“I’ve Been Everywhere” the song made popular by Johnny Cash would be the best way, to sum the whereabouts and tales of the Rev. Greg Spradlin. If there ever was a long awaited-debut LP, this Little Rock, Arkansas rock & roller lifer surely has earned that nod. Hi-Watter, the debut LP from Rev. Greg Spradlin and the Band of Imperials out July 17th, is indeed the rock album that might make 2020 somewhat salvageable.
Inspired by his friend, the legendary producer Jim Dickinson, Spradlin put together his ideal band, as he tells it, once he stopped looking, the dream players materialized as if out of thin air, one after the other. There he joined up with Jason Weinheimer, producer and longtime Arkansas compatriot. Pete Thomas, drummer for Elvis Costello’s Imposters David Hidalgo of Los Lobos on bass and at the keys, the legendary Rudy Copeland.
The twisting roots of all this musical synchronicity, of these star-studded sessions from which Hi-Watter was birthed, extend back to the great tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and more directly to the 2009 death of Mr. Dickinson, to whom the Reverend presided over his funeral.
In 2010, Spradlin and the Band of Imperials first committed the songs on Hi-Watter to tape. First, they gathered at Weinheimer’s studio in Little Rock where Spradlin and Thomas laid down the rhythmic foundation. few tracks fleshed out by bassist Davey Faragher (Cracker, John Hiatt, Elvis Costello), and then the album was sent off to veteran producer-engineer Tchad Blake (Tom Waits, Los Lobos, Richard Thompson). As it turns out, Blake mixed Hi-Watter at the same time as he was mixing The Black Keys’ double-platinum El Camino.
The luck would have it, a series of events that were synonymous with Spradlin’s run of wrong place wrong time history in the music business, the album would be on the shelf for another decade. Let’s just say he’d lost more record deals before he turned 26 than most people do in a lifetime.
So here we are in 2020, with perhaps the most extremely bizarre year in over a century, and what do we have-Rev. Greg Spradlin and the Band of Imperials‘ long-awaited Hi-Watter. Glide is thrilled to premiere “Gospel of the Saints” (below) a swampy and soulful concoction that permeates with the stank of Dr. John, Junior Kimbrough, and whatever else is missing from your life.
The Rev. Greg Spradlin had this say about “Gospel of the Saints”….
This one is directly related to Jim Dickinson, and the conversations we used to have on religion. We both grew up very similarly. Southern Baptist. Going to church every Sunday. And always just knowing in the back of your mind, even when you’re a little kid—I can’t make this jibe. But there is something from it that we carried through our lives that stuck with us, for better or worse. Something about gospel music that connects us, beyond a denominational level—gospel music is what saved us when nothing else would. That’s what this song is about. I can feel Jim’s presence on the new record. Really, he’s producer in absentia.
I’m a huge Staple Singers fan, and for “Gospel of the Saints,” I had this early ‘Pops & the kids’ singing along with Pops’ guitar vibe in mind. But then you bring in Pete [Thomas, from Elvis Costello’s Imposters] on drums, and it takes on this whole other dimension. We were able to speak each other’s musical language.
After it went through the band it turned into this funky, second-line kinda deal. The main thing about it is Rudy [Copeland]. He was a really big part of ’70s and ‘80s L.A. R&B. For a long time he worked with Johnny Guitar Watson—he’s all over A Real Mother for Ya, and he played in Johnny’s band for a while. But after that he got really involved playing gospel music at his church. That was where he came from. He played really earnest, vintage black gospel. There’s only one Billy Preston, but there’s also only one Rudy Copeland. Rudy might give Billy a run for his money.
We recorded half the new record in Arkansas and half of it in L.A., and the whole journey to the West Coast started with, “We’ve gotta go find Rudy and get him to overdub on a couple songs.” Rudy’s blind and his girlfriend brought him over to the studio—have you ever been in a room with somebody who has this hundred-thousand-volt personality? And it feels like the room might come off its axis? It was real with Rudy. He’d hardly heard the songs going in, and he’d just be like, “I got it.” He wouldn’t even listen to the playback, and honestly he didn’t need to because he always got everything in one take.
Rudy and I did the vocals for “Gospel of the Saints” live in the studio, singing face to face. He was so good. It was like singing a duet with Ray Charles. A truly spiritual experience. The house came off the foundation a little bit. Now that Rudy is gone, every time I hear that part of the song where he and I are singing together, it takes me back to that place because it was something otherworldly. So much light coming off that guy.
Photo by Rett Peek