even with single downloads.
“The thing with me is I have so many different styles. My songs can be folkie or funky gospel or something else. But I don’t want the album to be too disjointed. A lot of it comes together from the players.
“But [for this next album] I’ve got a lot of strong bluesy R&B going on.”
It makes sense, when you consider that Randall grew up in the heart of soul country in southern Georgia, where he counted James Brown and Ray Charles among his musical heroes. Further influenced by artists such as James Taylor and Carole King, Randall began writing songs while still in high school.
In college at the University of North Carolina, he studied religion and psychology. But shortly after graduating, he moved to Athens, Ga., where he made contacts and honed his skills in the “Liverpool of the South.”
I’m always curious to learn how songwriters work at their craft … whether it starts as an idea or a line or a piano riff…
“I don’t write like Tin Pan Alley writers do,” Randall told me. “I don’t have an angle. Basically, I sit at my computer, two actually. One is for lyrics and one is for music.
“I’ll have sheets of paper with ideas from journaling written all over them.
“I usually write with a vignette or scene in mind. It’ll have some meaning, but I hardly ever write a story. I write more mood stuff.
“It’s similar to poetry, I think, hard to define … it has some openness to it.”
“Jason usually gets it started and I finish. He comes up with some great lines,” Randall laughs as he explains. “We still write together, on two acoustic guitars.”
“No More Mr. Lucky [released in 2001 and produced by John Keane of Widespread Panic] was my first record for New West Records,” he continues.
Another beautifully written album, it served notice that Randall Bramblett had achieved a new level of songwriting. Soulful blues, jazz, funked up rock and a Southern sensibility meld together in a standout recording.
The album’s opening track, “God Was In the Water,” feels dark and desperate, a spiritual longing or questioning, a feeling of being lost – recurring themes in Randall’s work. Written by Randall and Davis Causey, Bonnie Raitt covered the tune on her 2005 Souls Alike album.
Other notables include the uptempo “Get In, Get Out,” “Lost Energy” and Aching For a Dream, a tune about life choices, Neal Cassady and the Beat generation.
“I called Carolyn, Neal Cassady’s wife,” Randall says. “I found her on the Internet. She had a website devoted to Neal. She objected to my lyrics. She said he didn’t die counting the railroad ties in Mexico. She says Ken Kesey started all that.”
One thing all Randall Bramblett songs have in common is their emotion. I find it impossible to listen without feeling something.They push, they pull. They ask questions. They insinuate. They make me feel. Something.
The date for this year’s show is Saturday, March 10. The show starts at 8 p.m. And it will be SRO. If you don’t have a reservation yet, stop reading and shoot off an email with the number in your party to SouthxSoutheast@aol.com.
Music Feasts are $25 per person ($20 for SxSE annual concert series members).
Admission fees include a range of potluck meals and often homemade dessert (to which you are invited to contribute), wine, beer, soda and coffee. The Myrtle Beach Train Depot is located at 851 Broadway in Myrtle Beach. For more information, or to join the nonprofit group, log onto http://www.southbysoutheast.org.