Posts Tagged With: Rob Keller

Hot times at Gillie’s, back in the old days

So I’m not the only one around these parts with a closet-full of relics from the Whiskeytown era. For example, the flyer below just turned up on Instagram via Angela Clemmons, a longtime friend and former News & Observer co-worker. She and I both wound up at more than one Whiskeytown show back then — possibly including this one, although it’s not one I remember.

Note that in addition to “Whiskey Town” and 6 String Drag’s Kenny Roby and Rob Keller, the bill included Tonebenders and How Town; read more about that branch of local music’s family tree here. According to Steve Grothmann, “Park County” was the house on Park Avenue in Raleigh where all these bands practiced (and many of the players also lived) in the mid-1990s. And not a bad price for an evening’s entertainment, either!

Also of note is the venue, Gillie’s, a bizarre joint where you’d sit at the bar on swings that hung down from the ceiling (a setup that created ample opportunity for drunken mayhem). A few years after this show, Gillie’s closed down and underwent a major remodeling to reopen under its original name from its days as a movie house, the Lincoln Theatre.

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From past to present: 6 String Drag

6SDB&WOver the last year or so, Kenny Roby, Rob Keller, Scott Miller and Ray Duffey have taken tentative steps toward putting their long-gone band 6 String Drag back together as a serious ongoing concern. That’s a welcome development because the years have been kind to their brand of combustible country-soul. I saw 6 String Drag play a spectacular show in early 2014, which made it clear that they hadn’t lost a step from their mid-’90s prime alongside the Backsliders and Whiskeytown in the Triangle’s top twang troika.

Soon after that show, 6 String Drag went into Mitch Easter’s palatial Fidelitorium studio to record their first album since 1997. A bit more than a year later we have Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll; and my God, is it wonderful. Tight in all the right places and gloriously loose everywhere else, Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll feels like a 40-minute pass to be young again — but not in a creepy, grasping way. It’s the work of people whose spark, collectively as well as individually, has never gone out. You can read a bit more about the record here, and also a longer review here.

Given the vagaries of a music industry that stopped making sense years ago (if ever it did, really), I have small hope that Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll will do enough to set 6 String Drag up as a fulltime occupation for its principles. But the fact that it exists at all feels like a minor miracle that should be celebrated. The album release show happens Friday night at Kings in Raleigh; do not miss it.

(Photo credit: Rodney Boles)

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6 String Drag is back and would like to thank all their beautiful friends for all the beautiful vibrations

Of all the lovely and heartfelt Everly Brothers tributes there have been since Phil Everly’s death on Friday, one of the best happened late Saturday night onstage at Raleigh’s Pour House. In the midst of a torrid reunion performance with plenty of old favorites and new songs, 6 String Drag broke out the 1957 Everly Brothers classic “Bye Bye Love” — and it was just as beautiful as anyone could have hoped for, Kenny Roby and Rob Keller’s voices blending just like Don and Phil’s used to.

Bye bye happiness
Hello loneliness
I think I’m-a gonna cry-y…

The rest of the show was pretty much start-to-finish awesome, too, especially the cover of Sir Douglas Quintet’s “Mendocino”; below is a partial setlist (incomplete because it was hard to shoot amidst the madness by the stage), and you’ll notice “Bye Bye Love” isn’t on there. They took some liberties with song selection, but not a soul in the sold-out house was complaining. There were lots of guest appearances, too, including multiple members of Whiskeytown. I couldn’t get a decent picture of Caitlin Cary, so I borrowed one from my buddy Caleb P. Rose. And 6 String Drag sounded as great as ever. I can’t wait to hear the recordings they’re making in a few weeks.

Anyway…one for the ages, and you shoulda been there. I hope it happens again real, real soon.

6SDsetlist

Six String Drag’s partial setlist — Jan. 4, 2014, at the Pour House.

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Caitlin Cary, shot by Caleb P. Rose

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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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