Jeff Austin’s career path was set. He was going to a college conservatory of music, taking acting and dance, and auditioning for shows. Next stop: Broadway. Then, after 100 or so Grateful Dead shows, he decided he’d rather play in a band. Trouble was, he barely played guitar.
That was 21 years ago. Now 39, Austin is an accomplished mandolin player and a founding member of the Yonder Mountain String Band. He is branching out with an upcoming solo project, and he’s bringing a side band, the Here and Now, to the Old Rock House in St. Louis on Sept. 4.
The Here and Now, Austin says, is and will be what its name implies: Jeff Austin and whoever is available and willing to play with him at any particular time. For this tour, his bandmates include banjo magician Danny Barnes, guitarist Larry Keel and bassist Jenny Keel.
A chance to interview Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top? Hell, yeah.
Unfortunately, Gibbons is not crazy about doing phone interviews, so we had to settle for an email exchange. That’s good, because it sure is easier. But that’s bad, because there’s no give and take, followup questions or a chance to salvage unresponsive answers. (Not that Billy really did that.)
That little ol’ band from Texas has been on the road for 43 years, and that road was taking it to St. Louis on Aug. 24. A concert advance based on this interview for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch can be found here.
Following is our email exchange, with editing only for punctuation and clarity.
BG: I’m sure you get asked this every day, but here it is again: How is it possible for a band to be together for so long with no personnel changes, no breakups and reunions, no tabloid dirt dishing? How do you all handle conflict?
Gibbons: First, and foremost, we embrace the continual good time doing the ‘whatever’…! We like to keep on keepin’ on with, as we like to say, ‘the same three guys and the same three chords.’ Maybe it’s that we’re a trio as it’s an odd number (very odd in our case) so no ties in the case of a vote. We like playing and recording, so no reason to stop. OK, most bands break up and, inevitably, get back together, so if you’d like to think of the past 10, 20 or 30 years as a ‘reunion tour,’ feel free to do so.
To call Dwight Yoakam a country singer really doesn’t do him justice. If that were strictly true, Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire” wouldn’t have the sound and rhythms of T Rex’s classic “Bang a Gong” when played by Yoakam and his hard-rocking band.
As Yoakam told the Post-Dispatch in the days leading up to Sunday night’s concert at the Pageant, genre is something music marketers worry about, “but it’s not a boundary for musicians.”
And that was true throughout the generous 32-song, two-hour-plus show. “Trying” from last year’s “3 Pears” CD, rode on Jonathan Clark’s bass line and rhythm, which would be at home on many a Memphis soul record. Other songs took on a similar vibe with washes of organ by multi-instrumentalist Brian Whelan.
Another new song, “Rock It All Away,” was built on power chords any rock fan would love, and early Elvis Presley hovered over the stage during a cover of “Little Sister” and in the Jordanaires-like background vocals of “Always Late With Your Kisses.” (Missing was his rave-up cover of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.”)
Country music star Dwight Yoakam is spending the summer reconnecting with fans on a tour that takes him to a mix of venues, from theaters and festivals to state fairs and casinos. It’s a variety he appreciates, but he’s especially partial to festivals, having played Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days, Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Stagecoach in California, among others, already this year.
I caught up with him late last month while he was home in Los Angeles for one day, running errands and doing interviews before heading out on the road again. (I wrote an advance for his concert in St. Louis on Aug. 18 based on this conversation for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
We talked about a variety of subjects, from geeky guitar stuff to Western music fashion to the future of music distribution. But we started off with “3 Pears,” his latest album that came out last fall and landed him atop the Americana chart for eight straight weeks, a big change from his days as a hitmaker on mainstream Country radio.
Here is a transcript of that 44-minute interview, edited for length and clarity:
BG: Let’s start off with “3 Pears.” It’s been nine months, I guess? It was a smash on Americana …
DY: Yeah, it was an honor to have that kind of response to it, held the No. 1 spot for eight weeks on Americana radio. I was just elated. In some ways it felt like it was a full circle journey to have this album come out and be received on an alternative format, sort of like the first EP was when I began with “Guitars Cadillacs.”
Dwight Yoakam was part of what Steve Earle has called the Great Credibility Scare of the late ’80s, when so-called New Traditionalists filled the country radio charts post-“Urban Cowboy” and pre-Garth Brooks. But Yoakam’s career has been anything but traditional.
A Kentucky native reared in Ohio, Yoakam was embraced by Los Angeles roots rockers and punk rockers despite channeling the Bakersfield vibe of country icons Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Even while racking up hits on mainstream country radio, his music drew from other genres and was unlike most of what was being played.
Most recently, after spending some time on independent labels, he returned to his original home at Warner Reprise — but to the label’s Nashville office, where expectations turned upside down again and he became a hit on the Americana radio chart.
The sibling country group the Band Perry has had some dramatic successes, with five hit singles from its first two albums. Yet the song that has taken on a life of its own — “Pioneer,” the title track from the group’s sophomore release — is not one of the singles.
Lead singer Kimberly, 30, bassist Reid, 24, and mandolinist Neil, 23, finished the song with their friends the Henningsens, another family band (this one a father-daughter-son combo). But the song and the album had its birth on a hilltop in Santa Fe, N.M., where the trio stopped on a Nashville-to-California road trip.
They sat down, took out their guitars and started working through “the questions that were in our head at the time,” Neil Perry says, speaking with his brother and sister from a tour stop at Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyo. The Perrys and Rascal Flatts play Friday night at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.
For some bands, the tour highway doesn’t run through St. Louis. The Open Highway Music Festival is trying to put the city on the maps of more musicians.
John Henry of the St. Louis band John Henry and the Engine, and Steve Pohlman of the Off Broadway nightclub on Lemp Avenue came up with the idea for the festival last year, and they initially planned to focus on a fairly narrow genre of music. But by the time the curtain went up on the first of three nights of music last fall, their scope had widened.
For this year’s second edition, which runs for four nights beginning Wednesday ((Aug 7)) at Off Broadway, it’s wider still, and no better example can be found than the bill for Friday night: J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound, a soul and R&B show band that recalls the stage shows of James Brown and Otis Redding; and Those Darlins, a trio of women from Kentucky who mix country, rock and punk into a high-energy stew.