DarielB – Flying Under the Radar

Homecoming Jam Rocks Greenville, S.C.

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on January 13, 2010

Garfeel Ruff at the Handlebar, Greenville,S.C. Dec. 28, 2009. L-R: guitarist Buddy Strong; drummer Scotty Hawkins; keyboard player Ronnie Godfrey; bassist Franklin Wilkie; guitarist Rickey Godfrey.

I would have written about this terrific event sooner, but I caught the granddaddy of colds on my trip to the Upstate and I’ve just now been able to get my thoughts together.  Comments from guitarist Rickey Godfrey  add a musician’s POV, so I’ve included as many as possible.

Taking place at the renowned Handlebar concert hall/pub in downtown Greenville, S.C. on Dec. 28, this was billed as the fourth annual Homecoming Jam 2009, and was it ever a homecoming! The S.C. Upstate boasts a rich heritage of musicians that include the Marshall Tucker Band, the Toy Factory, Garfeel Ruff, Backbone, Fresh Licks and then some. Those names were all represented at the Handlebar. I can’t tell you how excited I was to be there for this show and if the packed house was any indication, I’d say I wasn’t alone.

The opening set began with Ronnie Godfrey (Marshall Tucker Band, Garfeel Ruff, Virgil) on keyboard; Donnie Winters (Winters Brothers Band) on guitar; Scotty Hawkins (One-Eyed Jack, Reba McEntire,  Brooks & Dunn) on the drumkit;  Rickey Godfrey (Rickey Godfrey Band, Garfeel Ruff, Fresh Licks) on guitar and, on bass, Franklin Wilkie (Marshall Tucker Band, Garfeel Ruff, Coconut Groove, Gypsy Souls, Rickey Godfrey Band).

You know what I’m going to tell you, right? They rocked! Ronnie opened the show with a soulful rendition of “Tobacco Road.” Donnie’s slide guitar solo got the audience going and we were ready for Ronnie’s “Rainy Night In Georgia.”  I have to interject here that Ronnie Godfrey doesn’t perform in public too often these days. He’s busy recording and writing, which is his big love. Long story short, if you get a chance to see him, run, don’t walk to get your spot in line. He’s that good.

Next up was brother Rickey singing “Keep What I Got,” the popular blues tune by Slim Harpo.  Rickey was just warming us up. In fact, he told me later he could tell the crowd was getting into it and “really in the mood to have fun.” Well, his next tune blew me away – along with everyone else in the room –  Benny Lattamore’s funk-edged soul song, “Let’s Straighten It Out.” This song will never be the same for me again. How can one family have this much talent?

After a few more tunes, they brought out former MTBers Tony Heatherly on bass and guitarist Ronald Radford (Faded Glory, Randy Travis). Rickey told me, “We’ve always regarded Ronald as one of the best country guitar players around, so he just gets up and shows everybody that it’s true. When Hawk sang ‘Sittin’ On Top of the World,’ Ronald did some fancy chicken pickin’. Then on ‘I Hear the South Calling Me’ [great vocals by Tony Heatherly here], he AGAIN dazzles the audience with aggressive playing that sounded to me a lot like Toy Caldwell himself.”

At one point guitarist Donny Duncan (Backbone) came out and did a super job on the MTB tune “Can’t You See, ” with Rickey Godfrey on vocals. This was especially fun for those of us in the audience because Donny runs a sound company these day and doesn’t play all that often. Like so many of these guys though, he couldn’t resist coming home!   With Donny still on the stage, bass player and jam organizer Mark McMakin (Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’ Blues, Hard Rain) came out and sang the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out.”  Great job, all around, Mark! And for the guys I missed, I apologize.

A couple hours into the evening, Garfeel Ruff took the stage, and, to be honest, this  was probably the most anticipated set of the night.  In existence less than five years, Garfeel Ruff was among the hottest of the Upstate bands.  They had a national deal with Capitol Records and a huge following in the area. Their self-titled Garfeel Ruff (1979),  soundtrack for The Hitter (1978) and Born To Play (1984) are collectors’ items today.  They performed just five numbers, all originals written by the band. First up was Rickey Godfrey’s “Pine Needles Don’t Cry,” and the crowd went wild. They’d been waiting for it all night. Buddy Strong and Rickey executed their double lead guitar parts flawlessly.

The band was having as much fun as their audience. Emailing his comments  to me about the show, Rickey says, “Buddy and I did a great job on Frank Wilkie’s song, “Closer To Jesus.” Scotty Hawkins on drums and Frank on bass laid down a funky groove on this song that was ten miles wide. And with folks like Wolfman and Tony Heatherly  singing back up harmony … we were definitely in the blues church in rock & roll heaven. On “I’m Hungry” [written by the late Alan Pearson, GR’s original drummer who passed away in Jan. 1996], I sang it aggressively and Ronnie’s piano solo was incredible – just like in the old days!.” Rickey’s into aggressive music.

The band’s next tune was “Greensnake Blues.” Ronnie Godfrey  wrote it with Alan Pearson. The crowd was lovin’ the blues and Rickey’s guitar solo was one of the best of the night. The Garfeel Ruff closer was “Purple Satin Lady,” written by Buddy Strong, vocals by Ronnie Godfrey. It’s one of the group’s best known songs, and the crowd was on its feet.

The next set was Marvin King with son Markus King – two of the most exciting guitarists around. Get this, Markus is 13 years old. He’s got some career ahead of him. The highlight of this whole set may well have been the Allman Brothers classic “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” The guys handled the double leads just like the original and it was incredible to hear.  I had to laugh, when dad Marvin started to tell the audience his son’s age, Markus objected. Yeah, I remember 13. Also contributing in no small measure: Mark McMakin was on bass, Easley musician Bobby Simmons was playing keyboard and Max Hightower was on harp.

The night closed out with Donnie Winters, Justin McCorkle (yep, George was his dad) and Mark McAffee onstage. They did  “Fire On the Mountain” and “Statesboro Blues,” a fitting end to Mark McMakin’s Homecoming Jam 2009.

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