DarielB – Flying Under the Radar

Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on October 6, 2010


Ronnie Godfrey


Ronnie Godfrey Concert at School For Blind

It’s about 250 miles from where I am in coastal North Carolina to the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg … kind of a long way to go for a piano recital. But I’m thinking about making the trip.

I mean, how often do I get to hear freakin’ Ronnie Godfrey?

In case you’re one of those folks who never ventures far from the Top 40, let me tell you about Ronnie Godfrey – singer, songwriter, composer, producer and piano man – who’s well worth breaking out the Garmin.

During the early eighties, he was  the keyboard player for Marshall Tucker Band, playing on three of the group’s Warner Brothers albums. He was a driving force behind the S.C. Upstate powerhouse, Garfeel Ruff. He’s written over 2,000 songs with recordings by  Marshall Tucker Band, Billy Joe Royal, Sonny Turner, Damon Gray, Rob Crosby, Johnny Lee and others.

He’s played piano for Crystal Gayle, Charlie Daniels and David Allen Coe – among others. His list of credits is a mile long.

“Hat Full of Rain,” which Ronnie co-wrote with wife Kim Morrison, was recorded by Ty Herndon for his highly acclaimed 1995 debut album, What Matters Most on Epic Records. In 2004, Ronnie co-wrote, co-produced, played keys and sang background on Johnny Lee’s “Santa Claus Is Lookin’ For Love.”

Ronnie also produced Cole Porter’s indie-country release, Poetic Justice, which climbed to the  indie top ten charts and featured two singles that reached number one spots on the indie charts.

In 2007, Ronnie brought soulful background vocals  to Leon Russell’s Angel In Disguise release.

Born completely blind in Greenville, S.C., Ronnie was introduced to music at the S.C. School for the Deaf and Blind. On Oct. 30, he will return to present a special concert celebrating the school’s 155th anniversary.

Last week, I talked to him about his music, his family, his experiences at the blind school and about going back to where it all began. As you’ll see, it was classic Ronnie Godfrey. He tells it like he sees it.

“When I started playing in 1964, I was eight. I didn’t like it. At the school, they forced us to play … If you’re talented they make you play. For first five years, I tried to quit. All my friends were out of it and I was a little bit of a problem child anyway. I went to Dr. Walker, but he wouldn’t let me quit. Now I’m grateful. It’s a really good lesson. Don’t expect to like everything.

“When I was 15 my parents bought me a piano so I could play over the summer and I fell in love with it. Now at this 50-year mark, I want to go back to where it started and feel it …. sort of absorb and connect to where it started … be in that room again.”

Ronnie Godfrey is very matter-of-fact about his childhood. He states the facts, but doesn’t dwell on the difficulties.

“I was so troubled, ran away from school three times. My dad was in prison: he robbed a bank, and everyone knew it. I had bedwetting problems.

“The school had that 19th century parochial school, sort of Dickensonian quality to it. The housefather and his wife at the dormitory  made me wash my sheets if I wet.

“The teachers at the school were wonderful, but the dormitory was abusive.”

“One time this housefather, he was going to show me he could control me. He said I was an instigator. He put me in a room with the deaf kids.

“But, I think those things mold you if you let them.”

He doesn’t seem to have hard feelings about his father either, who shares his first name, Virgil.

About Music City, Ronnie says, “Nashville has become a cesspool. Once Travis Tritt, Garth Brooks and the others made it big, there was suddenly a lot of money. Then the lawyers showed up. Now the radio is packed with bad songs. “Somewhere Between Old and New York” by Dave Loggins? It’s about a shoe shine guy at Yankee Stadium. You couldn’t write that song now. Now it’s crappy ass songs.

“There are two ways to make money: sales money and play money. Some bribe the radio stations. You can make money without even selling records.

‘It’s not depressing to me. I’m not a typical human being. I never did fit in with the good old boy set. I didn’t hold my mouth right. I’m not even normal for blind people.”

Songwriting is clearly a great love for Ronnie Godfrey. “It’s got to have a combination of being honest and conversational, yet also a sense of imagery. Convince the listener that it’s real … like the opening to “Hotel California” … On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air . They made you know … in a very few words.”

In 1998, Ronnie began to jam  with Casey Lutton (guitar and vocals), Steve Johnson (drums and vocals) and Michael Thorn (bass). In 2000, they formed Virgil, a genre-resistant jam band. The group recorded Standin’ In a Circle, which, you can hear on the group’s MySpace page at the previous link.

“My philosophy of life is in Virgil. I believe people should be free with each other – spiritual and free and open. The church has done more to screw up manhood. People don’t believe they have the right to feel that good. If people would learn to be free and love, people wouldn’t have to fight wars.

“I see Virgil as my alter ego. Why the name for the band? We didn’t want just my name on it, but it was my concept, so it was a way to name the band.”

If there’s a single song that reveals who Ronnie Godfrey is, it’s “The Man In the Glass,” and he’s happy to talk about it.

“I did a bad thing. I knew it wasn’t right. I was drunk. I had this old pendant metronome … well, I stumbled into the piano, activating the metronome. It was telling me sit down and work this thing out. For two days … I wouldn’t eat until it was done. I couldn’t sleep.

“I had one guy , an alcoholic, it made him quit drinking. That song is my benchmark, my anthem, my way of facing up to myself.  It’s like it was meant to be. That metronome told me. That song was in my soul.”

Ronnie’s currently working on a project with Kim, his wife of ten years, also a singer/songwriter/musician. “It’s the best stuff I‘vet ever done. I’m playing all the parts. She’s singing it all. We’ve co-written it all. It’s a CD for her, Therapy.”

When will it be done, I wanted to know?

“Probably two years. I’m a guy who needs time. Virgil took five years.”

I’ve heard three rough tracks from Therapy. It will be worth the wait. In the meantime, visit the website for more info.

The South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind is located at 355 Cedar Springs Road in Spartanburg, S.C. The concert begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $7 and proceeds will benefit the School for the Blind Alumni Association. For details call 864-285-2921 or email: barbieann519@charter.net.

This Flying Under the Radar post has also been published in Coast magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine, Myrtle Beach, S.C.


Rickey Godfrey Teams Up With Frank Wilkie, Jeff Sipe For Oct. 10 Show

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on September 27, 2010

The Nashville guitarist will be joined at Fall For Greenville Festival by former Marshall Tucker bassist Frank Wilkie and Jeff Sipe from Aquarium Rescue Unit

The Rickey Godfrey Trio will perform at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 10 at Fall For Greenville in Greenville, S.C.  The festival offers three incredible days of wine and beer tastings, restaurant sampling, children’s events and entertainment by an exciting roster of nationally and regionally known entertainment acts.


Rickey Godfrey and his Telecaster.


Greenville native Rickey Godfrey brings an electrifying blend of hot rockin’ blues and hip-shakin’ soul to every performance. Blind since birth, he started studying classical piano and voice at the age of seven, while attending the South Carolina School for the Blind, and, at age 13, began playing guitar as well.

Godfrey is a founding member of Garfeel Ruff, one of the most beloved bands to come out of the Upstate. Since moving to Nashville, Tenn. in 1993, he has worked with a diverse group of artists including Rufus Thomas, Billy Preston, the Box Tops, Johnny Jones and Sam Moore, to name just a few. The Music City Blues Society has nominated this versatile musician as both Guitarist and Keyboard Player of the Year. Godfrey has just completed a new blues CD titled Nasty Man, which he also produced and expects to be available during the festival. “This CD defines who I am as a complete musician more than any record I’ve ever made,” Godfrey said. “I play all the guitar and keyboard parts on it, and I wrote or co-wrote ten out of the 12 songs on it. My vocals on it have an edge that I’ve never had on my other recordings. I think it’s me singing at my best.”


Bass player Franklin Wilkie


Bass guitarist Franklin Wilkie, who played with Godfrey in Garfeel Ruff, is probably best known for his eight years playing bass for the Marshall Tucker Band. He took on the difficult job of replacing Tommy Caldwell after his untimely death in an automobile accident. He recently played on and produced Ear Candy, the critically acclaimed 2009 recording by Chocolate Thunder. He and Godfrey, who played guitar and keyboards on the CD, both performed with the band at the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival.

Drummer Jeff Sipe may well be the definitive “drummer’s drummer,” always challenging himself as he explores one musical style after another. He brought together bassist Oteil Burbridge and guitarist Jimmy Herring to form the wildly successful Aquarium Rescue Unit, which, until they disbanded in 1994, was considered one of the best jam bands in the country He has played with Col. Bruce Hampton, Steve Bailey, Chris Duarte, and players from the Derek Trucks Band, Phish, Widespread Panic and more.


Jeff Sipe (photo Michael Saba)


These three musicians coming together at Fall For Greenville is a rare opportunity to enjoy a level of musical talent not often experienced. The trio will play from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Brown Street Club Stage, which is located at Piazza Bergamo at the intersection of Main and Coffee Streets in downtown Greenville, S.C.

About Fall For Greenville

Some of the additional acts include blues legend Mac Arnold;  Cravin’ Melon; Angela Easterling and the Beguilers; Wanda Johnson; Chicago Joe Jones; San Francisco’s Gaylyn Arnold and Greenville’s own horn-driven funk band, The Work.

Over the past five years, Fall For Greenville has donated over $200,000 to local nonprofit organizations. This year’s targeted groups include Harvest Hope, Project Host, Loaves and Fishes, HandsOn Greenville, Greenville Rape Crisis, and St. Francis Foundation. Hours for Fall For Greenville are: Friday, Oct. 8, 5 – 11 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 9, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 10, noon to 7 p.m. is available and city and private lots as well as garages throughout the downtown area. The festival is free to the public. Tickets, which cost $5 per sheet of eight tickets, are used to purchase food, beverages and children’s activities.  Anyone wishing to drink beer and/or wine at the festival must have valid identification and buy a City of Greenville wristband for $1. No pets, coolers, bicycles, lawn chairs, inline skates or skateboards are permitted at the smoke-free festival. For more information, visit www.fallforgreenville.net.

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.

Southern Rockin’ At the Handlebar Dec. 28: Garfeel Ruff Reunion

Posted in Interviews, Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on December 17, 2009

Garfeel Ruff record promo photo. L-R, Rickey Godffrey, Ronnie Godfrey, Al Pearson, Buddy Strong, Frank Wilkie (courtesy F.L. Wilkie)

Woo woo! Greenville, S.C. you better make room for the mighty large talent that’s heading your way. These guys are the soul of the  south. They  put the rock in southern rock, and they are coming together to pound it ‘til you bleed.

Then, just when you’re ready to call  Uncle, they’ll jump to a soul-bending  bluesier groove that leaves you lusting for more. For one night only, the Handlebar is hosting the jam of jams, the fourth annual 2009 Homecoming Jam featuring  the Upstate’s finest in southern rock, soul blues, funky country AND the first reunion in almost ten years of S.C.’s favorite sons, Garfeel Ruff.

The line-up for the Dec. 28th event includes a who’s who in S.C. music:

Marshall Tucker Band will be well represented with former MTB bass player  Tim Lawter; Ronald Radford, MTB guitarist (1993-1995); bassist Frank Wilkie, who took on the heavy task of replacing Tommy Caldwell after his untimely death in 1980; Tony Heatherly ; and Ronnie Godfrey, MTB keyboard player (1981-1984).

Donnie Winters, with brother Dennis formed the ultimate Southern rockin’ Winters Brothers Band during the seventies. On his own, he leans toward Americana, but who knows what he’ll bring to the stage of the Handlebar?

Greenville-based Marvin King and 13-year-old son Marcus (Marcus King & the Blues Revival) will showcase dual lead guitar work to shout out a message of rockin’ revival.  Yeah!

Word has it, Michael Buffalo Smith will also be joining in the jam. A blogger (gritz.net), author (“Carolina Dreams: The Musical Legacy of Upstate South Carolina”), stage and commercial actor and musician, this MTB historian has shared the stage with  the Charlie Daniels Band,  Marshall Tucker Band, Molly Hatchet, Southern Rock Allstars and more.

Other musicians slated to appear include Scotty Hawkins (Reba McIntyre, Brooks & Dunn, One-Eyed Jack); and Mark McMakin (Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’Blues, Hard Rain).

All this is well worth the price of admission and your time, but add Garfeel Ruff to the mix, and it’s a no-brainer. Get your tickets now!

Garfeel Ruff Comes Home

Early Garfeel Ruff (courtesy F.L. Wilkie)

If you were anywhere near the Upstate in the late 70s, you already know how huge Garfeel Ruff was and now the band members are as excited as their fans to be coming home.

During a telephone interview with Frank Wilkie, I can hear the excitement and anticipation as he talks about the reunion.

“Garfeel Ruff has always been my heart, my passion,” says Franklin Wilkie. “We were really influenced by George Martin [longtime record producer for the Beatles], and intent on achieving certain goals musically. Unlike other bands, we had definite sound parts. Not that we never jammed, we did,  but we were practice fanatics. We worked on vocals for hours.We worked everything out and you could hear the effort that went into it. I think this reunion is way overdue.”

Ronnie Godfrey, lead vocalist and keyboard player for Garfeel Ruff said, “We were just very, very good!  We played the hell out of our music; we practiced all of the time and worked our asses off to get what we wanted and boy did we ever become a great band!!

“It’s really going to be great to see the guys, rock some and have some fellowship!  Of course my man Scotty Hawkins will be there to take the great Alan Pearson’s place on drums and it’s just a chance to groove with some extended family and, of course, my woommate Rickey.  I know Al will be there in spirit as well.  I miss him so much!

“I was just 22 when we started and 27 when we broke up.  I was married with a small child and subsequently got divorced during that period and I think I probably grew up, as much as any musician can grow up, during that time.  I learned that attitudes are more important than facts and it’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how it affects you!  I also learned something that I kind of already knew.  If you figure out what you want, visualize it, dream about it and think about it all the time, you can make it happen!!!

Self-titled LP released in 1979 on Capitol Records.

“Over the 30 years or so since we broke up, we have played together in all kinds of combinations and in all kinds of situations!  In 1980, we decided to make the “Born To Play” record.  There were some songs which were left over from the five years we were together and we just wanted to do it.  In 1986, I believe, we did a big reunion concert in Spartanburg and the police crashed the thing and started, for some reason, to arrest people.  The church makes sure the cops and politicians stay stupid up there in Spartanburg.  The Pharisees run the town!”

Ronnie Godfrey isn’t known for his reticence.

Buddy Strong, who played guitar during the Garfeel Ruff days is a successful engineer today. He owns Southeastern Studios in Easley, S.C. Although he hasn’t played live since the last Garfeel Ruff reunion, he often plays guitar parts on Studio projects including  MTB’s latest record, The Next Adventure and Ear Candy, Chocolate Thunder’s CD, which was produced by Frank Wilkie and recorded at Southeastern.

“It’s going to be fun,” he tells me. “The other guys in the band are all monster players. I love it.”

When I ask Buddy what he felt the reason for Garfeel Ruff’s great appeal during its five-year run, he echoes what the others have told me, “We treated it like a job. We worked constantly. We would record our live shows and then listen to see how we could improve. We worked hard!”

Rickey Godfrey, 2009

Guitarist Rickey Godfrey is grinning from ear to ear when he tells me, “I’m very excited about playing with the guys. We’ve remained good friends, all of us, and having one of the best drummers in the United States, Scotty Hawkins, playing with us, makes it even better.

“Our plan at the homecoming jam is to not only feature the band, but feature us as writers, so, we plan on doing five Garfield Ruff favorites, doing one song apiece written by each individual member.

“All of us are a lot more mature than we were back then, and we are better listeners, and certainly better musicians. I know, myself, as a guitar player, that I’m a much better player and musician than I was back then. Now, when I play, I think a lot more about what I shouldn’t do, rather than what I should do.

“I’m a lot calmer person, too, and I think all of us are more flexible as people.

“It’s also gonna be a pleasure to hear some other really great musicians at the jam. Marvin King, and Ronald Radford, for instance, are two of the best guitarists I know … with unusual talent.”

“The only sad thing I suppose is that we wish Alan Pearson were alive to be there with us, it’s amazing to me that’s it’s been almost 14 years since he died, but Scotty was groomed by Al on how to play drums and be a good musician. As a kid of eight or nine years old, Scotty used to come out  and hear us all the time, so he really looked up to Alan.”

“I’m a little nervous. Buddy Strong and myself haven’t played guitars together in over 20 years, except for a 30 minute show we did in Spartanburg in 2001; so, both of us are gonna have a private rehearsal together.”

Old habits die hard.

Additional Interview Q & A

Looking back, what were some highlights of Garfeel Ruff’s career?

Ronnie Godfrey (courtesy Ronnie Godfrey)

Ronnie Godfrey: One of the highlights for me is one that wouldn’t stand out in anybody’s memory much.  It was in Warm Springs, Georgia or maybe Millageville, Georgia; I’m not sure, Rickey might remember. Original music had been our constant mantra for years; our goal was fixed and firm; to play nothing but original music one day as soon as we could get a following.  Anyway, that night, we had this ritual where we would as we called it, “Stack hands!”  We would put our ten hands in a clench and just feel each other’s energy before we would play.  On this night, for some reason, somebody said, “Let’s play our own stuff from now on” and from that moment on, we stopped playing copy music!  By the way, that night was one of the best we ever had together!

How has your music changed/grown?

Ronnie Godfrey: Garfeel Ruff was an incredible experience for me and I will always treasure it but it was only one of many wonderful things which have happened in my career.  After the ruff thing I had the pleasure of playing with MTB; I played in 43 states in some of the best venues in the world; made three records for Warner Brothers and, for the three years I was there, I experienced the joy that comes from making good money, playing great music, doing what I love and being extremely fulfilled!  Then I moved to Nashville and, in many ways, my career began again all over again!  I have had the pleasure of writing with, singing with, and playing with and producing some of the most talented, hard-working, successful people in the world and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!  In 2006, we finished the “Virgil” record, Standin’ in A Circle!  This record pretty much defines me as an artist.  I had the vision years ago but it took the right players and the right time for it to happen and, if you want to know Ronnie Godfrey, IT’S ALL IN THAT RECORD!  I’m not a band musician any more; I never will be again.  I am fully comfortable with myself as an artist/writer/singer/producer   now; I don’t feel like I have anything really to prove to anybody and I’m going to spend the rest of my days composing, playing, singing, producing and making records and I am basically at peace as an artist; more than at any other time in my life!

What were your strengths then and what are they now?

Ronnie Godfrey: My strengths come from being the oldest child.  From a very early age, because my Mother had to work the third shift and would sleep during the day, my sister and I had to keep things up and running and take care of our younger brothers.  This made me kind of a control freak at times but it also made me a natural-born leader.  I, in many ways, was the musical organizer of the band; yes, it’s true that we voted on many things, everybody had in-put and the band certainly had some type a personalities but I think I brought an aggressive, visionary and organizational talent which helped.  I was also born with a gift for music which was cultivated by some serious training at The Cedar Springs School For The Blind where I took voice, clarinet and piano lessons for 10 years before I started my professional career.  Now, I’m pretty much the same; I have learned to accept things as they are much better than I did when I was younger and I hope, I emphasize hope I am aging gracefully!

What dates/events were pivotal in the Garfeel Ruff saga?

Ronnie Godfrey: Rickey is better at dates than me but I’ll do my best to be as accurate as possible.  We consider the start of the band happening on December 15, 1974.  In August of 74 or thereabouts, we recorded four songs for Bill Lowery in Atlanta.  This was very important because, though we had already been in the studio and had some stuff on tape, this session helped to validate our sound and our band approach!  I want to say it was June of ’76 when we opened for MTB in Wheeling West Virginia.  What a concert that was; IT WAS A THRILL FOR ALL OF US!

In December of 1976, Roger Blare (sound man) joined the band and everything went up a notch in our sound!  In February of 1978, we show-cased at Hooley’s Underground in Spartanburg for the suits at Capitol Records.  Four or five of these guys showed up; one came all the way from London I think and heard the band.  Afterwards, we went up to their room and visited; they seemed really blown away and they gave us a record deal! In April, I think, of ’78, we actually signed.  In June and July of 78, we went to Muscle Shoals Alabama and recorded our first attempt at a record.  That’s when we scored the movie The Hitter as well.  In November of ’78, we made the actual record in Vermont.  In March, I think, of ’79, the record was released.  In August of 79, the band broke up.

Can you tell me something about your songwriting?

Ronnie Godfrey: I started trying to write when I was about 13.  I had a crush on a girl at school who was much older than me and I wrote her a poem which I eventually put music to and I knew from that time on that I would write.  About that time, I heard a song called “Solitary Man,” written and performed by the great Neil Diamond and I fell in love.  I just started making stuff up and, by the time I was 18, I was writing songs that even I liked.  This went on with some success till I moved to Nashville.  That was when I really started to grow as a writer!  I co-wrote a song which is Ty Herndon’s first disc called “Hat Full Of Rain,” which was certified gold in 1996.  I learned how to write for the market a little better and, just recently, I think I wrote the best song I’ve ever written so, as far as I’m concerned, I’m still growing and the next mountain on the horizon is the one I want to climb!  I have always looked at writing as therapy.  I have written many personal songs; things only I would probably ever perform, that have given me so much peace and self-fulfillment, I would recommend that anybody who is having a personal issue should just sit down and write it out; you don’t have to share it with anyone if you don’t want to but IT’S A GREAT WAY TO GET IT OUT!

If You Want To Go

2009 Homecoming Jam & Garfeel Ruff Reunion

What: Fourth annual year-end jam and concert, organized by bass player Mark McMakin,   featuring some of the S.C. Upstate’s finest in southern rock: ex-Marshall Tucker players Frank Wilkie, Tim Lawter, Tony Heatherly, Ronnie Godfrey and Ronald Radford; Donnie Winters; Marvin King and 13-year-old-son, guitar wizard Marcus King; and the long-awaited Garfeel Ruff reunion – Rickey Godfrey, Ronnie Godfrey, Frank Wilkie, Buddy Strong and sitting in for the late Alan Pearson, Scottie Hawkins (How fitting, huh?).

When: Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m.

Where: The Handlebar, 304 E. Stone Avenue, Greenville, S.C.

How Much: $11  ($2 extra at the door under if you’re under 21)

Information: MySpace.com/ MarkMcMakin; 864-233-6173

Sweet Explosion: Greenville, S.C.’s Chocolate Thunder

Posted in CD Picks by darielb on July 1, 2009


Linda Rodney is Chocolate Thunder.

Linda Rodney is Chocolate Thunder.

Linda Rodney, better known to her  fans as Chocolate Thunder, is a powerhouse and her latest recording is sure to satisfy your craving for tasty grooves and funk-laced  R&B.

Ear Candy, released on June 25, is a sensory explosion of musical morsels. All 12 tracks were written by Rodney except track  six, “Love Caused It,”for which she wrote the lyrics and Franklin Wilkie, the CD’s producer, wrote the music.

Wilkie, by the way, is the bass player who replaced Marshall Tucker Band’s Tommy Caldwell after his untimely death in 1980. Wilkie also played with another  legendary S.C. southern rock band, Garfeel Ruff. Fans will be happy to discover that bandmates Rickey Godfrey (guitar and keyboard), Ronnie Godfrey (keyboard) and Buddy Strong (engineer) have joined him on the Chocolate Thunder CD.

“I met Frank a couple years ago,” says Rodney. “When I was ready to do the CD, I called him because I knew he could pull the right people together.”

The opening track, “Love Thang,” is the artist’s favorite, a woman’s song of love to her man. The groove is deceptively simple and the opening vibes and cello patch are unexpected treats.Rodney’s strong vocals are just a hint of what’s to come. Her voice is a wonderfully contradictory mix of sweetness and raw energy; softness and strength.

“Power of a Lady,” track two, had its beginnings in the kitchen. “I was standing there cooking and I started singing this melody and then ‘Never underestimate the power of a lady, Hey lady, do you know just who you are?’ I grabbed a pencil and just started writing the song. The lyrics have changed some, but that’s how the song started.” Aggressive double lead guitar work by Rickey Godfrey supports the lyrics beautifully.

Up next is “Got My Act Together,” a tune with a solid groove and strong vocals. Sweet sax playing by Tony Kennedy and sparse pads from keyboard player Steve Keeter add to its appeal.

The soul song, “Other Side of Memphis,” track four, has been released as the album’s first single and is already seeing some airplay. “I was in Memphis for a blues challenge in 2002,” Linda tells me. “I took this tour of the area and I was sitting in W.C. Handy’s home, this memorial home and the melody came. Maybe I was inspired by traveling there. It was electrifying to be in the same place as one of the fathers of the blues.”

“It’s All Good” is a rally to keep your spirits up, even when times turn sour.

I know times are tough

and things are tight

cause a whole lotta people

did things that just weren’t right.

Vocal work by husband and wife, Kim Morrison and Ronnie Godfrey, together with a first verse utilizing only Wilkie’s bass and drums by Tez Sherard behind Rodney’s lead vocals are indicative of Wilkie’s skill as a producer.

Producer, Franklin Wilkie.

Producer, Franklin Wilkie.

Track six is “Love Caused It,” pure funk with powerful vocals.When the producer is also the bass player, you know there will be at least one tune that showcases the bass, and this is it.Listen for the fusion guitar solo by Rickey Godfrey. It’s just one example of the great musicianship on this recording. When I spoke with Frank Wilkie about this project, he said, “Linda Rodney had so many songs … good songs … that we approached it as that ‘box of chocolates.’ You don’t know what you’re going to get until you take a bite.”

The next tune on the CD, “Ever New (I Love You),” is a melt-in-your-mouth ballad with a great melody line and honest lyrics that somehow pulled me in the first time I heard it. Nice saxophone solo from Tony Kennedy here. “My Georgia Pine” is track nine, and certainly the bluesiest tune of the collection. It’s a tribute to husband Ron, who Linda laughingly refers to as, “my reluctant manager!” Linda’s voice on this track is smooth and smiling. You can hear the attraction. Guitar work by Kym Mckinnon and muted trumpet solos by Craig Sorrells add to the stylish feel of this piece.

“Bring It On”is a lot of fun. Sassy and confident, Linda’s tells her man

You’ve been bragging

You’re a real, real big man

But here’s something

I want you to understand

I’m pretty bad all by myself

So save your chump talk for someone else

She softens a little bit, but still challenges him:

You bring the lightning

I’ll bring the thunder

You’ll see why they call me the Southern Wonder

Instrumentally, the song features the horn section, while the rhythm section is playing a funky four-bar groove and Steve Keeter is keepin’ cool on keyboards.

Rodney’s old school soul song is up next: “I Just Gotta Tell Ya.” It’s sweet and a little raw around the edges, with a notable piano solo by Steve Keeter.

Guitarist, Rickey Godfrey.

Guitarist, Rickey Godfrey.

“Ain’t Gonna Cry,” track 11, is one of the CD’s strongest. And funkiest. Everything comes together … Linda’s lead vocals are dead on. The guitar solo by Rickey Godfrey was – remarkably – done on the first take and has the energy of a live performance.

The final track, and another big winner is “555-HELP.”This song is just rockin’ fun and a great way to close out the CD. Speaking for myself, I’ll be a full-on chocoholic if I keep listening to this gal!

Ear Candy is Linda Rodney’s second CD. Her first, You’re Barking up the Wrong Tree (2002) featured more blues tunes. Frank Wilkie tells me two more CDs are already in the planning stages – another blues album and a gospel recording.

Additional musicians on the disc include: background vocals: Lori Guthrie, David Guthrie; drums: Creig Harber on “Power of a Lady,” “Other Side of Memphis,” “Ever New (I love You)” and “My Georgia Pine;” percussion, Jeff Holland; trumpet, Greg Day, Rich Parlier; and trombone, Wesley Day. Other liner credits include: Engineers: Buddy Strong, South Eastern Sound Studio; Aaron Whisnant, Dorcia Studio; Rick Sandidge, Mark V Studio. Mastering: Dave Harris, Studio B.Graphics: Lee Wilkie.

As we go to press, Chocolate Thunder and these guys are readying for a trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 4. Watch out Canada. A Chocolate Thunder storm is coming your way!

For more information about Chocolate Thunder, visit MySpace.com/ChocolateThunder1.

This will also be published in the July 2, 2009 (p. 24) issue of Coast Magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine, the independent papers in Myrtle Beach, S.C.