Kerry Michaels Band: Baby, It’s White Hot Soul
Kerry Michaels Band reunion show at Kono Lounge, 8 p.m. Feb. 17.
If you don’t have plans tonight (or even if you do), there’s a super show about to take place. The Kerry Michaels Band is getting back together for one night of gut-wrenching blues, searing guitar and an on-stage camaraderie that’s going to knock our socks off.
I’m especially excited because I’ve never seen the Kerry Michaels Band live. I recently watched a video, circa 1990 maybe, of them opening for Buddy Guy in Winston-Salem, N.C. and this band kicked butt! Michael Stallings, better known as “Pops” was putting out one sweet guitar lick after another. Kerry (still going by Kerry Martin then) was belting out the blues, her voice powerful and rich and heart-wrenching. I read somewhere, that when asked to describe their music, she said, “Baby, it’s white hot soul.” Now I get it. Yowza, that girl is making Etta proud!
The band hasn’t played together for years, but they’re coming back for a one-night, one-time reunion show (at least that’s what I’m told), and I’m excited! I talked to both Kerry and Michael about the reunion, and they’re even more excited, so we are in for a night of fantastic music!
Pops and Kerry first met in a little country bar in Greensboro, N.C. sometime in late 1987. She had moved there from Galveston, Tex. to be closer to Duke University Hospital where she was being treated for cancer (Yikes! And just 30-something). She was tending bar. He was gigging at the in a country band called Stampede.
“I got up and sang a few songs with the band, and the first words I spoke to Pops were ‘Someday you and I are going to be in a band together.’” She had that right. They started working together. In fact, it became a romantic thing, too, but that’s a story for another day.
“We were in Greensboro when we formed the band, “ says Stallings. “And we were playing a little bit of everything. On Friday night, we’d be at Rhino Club or Night Shades playing blues and the next night we’d be the country band at the Carousel Lounge.”
A popular band throughout the Piedmont from the start, KMB’s first big break came when they were sponsored by the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society after winning the area’s Piedmont Amateur Contest (now the regional IBC Challenge) in Greensboro, N.C. They went on to the National Blues Amateur Contest finals at the new Daisy Theatre in Memphis, Tenn.
“This was a great experience,” said Stallings. “I think we were the only Piedmont band to place at the national level. The night before our competition, we were across the river in Arkansas and met up with the great Albert King. We told him we were playing and he came to see us! What a night!”
The group didn’t win. They came in third, but the wheels were set it motion. They impressed Albert King and they were on their way.
At this time, band members of were Kerry Martin (lead vocals and keys); Michael Stallings (lead guitar and vocals); David Hutson (bass guitar and vocals); Ronnie Skidmore (keys and vocals) and Brandon Cardwell (drums).
“After Memphis, we started gigging all the time; we were playing so often, we had to bring in band members who wanted to play full time,” Michael told me.
Says Kerry, “That’s when we added Bryant Bowles on drums; Mike Stevens on bass; and then Jimmy “Grub” Thornberg on keyboards. This is the Kerry Michaels Band you’ll see with me and Pops at Kono Lounge.
“These were guys I’ve played with forever,” she continues, “I met Mike Stephens in 1979, playing an after-hours gig at Sockeye’s, a place out on 501 called Sock’s Lounge.
“Bryant Bowles is the kind of drummer you don’t even have to turn around and look at. He already knows what I’m thinking. Musically, Bryant is my soulmate.”
Kerry adds, “We had met Albert King, who came to see us play in Memphis. We started opening for Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, even Charlie Daniels. We did shows with Valerie Wellington and Denise LaSalle. We were going strong.”
They became regulars at Dick’s Last Resort, playing not just the Barefoot Landing location in North Myrtle Beach, but nationally at clubs in Chicago and Dallas. Gigs also included regular Saturday night stint at Fat Harolds. “I remember seeing the plane flying up and down the beach with the banner ‘Kerry Michaels Band at Fat Harold’s tonight,’” Stallings recalls. “The shaggers loved Kerry,” Michael says. “They couldn’t get enough of her. And with good reason. No one can sing it like Kerry.”
There was talk of record deals, Hollywood opportunities. But instant fame isn’t always easy to manage. The band members had their share of drug and alcohol problems. Kerry cut a solo record that she admits was not successful. The band eventually folded, playing their last gig in the late 1990s. In Kerry’s own words, she “spiraled downward.”
“Because of some bad decisions I made, I lost my boys. We haven’t played together for 15 years or more. It was all my fault, but they’ve forgiven me. I still can’t forgive myself. But they’ve forgiven me. I’m tickled pink to be playing with them. I want to make this music one mo’ time.”
Tickets are $15 and include Kono Lounge is located at 1901 N. Kings Hwy. in Myrtle Beach, S.C. For more information, contact Nathan Stallings at 843-224-7748 or via email at BonoProductions@yahoo.com.