Leo “Bud” Welch passed away December 19, 2017 at the age of 85. Born in 1932 in Sabougla, Mississippi, Welch spent his entire life in the area where he was raised. This is where he played music and remained relatively unknown in the music world, playing picnics and parties, but mostly playing at the church. His debut album, Sabougla Voices, was released at the age of 82 in 2014. He followed it up a year later with I Don’t Prefer No Blues. “Right now is a great point in my life,” Welch once said, “I’m doing things I’ve never been able to do before and I feel good doing them at an age when a lot of people are dead. So as long as I can I want to go around the world trying to send satisfaction to people. Doing that is a great feeling to me.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A sense of place has long permeated the music of J.D. Wilkes. He’s a native of Paducah, Kentucky, a city located at the confluence of various rivers and cultures — an area where musical variety is in the air and in the blood memory of its people.
“Of course, there’s bluegrass and hillbilly songs, but also blues, jazz, old time fiddle music, jug band music, even swamp rock,” says Wilkes. “It’s a great intersection there. I think I epitomize that in the way that I write and perform.”
Wilkes’ solo debut, Fire Dream, represents the apotheoses of that vision: a hillbilly-gypsy epic, it’s an album of art damaged cabaret music, leavened by Latin rhythms and high lonesome hollers. Call it boho bluegrass — maybe what Tom Waits would sound like if he were a Kentucky Colonel (a title that Wilkes happens to hold).
The album is due out on Big Legal Mess through Fat Possum Records on (February TK), 2018.
Proving a compelling firebrand of American roots music during his two decades leading experimental rockabilly group Legendary Shack Shakers, Wilkes has a resume and passions that extend far and wide. A visual artist, filmmaker and author, he’s served as a session player for Merle Haggard, helped soundtrack HBO’s True Blood, penned a pair of books (The Vine That Ate the South and Barn Dances and Jamborees Across Kentucky) and worked as an ethnomusicologist without portfolio, documenting the dying hillbilly culture of Kentucky.
Wilkes’ creative approach is defined by his home region’s rich history as a musical nexus. “Western Kentucky is unique in that a lot of that mountain music, which is otherwise stuck in Appalachia, trickled down and permeated our conscience,” he says. “But if you look at it topographically we’re a flat delta lowland region, a flood zone … so we have a lot in common with the Mississippi Delta and Memphis and we got all that jazz and blues that came up the river as well.”
That keen understanding of history is partly what drew the interest of Fat Possum’s Big Legal Mess imprint, which signed Wilkes in 2017. “They saw me as a kindred spirit,” he says, “in my efforts to archive and field-record and report upon some form of folk music that’s in danger of being forgotten.”
For his solo debut, however, Wilkes has something more outré in mind than a mere musical lesson or genre exercise. Recorded at Delta-Sonic Sound in Memphis with producer Bruce Watson and Jimbo Mathus, the album finds Wilkes creating a complex tapestry of styles and sounds, playing banjo, harmonica, and piano, adding percussion, and even winding up an old hurdy-gurdy. Aiding him in that effort are a couple kindred musical spirits in guitarist Mathus and multi-instrumentalist Dr. Sick from the ever-eclectic Squirrel Nut Zippers.
“They were the perfect people to bring in. They could play any kind of style,” says Wilkes. “Jimbo has such an intuitive feel for blues and Dr. Sick, man, he’s the most amazing musician I’ve ever had the privilege of playing with. I don’t even know what his real name is, but that guy is awesome.” Rounding out the recording are contributions from Drive-By Truckers bassist Matt Patton, up-and-coming soul chanteuse Liz Brasher on backing vocals, and the horn section from Bluff City R&B band, The Bo-Keys.
The album’s opening and title track “Fire Dream” establishes the tone with a cinematic setup. “It sounds as if a gypsy carnival blew in on a tornado and landed in a hillbilly junkyard,” says Wilkes of the tune. “I tried to pay attention to the texture of the songs, both what was in them and how they connected to each other, and the record as a whole.”
Within its ten tracks Fire Dream contains multitudes: from galloping string rambles (“Wild Bill Jones”) to slow burning laments (“Walk Between the Raindrops”), hardscrabble narratives (“Hoboes Are My Heroes”) exotic nocturnes (“Moonbottle”), and hellfire comedy (“Bible, Candle and a Skull”).
The sprite, horn-heavy “Down in the Hidey Hole,” meanwhile, is something Wilkes describes as “apocalyptic ska.” “Basically, it’s about hunkering down in a bomb shelter with your lady to ride out the end of the world,” he says. “It’s happy, upbeat music … but with an ominous edge. That’s what I love about people like Hank Williams; they had great danceable tunes with a dark story at their core.”
Wilkes’ acid wit shines through on Fire Dream, with his lyrics coming across as both highly crafted and deeply intuitive. “A song is like a puzzle, you have to feel around and figure out how the words fit,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Hank, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits or Nick Cave, they all have a knack for knowing the most artful way the words can collide with one another, or flow together.”
Wilkes notes that there’s underlying emotional edge to record, much of that coming from the fallout of a recent divorce. While he dealt with the end of his marriage more directly on the Shack Shakers last LP — the howling After You’ve Gone — Fire Dream finds light among the shade. “I’m getting back to playing around with things again, musically and lyrically,” he says, “though an element of that darkness still lingers.”
Though hailed for his acrobatic, incendiary live performances with the Shack Shakers, Wilkes says it will be a different kind of roadshow when he begins playing in support of Fire Dream in the spring.
“I plan on approaching the songs more artfully live. I might be sitting on a chair playing banjo instead of jumping in the crowd like I do with the band,” says Wilkes, who plans on touring with an acoustic combo, his 64-key Tom Thumb piano and his usual on stage intensity.
“I’ll still want to entertain, it might just be more with my eyes and voice than my body,” he says. “There’s a lot of stories and a lot of mysteries being revealed in these songs, and that provides its own kind of animation. That’s what I love about this record and this music … it moves.”
Born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Bette Smith reconnected with her musical roots in Memphis and Mississippi – and fulfilled a promise to her late brother in the process. Recording her debut full-length album in Mississippi brought her to the roots of the gospel she sang in the church and the soul music she heard on the block on hot summer nights music growing up on the corner of Nostrand and Fulton. The powerful ‘Jetlagger’ comes out September 29 on Big Legal Mess, a Fat Possum subsidiary. “The south came to me and grabbed me and pulled me down there. The southern migration came up and got me. My neighbors in Bed-Stuy influenced me,” she says.
She recalls that Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn was a very different place when she was growing up. “It was rough back then!,” she exclaims. “There was lots of gang activity. One gang came after my brother and my dad came out with a lead pipe to protect him. It was really hairy. My older brother Junior protected me from all of that. He would intimidate all of the other guys.”
She owes even more to Junior. Several years ago, on his deathbed suffering from kidney failure, he made her promise not to give up on a career as a singer. Those last days of his, she sang while he tapped his foot on the hospital bed at Kings County Hospital. “I didn’t know how else to comfort him,” she recalls. He told her, “I want you to sing; don’t give up” and she’s kept that promise, playing gigs from One Penn Plaza in New York to the Boogie Woogie Festival in Brussels, Belgium, always wearing yellow on stage to honor him. “It’s all for Junior now,” she affirms.
Jimbo Mathus produced the album at Water Valley’s Dial Back Sound and sent roughs to Bruce Watson, who swiftly signed Smith on for a full-length. He’s become a secret weapon for Fat Possum and Big Legal Mess Records; in addition to being a solo artist and a founding member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mathus has also produced Shinyribs, Luther Dickinson, The Seratones, and played on records by Valerie June, Buddy Guy, and Elvis Costello. “You exceeded all expectations,” Mathus told her.
The trip was also Smith’s first to the deep south. She recalls, “It took me out of my comfort zone. I got lost in a swamp one time and kind of freaked out! I’m a quintessential city girl.”
Smith beams when talking about the sessions. “It was really wonderful. Everything was recorded live. I felt like I was Tina Turner and Etta James. I do well when I’m performing. It was a real performance that had never been captured before.” Anyone who’s ever seen her live knows how absorbed she gets on stage and these sessions put her in that same place. She continues, “There’s New York aggressiveness and passion. I get to a fever pitch. I’m gone. I’m not even there anymore. Something else takes over.”
Mathus dug deep into the Mississippi and Memphis soul bags, unearthing “Flying Sweet Angel of Joy” by Famous L. Renfroe, a song with which Smith particularly connected. “I believe in guardian angels. Jimbo picked up on that. I feel that I was giving voice for Famous. because he never really got a chance.” Mathus also picked Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing,” which simmers with Memphis heat.
The raucous soul-rock of “Man Child,” the spare funk of “Shackles & Chains,” and Blaxsploitation soundtrack feel of “Durty Hustlin’” were all written or co-written by
Mathus specifically for Smith. She gets rough, wrestling the title track to the ground; the song captures the late nights and lack of sleep inherent in a musician’s life. First-call Memphis horn players Marc Franklin (Robert Cray, Lucero and Kirk Smothers (Don Bryant, Melissa Etheridge, Cyndi Lauper, Buddy Guy) were summoned to complete the album’s sound.
‘Jetlagger’s’ closer, the Staples Singers’ “City In the Sky,” connected her back to Bed-Stuy. She remembers, “My father was a church choir director. I was singing since I was five years old. I take it to church. I just break out, start speaking in tongues.” She also heard gospel around the house every weekend. “My grandmother listened to nothing but gospel,” she recalls, citing Mahalia Jackson and Reverend James Cleveland. “Every Sundaymorning, she would get up and put on these records while dressing and praising the Lord. The furniture was plastic-covered. After lunch, it was more gospel music,” she says. Bed-Stuy block parties would also have revivalist-style gospel acts. “I’m steeped in it!,” she adds. Though a Seventh Day Adventist as a child, Smith is now a member of the Church of God in Christ.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If there is a formula for a quintessential ‘Memphis story,’ it calls for equal parts weird and wonderful. It’s this mix that permeates the bizarre, delightful Americana of The Country Rockers’ 1988 debut Free Range Chicken, due for a second wave of cult adoration with a reissue on Big Legal Mess set for January 6, 2017.
Like so many of those great Memphis stories – particularly of the musical sort – the Country Rockers happened fairly accidentally, when the right person walked into the right bar at the right time. That person was Ron Easley – an accomplished guitarist and bassist who, at the time, was touring with Alex Chilton – and the bar was Dennis’ Place, which you’d call a dive if only the word alone could do justice to its character. It was at Dennis’ Place that Easley stumbled upon The Country Rockers.
“(The bass player) Miss Lillian got religion and quit playing the devil’s music, opening the way for me to slide in,” Easley says today. “Dennis’ Place is where it all gelled. I could have just as easily driven right by that night, and gone on home.”
But of course, he didn’t – and it wasn’t long before the walls of the little bar on Lamar Avenue couldn’t contain The Country Rockers. The unlikely trio (Easley, Gaius Farnham on drums and Sam Baird on guitar and vocals) began gigging in midtown and later toured the U.S. and Europe, playing CBGB in New York City and sharing the stage with Bob Dylan and the Wu-Tang Clan in Stockholm.
“Easley was hardly a meddler,” Andria Lisle writes in the album’s liner notes. “Rather, he recognized the beauty of the group: Baird’s stoic presence at the microphone, looking like the mournful Kaw-Liga he frequently sang about; the novelty offered by the presence of Farnham, a dwarf, on the drums; the sincere delivery of songs like “Pistol Packin’ Mama” and “My Happiness,” which date back to the 1940s.”
Free Range Chicken, the band’s debut album, was originally released on French label New Rose Records 28 years ago. Produced by Easley and recorded at his younger brother Doug’s four-track Easley Recording Studio, it’s loose and lively – from the Rockers’ off-kilter take on “Wipe Out” (Farnham’s only shot at lead vocal, and one of the record’s most memorable tracks) to the traditional honkytonk feel of numbers like “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin” and “Fan It and Cool It” and the sincerity of “Finally,” a ballad so perfectly quaint that if you close your eyes, you’ll surely find yourself right back at Dennis’ Place.
For the reissue, Big Legal Mess added two tracks recorded live at Memphis’ late, famed Antenna Club, where The Country Rockers were “an integral part of the mid-1990s scene,” writes Lisle, “sharing the bill with acts like (Alex) Chilton and the all-instrumental band Impala.”
“Rock Around with Ollie Vee” brings the most polished sound you’ll find on Free Range Chicken, thanks to a tighter rhythm and Easley’s slick lead vocal, and album-closer “Was Hab Ich Falsch Gemacht” is a reverb-drenched Hank Williams-eque instrumental.
In 1994, the Country Rockers were forced into retirement when Farnham’s sister Betty died, and he had to relocate to live with another sister in Maryland. Farnham died on New Year’s Day in 2000, at the age of 86, and Baird followed six years later.
“It was an ignominious end for the Country Rockers’ frontman, who had started out playing rhythm guitar in 1939,” Lisle writes in the liner notes. “’Sam had been put in a home in Collierville,’ says Easley. ‘When he died, his guitars were taken into Yarbrough’s Music and sold for a dime on a dollar. He had a Martin, a dobro, an upright bass… I got his electric Harmony for $65.’”
The coda to his story, though, is yet to come. Look for Free Range Chicken January 6, 2017 via Big Legal Mess.
1. Rockin’ Daddy
2. My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It
4. Wipe Out
5. Pistol Packin’ Mama
6. See You Later Alligator
7. Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin
8. Fan It and Cool It
9. There Stands the Glass
10. El Rancho Grande
11. My Happiness
12. Guitar Polka
13. Barrooms to Bedrooms
14. Rock Around with Ollie Vee – Antenna
15. Was Hab Ich Falsch Gemacht – Antenna
For more information regarding Free Range Chicken, please contact Signal Flow PR:
Elizabeth Cawein • (901) 268-9038 • email@example.com
“MORE THAN CONVINCING” (NY TIMES) MAJOR NEW SOUL VOICE ROBERT FINLEY MAKES RECORDED DEBUT AT 62 ON FAT POSSUM IMPRINT BIG LEGAL MESS
FORMER US ARMY SERVICEMAN & LOUISIANA CARPENTER TURNS TO MUSIC CAREER, MUSIC MAKER RELIEF FOUNDATION AS HE FACES TROUBLES WITH HIS VISION
September 30 will see the emergence of a major new soul music voice with Robert Finley’s debut album ‘Age Don’t Mean a Thing’ on Big Legal Mess Records, a Fat Possum imprint. Already, the New York Times has called the 62 year old north Louisianan singer “more than convincing… venerable but vigorous” and he has performed at NYC’s prestigious GlobalFest and at the King Biscuit Festival. He is set to follow that with an appearance at LA’s Skirball Center on August 18.
Produced by Bruce Watson and Jimbo Mathus, the album traverses the classic Booker T & The MGs-esque Memphis groove of “I Just Want To Tell You,” the tough soul-blues of the title track, “Snake In My Grass,” and “Is It Possible To Love 2 People,” the romantic deep soul of “Make It With You,” danceable funk on “You Make Me Want To Dance,” the tremolo- and organ-soaked heartache of “It’s Too Late.” Finley proves himself a powerful songwriter, penning seven of the album’s nine tracks himself.
Facing vision troubles after careers in the US Army and as a civilian carpenter, Finley has decided to pursue music full-time with the assistance of the Music Maker Relief Foundation.
Finley traveled north to Memphis to work with members of the Bo-Keys. Players include a who’s who of the Memphis soul scene including drummer Howard Grimes (Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, OV Wright), Marc Franklin (Bobby “Blue” Bland), Jimbo Mathus (Elvis Costello), Al Gamble (St. Paul & The Broken Bones, the Hold Steady, Alex Chilton), Kirk Smothers (Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Guy), Reba Russell (U2, BB King), Harold Thomas (James Carr), Daunielle Hill (Solomon Burke).
JIMBO MATHUS SENDS OUT SPARKS
WITH BAND OF STORMS EP, RELEASING MAY 6
ON BIG LEGAL MESS LABEL
Nine-song collection a mini-primer of “folk music”
from the fertile pen of the born-and-raised Mississippian and Squirrel Nut Zippers founder
TAYLOR, Miss. — Trying to pinpoint the musical proclivities of Jimbo Mathus is a bit like trying to predict the path of lightning. You never know where his seemingly limitless creative energy might take him next. But you can bet those bolts of inspiration will produce something you need to hear.
His latest project, the nine-song EP Band of Storms, out May 6 on his Big Legal Mess label (via Fat Possum), is a brilliant collection of what he characterizes as “just some odds and ends … you know, folk music.”
Well, that depends on your definition of folk music. If it includes Stonesy R&B grooves, straight-outta-Nuggets rawk, deep blues, barrelhouse honky-tonk, a string-laden murder ballad and Louisiana-accented bluegrass, then yeah, we could call it folk. As filtered through the fertile mind of a diehard Southerner, born and raised in Oxford, Miss., not much more than a stone’s throw from Tupelo, Holly Springs and Clarksdale. That is, right in the birthplace of American roots music.
“It’s just a continuation of the work I’ve been doing for, shoot, the past 20 years,” Mathus says. “There’s no big overall, arching thing. It’s just random notes out of my brain.”
But then he reveals that there is a theme of sorts, and that most of the subject matter is reflected right in Erika Jane Amerika’s cover art. It features a maniacal-looking Mathus standing near a cypress swamp, holding his lightning-struck Epiphone guitar in one hand and a fiery bible in the other. A lightning-zapped Econoline van hovers above him; gathered at his feet are an alligator, his Catahoula dog and a snake-handling Yemayá (the “great mother” of Santeria religion).
All his writing has basically the same theme, Mathus says. “It’s dealing with nature — forces beyond us — and trying to sum it up in my little cave paintings that we call recorded songs.”
Those “little cave paintings” were created at Dial Back Sound, the Water Valley, Miss., studio owned by Fat Possum Records partner Bruce Watson. Mathus has birthed loads of material there; he’s able to jump into the studio just about whenever motivation strikes. The situation is so ideal, Mathus closed his own successful studio a few years back; he was no longer interested in running it after finding so many fulfilling opportunities at Dial Back, including producing and accompanying other artists.
He uses the winding eight-mile drive from his home in the tiny artist enclave of Taylor, Miss., to think about projects. “If it’s me or if it’s somebody else, it’s all the same,” he says. “We just study on it, trying to make it as great as we can.”
Mathus doesn’t even list individual credits on his albums because, he says, they’re so collaborative. But he plays just about all the instruments, augmented by helpful friends. In this case, they include Watson as executive producer; Mathus produced. Bronson Tew engineered, mixed and mastered — and played many instruments, too. Also contributing are Ryan Rogers, Eric Carlton, Will McCarley, Jamison Hollister, Jim Spake, Mark Franklin and Stu Cole, who plays bass in Mathus’ most renowned musical endeavor, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. (He’s also a member of pal Luther Dickinson’s South Memphis String Band with Alvin Youngblood Hart, and credits Luther’s late dad, famed pianist/producer Jim Dickinson, as the source of much of his musical mojo.)
The result is an ode to what Mathus calls the “primal Southern groove.”
There’s only one co-write — the twangy “Play with Fire,” also credited to his late friend Robert Earl Reed. “He and I were pretty close collaborators,” Mathus reflects. “This was one he wrote right before he passed. He left me all his music to carry on with, and every so often, I’ll just pull out one of his sheets and cut one of his songs. He had never recorded this one. I just showed the band and we did one take.”
Mathus says he loves its almost desperate imagery; hissing like a snake, he sings, “Yes, let’s play with fire/Let’s cross in front of trains in the darkness, feel the flames/oh, yes, let’s play with fire.”
Of that hiss on each “yes” he says, laughing, “I guess every song, I’m getting into character.” Then he adds, “The way you say the words is very important. If it’s a rock ’n’ roll song, you maybe got 20 words. You gotta squeeze the most out of ’em.”
He does exactly that in “Massive Confusion,” the garage-rocker that serves as a straight-up homage to the Replacements, Bobby Fuller Four and the Ramones — and contains what he’s sure is the first-ever rhyme of “yemaya” and “FBI.”
“I wrote it when I was getting audited by the IRS and I was trying to save my fuckin’ ass,” Mathus explains. “It’s just super-punk rock. I came up in the ’80s and the Replacements turned me on to songwriting. They showed me that I could actually write songs. I’m 48, but I’m still a punk rocker.”
Mathus has stories about every song, starting with the rollicking, horn-pumped rock of the opener, “Gringo Man.” He wrote it on a cheap guitar rig he picked up at a Christian supply shop in Jackson, Tenn.
“Sometimes a guitar will write its own song,” Mathus says. “It was like a little cardboard amp with a plastic cord going to it; I made that almost clichéd little rock ’n’ roll riff. But it’s like Keith Richards said about Jimmy Reed: He wrote the same song over and over, but he never did the same thing twice. It’s about celebrating the groove.”
The honky-tonk blooz of “Can’t Get Much Higher” was one for the piano player, Mathus says. He borrowed some of its lyrics from one of his heroes, Charley Patton — father of his nanny, Rosetta Patton.
Dramatic pedal steel and strings give “Stop Your Crying” a Southern gothic turn, with Mathus’ voice going from big and angry to almost plaintive as the song reaches its murderous climax.
“I think it’s one of my best vocals I’ve ever done. But it’s extremely personal. I wrote it for someone very special,” he says, not mentioning who.
“Wayward Wind,” inspired by an Emmylou Harris lyric, has elements of an Irish/English/Scottish drinking song — and was, indeed, written while Mathus was playing U.K. beer halls with his “brother from another mother overseas,” Ian Siegal. “With songwriting, you just pick up scraps and try to turn ’em into a whole page. This one kind of fits in with the theme of desperation, of somebody leaving,” Mathus says. “The blues is all about movin’ on down the line.”
Resonator echoes convey the more elemental blues of “Slow Down Sun,” on which he beseeches the sun, the wind and the rain not to hurt his true love with lines like, “Hold up rain/don’t let your waters down/I’m afraid my baby might slip in and drown.”
“Keep It Together” sounds as if George Harrison might have written it, but Mathus says it came to him after watching the documentary about fellow Southerners Big Star.
“I listen to blues, jazz, country and gospel, but I’ve never listened to rock bands at all, since the Replacements and the Ramones — since the ’80s,” he says. “But I was really touched by the sounds, the chords, the layering of the guitars and the melodies that they brought.”
He leaves us with the mandolin plucks, boot-heel stomps and yowlin’ yelps of “Catahoula” — written, like many of these tunes, in the dog days of summer. “You’d be surprised how much rhymes with Catahoula,” he says, laughing again. “It’s going back to the old balladry days where you state your case right at the top of the song; you give the geography and the whole synopsis right there at the top.”
Speaking of synopses, we should mention Mathus’ career credits include working with Buddy Guy and Elvis Costello, among other luminaries. He says he’s also getting ready to fire up the Vaudeville-meets-swing band Zippers, who had a platinum-selling album and played President Clinton’s second inaugural, among other high-profile gigs. But in the meantime, he remains ready to catch those bolts of “rambunctious creativity” whenever they strike.
LATE LOST-SOUL SINGER-SONGWRITER DENNY LILE’S DEBUT ALBUM AND STORY EMERGE AFTER 40 YEARS IN THE VAULTS VIA CD + DVD SET
Hear the Bang: The Life and Music of Denny Lile spotlights a masterful-but-obscure artist whose music foreshadowed Americana
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Denny Lile was a local legend — a gifted songwriter, singer and guitarist who seemed poised for fame, but his once-rising star sputtered out in a tragic spiral that ended with his death from alcoholism at age 44 in 1995. The new CD-and-DVD set Hear the Bang: The Life and Music of Denny Lile blends Lile’s brilliant and visionary unreleased debut album with a documentary film that tells his ultimately tragic story. Within its fabric lie 16 songs that foreshadow the arrival of the Americana genre and were recorded at the same time as Neil Young’s foundational Harvest album. Lile’s story also stands as a broader fable. It parallels that of many other formidable regional talents who lived and died in obscurity within the sprawling landscape of American popular music. The set will be released on October 16 on Oxford, Mississippi’s Big Legal Mess Records.
When Big Legal Mess head Bruce Watson — who, as co-owner of Fat Possum Records, has specialized in resurrecting and releasing obscure-but-great music from the South since the early ’90s — first listened to Hear the Bang, the debut full-length that Lile recorded in 1972, his reaction was typical of those who get their initial earful of the brilliant singer, songwriter and guitarist’s work. “I thought, ‘My God, I can’t believe nobody’s heard this,’” he recalls. “‘This guy’s a great singer-songwriter who never got his due. I’ve got to put this out!’”
Lile’s recordings, which spent four decades entangled in a web of legal issues, reveal an artist of subtlety and depth, with a streak of melancholy. His songs, including the haunting title track and the country-rocker “Looks Like the Feeling’s Slowly Fading,” often deal with lost love and its complexities: longing, alienation, issues unresolved. But with his honey-and-butter voice and shimmering lightning-strike guitar, even the bitter pills go down sweetly. As with Harvest, the songs on Hear the Bang — which was recorded when Lile was just 21 years old — are filled with imagery from the American landscape: rivers, freight trains, blue jeans and tee shirts, sun-dappled spring days. Also like Harvest, the instrumentation blends acoustic and electric elements — including Lile’s own six-string and dobro — mostly played by musicians who performed with Lile in various Louisville-area bands: the Matchbox, Soul Inc., Elysian Fields, Otis and Puddinfoot. Of course, there are also unqualified love songs, like the moon-eyed “Rag Muffin” and the soaring “Oh Darlin’.” And “’Cause You’re Mine” taps the era’s psychedelic vein with its ringing raga-like chords.
As these musical gemstones reveal, and Lile’s surviving bandmates and one-time obscure artist whose music foreshadowed Americanasong publisher attest in the documentary DVD, melody and lyrics were the cornerstones of his art. He polished them until they gleamed, sometimes working on a song for more than a year before revealing it even to his closest collaborators. Forty-three years later, these tunes are still radiant and remarkably undated.
The film was made by Lile’s nephew Jer, a 39-year-old Zionsville, Indiana-based custom guitar and amplifier maker. Denny has hung over Jer’s life and his own
career in music like a specter. By the mid-’80s Denny, battling alcoholism, was largely estranged from Jer’s father Dwight and his family. So the movie is as much the tale of Denny Lile’s rise and fall as an attempt by Jer to get to know and understand his uncle as a man and an artist.
Including interviews with Denny’s friends, bandmates, business associates, ex-wife and daughter, and a Ken Burns-like assemblage of still photos and artifacts, the doc begins with Denny’s childhood, which was fractured by his parents’ divorce. The break-up greatly affected Denny’s outlook, which was already emotionally insulated due to their style of parenting. “We were expected to take care of ourselves,” Dwight explains. “Mom and dad were not nurturing.”
Melancholy and insecure, Denny nonetheless rose to fame around his native Louisville with a series of bands and had numerous near-scrapes with the big time, including a major-label signing that crumpled before he entered the studio to cut an album and a disastrous no-show at Nashville’s annual country music confab Fan Fare, where Denny was unable to take the stage after drinking too much in an effort to calm his perennial stage fright. Denny’s biggest break arrived when Waylon Jennings recorded his song “Fallin’ Out” and it became a top 10 single on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in 1987. He built a studio and bought a conversion van with the money. As his relationship with his wife and daughter fell apart due to his alcoholism, that van became his home. It was also where he died, alone.
Jer Lile described the process of making the film as both enlightening and heartbreaking to Insider Louisville writer David Serchuk. “I’ve talked with all these
people to get a better sense of who he was, and that kind of makes the sense of loss a little more intense, more defined … I can’t tell you how often I’ve cried during this process.
“If I could have dinner with anybody, he’d be at the top of my list,” Jer told Serchuk. “I’d want to find out why … why couldn’t you kick it? You had people that loved you, talent and all these opportunities to succeed. It seemed like every time he made a step forward, he took two steps back.”
# # #
For more information about Denny Lile, please contact Conqueroo:
Cary Baker • (323) 656-1600 • firstname.lastname@example.org
LONG LOST SOUL MAN IRONING BOARD SAM COMPLETES COMEBACK
WITH NEW ALBUM ‘SUPER SPIRIT,’ 2015 PERFORMANCES AT NEWPORT,
JAZZFEST, 2014 SET AT LINCOLN CENTER
BIG LEGAL MESS DEBUT OUT OCTOBER 2ND
“Legendary” (Billboard) soul man Ironing Board Sam—long lost for a time—has completed a comeback to the music world. This year will see Big Legal Mess Records release his label debut ‘Super Spirit’ on October 2nd, a performance at the Newport Folk Festival. Already, he played at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival earlier this year and Lincoln Center Out-Of-Door last year. The artist behind a series of in-demand 45s from that era, Sam was also a regular on 1960s soul TV program Night Train. eMusic has called him “a true maverick.”
For ‘Super Spirit,’ Ironing Board Sam traveled to Producer Bruce Watson’s Dial Back Studio in Water Valley, Mississippi to record with guitarist and co-producer Jimbo Mathus, drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees), bassist Stu Cole (Squirrel Nut Zippers). Using Sam’s ‘60s and ‘70s singles as inspiration, Watson chose songs from the repertoires of Ann Peebles, The Gories, Jimbo Mathus , Jack Oblivian, Roy Hawkins and more.
A flamboyant dresser, an eccentric inventor, a philosopher, and a musical showman, Sam also became the spokesman for the Faultless Starch brand in a national ad campaign this year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxGPdiiXZhE
Living Blues Magazine named him Comeback Artist of the Year in 2012 and Musician of the Year (Keyboard) the following year. He toured Australia in 2013 and France in 21014. The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) said of his Australian tour, “Ironing Board Sam, 73 years young, sang like his pants were on fire and attacked his keyboard as if it had sinned.”
Ironing Board Sam was interviewed last year by PBS Newshour as part of its profile of the Music Maker Relief Foundation: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/music-maker-eases-blues-artists/
Sam earned his nickname by mounting his keyboard on an ironing board with a strap that allowed him to walk the stage while playing, much as he did at Lincoln Center in 2014, where fellow Music Maker Relief Foundation artists Dom Flemons, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, and Albert White joined him on stage.
For more information on Ironing Board Sam, please contact Nick Loss-Eaton at email@example.com or 718.541.1130.
82-YEAR-OLD MISSISSIPPI BLUESMAN LEO “BUD” WELCH RAISES SONIC HELL ON HIS RAUCOUS SECOND ALBUM FOR
BIG LEGAL MESS RECORDS
Featured by The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy:
Garage-rock flavored I Don’t Prefer No Blues
features guests Jimbo Mathus and Sharde Thomas,
and production by Bruce Watson
BRUCE, Miss. — At age 82, bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch rocks on stage like a
teenager — dancing and spinning as he beats out jagged chords and grimy solos on his pink, sparkle-covered guitar. That raw youthful energy and Welch’s old-school juke-joint jones blend full-throttle in the 10 songs on I Don’t Prefer No Blues, his second release for Fat Possum Records’ subsidiary Big Legal Mess. The album is a garage-blues manifesto that weds waves of prickly six-string distortion and gutbucket drums with Welch’s smoke-and-ash voice and mud-crusted guitar — and lives up to Fat Possum’s history of producing edgy but deeply rooted recordings by artists like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside.
I Don’t Prefer No Blues is the follow-up to last year’s Sabougla Voices, an all-gospel disc that marked Welch’s debut as both a recording artist and a songwriter. That album was heralded as a fresh breath of rust-bearing air — a throwback to an era of rural music free from outside influences and a reminder that blues-fueled primitivism is still personified by a handful of living Southern artists.
I Don’t Prefer No Blues is what the preacher at Welch’s church said when he found out Welch was making a blues album. “Up until Sabougla Voices came out, I had only played spirituals in the church and in tents for about 50 years,” Welch explains.
But these days Welch does prefer blues. Playing blues on stage since Sabougla Voices’ release has proven transformative for the octogenarian resident of Bruce, Mississippi. He’s toured parts of the U.S. and Europe, and played for audiences of all ages at international festivals and such prestigious events as the Americana Music Association Festival and Conference in Nashville.
“I’m doing things I never thought I’d do,” Welch relates. “I never thought I’d get to play outside of Mississippi or travel to other countries. Now I’m playing for all kinds of people and seeing the world. Just so, the first time I had to go on a plane I thought they’d have to blindfold me, knock me out and tie me up to get me on board. I’m also keeping all my bills paid up to date, which I couldn’t before.”
Getting on board for his first blues album was easier. Big Legal Mess owner and house producer Bruce Watson took the wheel, steering Welch into crunching, genre-blending sonic and creative territory. “The deal I made with Leo was the first record would be gospel and the second would be blues,” Watson says. “Honestly, I was just trying to do something different than your typical blues record — trying to fuck things up a bit. I think I succeeded.”
That’s clear from the opening cut, a take on the traditional “Poor Boy.” The tune, which is the sole track produced by Mississippi neo-trad firebrand Jimbo Mathus, frames Welch’s scorched-oak singing with a rattling drum kit, upright bass, a choir and the angelic voice of Sharde Thomas — a doyenne of ancient Mississippi music who inherited the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band from her late grandfather Othar Turner. The contrast between the innocence in Thomas’ honeyed tones and the weathered experience in Welch’s woof antes up the drama that’s maintained throughout I Don’t Prefer No Blues.
Mathus also added clangorous guitar to the album. “Girl in the Holler” thrives on his and Welch’s angular, dueling riffs. And Mathus provides psychedelic fuzz for the Watson-penned “I Don’t Know Her Name,” where Welch literally barks for his would-be lady like a lusty dog.
Welch’s “So Many Turnrows” is about his many years plowing behind a mule during his youth and young manhood. “I grew up on a farm and had to walk two miles to school in the rain and mud,” he recounts. “Most of the time we didn’t have no money from March to November, when the crops came in, but I made it through eighth grade and then I started plowing mule and hoeing cotton.” Welch worked as a logger for the 35 years before he retired in 1995. “I stood next to that chain saw all day, so that’s why I don’t hear too good.”
Which explains the consistently raw, buzzing volume of Welch’s guitar, both live and on I Don’t Prefer No Blues, where his guitar colors even the blues classics “Sweet Black Angel” and “Cadillac Baby” with a patina of rock ’n’ roll overdrive.
“Playing guitar is my favorite ‘like,’ ” Welch says. “I learned by hearing records by Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters … and I saw them when they came through Bruce. I once even had a chance to audition for B.B. King’s band, but I didn’t have the bus fare to get to Memphis.”
“Right now is a great point in my life,” Welch continues. “I’m doing things I’ve never been able to do before and I feel good doing them at an age when a lot of people are dead. So as long as I can I want to go around the world trying to send satisfaction to people. Doing that is a great feeling to me.”
For more information about Leo “Bud” Welch, please contact Conqueroo: Cary Baker • (323) 656-1600 • firstname.lastname@example.org