Posts Tagged With: Ben Folds

The mural version of “Step It Up and Go”

Scott Nurkin at work painting Libba Cotten on a wall in Carrboro.

If a picture paints a thousand words, as the old saying goes, you could say that the North Carolina Musician Murals project is a much more efficient version of my book “Step It Up and Go.” Beautifully painted on exterior walls all over the state, these public-art murals tell the story of North Carolina music.

This mural project, which I just wrote about for the Orange County Arts Commission, is the work of Charlotte native Scott Nurkin — drummer in bands including Birds of Avalon and Dynamite Brothers as well as a renowned painter of murals. Painting portraits of North Carolina’s most iconic musicians has been a hobby of Nurkin’s going back more than a decade, when he began painting them on an interior wall of Chapel Hill’s Pepper’s Pizza.

The first time I interviewed Nurkin was in 2009 for a story in the News & Observer, conducted one afternoon over a couple of slices of pizza (which he got for free, as partial payment). George Clinton, Max Roach, Randy Travis, Doc & Merle Watson, James Taylor, Ryan Adams, Thelonious Monk, Ben Folds and Etta Baker were among the subjects on the wall at Pepper’s — but no “American Idols,” who Nurkin deemed “not worthy.”

Nurkin’s portraits on display at Pepper’s Pizza about a decade ago.

After Pepper’s closed in 2013, Nurkin’s portraits wound up on display at the University of North Carolina music department. So he decided to supersize his portraits into outdoor murals. He started this year and has painted murals including John Coltrane in Hamlet, Earl Scruggs in Shelby, Roberta Flack in Black Mountain, Betty Davis in Durham and, most recently, Piedmont blues legend “Libba” Cotten in Carrboro.

Check the story about this here. There are more murals to come and I can’t wait to see who Nurkin will paint next.

ADDENDUM (1/13/2021): Thanks to the Together Raleigh public-art program, a bus shelter in Raleigh has a similarly cool North Carolina music mural, by the artist Kiara Sanders. See below!

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Frog Trouble for Ryan Adams: When pigs fly

FrogTroubleWell, there’s still no definitive word on Ryan Adams’ next album — if it’s coming out anytime soon, or even whether or not it’s already finished. Even so, he’ll be on at least one release this fall, the upcoming fifth album by the noted children’s author Sandra Boynton. Titled Frog Trouble…and Eleven Other Pretty Serious Songs, it’s Boynton’s first country album and features a dozen Boynton-penned original songs sung by a wide array of big-name guest vocalists including Ryan and his fellow North Carolina expatriate Ben Folds. See the track list below, and look for Frog Trouble on September 3.

1. I’ve Got a Dog, Dwight Yoakam
2. Trucks, Fountains of Wayne
3. Frog Trouble, Mark Lanegan
4. Heartache Song, Kacey Musgraves
5. When Pigs Fly, Ryan Adams
6. Broken Piano, Ben Folds
7. Copycat, Brad Paisley
8. End of a Summer Storm, Alison Krauss
9. Alligator Stroll, Josh Turner
10. Beautiful Baby, Darius Rucker
11. Deepest Blue, Linda Eder
12. More Frog Trouble, Falls Mountain Cowboys (a fictitious group)

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If you’ve ever drunk Cheerwine, tipped a cow and listened to Ryan Adams…you might be from North Carolina

NCPostcardMaking the online rounds this week is a listicle called “38 Signs You’re From North Carolina,” a trifle that makes the obligatory nods to sports rivalries, barbecue, NASCAR, cow-tipping, Cheerwine, Krispy Kreme and other Old North State staples — including music, although the artists cited don’t exactly seem up-to-date. As you can see in Reason No. 20 below, You like to brag about the North Carolina music scene, our man Ryan Adams gets namechecked even though he’s not lived here in more than a decade.

Also on the list is Winston-Salem native Ben Folds (ditto); rising Chapel Hill country-rock band Mount Moriah (the list’s one current name, well-chosen and very hip); old-school hip-hop group Little Brother (also not so current, alas, but great nevertheless); Massachusetts-born ringer James Taylor (well, um, even less current); and from way out in left field…Fred Freakin’ Durst? Dang, I had no idea he was a Tar Heel native. But yeah, Durst was born in Gastonia before going on to form the loathesome rap-metal band Limp Bizkit in that “other” Jacksonville the same year Whiskeytown got together, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Well, ya learn something every day

38WaysToTellNC

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Ryan Adams by the numbers: Money, money, money in the bank

Ryan Adams has had a very fine career by the numbers as well as by the music, which is something that entered into the “Losering” story. While I was working on the book, I called upon a friend who worked at a music-business establishment with a subscription to Nielsen Soundscan, the service that tracks music sales in the U.S. He provided album-sales figures for Ryan’s catalog, both solo and with Whiskeytown, which was very useful data to have. While it would be unwise to put all the precise to-the-last-digit numbers for every album here (Soundscan is a subscription service, after all), Ryan’s sales figures through January 2012 can be summarized thusly:

Whiskeytown — 424,103 total sales. In terms of individual titles, the range was from just over 150,000 copies of the original 1997 version of Strangers Almanac down to just under 3,000 copies of the original 1996 independent-label version of Faithless Street. Whiskeytown’s 2001 swan song Pneumonia and the 1998 Outpost Records reissue of Faithless Street were both at over 100,000 copies.

Ryan Adams solo — 2,362,984 total sales, topped by 2001’s Gold at about 425,000 (a figure you’ll notice is greater than the entire Whiskeytown catalog combined) and followed by 2000’s Heartbreaker at about 309,000 and 2007’s Easy Tiger at just over 250,000. Of the rest, only 2003’s Rock N Roll was at more than 200,000 — although 2005’s Cold Roses was close. And bringing up the rear: 2005’s 29 at about 96,000, and 2010’s III/IV at just under 49,000.

NetWorthAdd it up, and it comes to almost 2.8 million in total U.S. album sales (which is probably at least in the neighborhood of 3 million by now, since that was 16 months ago). Nothing to rival U2, but a very healthy sum nevertheless. And while Whiskeytown didn’t make Ryan rich, his ensuing solo career certainly has. How rich? Well, according to the mavens at CelebrityNetWorth.com, Ryan’s estimated net worth is $24 million — a sum that obviously includes revenue from more than just domestic record sales, such as touring, Tim McGraw’s country-hit cover of “When The Stars Go Blue” and all the weird places “Come Pick Me Up” has appeared over the years.

(UPDATE, 3/9/16: Probably as a result of Ryan’s divorce from Mandy Moore, CelebrityNetWorth.com has halved its estimate of his net worth — from $24 million down to $12 million.)

I should note that I’m not sure how trustworthy that $24 million figure is. Not that I know anything about net worth of the rich and famous; but if I’d been asked to estimate Ryan’s fortune before seeing this, I probably would have guessed somewhere closer to the $9 million that Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is said to be worth. And yet it’s just as possible that $24 million is a conservative estimate because CelebrityNetWorth.com’s summary of Ryan’s career is woefully out-of-date (not to mention sloppy). Here it is verbatim:

Ryan Adams is a North Carolina-born singer-songwriter, musician, and author with an estimated net worth of $24 million dollars. Originally recognized for his work with the alt-rock group, Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams left to pursue a solo career, and has since released five solo studio albums. He also performed with The Cardinals until 2009, when he decided to take a break from music. He is most widely recognized for his song, “New York, New York”.

(Note: This entry has since been updated, but the revised version at that link remains just as clue-impaired.)

Actually, “five solo studio albums” is less than half of what Ryan has released since Whiskeytown disbanded; he’s put out two albums (one a two-disc set) and appeared in a movie since that “break from music” ended; even though “New York, New York” got played on TV at Thursday night’s NFL draft (cha-ching!), I’d still say that “Come Pick Me Up,” “When the Stars Go Blue” and possibly even “Lucky Now” are all better-known by now; and while I’m at it, as descriptions go, “alt-rock group” is a pretty crappy one for Whiskeytown. At any rate, between Ryan’s bottom line and the $23 million that his singer-actress wife Mandy Moore is worth, it seems safe to say he’s not sweating next month’s electric bill.

So how does Ryan’s estimated net worth stack up with what other celebrities are worth, you ask? Well, it’s a fraction of the fortunes of old-school superstars who have been at it for 30 years or more, including Paul McCartney ($800 million), Madonna ($650 million), Dolly Parton ($450 million), Mick Jagger ($305 million), Bruce Springsteen ($200 million) and Robert Plant ($120 million).

But Ryan isn’t too far behind contemporaries like Jack White and Drake, who are both at $30 million. I was actually surprised that Adele didn’t come in higher than $45 million. The next level up is Justin Timberlake at $100 million and Usher at $110 million. Higher still is Foo Fighters main man Dave Grohl (managed, like Ryan, by John Silva) with $225 million, much of which originated from his early-1990s time in Nirvana; and hip-hop icon Jay-Z is in a class by himself with $500 million. Throw in his wife Beyonce’s $300 million, and that’s a household with some serious financial juice.

Returning to Ryan’s relatively modest end of the spectrum, I was a bit surprised at some of the artists he’s well ahead of, including Patti Smith ($15 million), Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas ($10 million) and “Call Me Maybe” hitmaker Carly Rae Jepsen (and if you’re wondering what that level of one-hit-wonder omnipresence is worth, $1 million is apparently the answer).

Narrow the field down to musicians from North Carolina, and about the only one ahead of Ryan is Ben Folds at $35 million (if you don’t count Massachusetts-born James Taylor, $60 million). Another interesting detail is just how far Ryan is ahead of all of North Carolina’s “American Idol” stars, a delegation led by Chris Daughtry at $8.5 million. Clay Aiken is next at $4 million, while Scotty McCreery, Kellie Pickler and Fantasia all come in at $1.5 million or less.

I think the lesson to be learned there is that “American Idol” is more likely to convey fame than fortune. But I still wouldn’t mind trying to scrape by on the bank account of anybody on this list.

ADDENDUM (2/5/15): Here’s more detail from a website called CelebrityGlory.com, although I wouldn’t put much stock in any of their figures. To cite just one questionable example, I’m not sure what they were smoking to have concluded that Ryan’s “1984” limited-edition seven-inch generated the suspiciously robust sum of $349,650.

SECOND ADDENDUM (12/9/15): According to divorce papers filed by Mandy Moore, Ryan earns $151,000 a month — which comes to more than $1.8 million a year, while she claims to be scraping by on “less than a quarter of that” (and is therefore asking for $37,000 a month in spousal support). Anyway, maybe he is worth $24 million…

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Ben Folds Five: Chapel Hill, represent!

I think one reason I was able to write this book so quickly was that I’d already been writing chunks of it for 20 years, kind of. Not specifically for “Losering,” of course. But Ryan emerged from the Triangle music scene, which I’ve been covering for the newspaper since the early 1990s.

That gave me a front-row seat to watch a lot of very cool things from close range, like the improbable rise of Ben Folds Five. The trio emerged in the mid-1990s as a genuine oddity, a three-piece pop band with piano as centerpiece instrument. I wrote a bunch of stories and reviews about them for the N&O, as well as a short feature for Billboard magazine when their debut album Ben Folds Five came out in 1995.

Like everyone else, I had no idea just how huge they were going to be back then. But danged if they didn’t go and get enormous in 1997-98, with a platinum album and the first “Saturday Night Live” appearance in local-music history. Somewhere in there, Folds also found time to contribute piano overdubs to Whiskeytown’s never-released 1998 album Forever Valentine.

Ben Folds Five ended abruptly in 2000, citing burnout as the reason for disbanding. But the trio of Ben Folds, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge is back together, with their first new studio album of this century. You’ll find details of that, and also a 2008 story previewing a one-off reunion show they played that year in Chapel Hill, here.

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