Green Grass and High Tides- Henry Paul of The Outlaws Keeps The Legacy Strong (INTERVIEW)

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For a band to last forty-five years, it has to be nurtured from the inside. Henry Paul, for just about the last half-century, has been that guiding hand for The Outlaws, a group he helped form in 1972. A major part of the southern rock explosion following the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band, the Outlaws had something just slightly different than their peers. Whereas the other bands pulled from blues and rock, this Florida band had folk roots, using singer-songwriter style lyrics and West Coast harmonies amidst their elongated guitar solos and jamband energy. It’s one of the reasons Paul thinks they have lasted all these years.

Despite a roster that has gone through many changes since their initial inception, the Outlaws have steadily toured, opening for the likes of Skynyrd and the Rolling Stones in their heyday and playing to sold out crowds the past ten years. In 2012, they released It’s About Pride, an album of new material, and last fall they put out the double album, Legacy Live, honoring their longevity, their musical hits and what the current lineup gives out at their present day shows. Featuring a cavalcade of well-loved Outlaws tunes such as “There Goes Another Love Song,” “Girl From Ohio,” “Green Grass & High Tides” and their 1981 cover of “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” the recording is a fun ride through their career, from their self-titled debut album in 1975, to 1977’s Hurry Sundown, to the new material on It’s About Pride.

Glide recently spoke with the band’s frontman and main songwriter Henry Paul, who also fronts his own solo band as well as the country band Blackhawk, about the Outlaws legacy and what the future holds.

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So what has been on your agenda recently?

Well, I just got back home from a long week trip and am trying to do some catch-up around the house. But we were out with Lynyrd Skynyrd and played on the west coast of Florida with them and then I played across the state in Pompano Beach and then I did a Blackhawk show in West Palm Beach and another Outlaws show in Key West.

How do you keep it all straight doing three different bands?

Well, Blackhawk’s very, very active and the Outlaws are very active so those shows are rehearsed and they go off pretty well, like clockwork really. The Henry Paul Band, occasionally I will do a show with them and that’s a little more challenging because all the members are scattered and pulling them together is kind of a challenge. The band hasn’t played together that much so it’s not nearly as tight.

The Outlaws has certainly had a long history, deeply rooted in southern rock, but I understand you had early folk influences.

Yeah, long before southern rock was an entity that was sort of born out of the Allman Brothers success early on, I was a solo performer with an acoustic guitar and I wrote songs and sat on a stool and sang my songs. Not unlike Roger McGuinn or David Crosby or Jesse Colin Young, everybody kind of gets bitten by the band bug a little bit because it’s fun to play with other people. The Outlaws were formed in 1972 and it seemed like a really long time getting from there to the release of our first album, which was released in 1975, but it was really a very busy and somewhat short two and a half, three year window, so it went by pretty quick.

A lot of times when people think of the Outlaws, they think of songs with a lot of guitar jamming but the reality is that most of the songs have a strong singer-songwriter quality.

Oftentimes, and this is a generalization, when bands are formed as bands, they take on a personality that gives everyone in the group sort of an equal share in the presentation from the standpoint of their contribution and their personality. You could make a case for the Beatles being very interesting from the standpoint of McCartney’s and Harrison’s contributions as well as John’s and Ringo’s. But when you bring songs to the table, and I use Jesse Colin Young who was a folk artist that made a transition into the band personality, you could hear his work. Like for me, “Girl From Ohio” and songs like that were written as solo lyrical strength songs rather than just ditties with musical hooks. I mean, if you’re going to be a singer and a songwriter, you have to write a song that has a storyline and that has some emotional quotient to it that transcends the music.

So I always thought the Outlaws were significantly different in the genre of southern rock from the standpoint of their songs and vocal harmony and the whole sort of Crosby, Stills & Nash or Eagles or Buffalo Springfield or Byrds influence. The Outlaws musical personality was significantly different than the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd and even Marshall Tucker. They were more of a single lead singer blues rock sort of musical personality and the Outlaws had some very melodic and country music influences that I thought set us apart.

 “Girl From Ohio” has those harmonies in it

And you could categorize that to a certain extent as a country song but it doesn’t really sound like a country song. The melody and the musical personality, I think, are as equally important as the lyrical personality. The song has a little bit of a more substantial thread than what people perceive as country music. The Outlaws had that through Hughie Thomasson, myself and Billy Jones. Three of the main songwriters of the band had that musical sensibility about them and we sang together not unlike Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Randy Meisner. It was based on the musical personality of the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds as much as it was the Allman Brothers. So we had those West Coast harmony-based country rock influences along with the substantial guitar-driven Allman Brothers school of southern rock musical personality. It set us apart and I think it has served us very well over the years.

outlaws legacy live 2016That must have made you a little different on the circuit down there in Florida

It did. When you’re doing something original, usually it’s not an embraceable issue. It’s usually a rejected musical issue because basically what people want to hear is what they are used to hearing and if you’re not a Top 40 band, and the Outlaws were never a Top 40 band, we played our own songs and we did do some selected album cuts from bands that we loved – Eric Clapton and Jackson Browne, the Eagles, the Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds. We had even a song or two from the Flying Burrito Brothers. We had a more eclectic selection of songs that we sang when we were in clubs. It made the short haul a little more difficult but in the long run it gave us the opportunity to be an original musical group with a recording contract and it’s own career. Otherwise, if you take the shortcut and just start working up other people’s songs and everybody really likes it when you play it, when you’re done playing it you don’t have anything to show for it. And we have these records that have stood the test of time.

Was the first record all the songs that you had been playing in the clubs?

Yes, and the second album, for that matter, and a little bit of the third record. Those first three albums were very indicative of what the band was about as a club act. “Girl From Ohio,” “Knoxville Girl,” “Freeborn Man,” “Green Grass & High Tides,” “There Goes Another Love Song.” I mean, all the songs on those first two or three records were comprised of some of the songs that we had written and had brought to the table originally.

With the new record, Legacy Live, it’s not your first go around with a live record. Why did you want to do another one?

I left the band in 1977 and the Outlaws put a live album out after I left. It was a successful live record for them but it wasn’t particularly something that held up well over time. People were excited about it initially and then I think some of the luster faded with time because of the sonic issues the record had and some of the excessive musical issues that the band demonstrated. My goal was to try and create a more broad musical spectrum that included not just my songs but Billy Jones’ songs and Hughie Thomasson’s songs to paint a more complete picture from the standpoint of what the band was about.

Also, the band today under my leadership is a very, very good singing band and I wanted to put the vocals where I thought they belonged, more up front. I wanted to document this band that’s been together now, this year will be our tenth year since I reformed the group. I just wanted to document the band’s musical personality and the quality they demonstrate night after night and the faithful somewhat reverent sort of approach to this music from the standpoint of interpretation. I think it’s very accurately indicative of what was originally written and I think it’s very faithfully performed along with new songs that we’ve written and added to that musical legacy on the album, It’s About Pride.

I also wanted to buy a little time to continue to write and put a new studio record together. It gave me a little breathing room there.

But really, my goal was to really put the Outlaws musical personality and musical legacy in very, very caring and respectful and sort of high quality conditions so that people would know that if they came to see the Outlaws in 2017 that they would see a really good band, really professional in playing songs that were familiar to them from their past, and new music that is relative to the band’s musical personality. You know, it’s staying in character that is important because if you wander off, you lose them. People want the Outlaws that they know and love. They don’t want some new incarnation that has nothing to do with what the band was.

Some of the songs, especially the guitar solos, are very intricate and the guys in the band now interpret them so well.

And that’s how they got the job, because they can do that. These are people I’ve known for a long, long time, that I invited to the group. And I make it a point to keep it true. The idea of, hey, let’s go off on a magical mystery tour with this song, well, that doesn’t work. I like to keep everything in it’s place. And they are very, very talented guys. The bass player is an exceptional musician, the drummer plays great, and they are surviving original members of the group. I think instead of the odd man out, the keyboard player, who is my partner in Blackhawk, adds a great deal vocally and instrumentally to the group even though he’s not a featured player as the guitar players are obviously. But he adds a great deal to the band. Big bands, usually everyone in the group has a specific job that they do very well.

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And the Outlaws have never been a small band

We started out as a five piece group and now we’re a six piece group cause we have a keyboard player. I’ve seen the band perform as a four piece and it doesn’t work very well at all. It’s very thin. The five piece band was actually pretty damn good. The original lineup was really, really, really, really good but bands that last forty, even fifty, years they go through several changes and some for the better and some not.

When did you first start playing guitar?

I bought my first guitar, I think it was the summer of the ninth grade going into the tenth grade. My stepbrother had a guitar and he was a pretty damn good player at that point and I went up to visit my dad in the summer and my stepbrother had a guitar and knew how to play and I said, “That’s great, I’d like to try that.” So I bought one and learned how to play and then through high school I started learning different songs and started writing songs and got very enamored by Bob Dylan as a songwriter and as a musical personality and kind of pursued that path.

Did songwriting come more natural to you than playing the guitar?

Songwriting was a goal – expression, having something significant to say. I think just the self-expression with artistic issues and what that represented was at the heart of my musical endeavor. I was never a flashy lead guitar player. I was a really good guitar player and a great folk guitar player but I really just used the guitar as a vehicle for my songwriting. And I don’t use these examples to compare myself to him but I think Dylan would fall into that category, certainly Jackson Browne or David Crosby; Stephen Stills is a bit of an anomaly in that he’s a marvelous guitarist. But Graham Nash, you know, people that just like to write and sing and play, it’s more of a vehicle for their songwriting.

When you moved back up to New York City, what was the hardest part about living in and trying to be a musician in those early days?

It was all very exciting because I had finally committed to a life’s work. It was cold, there was not a lot of money, being hungry was a part of the landscape, a lot of walking, occasional subway but never a taxi. It was the starving artist moment in my life and living alone, it gave me a great deal of time to focus. After spending a year or two up there, it shaped me into being the artist I would become from the standpoint of a songwriter and a band leader. It was my stepping off time. Although it was very economically thin it was very musically, spiritually and artistically rewarding and I was able to develop a personality that I still am today.

Was there one club in particular where you could always play?

I guess Café Wha? was the most open to new talent. The Gaslight, Gerde’s Folk City, they were more established clubs, certainly the Bitter End. They were more national talent-driven. But Café Wha? was more of a local Greenwich Village coffeehouse in the spirit of what they were in the early and middle sixties. But I would say Café Wha? was one of my favorite places to play.

Did you hate to leave?

I didn’t hate leaving. I felt like I had an opportunity waiting for me in Florida. So leaving New York felt like I had employed it to the degree I had intended. I was able to separate myself from some of the dreamers that would never make that connection in terms of a real career. Epic Records brought me into the studio and we cut a series of demos and it didn’t ultimately produce a record deal for me. It very well may have had I stayed but going back to Florida and getting this band together was something that I really wanted to do. I just felt like going to Florida was the best thing because I really wanted to put this band together and play with other people. It was just the right time for me to go and do that. So it all worked in a way that, again, you couldn’t have foreseen it but it came together in a way that was maybe pre-destined.

What song in the Outlaws catalog do you think should have gotten more attention than it did?

That’s a good question. You know, there were only a handful of songs that got attention, “Green Grass & High Tides” being one of them. That certainly deserved all of the attention and accolades and exposure and appreciation. As a matter of fact, I thought “Green Grass & High Tides” is a song that deserved more attention than it got. I always thought “Green Grass & High Tides” was a record that was much more interesting than “Freebird.” I certainly understand “Freebird”s popularity and I’ve seen the original band go onstage and perform it and it being a dazzling display of showmanship and musicality. But I thought the Outlaws record “Green Grass & High Tides” was definitely more intricate, more difficult and more musical. I think on Hurry Sundown, the title track and a song I wrote called “Gunsmoke,” they maybe deserve a little more attention. I think maybe “Freeborn Man” deserves a little bit more attention, maybe “Girl From Ohio.”

Was “Green Grass” more complicated to transfer to the live stage?

“Green Grass & High Tides” is one of the most difficult songs that anybody would ever play. If you go to the Rock Band toy series, it’s the last song in the catalog and the most difficult. That being said, then there’s “Elizabeth Reed” by Dickey Betts as played by the Allman Brothers, which is a genius work of art in a whole different sort of way.

What about the song, “Trail Of Tears,” which your bandmate Chris Anderson wrote and sings lead on?

He wrote that with a friend of his and I think what he tried to do was to document the actual event of the uprooting of Native Americans and moving them west into Oklahoma. It was really a historical documentation of that sort of dark chapter in American history. Musically, I thought it was an exceptional musical moment because it just has a lot of interesting parts to it so it made for a really good record and it makes for a really cool part of our show. It’s on the live album. You know, the live record, like I said earlier, really mirrors our show. We start every night with “There Goes Another Love Song” and it just goes right through to “Ghost Riders.” We don’t do “Girl From Ohio” every night, we do it on request; “Cold Harbor” we don’t do every night but we do it occasionally if I just get a wild hair and want to do it or somebody requests that. But those kinds of songs I thought gave the Outlaws a musical personality. It wasn’t all just an ass whipping or beating over the head with guitar-driven songs.

The song “Grey Ghost” is one you actually did originally with the Henry Paul Band.

Yeah, that was the title cut off HPB’s first album and that was our show closer, not unlike “Green Grass & High Tides” or “Freebird.” It was a real monumental moment musically for the Henry Paul Band. There’s a couple of songs from the Henry Paul Band that I re-recorded, one being “So Long” on the It’s About Pride album. Of course I would never re-record “Grey Ghost” with the Outlaws because it’s such a Henry Paul Band sort of signature moment but we do play it every night. The guys just love to play it and it’s one of the musical highlights of the show. It’s a great one for them to play and I think the lyrical message of the song is very heartfelt, being devastated by the early exit of people that were instrumental in our career [song is about the plane crash that killed several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd].

What was it like opening for the Stones?

Our first show with them was in the fall or winter of 1975. We played with them in 1976, I played with them in 1978 and 1979 and 1980 with the Henry Paul Band. We were on a number of Rolling Stones dates. Bill Graham loved the Outlaws, he loved the Henry Paul Band, and when it came time to put bands on the shows, he was a big fan and was inclined to do that. We never let them down. We always played hard and got a great reaction from the audience. It was a good fit because we were nothing at all like the Stones. And I mean, you can imagine Mick Jagger and Keith Richards coming into the Outlaws dressing room in November of 1975, less than six months after we were in a nightclub, and giving us a pat on the back and telling us they liked the band. It was a big deal.

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?

We’re in the middle of writing a new studio record. My goal is to get in in April and record the album and get it out by October and hopefully it will mirror It’s About Pride from the standpoint of musical direction and quality.

All original songs?

Yes. I feel very strongly that we have done a great job at staying in musical character with regards to what the band started out. That can’t be said for every one that is in my business.

Group photo by John Gellman

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