Posts Tagged With: Neal Casal

Ryan Adams enters academia’s hallowed halls

SpanisDedRecently I happened across a picture someone posted on social media, of the thank-you page of a Master’s Thesis — in Spanish. Here it is on the right, and the relevant part roughly translates as:

Finally to all my friends for all the support they have given me, you know who you are. And why not…to Ryan Adams, Gary Moore and John Lennon for inspiration when I needed it most.

Figuring there was a story there, I got in touch with the author, a young man named Sebastián Chiwo from San Luís Potosí, México, to ask about his Ryan Adams fandom. As you can see below, he had a lot to say! It’s pretty cool that Ryan’s name is enshrined in an academic document on file at the library at Universidad Autonoma de San Luís Potosí, even though he himself didn’t go to college. Ryan’s fanbase is not just enthusiastic, but geographically widespread and diverse.

The first time I ever learned about Ryan Adams was in September 2001 when I was 13, after the tragedy of 9/11 — from the cool and lovely “New York, New York” video with many shots of New York City and a young guy with an acoustic guitar in his hands. I was very confused because my parents were fans of Bryan Adams, and I didn’t pay attention at first because I was busy learning classical guitar. But I became bored and began learning rock and blues, especially songs by John Lennon.

One afternoon I turned on the radio and heard a very beautiful guitar riff and voice, which the deejay said was “So Alive” by Ryan Adams. From that day, the music of this crazy guy has had an important effect on me, the guitar parts and lyrics both. Soon after was my father’s birthday and my mother gave me money to buy him a present. I went to Sears and saw a beautiful Zippo lighter that I thought could be perfect. But then I stopped in the music section and Ryan’s “Rock ‘N Roll” album was waiting for me. So I bought “Rock ‘N Roll” for me and the newly released “Let It Be…Naked” for my father. I think he enjoyed the CD more than he would have the lighter. After that, I was also listening to “Love Is Hell,” “Cold Roses,” “Easy Tiger” and so on.

Years later, I was in a severe depression. My only reason to live was playing guitar every night, for very little money — just for getting drunk and high. I can’t believe now that I was doing those stupid things. One of the few good memories of that time was playing all the “Love Is Hell” stuff every night; not the songs exactly, but the main guitar riffs. The feelings were the same, “poor guy” is what I was thinking about me. I knew Ryan’s life had been crazy and wild between “Heartbreaker” and “Easy Tiger,” but also sad like mine.

SebastianAfter a series of personal tragedies, I got clean and began working hard in my profession. Ryan’s music was always there, albums like “Ashes and Fire,” “III/IV,” “Orion,” “Ryan Adams,” “1984” and “1989.” They gave me a more optimistic (and weird) way of living. I bought a denim jacket and customized it with logos of OCP, Weyland-Yutany, Nuclear and Misfits Fan Club. Guitar is still an important part of my life and I’m always asking questions about equipment and guitar techniques of the guitar players in Ryan’s bands — Neal Casal, Brad Rice, Johnny McNabb, Ethan Johns, Mike Viola, etc.

ThesisNowadays I am an electronics engineer majoring in instrumentation and control systems, with a Master of Science in electrical engineering with a major in biophotonics and medical optics. I completed both studies in the physical sciences department at the Autonomous University of San Luís Potosí. My personal tribute to and acknowledgement of Ryan is a little paragraph in my Master’s Thesis, “Design and Construction of a Portable Raman System For Non-Invasive Medical Diagnosis.”

Definitely, Ryan’s music is the soundtrack of my life, and he is a very strong influence on me as a person. I commonly cite his statement, “Stay Weird,” in my own life.

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Kenny Roby rides again

The story that “Losering” tells goes back about 20 years, which is an eternity in terms of the half-lives of most bands and clubs. And yet I feel strange calling it “history” because the threads extend into the present day, and so many participants are still at it; and I’m not just talking about Ryan. Indeed, it’s still possible to see Kenny Roby, one of Ryan’s best ’90s-era peers, in clubs around the Triangle with some regularity.

Kenny gets mentioned in a couple of places in “Losering” and he’s always been one of my favorite singer-songwriters in this town, starting with his time in an early-’90s band called the Lubricators — a name I still think is stupid (and they never let me forget it after I said so in print way back when). But they did have a saying that made me giggle: Live to lube, lube to live. The Lubricators played amped-up rock with room for hooks, the guitars turned up to “roar,” and they’d moved up to Raleigh from Clemson, S.C. They set up shop in a house on Daisy Street, where Ryan would reside with their roadie/pal Tom Cushman after the band moved out.

Kenny’s next band after the Lubricators broke up was a killer, 6 String Drag. To this day, it disappoints me that 6 String Drag’s rocket-fueled country soul didn’t break big. Kenny’s vocal harmonies with bassist Rob Keller were exquisite; and after they added a horn section for live shows, pretty much no band on earth could touch them. Steve Earle signed 6 String Drag to his label and produced a spectacular album with them, 1997’s High Hat, which I asked Earle about when I interviewed him last year.

“This girl drug me to Atlanta to see Whiskeytown,” Earle said, “and 6 String Drag was opening. I signed them instead. Not that I thought Whiskeytown was bad, 6 String Drag was just more interesting to me and I wish to [expletive] they could’ve lasted. Their record was my favorite we made on that label. They were really special. Had this thing like The Band, where it’s so loose it’s tight, and I liked the way Kenny and Rob sang together. But they were doomed to come apart.”

Alas, High Hat didn’t hit and 6 String Drag dissolved before making another record. But Kenny kept at it with 1999’s Black River Sides (which he recorded with Ryan’s future Cardinals main man Neal Casal) and 2000’s Mercury’s Blues, both reviewed here. In 2000, when I published a novel called “Off The Record,” the aforementioned Holden Richards and I put together a fake fansite for the fictional band in the book. Kenny was kind enough to play along and record some tracks posing as said band, bashed out in a single well-oiled evening. All these years later, I still get a giggle out of  “Band Town” and “Dumb and Number.”

A couple of years after that, Kenny made a stunning album called Rather Not Know that, were there an ounce of justice in this world, would have set him up with a nice Randy Newman-sized career. I’ve written a fair amount about Kenny over the years, and the best story of the bunch is probably this 2003 No Depression feature that came out around the time Rather Not Know was released. Ryan was singing his praises back then, too, telling Rolling Stone that Kenny was “the best songwriter that not enough people have heard yet.” He also gave Roby’s record label a quote:

I knew Kenny in Raleigh, NC, where we both had bands, his was better than mine. We shared a few jobs, the most notably a plumbing job. I have been made to understand this record is partially inspired as the result of his father’s death. Kenny has great internal dialogue concerning his relationship to God and to the more tangible ways of man. I think it’s woven into the fabric of this record in more subtle ways than previous albums. The entire record really does more for any argument to this record’s impact as a great piece of art, but this track is the first track on the album and the one that touches me even when I think I’m not listening. Also he is quite a good dancer apparently.

Unfortunately, the acclaim didn’t turn Kenny’s commercial career into something sustainable and fulltime, leading to a few long-ish stretches of musical inactivity (in public, at least) over the past decade. But he’s back on track with an excellent new album that should be coming out before too long. Kenny has grown tremendously as a singer, and on this new album he pulls off some quiet nuances that were once beyond him; great to hear him recording with horns again, too.

Friday night, he’ll play his first full-band show in Raleigh in more than three years, at the Pour House. Funny thing, the guy running sound for that show will be Jac Cain — who played bass with Kenny in the Lubricators all those years ago.

Like I keep saying, it all connects up, past to present and beyond.

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