Jon Lawhon of Black Stone Cherry Talks New Album ‘Family Tree’, Recording With Warren Haynes, Turning Bluegrass Into Rock (INTERVIEW)

Black Stone Cherry is the kind of band that can play your backyard BBQ party and then headline a major music festival and put out the same blast of energy at both places. All four of the guys who make up this band – Chris Robertson on vocals and guitar, Ben Wells on guitar, Jon Lawhon on bass and John Fred Young on drums – had ordinary childhoods, marching in the school band or playing on the football team, chasing girls and driving trucks; although Young did have a father and uncle in the Kentucky Headhunters who had a small so-called “Practice House” out on the farm that the boys eventually took over as their own. With that kind of background, they have never failed to give everything they’ve got into a show, whether it be for 50 people or 10,000.

With their first full-length album coming out in the summer of 2006, BSC gained a good following on the strength of songs like “Rain Wizard” and “Lonely Train.” Young’s father Richard acted as a producer and allowed the young band to be themselves. “They would come in every afternoon after school and rehearse till we’d make them go home,” Richard told me during an interview with Glide last year. “I sat there for a couple of weeks and I said, you know, these guys, they’re going to be able to do this. I’ve got to help them out. So I actually went to them and said, ‘I’ll tell you what, boys, I’ll help you but now listen to me and don’t buck me and let’s see if we can get this going.’ And they leaned on every word.”

Signing with Roadrunner Records allowed them to start their journey in a more professional direction. First album led to a second album two years later with a big time producer at the helm, Bob Marlette [Alice Cooper, Shinedown, Lynyrd Skynyrd]. “White Trash Millionaire” and “Blame It On The Boom Boom” came on the third album. With their last full-length, 2016’s Kentucky, they took the reins themselves. “I think the fact that we’ve worked with some big-name producers after that [Black Stone Cherry] and learned what to do and what not to do all at the same time,” Robertson told Songfacts in 2017, “all of that was a huge contributing factor to when we did get in the studio this last time to be able to really just do whatever we wanted, and to know that we had no one looking over our shoulders saying, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ We just reverted back to that mentality of when we were younger and just playing what we felt was the best.”

On the upcoming Family Tree, which comes out this Friday, April 20th, BSC is doing just that, this time returning even more to their roots and according to Lawhon, it’s their truest album to date. “We caught divine intervention with this one,” said Wells, “We tapped into a spirit and a fire we hadn’t before.” With songs such as “Carry Me On Down The Road,” “My Last Breath,” the new single “Bad Habit” and “Dancin’ In The Rain” featuring Warren Haynes circulate the blood and take listeners on a rip-snorting, sweat flying rock & roll rollercoaster ride.

Glide caught up with bass player Jon Lawhon recently to talk about the new album and why it’s so important to them as a band and individually, tapping into their musical roots, trading his Strat for a bass and why Robertson and Young really didn’t like him when he joined the high school marching band.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do with Family Tree before the songs started coming?

Honestly, what really sparked the majority of the vibes, so to speak, on this album was cutting the blues EP, Black To Blues [2017]. Before that we had written probably twenty or so ideas but the only one which made it through the funnel after we did the Blues EP was the track “James Brown.” Doing this record, we really just dug deep down into the roots that we’ve always had but maybe not necessarily always had in the foreground of our sound. We were listening to a lot of classic stuff, of course, and I think that rings through pretty easily. But to be more specific, everything from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers to the Traveling Wilburys, that connection is obvious, on to Electric Light Orchestra to Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, a lot of Allman Brothers, and of course Skynyrd mixed in there; a lot of great music from the seventies and back.

You can tell there is a difference between this album and Kentucky. Kentucky was a lot harder.

Right. I think with Kentucky we had just gotten away from Roadrunner and had started working with a new label, Mascot. A lot of Kentucky was, I mean, there was some angst involved, I’m not going to lie about it, but aside from that there was also this general knowledge that we had gained over the years working with Roadrunner that once we had it all in our minds and we were kind of like programmed so to speak, it was kind of hard to like shake that, you know. Not that we’re disappointed with the outcome of Kentucky at all, we love the record, but it took us a year and a half to two years of touring on that record to really come up with what we really truly are without having a big-time producer and an A&R staff kind of standing between us, our music and our fans.

Are you saying that Family Tree is closer to who you guys really are at heart?

Absolutely. Kentucky was the first time we’d ever produced an album by ourselves and so a lot of the tricks of the trade and the rules that we were following while doing that record were kind of left over from the Roadrunner era. Again, not that we dislike that record or any of the records we’ve ever put out, we’re fans of our own band so we go back and listen to our own music quite often; but moving forward with Family Tree, we didn’t have anybody really messing with us, similar to Kentucky, but there had been a longer span of time to pass between a producer record and a Black Stone Cherry produced record. So we just kind of naturally evolved back into what we started out as.

If you listen to our very first record and then listen to Family Tree, you can hear the continuity, there’s a union there between those two albums that’s not necessarily in the songwriting style or the sonics or anything like that. But when you listen to the two together you can tell Family Tree is the same band as that first record, just grown up. On our first record, we were very, very heavily influenced by a lot of classic rock artists. Moving through the years with the other records, we still had those influences but we had a lot of outside opinions and ideas and thoughts and all kinds of different stuff that was kind of like coming between us and our songs. We still managed to create songs that were Black Stone Cherry. I mean, most people when they hear the song “White Trash Millionaire,” they’ll tell you that is THE Black Stone Cherry song; that’s the song people most associate with our band. I don’t know if it’s because we’re just a bunch of trashy rednecks ourselves or what (laughs).

But at the end of the day, this album was a breath of fresh air for all of us because each one of us as individual players really show through big time on this record because we were kind of left alone, even more so than Kentucky because when each one of us were doing our parts and coming up with the ideas that we had for our individual parts, our pieces, it was really US. I mean, yeah, we help each other out, we give each other ideas. We’ll try our best to play a drum pattern for John Fred, and none of us are drummers like he is, right, but we’ll try our best to convey our thoughts and then sing parts or play parts back and forth for each other to play and stuff like that during the writing process. But once we’re in the studio, on this album anyways, we really kind of let each other be; not like abandon, so to speak, but just kind of like said, “Okay, we know what it is, you know the song, the general concept of the arrangement, have at it.”

We didn’t rehearse any of this stuff, first and foremost. We wrote 99% of this record on the back of the bus with one guitar and a bass guitar, we played thumb drums and did multiple takes and whoever came up with whichever riff ended up playing both guitar parts and the bass part because they knew the part, just to get it down. Poor John Fred had never played one beat of this record until we recorded it. We went in very, very loose with no true written down plan on purpose. We wanted it to come off a little nervous and a little more outlandish and live feeling than records previous. That was the whole intent.

So one day I look at Chris right before I do the bass part on “Family Tree” and I’m like, “Okay, I haven’t ran over this at all since we did the demo on the back of the bus. What are some of these parts? Do you remember?” Because Chris has a great memory when it comes to parts. Me, myself? No (laughs). I do not. I have a terrible memory. You let me know the key of the song and I can jam all day but specific parts? Never going to remember it. And that’s just me. The guys in the band hate me for it sometimes (laughs) but it’s just part of who I am. I’m very tied up mentally with photography and videography and graphic design and the merchandise stuff. I own the merchandise company that does all the band’s merchandise. I do all the web assets. Anything visual that you see with our band name on it, I’m the guy that is doing that stuff. So it kind of keeps my brain from being able to focus directly on remembering parts all the time. But at any rate, not to drag this out forever (laughs), I sat down to do that song and Chris said, “You know the key, right?” And I was like, “Yeah, I know the key.” And he was like, “You know the basic chord changes?” “Yeah.” And he said, “Just play it, man,” and he turned around and walked over to the corner of the room and sat down on the couch and pulled his hat down over his eyes. And I was like, “Okay, thanks a lot for the help, bud.” (laughs)

So I sat down in the chair and they hit record and as soon as the song kicked in, I dropped into it and I played from the top of the song to the bottom of the song and never knew what the hell I was doing the entire time (laughs). That is the most jam-oriented bass part that I’ve ever put down on a song before, cause I do the basics of the song. I had that much in my mind but that was literally it. Parts and all that? I didn’t have anything. I didn’t even have a notepad next to me to give me an outline. I just sat down and played. Chris, during the mixing part of the record, cause Chris mixed the album, he texted me at like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and said, “Jon, ‘Family Tree.’” And that was it. I replied back and said, “Yeah?” And he said, “You friggin’ killed this song.” I just laughed and was like, “I appreciate that,” cause you always feel better when you’re complimented by the people that you work with, right. So it made me feel pretty good about myself whenever he said that. But going back and thinking about it, I’m like, that was literally the biggest case of shooting from the hip there has ever been in music, cause I had not a clue (laughs). I just sat down and played.

When you go to make a new record, how much does the ghost of the last record hinder or help?

That’s a very good question. I think every time you cut a record it kind of becomes part of your family, if that makes sense. Every song that you put on a record kind of becomes your child so when an interviewer will say, “What’s your favorite song on a record?” it’s like they are literally asking me to shoot twelve of my kids and keep one. You can’t really answer that, you know. There are songs that stick out to us as individuals for certain reasons but as far as an overall favorite, you can’t really pick that. So with that said, when you have a catalog of multiple records, an EP, and you have all this stuff that you’ve been doing for years, I think all of them kind of haunt you in a way. You’re thinking about what kind of reaction did our fans have to this kind of song, because for us, we’re constantly looking at what’s it going to be like to play this song when we play Download in the UK, what’s it going to be like when we play Rock im Park in Germany or Rock On The Range in Ohio or any number of festivals, because those are the masses of people, those are the reactions that you can’t hide. In a club, you don’t typically get to see the full total reaction of the audience, mainly because it’s usually a little dark and the way the stages usually lie you can’t see too far back into the audience. So you don’t really get that all-encompassing feeling of what the crowd likes and dislikes about a song or a performance in that setting.

So we always look at the festival angle and our live show is such a humongous part of what we are as a band that that’s where our main focus always lies. So when writing, coming up with riffs and lyrics and just any and every part of a song, we’re constantly thinking about how it’s going to effect the mass of a festival crowd. Now when we’re writing songs that are closer to the heart, like “My Last Breath” or “Things My Father Said” or any number of more ballad or mid-tempo kind of songs that we’ve done in the past, we’re not really looking at it from a live standpoint, we’re looking at it more from a more personal angle, we’re getting stuff off our chests kind of mentality.

But I think the records from the past, they always kind of dictate to you who you are and what you have become and what you’re becoming, to a degree. But the biggest thing that affects us the most as songwriters is just growing up and being people. I wouldn’t write, like for example on our first record we had a song called “Maybe Someday.” I couldn’t write that song right now because now I’m married and have two beautiful girls. When your life changes and as your life evolves and you go through the good times and the bad times, you go up and over the hurdles and that is what ultimately mainly affects you and controls the direction of your songwriting.

Going from playing on these little 14×14 stages, because that’s what you came from in the Practice House, how did you feel standing in front of the masses once you got there?

We had played a couple of little festivals here in the States but nothing massive because the level of the band, even if it was a massive festival like Rockfest in Kansas City, at the time anyway, I’m pretty sure it was the largest festival in the United States, but we were on the third stage so we were still on like a 24×30 foot wide deck. It wasn’t really all that big. The first massive festival we ever played where we were on the main stage with a humongous amount of room and sitting in front of the mass would have been Download Festival in 2008. We’d played Hyde Park Calling in 2007. It was a one-off show and we flew over, played it and flew back. That was, I’d say, 8,000-10,000 people so that was pretty intense on it’s own.

But then we came back and did Download Festival on the main stage. The way the stage is constructed you can only see the crowd when you’re backstage that’s dead in front of the stage and on out into the field. You can’t see left and right, because they’ve got wings on the stage to kind of block your view when you’re backstage. So whenever we went on, I’ll never forget it, we opened up with the song “Rain Wizard” and I walked to my amps like I always did and midways through the intro I turn around and I walk out to the front of the stage and I stuck my fist up in the air and that’s when I actually saw everybody there. And instead of like fist-pumping and trying to get the crowd into it, I just stood there with my fist in the air looking at all these people and ready to throw up (laughs). It was mainstage Download and it had to be a minimum of 60,000 people. It was absolutely intimidating. But the saving grace to that, and this is what I always say cause it’s the truth, the reason why we can go on and play big stages like that and big festivals and so on and not just choke is because we’re doing it as a team. If I walked out there by myself to play anything, I would freeze. I know I would. I would choke immediately. No way I could do that. But because we’re walking out there together as the four of us, I know they have my back just like I have theirs. So if anybody stumbles during the show, everybody else is going to pick up the slack.

And that’s how you survive as a live band

Absolutely. We don’t play with tracks, we don’t even play with a click. We have nothing. It’s just the four of us and our gear. That’s it. A lot of bands these days use tracks. If it’s not backing tracks, it’s full-on track replacement. It’s like the dude is playing guitar but it’s nothing, it’s not plugged into anything. I won’t give any names cause I don’t want to get in trouble (laughs) but I’ve heard horror stories about bands that go into the studio, and it’s the singer that actually goes in, because the rest of the band doesn’t really know how to play. They know how to play basic chords and basic drum parts and stuff like that but they’re not good players. So they can’t go in and record a record so they end up bringing in all these big name studio musicians to play the entire album and the guys in the band have to learn how to play everything, at least somewhat, for when they play the tracks through the PA system at least they’re playing something close to it so they don’t get caught. The eighties was probably the biggest era of it and then all that died down a lot in the early nineties with the birth of grunge because the grunge players were like, “Nope, if we suck we suck out loud.” It was as simple as that.

What band do you think hit it right on a live album?

Aerosmith did a live DVD, I’d say a good ten years ago or maybe even further back than that, but I remember it wasn’t all performed in one place. They used like this song from China and this song from Japan and this song from Paris or something like that. They were moving around from country to country to country and they used one or two songs from each location for this live DVD and there is a live CD that accompanied it. And I mean, it’s Aerosmith, you can’t go wrong. Every studio album, every live album, whether it’s a cover or whatever it is, when those guys get together and play music together it’s life-changing every time. They never let you down and the thing I love about Aerosmith is this: they are a classic rock band but they are a modern rock band; they are a southern rock band but they are a soul band, they are a blues band, they are a core rock band; they are every kind of music that encompasses the idea and the genre of rock & roll. That’s what I absolutely love about them, because if you try your best to compare them to any other band that has ever existed, I guarantee you, not one of them will sound similar to that band. That’s why I love them so much because they are their own band. They have an identity that nobody else could ever come close to.

You talked about going back to your roots and you mentioned Tom Petty and the Allman Brothers. How do we recover from losing those two guys?

You don’t. It’s as simple as that. Cause they can’t be replaced and bottom line to me, if anybody tried to replace them and tried to do that exact thing, I wouldn’t pay attention to it cause it’s not genuine. When bands have influences, those influences show through and that’s fine. But when those influences become theft or become the point to where the band is just writing these songs that you would expect to hear from who is their most influential artist or whatever, it starts becoming less genuine and I have less time in my day for it.

I like to think that our band is very original. We have tons of different influences and our influences are showing through more on this record than any in the past that we’ve ever done. BUT when you listen to our music, not one song sounds the same, not one album sounds the same. We took a page from Led Zeppelin’s book when it came to recording albums because we never want to record the same record twice. Some bands do that and it works for them and nobody would be happy if they changed that mentality, like AC/DC for example. That band has released the same record every time they’ve released a record and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense; I mean that in a loving sense because it’s freaking AC/DC. They are an amazing band BUT their sound is their sound and it has not changed or tweaked or grown or fallen backwards or anything at all since they started. Their sound is very consistent from record to record to record where Led Zeppelin, just listen to any Led Zeppelin record and then listen to the next one. It almost doesn’t even sound like the same band.

It’s like with our band, we have grown, we have changed the way we do business in a lot of different ways, we’ve evolved in so many ways that I can’t even begin to explain. And with that, each album has had it’s own identity, it’s own feeling and all that while at the same time keeping that core identity of Black Stone Cherry. That’s always been very important to us, to try to always maintain who we are and what we sound like while still being able to stretch our legs a little bit and push the limits of what our sound is and evolve; and not necessarily evolve into something new but evolve in a sense to where we can now add that idea or that asset to what we are. It’s like on the last two records we’ve had background singers and horns and piano/organ parts, stuff like that; we had done some piano stuff in the past but not that much. But all that stuff is a part of who we are and it has been since day one but we never really started showing it until like the second record where we had piano parts added to it. We did have some organ stuff going on on the first record but that was Reese Wynans, who came into the studio and that guy has his own identity because he played for Stevie Ray Vaughan for years. He has such his own identity that the drawbars and stuff on his B3, he won’t let you look at them. Like, anytime you walk into the room when he’s tracking, he’ll grab every drawbar that he has and shove it all the way back into the organ cause he doesn’t want anybody to know what his sound is. And that’s cool.

Me personally, I don’t care. I’ve sold many amplifiers that have my exact settings marked on it. I don’t care, cause those settings change every day. That’s just a general start from here and then tweak it to where it sounds right in the room. So if I sell an amp to somebody, by the time they get it home and plug it up in their house with those exact settings, it’s not going to sound like what it sounded like sitting in my house. It’s going to sound completely different. You just have to tweak it around to find that again but without being me you’re not going to do that. It’s like you could have the crappiest guitar player in the world with the crappiest guitar and crappiest amp there ever was and set them up and listen to them play for twenty minutes and then you bring in somebody like Billy Gibbons to pick up the exact same equipment and play and you’ll know it’s Billy Gibbons within the first two licks. It doesn’t always matter what the gear is. What matters is the guy that’s doing it. It’s in the meat of his hands and the soul that he has buried inside of him.

Since your grandfather played bluegrass, what elements of that genre have you taken into your music with Black Stone Cherry?

Honestly, if you listen to anything that we’ve done that leans toward country, you’re hearing a lot of that; like, especially the end of “Hollywood In Kentucky,” for example. That goes straight into, and this is two records ago now, but that goes straight into bluegrass jam. The really fast guitars and all that stuff, we took it to an almost metal sense, but that was just the way we twisted it. The bass parts, for example, is that classic-rocking bluegrass old-school country thing, cause the song itself is a country song but then it goes way classic country and bluegrass there at the end. There’s elements of that that kind of show up in our more southern sounding stuff all the time, not only for me but from our singer Chris as well cause his grandfather played bluegrass and country music forever, his dad plays country music. Chris’s grandpa used to build mandolins and acoustic guitars and all kind of stuff. So he is very tied into the bluegrass world. Chris has played a lot of that music for the majority of his life because, you know, he was hanging out with his family doing what they do.

What do you remember most about your grandpa playing?

Oh gosh, my favorite memories of my grandpa playing, we would always go out on the porch, cause he lived over in Whitesburg, Kentucky, which is right next to Hazard and that part of the country. So lots of mountains, lots of hollows, hills and so on. I was raised in Florida and we moved to Kentucky when I was fifteen but we would come up every summer for about a month and visit with my grandparents and we would go out, especially when it was raining because they had a really long porch and it was very deep so you could sit out on the porch whenever it was raining and you weren’t going to get soaked. But he would take me and my sister and any of the other grandkids that were there and we’d all go outside and kind of sit down on the deck around him and he’d sit there in a rocking chair and just play any number of songs for us. The majority of it was like old gospel stuff but he had a bunch of original stuff too that he would do. My favorite song that he did was one that he wrote called “Chiggers.” I don’t know if you’re familiar what chiggers are but one of the lines in that song says, and I’ll never forget it cause he’d always make this funny face when he’d do it, but the line of the song goes, “I’ve got chiggers on my legs, they’re as big as goose eggs,” and it was so country, so bluegrass, and I just loved it when I was a kid.

What instrument did he usually play?

He always played a flattop. He could play a mandolin, the banjo and all that but when he’d sit down with us it was always the flattop. He always said that the musical core of the song starts with the guitar; everything else is the fairy dust around it.

Getting back to the new record, which song would you say changed the most from it’s original conception to it’s final recorded version?

Honestly, all of them. I think a lot of that is true to the fact that we didn’t rehearse any of it. We just kind of went in and did it so once we did that, the four of us as individuals took over our own parts and left our imprint on the song, which is why I think when you listen to this record you can really hear our individual identities really stick out and come through. But probably “My Last Breath” and that would be mainly attributed to the breakdown section where it drops down to like the guys and chicks singing and that started off as just being background vocal stuff. Then once we started cutting these background vocals for like choruses and all that we were like, hey, wait a minute, this is a really cool part. So we ended up chopping the song and extending it to incorporate all that in there and to make it all work.

Tell us about Warren Haynes singing and playing guitar on “Dancin’ In The Rain”

Chris and Ben had gone down to see Gov’t Mule play in Nashville about a month or two before we recorded the record and they got a chance to talk to him and hang out with him some, talked about touring, which is the reason why we’re getting ready to go out with them in the middle of April. But we’ve known Warren via John Fred’s dad Richard from the Headhunters for a number of years. When we wrote the song we didn’t intend for anybody to be on it but when we sat back and listened to it we were like, Gov’t Mule could totally do this song and do a really good job. Then we were like, hey, wait a minute, why don’t we see if Warren will just sing on it, play a little guitar, see what he wants to do. So we reached out to his manager and so on and Warren heard the track and he loved the song and would love to do it. So when he came in off the road about a week or two later, we sent him the track and he went into the studio up in New York and went ahead and knocked out all the guitar parts, all the vocal parts and all that stuff and sent it back to us. When Chris got it, cause he was the one mixing, and he cut it all together he sent it to all of us. I was out at my studio working that day and I immediately ran out to my truck and bluetoothed my phone to my stereo, cause thankfully I have a really nice Bose system in here, and I just turned this son-of-a-bitch to ten and just rocked (laughs). But Warren is just such a sweet guy and such a great, great voice and soul, a great artist. I really feel like he’s truly underrated in today’s music scene. He should be talked about greatly in all press outlets daily.

John Fred told me that when you moved to Kentucky they actually kind of hated you because you were like this really cool surfer dude who got all the girls. So how did you guys finally forge a friendship?

The music, it just comes down to the music. The director of the band in high school found out that I was a drummer at my old school and he wanted to see what I was made of because the school I was at won the overall state competition and had won quite a few state competitions and so on. So he was like, “Okay, he’s got good blood, I want to see what he can do.” He kept pestering me and finally I was like, “Okay, fine, I’ll join the drumline.” So I started playing drums in the band and my first day in I was sitting behind Chris and John Fred and they were watching the show tape from the last performance that the marching band had done and I was just sitting there holding one of the bass drum mallets that has the soft head and the wooden stick, right. So I’m just sitting there and I’m watching and I haven’t done any performances, I hadn’t learned any of the material, nothing. It was literally my first day in and I was sitting behind them, and it’s the whole drumline, and I’m sitting there and the drum captain was a senior at the time and I was a freshman and those dudes were in 8th grade.

Well, somebody in the drumline, and I want to say it was Chris actually, kind of stumbled and got out of pace with the marching thing that was going on and they both started laughing at it and they were kind of making fun, Chris making fun of himself, John Fred making fun of Chris, making fun of the whole thing. And me, I took music very seriously back then. I still do but it’s definitely become more fun as the years have gone on. So me and my instant redneck reaction, I smacked both of them in the back of the head with the mallet and told them both to shut up and pay attention (laughs). They did not like me and they really didn’t like it a couple of weeks later when the band director made me the drum captain. Yeah, they didn’t like that at all (laughs). I was drum captain at the high school the entire time I was in school, which John Fred even back then could play circles around me, but, bless his heart, he still to this day has two left feet and he can’t walk to save his life (laughs). So I always skunked him when it came to marching.

But I followed the rules and paid attention to what needed to be done and stayed on task and so on. That’s the reason why I was the drum captain. And honestly, it didn’t take very long for Chris to come around. I actually appointed him as my co-captain within the first month or so of me being named captain. So Chris hated me the least; John Fred hated me longer (laughs). But it all came around to where the music just really brought us together because we were playing drums together every day at school and they were a drummer and a guitar player and they needed somebody else to play music with and I was the only other guy that owned an instrument with strings. We started playing music together just out of necessity but it wasn’t very long before we grew to love and hate each other (laughs).

Was that the Fender Strat I’ve heard about that you traded?

Yeah, absolutely. I traded a Fender Strat to Chris’ dad for a Washburn Lyon series P bass copy. It was the worst trade of my entire life when you’re just looking at the gear. However, it was a good trade because I ended up playing bass for a living.

What is your predominant bass today?

I play Dean guitar basses. They’ve got a bass out called the Hillsboro and I actually worked with them in developing what is called the Hillsboro II so it’s basically like an early seventies influenced P bass neck on a Dean body, which is similar to a Sterling by Music Man/Ernie Ball. So it’s basically a few of my favorite basses that I always loved certain parts of but not all of it and we kind of put it all together into one bass. I have a signature model with that bass and it’s seafoam green with black details. It’s a pretty solid bass and people will dig it. I play my production model live every night and even at about a $500 price point it’s worth its salt.

That must be a big honor for you who came from a little ole town in Kentucky

Yeah, it was very humbling. I was like, really? (laughs) I remember wanting to buy gear when I was a kid and I couldn’t afford it because all the Fenders were like $1500 to $2000 for a signature model from somebody and here I am now and I’ve got my name on one and I was able to, not necessarily force but convince the company to keep it at a price that kids could actually afford, that their parents could actually spend the money on for their kids. I mean, it’s $500 street price and it’s an actual alder body. Like, a lot of instruments these days are made out of basswood, which is really crappy, falls apart, warps, so soft that if you drop it it’ll dent like a good inch; it’s terrible. But an alder body is a really dense wood, it’s heavier and it resonates better so you’re not just relying on the pickups to listen to the strings, you’re listening to the entire instrument. So it has a more natural warm sound to it inherently than a lot of the modern instruments today.

How did you get that Strat in the first place?

My parents bought it for me for Christmas when I turned sixteen

But you played drums before that

Yeah, my first instrument was piano when I was six years old. I played piano for two years, took lessons and all that, but I didn’t like doing those lessons because I took lessons at that school and it was during my recess time (laughs). Honestly, the only reason I started playing drums in the first place was because I wanted to play guitar but I was like ten/eleven years old and I couldn’t find anybody to give me lessons or give me any insight or anything like that. My dad showed me a few chords but that’s really all he knew and I lived so far away from my PaPaw that I couldn’t really take lessons from him. But drums just kind of happened because I could actually take lessons then.

What’s an early memory of you and music?

The first thing I ever saw that I thought was like the coolest thing in the world and changed my life forever was when I was very young and I saw Elton John play “Crocodile Rock” on The Muppets. I saw it and I freaked out and I turned to my daddy and said, “Daddy, one day I’m going to be a rock star.” He just kind of laughed at me and he said, “Okay, Buddy.” A couple of months later he was taking a nap, cause he worked the night shift, he was a master certified mechanic at a big shop in Florida, and he was taking a nap during the day and my mom was at work so it was just me and him in the house and he was like, “I’m going to go get some sleep, be a good boy, don’t get in trouble.” I’m like, okay, and he went on to sleep and I snuck into his room after he was asleep, like I had done a million times before, and I went into his closet and I closed the door shut – he had a big walk-in closet – and I picked up his guitar, which ended up being my very first guitar, a 1953 Jetsons Airline. It’s the same exact guitar as Jack White from the White Stripes made famous again. I still have it to this day. But I sat down, and it only had like four strings on it, and I tried to figure out how to play it and I guess I was in there for a couple of hours because when he finally found me he was furious (laughs). He thought that I had ran away or somebody had come in and stolen me or something. He was freaking out. I want to say he had already called the cops and everything. And I was just trying to play guitar (laughs).

What did you think when Chris came to you and said, hey, we’re going to put on some dresses and make a video for “Cheaper To Drink Alone”?

(laughs) Actually, we all came up with that idea. I had always wanted to do something that was kind of left field and outlandish and funny, because our diehard fans that know us as people know that we’re funny people. They know we’re more about the jokes than we are the serious topic. Lyrically, we tend to lean a little bit more towards the serious; the fun and outlandish, yes, but never like the goofy but we are goofy people when you get right down to it (laughs). We came up with that idea and we were just spitballing all kinds of madness.

So is the rest of your year primarily touring?

Yeah, we got a lot of touring coming up. We’re doing the Gov’t Mule thing mid-April, we go to Europe and do all the big festivals there and we’re really excited because we’re direct support to Guns N Roses at Download this year. We headlined the second stage at Download twice and that was amazing and we didn’t really think it’d get any better than that until we headlined the main stage. But then we were offered direct support to the one and only Guns N Roses. So we were like, yeah, I think we’ll take that slot (laughs).

 

Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough and Marc Lacatell; group photo by Rob Fenn

 

 

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