Posts Tagged With: Six String Drag

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)

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

6SDCaitlin

Caitlin Cary, shot by Caleb P. Rose

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Friends near and far, throwing rocks at the moon

SadlacksRIPFor those of us who were in Raleigh during our town’s glory days as epicenter of mid-’90s alternative-country, this holiday season has been just like the old times of the “Losering” era. It seems like we’ve all been saying hello again, as well as goodbye for good.

December brought the end of the building that housed one of Ryan Adams’ favorite Whiskeytown-era watering holes, the Comet Lounge, which was finally torn down two years after the demolition of the adjacent Brewery nightclub. And New Year’s Eve brought the end of Sadlack’s, the Hillsborough Street sandwich shop/bar where Whiskeytown formed two decades ago, which is closing to make way for a hotel. I went to Kenny Roby’s show there last Saturday night to report this story about the end; and while I was there, a Sadlack’s regular who may or may not have been drunk got in my face to rant, because I apparently chose the wrong person to interview. On the whole, I’d say it was a very Sadlack’s interaction, along with the following response from an angry reader (reproduced here in all its sub-literate glory):

Sadlack’s not well written at all, lame and denigrating you so called journalistic hack, you must be a smart ass never traveled punk yankee go home…news and disturber another rag with paid articles written to favor their advertisers

Golly, guess he told me.

Come New Year’s Eve, the Backsliders presided over the end out on the back patio with a last-rites set that included a couple of new songs good enough to qualify as encouraging. But just like always, it was “Throwing Rocks at the Moon” that put a lump in my throat. Title track of a 1997 album that really should have launched the Backsliders to stardom (or at least beyond dayjobs), “Moon” is a pretty-much-perfect evocation of bittersweet goodbyes. I found myself thinking about Ryan, of course, who left Sadlack’s and Raleigh behind long ago; and also my old friend Peter Blackstock, for whom I wrote that first No Depression Whiskeytown story all those years ago — and who just left the Triangle to move back to Austin and take the rock-writer job at the American-Statesman. I really wish he could’ve been there, so I sent a silent toast in his direction

6SDI’m also wishing Peter was gonna be here this weekend for Saturday’s reunion show by the third band from Raleigh’s alt-country kingpin troika, Kenny Roby’s 6 String Drag. Of course, the principles get a little twitchy about calling this a “reunion,” a word that carries the baggage of expectations. But no matter what they’re calling it, 6 String Drag’s four members have reconvened to record new music, which they’ll do later this month at Mitch Easter’s splendid Fidelitorium recording emporium over in Kernersville. I can’t wait to hear it. Meantime, here’s a preview of Saturday night’s show. Yes, of course, I’ll be there.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Counting down: Sadlack’s

PosterGoneThe days grow ever shorter at Sadlack’s, the working-class Raleigh watering hole where Whiskeytown first formed in the fall of 1994 (see Chapter 4 of “Losering” for particulars). It’s scheduled to close by the new year to make way for a hotel/retail project on the Bell Tower block of the Hillsborough Street strip, but demolition of a sort is already in progress. At right is the space on the interior west wall that once held a framed 1994-vintage Whiskeytown flyer, which I hoped would find its way onto the wall somewhere at the new Berkeley Cafe that Sadlack’s owner Rose Schwetz will reopen in 2014. But it’s already disappeared and I’ve heard varying reports as to whether it was stolen or salvaged. For now, at least, the graffiti here on the right is the only trace of it left. Also gone is the autographed Ryan Adams photo that had been on the same wall. Maybe they’ll both turn up at the Berkeley eventually.

(ADDENDUM: In a major piece of good news, Rose reports that she has saved and stashed the Ryan artifacts for safekeeping and they’ll be on the wall when the Berkeley reopens — yay! Also, here is a preview of the last night.)

Nevertheless, the ghost of Ryan Adams is still very much present. Below is some graffiti on Sadlack’s south-facing wall, a worst-bartender list that some regulars put together. And look who comes in at an emphatic, exclamation-point-marked No. 2 (with his Whiskeytown bandmate Phil Wandscher rating an off-to-the-side honorable mention); I’m only surprised our man DRA didn’t rate the top spot.

If you live in the greater Raleigh vicinity, there’s still time to drop in on Sadlack’s a time or two before the end, especially during the closing run of shows. The final stretch looks like this:

Debonzo Brothers (Dec. 26) — One of the many very fine acts who played our Ryan Adams tribute show back in May.

Terry Anderson’s Olympic Ass-Kicking Team (Dec. 27) — The iconic Woods/Fabulous Knobs/Yayhoos member usually plays a Christmas-night show somewhere in Raleigh to mark his birthday. But this year, Anderson passed on that to play Sadlack’s one last time.

Kenny Roby and Friends (Dec. 28) — with a 6 String Drag reunion in the works for next month, this one has ample potential to be a really, really cool night.

Cousins (Dec. 29) — Local supergroup’s lineup includes Greg Rice, current keyboardist in the Backsliders (and just an aside, the 29th is my birthday).

Backsliders (Dec. 31) — And speaking of those Backsliders, they get the closing “Last Waltz” slot on New Year’s Eve, a show that should be positively epic. I fully expect the place to be in smoking ruins by the end.

SadsBottom10

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Steve Grothmann counts down

GrothmannLast year, when UT Press unveiled its online “Losering” catalog listing with an excerpt including the book’s preface, the very first person I heard from was original Whiskeytown bassist Steve Grothmann. He sent me the link, and a congratulatory note mentioning that he was among those who witnessed the events described in the preface:

btw, I was the bartender that night at the Berkeley when the Dix patient took over the bar. He threw a bunch of bottles at the cops, and I cleaned up broken glass ’til the sun came up. Jennifer nudged me that this guy seemed dangerous, her radar was on, and then it escalated. 

That had me smacking my forehead, because I didn’t remember Steve being there that night and this would have been a great little extra detail to have in there (my reply began, “NOW you tell me this???!!!”). But so it goes; if I ever have the opportunity to revise “Losering” for a future printing, that is definitely going in, along with all the other pithy details that have come to light since the book was published.

Steve has traveled a long and varied road since leaving Whiskeytown in 1996, right before the band signed its major-label deal with Outpost Records. If memory serves, the first time I saw him onstage after that was in 6 String Drag’s horn section. That was around the time Steve also emerged with a new funk-slanted band called the Tonebenders — check out this 1998 No Depression feature I wrote on them. But Steve’s most notable post-Whiskeytown venture would be Countdown Quartet, which he started up with Tonebenders hornman Dave Wright in 1999.

Wide-ranging, free-swinging and lots of fun, Countdown Quartet has always sort of been the Triangle’s answer to Booker T & the MGs — only with vocals. Squirrel Nut Zippers co-founder Jimbo Mathus was a part-time member for a long stretch, and he added plenty of blue-note funk. I remember them being one of the hardest-working bands in town. For about five years, it seemed like I never attended a local show, party or wedding where the Countdown guys weren’t playing in some capacity or configuration.

Although Steve declined to be formally interviewed for “Losering,” he was immensely helpful in providing historical background. We had some e-mail back and forth about Whiskeytown’s earliest recordings, in which he filled in a few details about how the band cut its fantastic cover of “Blank Generation” for the 1995 Richard Hell tribute album Who The Hell  (see Chapter 4). For all you tech-nerd studio types interested in things like this:

I recorded it on my 4 track cassette machine, in the living room of the house Jennifer and I were renting then, near North Hills in Raleigh. As I remember we set up sort of like being on a stage, drums and amps in a line facing forward, with two mics in the room, one toward each side facing us– like we were playing to an audience of two mics. The vocals were overdubbed, I believe. It was LOUD, really LOUD, and simply done, and really fun.

I mixed the 4 tracks a little and Ross Grady came over and we just played the stereo mix into his portable DAT machine and that was that.

I remember that a bunch of  Voidoids songs had already been claimed by other bands involved in this project, and I was really glad that “Blank Generation” was still available. I transcribed the lyrics for Ryan as best I could- they’re hard to get, (this was before any lyric was on the internet) – and then he came back with completely different chords than the original. Basically, the same verses put to new music, which is the same thing we did with Nervous Breakdown– and it turned out much better than if we had more strictly “covered” the song.

Also, here is how Steve remembered Whiskeytown coming together at Sadlack’s back in 1994:

CDQSadlacksStompWhiskeytown version 1 started around Sadlack’s and the house where Ray Duffey and Phil W[andscher] and Dave Wright lived on Park Ave. Skillet owned Sads at the time, and a bunch of NCSU English masters students hung there — Caitlin and me included. Phil worked there and then Caitlin and Ryan too eventually.

6 String Drag, Whiskeytown, and How Town (Dave Wright’s band) rehearsed at the house on Park, and the Tonebenders must have started there too. At that time Ray Duffey played drums with all of those except Whiskeytown, and I was in the Tonebenders later too, and the Countdown Quartet eventually came out of that.  Dave W and I were the part time horn section for 6 String Drag. Lots of creative people hanging out.

A version of Countdown Quartet still exists today, gigging on an occasional basis (including last October’s YR15 shows; check this). But they’ve not been heard from on-record since 2002, when they put out an album with a title paying tribute to the place where it all started: Sadlack’s Stomp. Steve has another band going nowadays, too — Clear Spots, a noisy garage-type band he classifies as “hard to describe,” long on feedback with some Neil Young overtones. I look forward to seeing them sometime soon.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.