My (incredibly short) Career in Southern Rock

I mentioned this briefly in my True or False post from quite a while ago, but Heather’s post from Monday reminded me of it again.  So I’ll tell the story of How I Briefly Played in a Southern Rock Band.

My dad married young, and I was born a few years later, so his younger brother was in his mid to late teens when I was a little kid.  Some of my earliest memories are of staying with my grandmother when I was very, VERY young, watching my uncle getting off the school bus where he’d come in, plop down with a bag of Doritos, and watch Bugs Bunny with me.

As teenagers are wont to be, my uncle was a nut about music.  He was an especially big Kiss fan, which drove my Baptist grandparents mildly nutso.  (Luckily for my grandmother it was a short drive.)  He always loved for me to listen to music with him, and through the years always encouraged me to pick up and play any of the guitars, banjos, or whatever that he had around.  Fast-forward a decade, and it was my uncle who volunteered to go with me to a music store and buy my first “real” guitar.  (The Strat second from the right in this photo.)

A few years after helping me pick out my guitar, my uncle was playing bass in a country cover band, and he quite frequently invited me to come to band practice with him.  Anytime there was a break during practice I was welcome to play his bass, and sometimes other band members would fall back in and play along with me.  I had a ball.  Then the country band broke up, and my uncle started feeling around for another project – something more rockin’.

He had a buddy with a Gibson fetish (he tended to play an old brown Melody Maker with a cartoon Beetlejuice decal, but the guy actually collected old Gibson EDS-1275 doublenecked guitars, which in podunk southern Virginia was something of a challenge) and they started to come up with a Southern rock lineup.  They found a drummer they were happy with, but then according to my uncle some 50’s holdover guy glommed onto them.  He was a guitar player and also played a pedal steel, so his style really didn’t mesh with the rest of the band, but he didn’t seem to take the hint.

So one day, I got a call from my uncle.  “How’d you like to come by and play with me and the guys this Sunday?”

Oh hell yeah, I’d like.

So on a 100-degree Sunday afternoon in early August, my uncle stopped by and I loaded my Fender, my amp, and a couple of my effects into his car with his Aria Pro II bass and cab, and we tooled on over to a little town in the neighboring county.  On the way, my uncle gave me the scoop.  “This guitar player guy just isn’t going to work out.  I know you’ve got to go back to school in a month, but for now we’re going to fly this as sort of an audition just to get this guy thinking it’s time to move on, okay?”

Hell, I thought it was funny.  Especially when I got to the little dive bar that Gibson Guy’s friend owned (he wasn’t open on Sundays so he let us practice there) and met the guitar player in question.  He didn’t exactly fit in.  He was wearing a plaid button-down shirt complete with suspenders, a pair of black-rimmed Coke-bottle glasses that would have made the geekiest nerd blush, and I shit you not, he had his hair slicked back in an approximation of early Elvis (but more like late-period Squiggy) with what appeared to be the most recent oil change of a convenient 18-wheeler.  Holy crap.  So yeah, I was sympathetic to my uncle.

Meanwhile, I waltzed in with my metalhead hair down on my shoulders.  I’m not sure what I was wearing that day, but knowing me it was some jean-shorts and black t-shirt combo.  And at that time I was unapologetically basing my guitar sound around a $90 stomp box known as the Ibanez CM5.  (Some YouTube guy has nicely provided an audio approximation.)  And this was back when I was still actually playing fairly regularly, with an emphasis on speed.  Let the showdown begin.

We played for probably two or three hours, and I barely knew a single song that we played other than “Gimme Three Steps.”  I couldn’t tell you most of them now, honestly, other than I know we played one or two Grand Funk Railroad tunes and some weird southern-rock version of “Brown Eyed Girl.”  (As Gibson Guy described it, “Do it like Skynyrd would do it, and then at the end, transition into the fast part of “Free Bird.”  Got it?  And a-one, a-two…”)  I didn’t care too much.  The songs themselves weren’t all that complex and I had a good ear, so after a verse or so I could normally keep up.

But I more or less just freestyle riffed on whatever was there, trading solos with Gibson Guy and, yes, even the Elvis-wannabe dude, who looked more and more confused as we went along.  And the “scare the other guy” motive more or less gave me the opportunity to goof off quite a bit more than I normally would have.  Once I had the key, I could play along for a bit, then pull back and do power-chord riffing over Gibson Guy’s standard rhythm, or I could do some ridiculously out-of-place solo fills, whatever.  At one point Gibson Guy actually cracked up.

In the end, Elvis guy had to leave, and we played another song or two and quit.  The other guys in the band thanked me for coming out, and said it had been fun.  I assured them that I had at least as much fun, and that was that.

Elvis guy did, apparently, finally get the message and found another band to “join” by showing up and not taking a hint.  But as far as I know, the band itself never really got off the ground, although I don’t remember why.  (I think maybe the drummer found a paying gig in the meantime, and it kind of fell apart?  My uncle is still good friends with Gibson Guy.)  My uncle got into bluegrass and got back together with one of his old country bandmates to form his current band that my brother and cousins play for.  And I went back to college, having finally fulfilled a tiny dream to play for a Real Band, just once, even if the only audience was the club owner.

In retrospect, it seems a little mean-spirited, but really I wasn’t being all that mean to him.  I was just playing the music in “my” style, which was wildly out of place for the song itself.  If I’d been seriously auditioning I would never have done that, but with that sort of license I couldn’t resist the idea of a genre mash-up like that.  (It’s one of my weaknesses, like Hayseed Dixie.)

And all this time later I still consider that one of my favorite afternoons in my musical career.  (Such as it is.)

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7 Responses

  1. Too bad the band never went any further than the practice spot. I wish you would have been able to pursue that to see where it would have taken you. You know, to another band all your own and whatnot.

    The singer/guitar player from Steepwater has roots in very heavy metal and thrash. The drummer and bass player had a fairly glam musical past. It’s crazy how things all come together.

    I couldn’t have really gone on with that band anyway – I had two years of college to finish, 100 miles away, and I was starting probably three weeks after that day. But it was fun, and it would have been fun to get that experience and see where it led me.

    It really is funny to see people’s differing musical backgrounds and how they all mesh together to forge something unique. I think a band of a country guitar player, a funk bass player, a metal guitar player, and a blues drummer is much more interesting than five die-hard Metallica fans dead set on sounding like Metallica.

  2. It’s funny because I listen to the heavy stuff and it is my very favorite type of music, but if I would have ever had the guts to actually sing in front of people, I would have wanted to sing for a bluesy/southern rock type of band. Something along the lines of Bad Company or The Four Horsemen.

    Aaahhh…the daydreams.

    Likewise. When it all comes down, I could see myself playing bass in a southern rock band long before playing guitar in a metal band.

  3. What a great story. What a great memory to have.

    Yep. I clearly remember the bar there across from the stage, and the sign that says “Ask about our Red Devil – New Jersey’s answer to the Blue Motorcycle!” (Bar owner was from Jersey.)

    I have no idea why I remember that. Or the fact that Gibson Guy was talking about how amazed he was to walk into some backwater gig recently and find Rick Derringer playing. For some reason those things just stick out in my head from that day.

  4. Two things:

    First, love the story as always…

    and second, I’ve given you an award over at my blog (and now I’ve informed you, as “the rules” state).

  5. Oh my gosh, I wish I had a picture of this guy…the slicked elvis hair and coke-bottle-glasses put it over the top!! Hahaha….and no it wasn’t mean at all what you did, ONLY hilarious 🙂

    Oh, believe me, I wish I could give you a picture, too. He was also probably 5’6″, 180 pounds, and 45-50 years old.

  6. […] Good, then I don’t have to do too much explaining.  I’ve played this one before with my uncle’s old Southern Rock outfit, but that was on guitar – boy, would I love to have a shot at this on bass sometime.  Leon […]

  7. […] a far, far cry from the one and only prior time I’d sat behind a drum kit.  (At the end of this episode, actually.  My uncle’s drummer indulged me for a minute.)  The only bitch I had?  I must […]

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