The Last Waltz Ensemble is billed as a tribute band, but the truth is they’re a rocking jam band playing the music of Bob Dylan and The Band. So when they roar into the Train Depot on Saturday for their South By Southeast Music Feast, don’t expect any mimicry. No one will be channeling Richard Manuel or copping licks from Robbie Robertson.
Founder Kris Gloer told me in a telephone interview last week, “We’re not like a wax museum. We’re a jam band. In fact, we’re two guitars instead of two keys.”
I wanted the backstory. How did this jam band wind up playing Bob Dylan tunes and The Band to packed houses all over the place? “It was 2004,” Kris began, “we had a group called Houndog in Marietta, Ga. and were playing at Fuzzy’s Place, Smith’s Olde Bar and other spots. We were all big Band and Dylan fans and decided to do a one-time tribute to The Last Waltz, the Scorcese film. So we did two nights at Fuzzy’s Place, and we packed 250 people in each night. After that, it became an annual thing and just kept growing.”
Guest performers for the initial event included Tommy Talton from Cowboy and Gregg Allman Band; the late blues great Sean Costello; and Jeff Mosier from Blueground Undergrass.
“I remember that first show,” Kris says, “Tommy Talton did ‘Caravan;’ Jeff Mosier did ‘Ophelia,’ with the banjo and Sean played ‘Mystery Train.’ Listening now to Sean’s set, it sounds like a damn release. He did ten shows with us. His last show with us was April 4, 2008.” Sadly, Sean Costello was found dead in his Atlanta hotel room a week and a half later.
The annual shows have now evolved into a regular gig. The ensemble tours throughout the southeast with a relentless schedule. Guest performers have included Oliver Wood, Susan Tedeschi, Col. Bruce Hampton, Ike Stubblefield, Rick Richards and many others.
The SxSE show will feature vocalist Jessica Sheridan along with drummer Jack Friel.
If you have any doubts that this is just another tribute band, google Last Waltz Ensemble and watch some of their stuff on YouTube. And then send an email to southxsoutheast @aol.com to reserve your spot for the show. Tickets are $25 and include dinner, wine, brew, sodas and bottled water. For more information, visit southbysoutheast.org.
Note: This is a piece I wrote back in January shortly after the death of Jeff Roberts. It ran in Coast magazine and Alternatives magazine in Myrtle Beach, but until now, I hadn’t posted it here. At the end are comments from some of Jeff’s many friends and colleagues. We all miss him like crazy. –DB, August 4, 2010
It’s amazing that one guy could make such a difference in the lives of so many. But in the days since Myrtle Beach music icon Jeff Roberts passed away, the outpouring of grief and gratitude throughout his circle of friends and his burgeoning music community has taken on a life of its own.
Musician Mike Farris was working on a Delbert McClinton cruise when Jeff passed. “I didn’t know,” he told me in a telephone conversation. “I would have been there in a heartbeat. I hate that I missed the service … I would have been there.”
Mike performed at a South By Southeast Music Feast in May 2008 and has been close friends with Jeff ever since.
“Jeff was just one of the super sweet dudes. I mean, when I was done playing, it’s like I was his kid. He was beaming. He was so proud. He was just a strong supporter.
“He was pure sunshine.
“I talked to him a few weeks ago and he actually answered his phone!
“He was in the car, waiting to pick up Hunter. We talked about his dad, had a real good conversation. He was so excited about playing golf with Hunter.
“He told me he loved me when we said goodbye, like he always did. I told him I loved him, like I always did.
“I think something deep inside him must have told him he was leaving, cause he answered the phone … and he never answers!”
Jeff Roberts left a legacy even larger than his six-foot eight-inch frame – his beloved South By Southeast music organization.
So as friends, family and community members are still reeling from the monumental loss, this loyal company of music lovers is already filling ranks to make sure SxSE thrives and the dreams of “Big Jeff” are accomplished.
“Trust the Frog”
It’s important to understand that SxSE is more than a local music promoter. They take on the responsibility of finding top quality music and bringing it here. When Mike Farris came to SxSE, many in the audience weren’t familiar with him, but they trusted SxSE.
Today South By Southeast’s core of volunteers is made up of Sam Hannaford and Seth Funderburk, who co-founded the organization with Jeff Roberts, along with long time supporters Nell, Craig and Hasee Ciaccio; Mike Millsaps; Jeff’s son, Hunter; Wade Cooper, Earl Anderson, Joey Sanders, Tommy “Uncle Daddy” Pierce; Judy and Scotty Barton; Charlie Newell; Sam’s wife, Beth Hannaford; Wrynn and Mike Harrell; Fran and Rickie Rickenbacker; and Bob “Noodle” O’Conner.
Corporate partners include: New South Brewery, Pepsi, QRock, WAVE104, Myrtle Beach Resorts, Beach First Bank and Star Music.
Sam and others from South By Southeast’s inner circle are meeting this week to determine responsibities and develop a program to increase sponsorships. Steps are already being taken to obtain 501 c (3) status for the organization.
Shows are being booked. Randall Bramblett will be back for a March 6 performance. Charleston’s Sol Driven Train will bring some southern blues and swamp funk to the Depot on April 17. They’re talking to Steve Bailey about a show.
This is exactly what Jeff wanted. And when I pay my $25 membership for 2010, it will be in Jeff’s honor. If you’d like to join me, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. They’ll send you a membership form and details.
Life – and music – won’t be the same without Jeff Roberts. But I’ve made a decision. I still trust the frog.
Comments From Jeff’s Music Family
The January 11th loss of our dear friend, Jeffery Lloyd Roberts, has left a huge void in the heart and soul of not only the music community in the Myrtle Beach area, but also in the entire music family of brothers and sisters everywhere who live to make and enjoy music for all the true, right reasons. How big a void? Martina McBride sang Craig Brickhardt’s country lyric, “Where I Used to Have A Heart,” “Feels like a mile wide ditch.” Yeah, that big. No, actually bigger…
Those who knew and loved Large Jeffery here, spent several days calling and emailing, initially, just the music artists who we knew Jeff was in regular contact with because of South By Southeast show associations and his yearly trips, along with his regular group of music buddies, to the Americana Music Conventions in Nashville. After we reached Mike Farris, Lauren Ellis, Scott Miller, Billy and Jill Block, and many others, we started to realize that there was no way to include them all in the sad news… not only Nashville, but the Carolinas, West Coat, New York… well, let’s just say Jeff’s outreach and positive influence in music and, in fact, in life, covered an area only known to Jeffery and all those he touched and loved. You couldn’t have had a better friend. I feel honored and blessed to have known him, and shared lots of great times, laughs, and wonderful music with him!
Our thoughts and prayers are, and will be, with Jeff’s fine son Hunter, and his Dear Mom, Mrs. W.C. Montie Roberts.H. David Henson
Jeff Roberts was single-handedly responsible for breaking artists in Myrtle Beach and throughout the Southeast. His passion and enthusiasm for selling records, good live music and turning people on cannot be replaced. Memories of Jeff will live forever.Mary Sack Mary Sack Management
I had only spoken to Jeff a few times on the phone to discuss my booking at the Train Depot for a SxSE concert. The total of our conversations was maybe 15 minutes. Yes, he seemed like a great guy but it was the “five minute interview” that really sold me on what a great guy he really was.
It was a month or so later and the Depot was packed. The crowd was inspiring me and I felt like I was on fire. I had a great first set. Then it was time for a short intermission. Before I returned to the stage for a second set Jeff said he wanted to say a few words and then, if I didn’t mind, ask me afew questions. I said “sure,”, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, ” man, I want to go back out there and fire it up right where the first set left off. I hope this ‘five minute’ interview doesn’t kill the momentum”.
I don’t remember the exact questions. They really don’t matter. Here’s what matters. At the end of the five minutes Jeff had not only conducted a concise, thought provoking interview, he had also fired me and the crowd up for an even better second set.
And so in five minutes I learned that Jeff Roberts was articulate, eloquent, entertaining and passionate about his music. That’s all I need to know to call a man my friend.Verlon Thompson Singer/songwriter
Jeff was instrumental in getting the RandallBramblett Band to SxSE for the first trip several years ago and we’ve been coming back ever since. He brought together a great group of people for a great cause and we’ve always been honored to be a part of it. We’ll miss him.Randall Bramblett Singer/songwriter/musician
Jeff Roberts was the original Teddy Bear. He always greeted you with a big smile and big hug. Passion for music drove Jeff to do amazing things for so many talented people. Jill and I are grateful to have been embraced by Jeff and the SxSE music family. He will be deeply missed by many here in Nashville.
In addition to being one of the more astute scholars of R & B that I have known, Jeff Roberts was also one of the most genuine people I ever met. When talking with Jeff, I never had the feeling that he had any ulterior motive. I cannot tell you how rare that is in the music business. I will truly miss him.Craig Woolard Musician Craig Woolard Band
“Jeffrey Lloyd” was managing The Music Box record store in the old Myrtle Beach bus terminal when he was either a senior in high school or just starting college. It was the highlight of my day to go there every day after school and hang out and listen to Jeff’s suggestions, and he definitely led me-or, was it, shamed me!–to branch out from Elton John! He was the first “non-rural” person I knew who enjoyed country music, and he predicted its popularity years ahead of the fact. I remember his mischeivous glint in the eye and his wide grin whenever he was listening to music he loved. I also remember he would pile jalapeno peppers on his burritos in the middle of the summer and wipe his brow as he ate! I worked for Jeff and Buddy Pittman at Sounds Familiar after college, and, though we didn’t stay in touch, I feel a vacuum now in a world that no longer has these two fine men in it. For all they meant to me, to Jeff and Buddy I say, “Thank you! Goodnight!”Greta McDaniel
From the Facebook South By South East: SXSE Music Feast page:
I just heard about Jeff. Music has lost a great soul. He gave me a job at Sounds Familiar many years ago and changed my whole understanding of music. I’ll be forever grateful.Tim Hewitt
It was an honor to be Jeff’s Friend. He touched so many lives including mine.Such a big loss here at the beach. My prayers are with Hunter and Jeff’s family.Kimberly Dawn Clayton Folk artist
How many people can call a music store while you’re on the air when a CD goes ‘bad’ and have another over to you in 15 minutes so you don’t miss your song?
He made that happen. He made a lot of things happen we should follow his lead.
I have never enjoyed doing a “KZQ 12 days of …” & working on Christmas Eve more than when we did it LIVE from Sounds Familiar. You guys remember those? Love to your familySummer James Deejay
A friend, a genuinely decent guy, a great dad and a bona fide Myrtle Beach music icon – Jeff will be greatly missed.Paul Grimshaw Musician/writer A great friend for 28 years and I can’t believe you’re gone. My heart aches and I will miss your wit, wisdom and friendship. Even if I live to be 100, I will never know as much as you – what an incredible memory and wealth of musical knowledge! We shared a lot of laughs and you made sure I never left the store without more than one CD The last time we spoke was at SxSE and I’m beating myself up because we didn’t visit longer. I miss you buddy – rest easy. Rod Smith
I met Jeff through my college friends, Wrynn and Mike Harrell at one of the earlier SxSE shows at the Brewery. He always had a smile on, and when he spoke to you, it was as if no one else was in the room! SxSE was and hopefully will always be, a healing place. Keep the music LIVE and his memory will live on! Thanks and my deepest gratitude to everyone who is a part of SxSE – so much music I deeply love, I would never have heard were it not for Jeff!Janet Chapman
Like so many of you I had the pleasure of knowing Jeff. Sounds Familiar was part of my youth and, at the time, a wonderful outpost to the commercial jack in a box music stores that followed (what became of the Paul Stanley-ized Farah Fawcett poster in the back room?) Jeff was always a supporter of Sandwitch and for that I’ll always appreciate what he did for local music and local musicians. One of a kind.John D. Rutenberg
I have known Jeff for nearly 20 years, but he became a real friend to me the last two or three years. Especially the last two years, Jeff and Hunter were around our house nearly everyday. Jeff would come pick Hunter up and most days chat with me while I cooked dinner, and we always had something to talk about. And I know he listened and was interested in what I talked about because he would always bring me an article, magazine, or something related to what we talked about. He would remember things special to me, and what can I say, I never knew anyone like him.
My life forever changed on Monday when my friend did not come home, but as sad as it is to see him go, I think he has taught me (again) how important my friends are- they are my wealth. I love you Jeff, I see you everywhere, I hear your voice, and I feel your love! I meant what I said, I won’t let you down! Peace.Dana Phillips
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 email@example.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!
Steamboat Springs was a kick-ass electric bluegrass band and if you were around Myrtle Beach from 1974 to 1978, chances are you were one of the thousands who flocked to the Pickin’ Parlor to revel in the music, the camaraderie, the friendships and the life. One of the band’s fastest friends and biggest fans was the late, great Jeff Roberts – former director of South By Southeast and proprietor of the very independent record store Sounds Familiar, as well as its successor, Sounds Better. Myrtle Beach was robbed of this gentle giant in January, when he died very unexpectedly, sending a far-reaching community of music lovers into an emotional black hole that left us angry and hurting and finally grateful that he was part of our lives.
The Steamboat Springs Band is coming back for a reunion concert at Myrtle Beach’s 2001 Nightclub on June 12.
According the Becky Warren, a regular at the Pickin’ Parlor back in the day and now an office manager in Myrtle Beach, who volunteered to coordinate reunion details on this end, “This is the only group of musicians who can bring back all these people. And Jeff knew that. He’s making it happen. I know he is. That’s what this is about. They’re doing this out of love, grief for Jeff. One hundred percent of proceeds are going to South By Southeast and the Hunter Roberts Fund [Jeff’s teenage son]. Big Jeff was their unofficial manager when the band was at the beach. He appreciated their music and who they were as people.”
The band is made up of nine players and all will be coming for the reunion concert. Here’s the lineup: Bill Pruitt is the band’s original drummer. He left in 1977 and was replaced by Steve Wheeler. Les Burnett is the group’s bass player. Joel Ferguson, who played later in L.A. with the very popular Midnight Riders, is on pedal steel and banjo. On fiddle is Willie Royal, now half of world music duo Willie & Lobo. Guitarist Gary Davis is coming from Arkansas. Bob Wharton (piano) and his wife Donna Nash Wharton (vocals) who were later additions to the band will be part of the reunion, too. Roadies Steve Brown and J.T. “Cos” Lewis are expected to be on hand for the show as well. Sadly, original drummer Paul Seagraves passed away in 2005.
Sound man Bucky Ferguson is Joel’s brother. Once plans for a reunion were underway, it was Bucky who listened to all the band’s old tapes, cassettes, and eight-tracks and converted it to digital format.
In a blog post (steamboatspringsband.blogspot.com), he wrote, “For two solid weeks after work and the entire weekend, I listened to Steamboat songs … very old acoustic stuff with the original lead singer Paul Seagraves to the 1980 reunion. Listening to all the old music while converting it to digital has helped me deal with Jeff’s passing. His hand is definitely in this 2010 reunion.”
Bill Pruitt added some history to that same blog, “We played six nights a week at the beach to many thousands of people over the summer and we got so tight as a band we could tell when Gary’s guitar lead or Joel’s pedal steel riff or Willy’s wild leap and frantic fiddle lick would take us down through a six minute jam …. or bring us to end the song in a quick 30 seconds. Sometimes it only took a certain look from one musician to the other and off we went into musical hyperdrive.
“From that first walk across the new concrete floors and pine-bark split boards that decorated the Pickin’ Parlor – through the many miles, concerts, hotels rooms, fast-food dinners, and barrooms – we entertained thousands with a distinct sound and distinct attitude about life and music.”
Bucky adds, “After the ‘Summer of 74’ in Myrtle Beach, Steamboat travelled throughout the southeast opening for acts like Linda Ronstadt, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Wet Willie, Sea Level, Jimmy Buffet, Bob Seger and played most of the big clubs and many of the dives in the southeast. We were always one listener away from “hitting it big!” Playing rockin’ country and bluegrass music in the 70s, before country music was popular, required we have a generous supply of one or more of the following types of people who were either: 1. Drunk, 2. Stoned, or 3. Persons of discriminating tastes but, willing to open the mind to anything that makes you feel that damn good! I remember a guy in Spartanburg, S.C. saying or rather slurring “I don’t even like country music, but you guys are f – – – – – – great!” I don’t remember any country bands other than Steamboat that could open for bands like Bob Seger or Leslie West at Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom in Atlanta but, I also remember playing a converted milking barn in North, South Carolina on Thanksgiving night. Yippee!”
Myrtle Beach first fell in love with Steamboat Springs band during the summer of ‘74. But it was way more than just a summer fling. This is your chance to get yourself some of that love.
Doors open at 5:45 p.m. (time approximate). The show starts at 6 o’clock and runs through 10 p.m. Minimum donation is $20. Jeff’s mom, Miss Montie and his son, Hunter, will be in the house. There will be some touching moments, including a new song written especially for Big Jeff. But this is a celebration. For the music and the man.
This is also being published in Coast magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine, the alternative independent papers in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
If you missed Randall Bramblett opening for Bonnie Raitt this past October at the House of Blues or his headline act at the historic Train Depot in Myrtle Beach last spring, you’re in luck.
South By Southeast is bringing the uber-talented multi-instrumentalist and his legendary five-piece band back to the beach for another rockin’ party at the Depot on March 6.
Don’t tell me … you’ve never heard of him.
Randall Bramblett has become famous for being unknown – except among industry insiders.
He may not be a staple on your AM radio dial, or even your favorite FM show, but he is acclaimed throughout the music industry as an accomplished singer/songwriter, a talented keyboard player, guitarist and saxophonist.
During the early part of his career, he played with Cowboy, Allman Brothers and Sea Level. More recently, he’s toured with Widespread Panic, Traffic and Steve Winwood. He’s had songs recorded by the likes of Rick Nelson, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton and Chuck Leavell.
His praises have been sung loudly by some of rock’s finest. “Randall is the most talented and prolific songwriter I have the privilege of knowing,” said R.E.M.’s Bill Berry. Dave Schools with Widespread Panic calls him “one of Georgia’s musical treasures…” Chuck Leavell (Rolling Stones/Allman Brothers) goes even further: “Randall is, in my opinion, one of the most gifted and talented southern singer-songwriter musicians of the past several decades.”
These days, Bramblett tours with his own Randall Bramblett Band. Whenever Bonnie Raitt plays the south, she calls Randall to come and play some dates with her.
Growing up in Jesup, Ga., he’s got soul music in his genes, R&B under his skin and a hero in James Brown, so he’s a perfect fit for Raitt’s soulful, swamp-lickin’ rockin’ blues.
Bramblett is about to release his eighth solo CD, The Meantime (Blue Ceiling Records 2010). The new recording is something of a departure for the rocker, although he’s quick to tell me it doesn’t represent a whole new direction for him; it was “just a way to get these songs out there.”
In a telephone interview last week, Bramblett said, “The new record is with the trio, not the full band. It’s quiet … spacy … not a party thing. It came to me working in the studio on a grand piano. All these songs came to me and I realized I could record songs that I couldn’t really do with the band. There’s a romantic quietness, a subtlety not possible with the band … not romantic in the love sense, but in a classical sense.
“It turned out to be very difficult because you’re so vulnerable … you hear everything … if one little piece is out of tune, you hear it.
“It’s sparse, lots of space. I’m very pleased.”
On the CD, Randall is accompanied by his drummer and producer for his last album, Gerry Hansen, and on upright bass, Chris Enghauser, known for his work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Roy “Futureman” Wooten’s “Roy-El Phi-Harmonics Orchestra” and Nashville’s Badabing Badaboom.
So, I wanted to know, is the SxSE show at the Depot going to be mellow or blow the roof off the place?
“This is a full-band thing. We’re going to rock!” promises Bramblett.
The five-piece band includes Bramblett (guitar, keyboard, saxophone); Bramblett’s longtime collaborator Davis Causey (guitar); Gerry Henson (drums); Mike Hines (guitar); and Michael C. Steele (bass guitar).
If you’re not already signed up, you’ll want to shoot an email off right now to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask them to put you on the reservations list. I promise you, this show by the man no one’s ever heard of, is going to be sold out before performance day.
The opening act is national Americana artist Stoll Vaughan, who is so interesting that I have to write another story about him. But if you loved the early days of Springsteen, you’ll love Stoll Vaughan.
Vaughan goes on at 7 p.m. Randall Bramblett Band will take the stage at 8 p.m. The Music Feast starts at 6 p.m. Dinner, desserts, wine, brews, Pepsi and bottled water are free. It’s potluck, so bring something if you’re so inclined.
Tickets are $20 for members and $25 if you haven’t joined yet. Visit http://www.sxsemusic.com for more information. (This would be a great time to make a donation or join SxSE in honor of former director Jeff Roberts, who passed away on Jan. 11. Just sayin’.)
I won’t say that music in Myrtle Beach died along with Jeff Roberts. But it took a hit and the whole community is feeling the pain.
Co-founder and director for Myrtle Beach’s nonprofit South By Southeast, Jeff has been working his butt off for years – keeping music in our schools, supporting our local musicians and bringing topnotch national and regional talents to perform at the monthly SxSE Music Feasts at the city’s historic Train Depot.
On a personal note, Jeff was simply one of my favorite people. The perfect day for me would include a stop at his wonderfully independent Sounds Better record store, where I could just hang with Jeff for a while. Our Minister of Music was always up to the challenge: “Find me something I’ll love that I’ve never heard before.” And he’d rustle through a stack of CDs or flip through a bin of LPs until he came up with just the right recording.
That’s how I learned about the incredible blues mandolin player Yank Rachell. It was Jeff Roberts who introduced me to Mike Farris – both the music and the man – whose gospel vocals are nothing short of life-changing. Without Jeff Roberts I wouldn’t know the green-eyed soul of Lari White. Or the rockin’ good humor of Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack. Or the quirky blues of Harry Manx.
Jeff Roberts was my mentor, my teacher, my friend. So Jeff, if you’re reading this – and I know you are – thank you for everything. I am so much the better for knowing you.
But where is that Verlon Thompson CD you’ve been promising me?
This is a long weekend of live music and partying. The local clubs will be jumpin’ with artists who don’t come to town all that often. Pre-parties start Wednesday night with the Craig Woolard Band at 2001 Nightclub and the Embers at Duck’s Beach Club. The rascally King Tyrone & the Graveyard Ramblers will reign at Fat Harold’s on Thursday while the Sand Band plays the O.D. Beach club.
SxSE Presents The Youngers
Pee Dee Blues Bash
Jim Quick’s Big Fish Shtick
“In the end, it’s about what you feel more than what you hear.”
As we talk, writer-picker-singer Verlon Thompson is at home just west of Nashville, Tenn. and I’m parked in my car outside a waterfront joint on the Intracoastal in Little River, S. C. where two of my favorite blues guitarists are tearing it up inside. Only the chance to speak with a songwriter of this quality can pull me away.
The Oklahoma-born musician is bringing his intimate one-man show to Myrtle Beach for a much awaited South By Southeast performance at the city’s landmark Train Depot.
“I’m looking forward to the SxSE show,” Thompson says in his gently twangy, disarming voice. Laughing, he continues, “This is my first time with these folks, and I think it’ll be what they call a ‘cultivated crowd.’”
This is in response to our discussion of “listening rooms,” where the music is front and center while booze and a pub atmosphere play a distant secondary role.
“I have played Myrtle Beach … Surfside really … once before,” he tells me,” It was a house concert. I love the idea that a group of people get together and pool their resources for a private event.
“In fact, my latest CD, Live At the Iveys , was recorded during a house concert in Fort Mill, S.C. It was in this big old home and I was performing without a sound system. At the last minute, Randy Ivey ran out and bought a laptop and mic and recorded it. He gave me a copy and about a year later I popped it into the player and it just made me smile. You can hear the crowd breathing, sighing, laughing. With this CD, you hear exactly what the people there heard.”
Thompson is the quintessential troubadour, although he’s known as much for his association with country legend Guy Clark as for his own stellar songwriting talents.
“I’ve been playing with Guy Clark since 1988 or ‘89. I worked with him on his Old Friends album (1993/Sugar Hill Records), and when we were finished he said,
“Now you need to come out on the road and recreate it with me. So I did. And now I pretty much do every date with him.”
Thompson has been with Guy Clark on every recording since Old Friends. He’s also racked up producer credits on Cold Dog Soup (1992/Sugar Hill Records), The Dark (2002/Sugar Hill Records), Workbench Songs (2006/Dualtone Music Group) and the upcoming Some Days the Song Writes You (Sept. 22, 2009/Dualtone Music Group).
In addition to Live At the Iveys, Thompson has also cut a few albums on his own label, VNS Music – Out At the Barn and Everywhere … Yet; and Verlon Thompson (1990/Capitol). His compositions have been recorded by Jimmy Buffett, Alan Jackson, Sam Bush, Trisha Yearwood, Anne Murray, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the list goes on.
In fact, when we spoke, the main subject was songwriting. “There are many ways to write a song,” he tells me. “There are many formulas. But it seems like I get the best result when I relax and say what I truly feel, whether it’s a commentary on something or a story … not that I don’t resort to clever wordplay, but I hope not at the expense of the story.
“Sometimes a lick will inspire a word. then that word will inspire a thought … I’ll have a piece of a song that I don’t think is any good and six months later I’ll have the perfect resolution Sometimes you have to wait to be open to it.
“I teach occasionally at songwriting workshop and my advice is ‘Try to reach out; forget the formulas.’
“If you’re writing, here’s what you need to do:
1. Your song needs to bring a lump to the throat;
2. Your song needs to bring a smile to a face (that can’t be stopped);
3. You need to be tapping your foot and just can’t stop.”
Verlon Thompson isn’t a household name. He’s not played on Top 40 radio stations. But he’s building a massive street team of music lovers. This sampling from his website should give you an idea:
Verlon Thompson is best known as Guy Clark’s second guitarist, but he’s cut three albums on his own VNS Records. Out At the Barn is Thompson’s latest celebration of simple, down home music recorded, as the title suggests, at this refurbished barn in the countryside near Nashville … If you dig Thompson’s work with Clark, this disc should grace your collection as well.
– Thirsty Ear, a NonTuxedo Music and Culture Joint
It’s high time everyone heard more of that humble troubadour Verlon Thompson. He is a fantastic guitar picker and songwriter whose only career shortcoming is that he performs in Guy Clark’s enormous shadow.
– Lonely Goat Magazine
This little album [Everywhere … Yet], only 37 minutes long, is an example of real home-made music. All instruments and vocals by Verlon Thompson. I can hear bass, mandolin, and guitars. It’s marvelous in it’s simplicity. Recorded “out at the barn” in a studio he built for his last album, the sound is as cozy as an Indian blanket in front of a log fire….It’s almost as if Thompson was singing for you in your living room. And he is one fine guitar player!
– David Kidney, “Green Man Review” greenmanreview.com
Verlon Thompson’s musical career spans two decades of many facets of the industry as a songwriter, solo artist, sideman and collaborator (many of these roles with country hero Guy Clark). His latest solo project is a chronicle of his vast career, pooling his experiences and paying tribute to influences.
Calling this a solo album is an understatement. Thompson played every instrument, sang every harmony and recorded the album “out at the barn” in the studio that he built. All this creates the organic, engaging and tangible character of the album.
Verlon Thompson comes to the Myrtle Beach Train Depot at 851 Broadway on August 8. Opener George Marshall takes the stage at 7 p.m. and Thompson goes on at eight o’clock. For tickets, call jeff Roberts at Sounds Better Records (
Here’s some things to remember. South By Southeast is a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving, protection and promotion of the independent music we love that so often is overlooked or ignored by mainstream radio and retailers. The group also awards scholarships and donates instruments to local youths and schools. These are the good guys, folks.
For an incredible $25 a year, you can support their noble efforts and – while you’re at it – gain admittance to most of their shows at the special member’s price ($20).
Your ticket, by the way, includes not just the music, but a range of free pot luck dinners, free brews, wine, soft drinks and bottled water. And since sponsors always get listed at the bottom of press releases (and then deleted from the news stories), here are the music lovers who support SxSE: Pepsi, New South Brewery, Sea Note Recording, Sounds Better Records, Star Music, Ready Rock Recording, the Anderson Property Group and QROCK Radio. I hope you’ll support them in return.
To order tickets for any event, send an email to email@example.com. For more information about memberships or tickets for any SxSE event,log visit the website or contact Jeff Roberts at 843-497-3643 or Seth Funderburk at 843-455-6499or send an email.
© 2009. Dariel Bendin. All rights reserved.
For June, South By Southeast is bringing us a roots-rock group that’s not quite a household name yet, except maybe throughout the upstate of South Carolina and North Carolina.
The Bad Popes are a popular five-piece group known for their own brand of Texas swing, their country leanings, their rockin’ roots and their folksy bluegrass.
At one show, you can expect to experience a combination of all that and more. Guitarists Jef Chandler and Charles Hedgepath handle the group’s lead vocals and the lion’s share of the songwriting. Hedgepath has also been known to pull out the mandolin. On bass is Greenville’s Chris Garrett. Kevin Heuer, who has been teaching all levels of drumset for 24 years is on the kit. Mike Bagwell is on pedal steel and dobro.
Right off the bat, I had to know: where did that name come from?
“Well,” Charles Hedgepath laughed, “I had borrowed this book from my mother-in-law. It was about these popes who weren’t exactly good … they were bad. It was strange and we like it … and now we’re The Bad Popes.
Both Hedgepath and Chandler are prolific writers. Charles said, “I started when I was 16. I went through a phase in my early 20s when all I wrote was instrumentals, but then I started listening to Hank Williams … what good songwriting. Now I take that energy … I try not to pigeonhole songs right away; I don’t set out to write any type of song. It’s never like ‘Oh, we need another ballad.’ I just write what comes.
“I’ve written, I think, about 30 songs with Jef. I like throwing ideas off someone else … and working together, it’s a good check-and-balance. We both work on lyrics and melody.
“If there’s a theme that runs through all our songs, I’d say it’s strong melody.
“Sometimes one of us needs help with a bridge. Or I hear something of Jef’s and I add a chord … or we add lines for each other. Sometimes we work from scratch and other times we help each other finish something already begun… We try to let the songs breathe … kind of cultivate. This lets us play whatever’s right for the song.”
Chandler agrees, “I write based on how I feel. I grew up listening to the Beatles, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan. Lyrics and music have always been important to me.
He laughs as he talks about his introduction to music. “I started playing guitar at 12. I was also playing piano, but I dropped it for guitar because I thought the guitar was cooler.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid, I think, when I was taking lessons.
“For me, the songwriting comes as I’m trying to pick out another writer’s song.”
A serious student, Jef was an English major at Furman University and then took classes James Dickey, who was a poet-in-residence at the University of South Carolina at Columbia.
How does it work with two guitarists, I asked. “We both play rhythm or lead, says Charles. It depends on the song. We look at what the musical situation calls for.”
The band members are also known for their work in other bands including the Jef Chandler Band, the Work, Vigilantes of Love, Matthew Nights Williams Band, William F. Gibbs, Danielle Howle and Seconds Flat.
The June 6 smoke-free performance of The Bad Popes for South By Southeast will take place at the landmark Myrtle Beach Train Depot. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for those under 21 if you’re a member, $25 if you’re not. Don’t forget, your price of admission includes not only the show, but also a pot luck dinner along with free wine, soda and beer Dinner starts at 6 p.m., music at 7 p.m.
If you’d like to support this wonderful grassroots nonprofit organization, membership in SXSE costs just $25 a year. This all-volunteer group is dedicated to preserving and promoting all sorts of American music that mainstream America sometimes forgets. For more information, log onto http://www.sxsemusic.com and download an application form.
Sponsors include New South Brewery, QROCK Radio, Sea Note Recording, Pepsi, Sounds Better Records and the Anderson Property Group.
For more information call Jeff Roberts, owner of Sounds Better Records at 843-497-3643 or Seth Funderburk, Sea Note Recording, at 843-455-6499.
Okay, you Carolina folks are going to have one up on me here. I wasn’t in this neck of the beach in the eighties, so I didn’t recognize this group by name. I thought the Jumper Cables were, well, jumper cables.
Turns out they’re a rock trio that was based in Charleston featuring none other than Johnny Mac on guitar, Paul Tucker on bass and Steve Kent on drums. They’ll be electrifying the Grand Strand on Saturday, May 16 at 7 p.m. at Myrtle Beach’s historic Train Depot, thanks to my favorite nonprofit group, South By Southeast.
A true jam band, the Jumper Cables always loved playing those long numbers à la the Allman Brothers, and they did … to packed houses all along the beach. Johnny Mac, who had moved to Charleston from Georgia in 1972 had initially played piano and moved over to guitar as a teenager. Influenced by a range of musicians that includes the Allman Brothers, Santana, Albert King and Deep Purple, he liked playing a lot of bluesy rock stuff.
His band mates, both from Georgia, were part of the 70s Macon scene, working with some of the big names, including Sea Level and Chuck Leavell (current keyboardist for the Rolling Stones);Randall Bramblett, Davis Causey, jazz great Joe Taylor, Percy Sledge and others.
According to Mac, the trio, which hasn’t played together in at least five years, will be performing a number of instrumentals like War’s “The Word Is a Ghetto” plus some Sea Level stuff. “”Don’t be surprised,” he tells me, “if we get into some jazz, funk and intense rock and roll.”
South by Southeast organizer and jam band fan, Sam Hanneford, is beside himself waiting for these guys to get here. “We are going to have some rockin’ music goin’ on. You are going to be blown away by these guys. The last time they were here, we heard some excellent sets including driving renditions of eclectic material from Derek & the Dominoes, Traffic and even some Stanley Clarke.”
Whatever they play at the SXSE show, rest assured it will be a high-energy, high-octane show, one that folks will be talking about for some time to come.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for anyone under 21, if you’re a SXSE member, $25 if you’re not.
Your price of admission includes not only this every intimate concert, but also a pot luck dinner, wine and beer courtesy of New South Brewery.
About South By Southeast
If I were Warren Buffet, this is where my philanthropic money would go. This all-volunteer group of music lovers is dedicated to preserving and promoting all sorts of American music that normally isn’t performed in mainstream venues. As part of that mission, they also support local music education programs, instrument drives and help out any way they can.
Membership in SXSE costs $25 per year. If you are interested in joining, visit www.sxsemusic.com and download an application form. For more information call Jeff Roberts, owner of Sounds Better Records at 843-497-3643 or Seth Funderburk at 843-455-6499.
A version of this will also be published in the Beach Newz music column of Coast magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine and on MySpace.