DarielB – Flying Under the Radar

Verlon Thompson at SxSE Music Feast – Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012

Posted in Interviews by darielb on November 17, 2012

Verlon Thompson’s 18-track CD, Works.

This has to be quick. I just wanted to remind you that Verlon Thompson will be on the Grand Strand tonight, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot, courtesy of the folks at South By Southeast.  Verlon is the walking definition of the term singer/songwriter, a first rate troubadour.

I talked to him for a while earlier in the week. He was in between road trips and happy to talk a little about the upcoming show and Works, his 18-track 2011 album that ranges from solo recordings to a full band.

“Starting out, I wanted to keep it simple,” he says.  “So some tunes are just me and Mike Dub on upright bass. But others have the complete band. It’s mostly pretty recent tunes.

“The song, “Oklahomagain” is about my home. It means a lot to me, and every time I sing it, I picture myself at home.”

For “Mike and Betty’s Daughter,” it’s a waltz, I added a big string section … I was just feeling so passionate about that song!” [Verlon met his wife, Demetria Kalodimos in 2000. Neither had expected to find “this love thing” again, but they did and Verlon calls her his “dream come true.” Demetria is a journalist and TV news anchor in Nashville and well as a filmmaker and documentarian.]

“The Guitar: I had made a little video for Guild Guitar company when they gave me an endorsement. The song was part of a songwriter class Guy Clark and I were teaching – [Jorma Kaukonen’s]Fur Peace Ranch, it’s like camp for pickers. We’d sit there and basically write taking input from the members. They all inspire me. To see the passion, the beliefs that some young person has … They don’t know – or care – how hard it is and how hard it is to get it produced. They just  have to do it … They inspire me.”

“’Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle’ was a true story. Guy and I had talked about writing it. The story had all the ingredients for an old time murder ballad, but we were concerned about the families, so we kept putting it off. One day, Sam Bush came by and said his dad had saved newspaper articles about the murder. The three of us started jotting down facts and by the end of the day, we had a song.”

Verlon’s had some pretty heavy co-songwriters during his 30-something-year career, so I wanted to know how collaborating stacks up against writing solo.

“I get the most satisfaction when I write a song myself because every word is mine. Collaboration is great, but it’s always a compromise (even if it’s better). The ones that are all yours are the ones you hold closest.

“The ones I write myself, I can’t tell you how these happen. I try to catch them. If I let myself be open, sometimes I can get them. I write down what comes to me.
“As a songwriter, it’s your job to be open to what comes to you. I’ve just grown to see it that way … Now when I see a leaf fall from a tree, it’s a metaphor. Or sometimes, what’s literal to me might be a metaphor to you. That’s the beauty of songs; they mean different things to everyone.”

Click here to read my full interview with Verlon the last time he came to town. If you can make it out tonight, reserve your spot by sending an email to southxsoutheast@aol.com. You won’t be sorry. Storytelling doesn’t get any better than Verlon Thompson.

Works track list with notes: “The Show We Call the Business” – the story of Verlon’s arrival in Music City. Accompanied by Mike Bub, Shawn Camp, John Gardner; “Oklamomagain” – Scenes from Verlon’s home town Binger, Okla. And a special shout out to fellow Binger boy, Hall of Famer Johnny Bench; “Caddo County”  – More vivid images of home; “Dinnerbell” – …”you can’t lose what you never had”…; “Where the Bottom Is”; “Backup and Turnaround” – Perseverance. Verlong and Bub with harmonies by Larry Marrs and Diana DeWitt; “Adalee” – Not enough perseverance in this case. Featuring the “Works” band, Bub on Bass, Gardner on hand drums, Shawn Camp on fiddle and Larry and Diana harmonizing; “Gone But Not Forgotten”; “Big Bad John” – Just Verlon and a mando doing Jimmy Dean’s classic; “I Need More Time” – Don’t we all? With special guest Paul Franklin on steel guitar; “Joe Walker’s Mare” – Joe Walker was an early American explorer … he always had a nice ride; “The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle” – Sad, but true. “The Get To You Waltz” – I’ve never been a dancer … or so I thought. A beautiful string arrangement by Kristin Wilkinson; “Mike and Betty’s Daughter” – In honor of three of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known; “El Toro” – Inspired by a trip to Spain. V., Shawn and Bub handle the manly harmonies; “Don’t Take Me Back” – Classic country music … I hope; “The Guitar” – The last line is the payoff; “Barnegie Hall” – Practice. Practice. Practice.


Tellin’ It Like It Is ‘Down South’

Posted in CD Picks by darielb on September 24, 2010

Folks around here have been driving themselves pure crazy waiting for Jim Quick’s latest funked-up collection of melodic metaphors telling tales of heartache, woe, one-night stands and other intimate snapshots of his tumultuous life.

Well I’m happy to tell all ya’ll that there’s no need to get your panties in a wad, it’s finally here. Hot off the Music City presses, the CD titled Down South is here, but this time around, our hero is singing a whole different tune.

He’s left his Coastline band behind – for the moment – and teamed up with Nashville songwriter/producer Gary Nicholson. All 14 tracks on the CD are either written or co-written by Nicholson, who has brought together a colorful group of mostly southern songwriters to help him tell us how it is Down South.

I don’t mind telling you I was a little skeptical since Jim Quick, a fine songwriter himself, is pretty strong in the colorful department … sort of Cole Porter meets the Soggy Bottom Boys. But it appears to be a smart partnership.

“I’ve been wanting to work with Gary Nicholson since Nothing Personal [Delbert McClinton’s 2003 Grammy-winning album, which was produced by Nicholson]” Jim tells me. ‘A Little Bit of Money,’ ‘Buying This Beer,’ ‘Mississippi Mud’ … all were totally written with Gary Nicholson in mind. What would he do if he were writing this song?”

Quick’s vocals throughout Down South are some of his strongest to date – raw and emotional, with a little swamp funk around the edges.

Opening track is “Living On Love,” co-written with Craig Fuller of Little Feat and Pure Prairie League fame. It’s a fast-paced, high-energy piece that hints of what’s to come.

Track two, “Rewind,” is a sweet little tune, almost pop in nature, but soulful and fluid. Nicholson wrote it with N.C. native Seth Walker whose own music melds blues, jazz and soul with his recently adopted Nashville’s country sound. Carolina folks will love its shag beat.

Up next is “Stronger Than You Need To Be,” penned by Nicholson and Twin City players Bruce McCabe and David Z (You may know David Z for the distinctive snare drum on the 1989 hit single, “She Drives Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals). This is a tune about tenderness and surrender, accentuated by a spot-on vocal delivery from Quick.

Title track, “Down South,” follows and it’s a righteous romp through swamp living, downhome cooking and all things southern. Listen for some fine slide guitar here from Canadian Colin Linden. Southern Canadian.

“I’m a Dog,” a co-write with Delbert McClinton, is going to be a favorite at live shows. Listen closely, you’ll hear Delbert barking, too. Fun tune that I expect will become signature Coastline.

Bekka Bramlett, talented offspring of the California country-rock duo Delaney and Bonnie, is the husky, sultry female vocal on the fast moving country-edged “Deal With It.” Written by Nicholson and Billy Burnette, this tune was on Bekka and Billy, the duo’s 1997 pop rocka- billy recording, and now she adds her significant voice to Quick’s for another lively version of the tune.

She’s also one of the writers on “Strongest Weakness,” which has a rockin’ gospel sound that’ll get you out of your seat. Is that the McCrary Sisters I’m hearing?

Other tracks include “No Good Place To Cry,” a take-your-breath-away ballad written by Nicholson and Randy Houser, “Forever Man,” a Tyrone Davis-type tune, which was co-written with Billy Currington; and “It’s Too Late” from Alabama southern roots voice, Adam Hood.

“Hurt That Bad” (Gary Nicholson/Billy Currington/Paul Overstreet) will grab your heart, guaranteed. Vocals and horns are especially noteworthy here. The jumpin’ “It’s Always Something” was written by Gary Nicholson, guitar great Al Anderson, Tom Hambridge and Delbert McClinton. “Don’t Shoot the Snake” (Gary Nicholson/John Hadley/Kevin Welch) is a great blues-driven closer that brings us full circle back to the swamp.

Players on the CD include: Lynn Williams, drums, percussion; Steve Mackey, bass; Rob McNeely, electric and acoustic guitar; Gary Nicholson, electric and  Kevin McKendree, piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, Hammond B3 organ; Colin Linden, slide guitar; Al Anderson, guitar (“It’s Always Something”); Jim Hoke, saxophone, harmonica, Jew’s harp; Steve Herman, trumpet; Chris Charmichael, strings; Delbert McClinton, har- monica and barking (“I’m a Dog”); Jim Quick, lead vocals; background vocals, Bekka Bramlett, Perry Coleman, Regina McCrary, Ann McCrary and Frieda McCrary; producer, Gary Nicholson.

Apologies to Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen and Pat Enright. Soggy Bottom Boys is just way more poetic.

Kevin Gordon, Indie-Swamp Poet

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on July 31, 2010

Singer/songwriter Kevin Gordon will be at the Myrtle Beach Train Depot for SxSE on August 14.

Kevin Gordon doesn’t fit your average pigeonhole. A first-rate singer/songwriter, he melds imagery-laden lyrics with melodies that range from rock and roll to soulful blues driven tunes that, together, paint a gritty portrait of small town life. He calls his style indie-swamp.

Kevin Gordon is coming to Myrtle Beach for an August 14 show, courtesy of  music organization South By Southeast. This is chance to experience a gifted songwriter –  up close and personal.

Born in Shreveport, La., Kevin Gordon grew up in nearby Monroe. Even as a kid, he was into music.

“Luckily my parents were into some pretty cool music, like Ray Charles,” he told me last week in a telephone interview.

“I had an early Elvis fixation. My first time onstage was in a third grade talent show. I did an Elvis impersonation.

“In high school, I joined what passed for a punk rock band in Monroe.”

He went on to study and earn a masters in fine art from the  University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

This guy’s a poet. I mean a real, card-carrying poet.

It’s noteworthy that Kevin earned a degree in writing poetry, but pretty much taught himself to play the guitar. “It’s a weird collision of so-called low-brow with so-called high-brow,” he explains.“

Growing up in the south, blues was all around him, and although I wouldn’t consider Gordon a straight-up bluesman, the blues permeates his music.

“Blues is certainly there, in my work,” he says, choosing his words carefully. “It’s a strange hybrid. What drew me to blues was rhythm … John Lee Hooker’s right hand … I played a little gig last night in Indiana, and the blues stuff got people up and dancing.”

Talking about the process of songwriting, Gordon said, “I usually start with the musical idea; lyrics come later. Sometimes I hear the melody and I can hear the number of syllables before I have the words. People find that unusual because of the poetry thing, but that’s the way it seems to work out.”

When Gordon collaborates on a tune, it’s often with Syracuse, N.Y. native Gwil Owen. “I moved to Nashville in 1992,” Gordon says, and it took me awhile to find out where I was, musically and metaphorically. I met Gwil who became a great friend and collaborator.

Together, the two would write “Flowers,” which Irma Thomas included on her Grammy-winning album, After the Rain (Rounder, 2006). The duo also co-wrote “Deuce and a Quarter,” performed by rock legends Keith Richards, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and others for the Elvis tribute record,  All the King’s Men.

Gordon’s songs have been covered by Ronnie Hawkins, Kate Campbell, Blackie & the Radio Kings and others.

He’s recorded three albums of his own:

Cadillac Jack’s #1 Son (Shanachie/Feb. 17, 1998). This one’s true Americana, complete with honky tonk blues and a rockabilly sound. Produced by Gary Tallent.

Down to the Well (Shanachie/Aug. 8, 2000). Produced by Bo Ramsey, Joe McMahan and Gordon.

O Come Look at the Burning Dig (Oct. 4, 2005), an intense and raw recording, in the same spirit as his live performances. Produced by Gordon and Joe McMahan.

The title track from his Down to the Well CD, a duet with Grammy-winner Lucinda Williams, was featured on two significant compilations: the 2001 Oxford American Southern Music Sampler, and No Depression: What It Sounds like, Volume 1, (Dualtone, 2004).

To say Kevin Gordon is a well-respected songwriter would be an understatement.

Here’s what Peter Cooper writer for  The Tennessean had to say about Kevin last year:

“Every now and then, someone writes a great song and fellow songwriters curse themselves or not coming up with the same  idea . . . . More rare, though, is the undeniably superb song that could only have come from one mind, and from one personʼs experience. Kevin Gordonʼs ʻColfaxʼ is that song. It clocks in  at well over six minutes. Itʼs ostensibly about a kid in a  marching band but winds up being about the heart of American  darkness and the steel that it takes to move beyond. It is not yet on an album, and it will not be recorded by some famous country radio star. But we’ll empty your spit-valve for life if you find us anything more stunning than ʻColfaxʼ in 2009, when Gordon moves it from stage to CD.” [Note: this disc, titled Gloryland, is currently being mastered. Release is expected later this year.]

Talking about “Colfax,” Gordon says,  “Itʼs based on an experience from junior high.  “This song, like others on the new record, draw from my memories of  growing up in the land of strangeness that is northern Louisiana, during a  time when this very provincial place was going thru post-civil-rights- movement growing pains with plenty of resistance from what was then a very powerful ʻold guardʼ.  The song touches on a lot of different things, but ends up a celebration of the stoic heroism and determination of that band director and others like him.”

Gordon’s shows are known for their passion and high energy. “Well, you know, I come out of that punk rock thing. There’s always an edge. When I’m playing solo, there are two amps. I use a Gibson ES125, electric archtop. That’s how I make peace with playing solo.

“Acoustic is just a little too naked and it doesn’t reflect the songs, which come from a rock and roll place. And on ballads, if you play softly, it sounds acoustic, but if you lean on it, it sounds like John Lee Hooker 1949.”

This isn’t Gordon’s first gig with South By Southeast. He played in early 2000, when the music feasts were being held at the Brewery.

The folks at SxSE are all buzzing about Kevin’s return to the Frog. According to SxSE co-founder Sam Hannaford,  now at the helm of South By Southeast since the unexpected death of former president Jeff Roberts, “Kevin Gordon was one of Jeff’s favorite musicians in the world, and the last time we spoke, it was about booking Kevin again. He was so excited to have him back! Kevin Gordon is world class. You’ve got to come out and hear this guy!”

According to Kevin Gordon, the feeling is mutual. He also tells me he’ll be bringing his latest CD, a compilation of live recordings, Salvage & Drift.

How poetic is that?

Tickets are $25 or $20 for annual SxSE concert subscribers. (Send an email with your name, number of tickets requested and membership status to southxsoutheast@aol.com. Along with an incredible night of music, your ticket includes a potluck dinner and dessert, wine and beer from New South Brewery, soft drinks and coffee. Feasting begins at six o’clock and the music starts at seven.

The Train Depot is located at 851 Broadway, Myrtle Beach, S.C. For more information, log onto southbysoutheast.org.

Trust the Frog!