Posts Tagged With: Elliott Humphries

Guy walks into a bar and requests Whiskeytown…

LoseringLike a lot of people in my world, Elliott Humphries is a big Ryan-Adams-by-way-of-Whiskeytown fan. He’s played a number of my book-related events in recent years, and he also brought a “lost” song of Ryan’s to life. So I’d say his bonafides are pretty much impeccable.

Anyway, Elliott was playing this past Sunday night at downtown Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe, which is not only (a) the first place I ever interviewed Ryan, an incident recounted in the preface to “Losering”; but also (b) a joint that is now owned and operated by a few regulars from Sadlack’s, the establishment where Whiskeytown formed way back in 1994. Elliott sent along this exchange he had with some random attendee who showed up asking for…well, just read it.

Guy: Can you play some Whiskeytown?

Everyone in the bar: Stops what they’re doing.

Me: Hey man. Are you from around here?

Guy: Nope. I’m from New Jersey.

Me: Well, what if I told you the P.A. I’m playing through as well as the bar in this establishment came from one of the first places that ever gave Ryan a shot at music?

Guy: What?

Me: All this stuff came from a place called Sadlack’s, which used to be over on Hillsborough Street. That was where Ryan met Skillet and Caitlin and formed Whiskeytown, while working there.

Everyone in the bar: He sure didn’t work there long (laughter)

Me: You see, Ryan hasn’t graced his home state with his presence since 2005. He is a…polarizing figure around here. Furthermore, for you to walk in here and request a guy like me to play Whiskeytown is kind of like walking into a New York deli and ordering a pizza.


Me: But I will gladly play you some Whiskeytown.

Some stuff you just can’t make up.

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Books & Beer, in spite of ourselves

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.33.37 AM“Comin’ Right at Ya” moves into the personal-appearance phase of the PR campaign this week with Thursday’s Books & Beer in greater Pittsboro, NC, where Eddie Huffman and yours truly will hold forth about various book-related matters. I was one of the editors who worked on Eddie’s “John Prine: In Spite of Himself” and “Comin’ Right at Ya” is my third book, so we’ll have plenty to talk about.

Better enticement: This will happen outdoors at The Roost, where the oven-fired pizza is very fine and the beer (dare I hope for Starpoint Brewery’s Whiskeytown beer?) is even finer. Buy a book — and there will also be copies of  “Losering” as well as my long-ago novel “Off The Record” available — and it even comes with a free beer.

Thursday evening’s weather is supposed to be perfect, and for an added bonus we’ll have the excellent singer/songwriter Elliott Humphries there to do a few songs including selections from the John Prine songbook, the occasional Ryan Adams obscurity and maybe even an Asleep at the Wheel tune or two if I can talk him into it. I did a Books & Beer back in June with Tom Maxwell, and it was a great time. So come on out if you can.

Down the road a bit, I’ll also be at the Texas Book Festival on Oct. 18 (with co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson), and at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh on Oct. 21. I hope to see you at one of these if I’m in your neighborhood.

AFTERMATH: Books & Beer went great. Not sure if anybody else enjoyed it, but we did!


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You can read it in your Sunday papers: News & Observer excerpt

N&OlogoThe book-writing gig is fun and all, but it’s still a sideline project to my main occupation — arts reporter and music critic at Raleigh’s daily newspaper, The News & Observer, my primary professional address for the past 24 years. My editors there were kind enough to consent to running a “Comin’ Right at Ya” excerpt, which is in the Sunday paper.

Check that out here, and then come on out to one of this month’s reading-type appearances for “Comin’ Right at Ya”:

Thursday, Oct. 8 — Books & Brew at The Roost in Pittsboro (5-8 p.m.). Also appearing will be Eddie Huffman, discussing his John Prine book; and Elliott Humphries playing a few songs.

Sunday, Oct. 18Texas Book Festival at the State Capitol Auditorium in Austin, Texas (4:15 p.m.). Co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson will be at this one, too, so it should be well worth checking out. I expect he’ll play at least a song or two.

Wednesday, Oct. 21 — Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh (7 p.m.). I’m doing this one solo, so maybe I’ll break out the cowboy hat.

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Bookstore love


Thanks, Bob!

So this is always a fun stage. “Comin’ Right at Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel” is a couple of weeks away from publication, with a nice anticipatory buzz building. Nothing but kind reviews and encouraging words so far; crushing disappointment can wait!

This time around, I won’t be doing as much promotion as I did for “Losering,” since “Comin’ Right at Ya” is really Ray Benson’s book and I’m just in the supporting cast. But I’ve still got a few events scheduled at area bookstores in October, just for the heck of it. The folks there have been kind enough to set up displays to get the word out, and to send pictures. And since they don’t yet have copies of “Comin’ Right at Ya” to put out, they’re making do with “Losering,” which I do not mind a bit.


Thanks, Rene!

Above right is a display at McIntyre’s Books at Southern Village. I’ll be there for Books & Beer, Oct. 8 at The Roost, and I hope to talk a bit about all three of my books over the course of the evening. Also on that evening’s bill will be Eddie Huffman, discussing his American Music Series book on John Prine; and for musical accompaniment, Elliott Humphries, a fine singer-songwriter from Burlington who has been very kindly supportive of my book-ish endeavors over the years. I did a Books & Beer at The Roost back in June with the great Tom Maxwell and it was a fantastic time, so come on out if you’re in the region.

Here on the left, meanwhile, is what they have at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh (that’s me down at the bottom, just right of center), where I’ll be on Oct. 21. Quail Ridge was where I did the first “Losering” reading back in 2012, which was pretty much the peak experience of that book’s promotional cycle. We’ll see how it goes this time.

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Welcome home again

DRAgtrsmashWith four days to go before it closes, the top eBay bid for Ryan Adams’ smashed Vancouver guitar stands at $530. Auctioneer Thomas O’Keefe has added a few more pictures of the wreckage, viewable here, the aftermath of a show described in Chapter 10 of “Losering.”

But the pictures I’m more interested in show the item Thomas is offering as an accompanying bonus, Ryan’s handwritten lyrics to a lost song called “Welcome Home Again.” It might even be more than one song, because the lyrics on the back side of the paper seem unrelated to what’s on the front.

Whether it’s one song or two, it looks like the handwriting I remember; and the sentiments are familiar, too. Dated Dec. 6, 1997, “Welcome Home Again” was never recorded or performed live as far as I can tell, and it’s obviously a rough sketch that needed work. Still, it reads like something that would have fit right in on Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac.

Expressing regret for things lost and bridges burned, “Welcome Home Again” describes the sensation of feeling like a stranger in one’s own hometown. And given Raleigh’s ongoing building boom, which has taken down many a Whiskeytown-era landmark in recent years, the line about “Businesses opened and businesses closed but it’s almost the same” sure does feel up to date.

Welcome home again, indeed. I can just about hear the song this might have been. Would be fun if Ryan came back to Raleigh someday and played this one here, but it will never happen. Maybe this is another job for Elliott Humphries?

DRAWHAWelcome Home Again

The voices have faded from the halls of the houses
where I used to live
And the mirrors reflecting are seeing the damage
I’ve caused since then.
Businesses opened and businesses closed but it’s
Almost the same
Almost the way that I dreamed that I left it but never the same
You try and never seem like a stranger
But you know you are in a way
In a way that just puts you in danger
In danger of just staying that way, welcome home
It just comes and it goes and nobody knows
And I never am welcome home again
All the pictures on the mantle, they become all the
People who I barely knew
And all the money that I earned became the
Streets where I turned to face the drugs that I do.
Businesses opened and businesses closed but
It’s almost the same
Almost the way that I dreamed that I lost
it but never the same.

You try and never seem like a stranger
But you know you need a way
In a way that just puts you in danger
In danger of just staying that way
Welcome home
It just comes and it goes and nobody knows
And I never will be welcome home again

DRAFlipsideAnd the flip-side, which I believe is a separate song (though it has no title):

Take me to the valley where the horses
And the stables are free of all the fences
I’ll be rested to the railing
Provided your ancestry demands another infamous
Heart to destroy like a thousand before
So take me to your leader
And I’ll take you to my gallon
I probably should’ve kissed you
But my spaceship hadn’t landed
Provided my misery demands another infamous heart
To destroy like a thousand before
If I’m not dreaming, then I’ve been drinking

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Ryan Adams is 6 Miles From Graceland

6MilesGracelandWhatever else can be said about “Losering,” good or bad, there’s this: It has inspired a song. Elliott Humphries, an area singer-songwriter who has been known to channel Ryan Adams in song (and who also closed out the Ryan Adams “Losering” tribute show back in May), has written and recorded a song that tells Ryan’s story as someone who “just couldn’t survive in a one-story town.” And for a title and chorus, Elliott took inspiration from a choice quote by Ryan himself in the “Losering” Preface:

Rich and famous or not, I’m still going to be buried with a guitar, under a big oak tree in Memphis, Tenn., six miles shy of Graceland.

Thus we have a subdued little song called “6 Miles From Graceland,” which I like a lot. Take a listen here.

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“Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams” — wish you were here

DMMCBack in Whiskeytown’s prime, I really wanted them to break through to widespread popularity, which seems a bit odd in retrospect. Sure, it would have been fun to watch from close range; but I can’t say why I was rooting for them beyond a vague belief that a large audience was going to provide some measure of validation. There was closure that only a large crowd singing along with “Sixteen Days” was going to provide.

Fittingly and belatedly, that happened last night, sort of. The fine folks at Deep South The Bar in Raleigh put together a tribute show inspired by my book, “Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams,” and I got to emcee. And about halfway through the show, while members of the band Old Quarter were playing “Sixteen Days” — the song I thought was going to be Whiskeytown’s big breakout hit way back in 1997 — I was hollering along with everyone else in the soldout house and feeling chills about the experience.

Ghost has got me running
Away from you, away from you, awaaaaaay…

It was a truly wonderful night, very much a feeling of being among friends and fellow fans; as much a tribute to the milieu Ryan came out of as to Ryan himself. There were multiple highlights, some of which went like this:

Aaron Menconi, shortly before asking why he started that damn country band.

Aaron Menconi, shortly before asking why he started that damn country band.

The Equivocators — Featuring my dear friend Scott Huler, they kicked things off with three songs from Whiskeytown’s Faithless Street album; “Midway Park,” “Hard Luck Story” and the title track. When Scott got to the “started this damn country band” line, I coached my 18-year-old son Aaron to yell out, “Why’d you do that?”

David Teeter (from the band Martha Ann Motel) — He brought out a couple of more recent Ryan solo songs, “Shadowlands” and “Desire.” And to make the absent guest of honor seem more present, David also played the recording of the infamous Jim DeRogatis voicemail, a legendary moment in artist-critic relations. Guffaws all around.

Ryan Kennemur — Continuing in a humorous vein, Ryan gave a nod to Mr. Adams’ touchier side by belting out a bit of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69.” Then he got down to business, and his versions of “Turn Around,” “Avenues” and especially “If He Can’t Have You” were outstanding.

John Booker and Rachel Hirsh (I Was Totally Destroying It) — Major props go to John, who did a fantastic job with booking the acts for this show. And he and his bandmate Rachel did great with four songs — “Everybody Knows,” “Call Me On Your Way Back Home,” “Don’t Be Sad” and “Firecracker.” There was an enthusiastic audience sing-along on the latter song, and John needled me a bit for not giving it and the rest of Ryan’s Gold album sufficient respect in the book. Touche! Danny Johnson, who plays in about a thousand other bands, sat in.

Bobby Bryson — I’d never heard Bobby before, and he might have played my favorite set of the night with stellar versions of “A Kiss Before I Go,” “Let It Ride” (also much audience singing along here) and “Carolina Rain.” He showed absolute command instrumentally as well as vocally, and I loved his stage presence. Afterward, he presented me with a business card carrying the slogan Songs that gently rip your heart out. I believe it.

DeepSouthCharles Marshall and Richard Bolton (Balsa Gliders) — They put a couple of Strangers Almanac-era Whiskeytown classics through some unusual paces, quieting down “Waiting to Derail” and rocking up “Avenues.” Very cool, inventive versions that they clearly put some thought into.

John Massengil, George Hage and Danny Johnson (Old Quarter) — The aforementioned “Sixteen Days” sing-along went over great. So did “Jacksonville Skyline” and a lovely reading of “Houses on the Hill.” Meg Johnson sat in on vocals (and also with Jack the Radio). Felt like being at the Brewery back in the day.

Jack the Radio — Speaking of sing-alongs, there was a raucous one on “Come Pick Me Up,” maybe the most exuberant of the night. “O My Sweet Carolina” and “Lucky Now” rounded it out.

Adam Lane and Jeff Mullins — Ryan Kennemur returned for an exceptionally sweet harmony vocal on “Desperate Ain’t Lonely” (which they rehearsed once, outside in the parking lot, and Ryan had to read the lyrics off his phone — perfect). They also offered up a couple of nice rarities, “Onslow County” and “Oh My Sweet Valentine,” which never fails to put a lump in my throat. Last night was no exception.

Ryan Mullaney and Ashley Gray — Two fine singers teamed up to harmonize on “Desire” and the Gold standard “When the Stars Go Blue” (take that, Tim McGraw).

Wylie Hunter (Wylie Hunter & the Cazadores) — Back to Whiskeytown days with “Dancing With the Women at the Bar,” and Heartbreaker‘s “Be My Winding Wheel.” Really glad to hear both.

ChipNYNYChip Robinson (Backsliders) — He sat at the piano and covered “New York, New York,” reading lyrics he’d scribbled out by hand. Fascinating, weird and pretty great, made even moreso because he was wearing a Wu-Tang Clan T-shirt. I snagged the hand-written lyrics for my archive.

Debonzo Brothers — Jeff and Keef with another long-lost favorite, “Hey There, Mrs. Lovely” (yay!), plus Heartbreaker‘s “In My Time of Need.”

Be The Moon — And in the closing slot, this trio from Burlington offered up the resurrected Whiskeytown song “Am I Unstable.” It was fantastic, featuring box drum and an arrangement that Peter Blackstock’s memory placed in the ballpark of the original (which Whiskeytown only played live once, nearly 13 years ago).

All told, the event raised $579 for the Future of Music Coalition. I could not be happier, and prouder of everyone involved. Thanks to all the musicians, and especially to Deep South impressario Dave Rose for making it happen.

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Am I Unstable? Yes

Back in February, I wrote about Burlington singer/songwriter Elliott Humphries bringing a long-lost Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown song called “Am I Unstable” to life. I quite liked Elliott’s initial solo demo version; but the more polished studio version he’s recorded with his band Be The Moon is infinitely better, and really great. “Am I Unstable” is available for free download here.

If you’re lucky enough to have tickets for Thursday night’s “Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams” tribute show in Raleigh, Be The Moon will be playing this live. I can’t wait!


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Ryan Adams channeled: “Am I Unstable”

Last month, you might recall, Billy The Kid undertook the project of recording one Ryan Adams song per day throughout January, 31 songs in all. That was plenty ambitious, but here’s something even more ambitious in its own way: Elliott Humphries, a singer-songwriter from the North Carolina town of Burlington, has applied something like the Mermaid Avenue treatment to a Ryan lyric called “Am I Unstable.”

“Am I Unstable” dates back to September of 2000, when Whiskeytown threw together a last-minute impromptu show in Raleigh, and there’s every chance that was the only time it was ever played in public. Peter Blackstock was there and says it sounded like more of a sketch than a finished song; but it still made enough of an impression for him to hit up Ryan for the lyrics by e-mail, which Ryan sent and then apparently forgot all about. “Am I Unstable” disappeared into the ether as another of the hundreds of songs Ryan has left behind over the years, never to be heard again…

…Until Peter passed along the lyrics to Humphries, a major Ryan fan. Since the music had never been recorded and was long-forgotten, Humphries came up with a melody and a bridge to go with the verses, a process he admits felt “like messing with a Picasso.” He then recorded it, solo acoustic, and it’s fittingly raw and jittery.

“I tried to recapture what Ryan might have been thinking and feeling at that point,” Humphries says. “It was very difficult, took me like six months to get anything that I thought was decent. It’s hard writing behind your heroes because you second-guess yourself. Honestly, I wanted to write something that Ryan would be proud of if he ever heard it.”

Well, Ryan, if you’re out there: Take a listen. Also, “Am I Unstable” will be on the set list when Humphries’ band Be The Moon plays a show in Mebane on Saturday — the first time it’s been played live in nearly 13 years.

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