Category Archives: Features

Along came Tishamingo

With 2004 nearly behind us, I find myself reflecting upon a year that has proven to be far more exciting musically than I had anticipated.  Going into the year knowing it would be “the year without Widespread Panic,” I had no idea that 2004 would, for me at least, become a time of discovery.

 

It’s been many years, 17 to be exact, since I discovered a young band that excited me the way Tishamingo has throughout this past year.  Having listened to their self-titled debut CD, and a single live recording, it was readily apparent to me that this band had all the ingredients for success.  When I finally saw them live, a brief four-song set during the Warren Zevon benefit in Athens, I was hooked.

 

Rarely has a band ever come into my life and instantly touched my soul, becoming a part of my being from that first moment of introduction. Led Zeppelin was the first, followed by Widespread Panic.  Gov’t Mule and Phil Lesh’s Quintet did the same, but those bands were both compromised of known commodities, musicians I’d known and loved for years.

 

The fact that I made the discovery this January, just as Panic began their self-imposed hiatus, was more than ironic, far from coincidental.  While I was certainly not looking for a new band to fill that void, what I heard, saw, and felt as I witnessed the musical prowess of Tishamingo was the EXACT same thing I’d felt during my first Panic experience in January 1987.  Way back then, the REM-lovin’ crowd dominated Athens and was quick to mock Panic as “just another Grateful Dead rip-off.”  Obviously, time proved those close-minded comments to be far from true.

 

While comparisons to Panic, and the Allman Brothers for that matter, are inevitable, it should be taken as the highest form of compliment.  At times, Cameron Williams’ vocals are so similar to John Bell’s that it’s down right haunting, all the while sounding natural as can be.  Jess Franklin’s slide guitar would fit right in with the Brothers and the rhythm section of Stephen Spivey and Richard Proctor is as tight as they come.  Add keyboard wizard Jason Fuller (who I still say needs to leave the Kinchafoonee Cowboys behind to devote his full efforts to Tishamingo), and you have the makings of a band on par with the finest I’ve ever seen.

 

As often the case with young, grass roots bands, the masses have yet to discover the magic that is Tishamingo.  Years from now, when history reflects upon this era of rock, there’s no doubt that it will place Tishamingo amongst the finest of bands to come from the early 21st century.

 

Only time can tell just what this sensational young group is capable of.  At this point in their career, this much is certain –Tishamingo has a believer in me, one who says to all reading these words…

 

TESTIFY, Tishamingo is for real!

They crawled from the South

Since the earliest days of the Delta blues, some of the purest, most soul-filled live music known to man has come form the South.  In the 1970’s, it was the Allman Brothers who ruled the Southern jam scene. As the 70’s gave way to the 80’s and the Brothers and fellow southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd had fallen from their primes, the new music coming from the South seemed built more for college radio than live performances.

 

That all changed in the late 80s, as Widespread Panic came along to totally dominate the Southern tour circuit.  The band eventually graduated from regional clubs to international stardom and brought glory back to the Southern music scene.  In the process, their hometown of Athens has again become a hotbed of young musical talent.

 

Over 18 years and thousands of shows, Panic has become much more than just a rock band.  For many, they have become a way of life, a soundtrack to our lives, a huge part of our soul.  While Panic will also hold this special place in the hearts of their fans, their impending hiatus quickly approaches, leaving fans to ponder just who “the next big thing” will be.

 

Here is one fan's thoughts on a few bands from the South who may benefit the most from Panic’s absence:

 

Tishamingo:  Mixing classic rock and blues with swampy southern jams, this band makes music that really gets a crowd moving.  Guitarist Cameron Williams and drummer Richard Proctor have been writing and playing music together since they were in the seventh grade, creating a special chemistry that can only be found in the very best of bands.  Together, they founded the Black Creek Band, who gained regional notoriety throughout the south in the early 90’s as the opened shows for such acts as Tinsely Ellis, the Derek Trucks Band, and Widespread Panic.

 

Eventually, the duo hooked up with guitarist Jess Franklin and bassist Stephen Spivey, formerly of Jess Franklin and the Best Little Blues Band, to former Tishamingo.  The band released their highly anticipated debut album in October 2002.  With the aid of acclaimed Athens producer John Keane, the band laid down twelve tracks, many of which instantly sound like familiar classics.  The band’s following continues to grow steadily.  If you’re looking for a taste of good old, Southern jam, and you have yet to check out this hot young band, they may just the thing to cure your post-Panic blues

 

Drive By Truckers:  Far more Lynyrd Skynyrd than Widespread Panic, Patterson Hood and his bandmates have been causing quite a stir since the release of Southern Rock Opera album in 2001.  Later re-released on Lost Highway Records in 2002, this album forced the music world to take notice of this five-piece outfit, originally from Alabama, who now also call Athens home.

 

The band continued to make huge waves with Decoration Day, which was recorded in Athens with producer Dave Barbe.  The album, along with live shows that are becoming legendary for their high energy triple guitar attack, has solidified the Truckers as one of the hottest bands on tour circuit today.

 

But in the end, the real winners will be…

 

Gov’t Mule:  After three years of playing with a revolving, star-studded cast of bass players, Gov't Mule recently named Andy Hess as their new, permanent bassist.  Hess, who spent much of this year touring with jazz genius John Scofield, joined Mule for their "Rebirth of the Mule" that began in October.

 

Over the past three years, Mule’s Warren Haynes has finally gained his just due as one of the world’s greatest guitar players.  He was ranked #23 on Rolling Stone's list of the Top 100 Guitar players of all-time, shortly after Matt Abts had been named drummer of the year by another publication.

 

Mule has just released The Deepest End, a two CD/single DVD package, which contains every song from their May 3rd, 2003 show at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans.  As the world has the chance to witness what was surely one of the most monumental shows of all-time, Mule will no doubt become known for what they have long been – one of the best live bands the world has ever known.

Missin’ Woody

During my many years as the town's head music critic, the only advice my editor at the Athens Banner Herald ever gave me was, "Don’t write in the first person." While I have always tried to adhere to those words, the views expressed herein are deeply heartfelt, and come from years of attentive reflection upon this music scene that I have followed so passionately.  Given that, these thoughts could only be expressed from a personal perspective.

 

During the early 1990’s, a musical renaissance was upon us.  As young "jam bands" such as Widespread Panic and Phish were cutting their teeth, touring relentlessly to earn their places in history, the Allman Brothers Band were enjoying a long-awaited second creative peak, thanks in large part to the influx of two new "Brothers" – Allen Woody and Warren Haynes.  At the time, Panic was the band that earned my loyalties, and was closest to my heart.  Yet, every time I would go see an Allman show, I left knowing that I had just seen the world’s best live band.

 

For me, the Allman experience changed drastically on September 27,1997 at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

 

I went, curious to hear how my old friend Oteil Burbridge would fair as the newest Brother, and wound up leaving before the show was over.  Not only were Warren and Woody long gone, having left the band in March to concentrate full-time on Govt Mule, but Dickey Betts was a no show, replaced for the evening by Jack Pearson.  The show fell severely below expectations.

 

Before I proceed, I should add that Oteil is not only one of my favorite bass players; I also think he is one of the top all-around musicians on the planet.  That said, there is flat out no way that he can ever bring it to an Allman Brothers show like Woody did.  Not just Oteil – no one seems capable of filling the void left when that beast of a bass player departed.  His bass was deep, it was heavy, and it filled the bottom end the way it was meant to be filled – a mean and wicked sound that resonated from within the soul in a way only Woody could play.

 

As I sat in the Beacon Theater on March 20, my first experience of the Allman’s traditional March Madness run, I was thrilled to see Warren pushing the band to yet another creative peak.  The experience of watching as he and Derek Trucks traded leads was nothing short of delightful.  As the performance unfolded, a thought that had been brewing in mind suddenly became crystal clear.

 

It would seem a forgone conclusion that most fans would cite the dearly departed Duane Allman as the most missed Allman.  With no disrespect towards Duane, or anyone else intended, the Allman Brothers Band that toured from 1989 to early 1997 were, for my money, not only the best collection of Brothers ever, they were the best band alive.  Watching the latest rendition of Brothers surge once again, I came to the realization that, from my perspective, Allen Woody was the most irreplaceable member the band has ever lost.  In fact, his loss seemingly took more from the Allman’s than it did from Mule, who have soldiered valiantly on, to the point that they have actually become a much better band than they were during their earlier years with Woody.

 

True, it did take nearly 18 years to replace Duane, but Warren Haynes eventually came along, and few would argue that he filled the void unlike anyone who had previously attempted to replace dear Duane.  In addition, would anyone really argue that Derek, a second generation Allman by birth, has quickly proved up to the task of replacing the legendary Dickey Betts?  Derek may not sing, but, as usual, there is Warren to fill the gap, keeping the band churning right along.

 

Back to the Beacon, where the latest version of this American institution is suddenly mixing up their set lists more than any time in their career.  As the first set is coming to a close, the band begins to play "No One To Run With," and there he is – larger than life – Allan Woody, being shown on the screen behind the stage.  Interestingly enough, Duane also made an appearance during this video clip, but was given far less time on the screen, and received but a fraction of the crowd reaction that Woody received.

 

A deafening roar exploded from the crowd when Woody first appeared.  Warren turned to look at the screen, only to see his old friend.  He then turned back to the crowd, with a huge expression of joy on his face for the reception that had been given to his pal.  For a brief moment, the slow happy boys were back on stage together, and Warren couldn't have looked any happier.

 

Neither could I.  It was an emotional moment for this fan and, seemingly, for the band as well.

 

As the video ended, Woody still on the screen, I was left with one last thought: God bless Allen Woody!  We miss you brother…

Whole Lotta Herring: Taking to the skies with one of the premier guitarists of our time

When it came time to go to the airport on November 13, little did I know what the journey held in store.

 

Just moments after stepping in to the security line of the Atlanta airport, I soon came to realize that this, like so many journeys before, was about to become another in the long line of my memorable adventures with the notorious Rev. Buddy Greene.

 

Before Buddy arrived, I turned around to see Jimmy Herring stepping in line just behind me.  While I thought it seemed obvious that I, too, was heading to Denver for the weekend run of Phil and Friends shows, Jimmy’s first question to me was “Where are you going?”  Before long, the friendly hellos turned to talk of music, which led to my asking if Jimmy was heading to Boulder after the flight to sit in with Govt Mule.

 

Much to my surprise, Jimmy was completely unaware of the show.  By the time we made it through security and headed to the Crowne Room, my campaign to drag him along with the Rev. and I was in full swing.  While Jimmy was unable to make a definite commitment at the time, not knowing what was in store for him once we landed, I knew the groundwork that had been laid would somehow lead to his appearance that night.

 

As we said goodbye leaving the Denver airport, the Rev. and I put forth one last attempt at hijacking Jimmy to come with us to Boulder.  Unsuccessful, we persisted with “We’ll see you there,” “It’s going to be a blast,” “That Paul Stacey in Chris Robinson’s band is great, you’d love playing with him,” and anything else we could think of in an attempt to pique his interest in joining our journey.

 

We then headed to Boulder, where we were promptly greeted with, “There are no tickets for you” at the box office.  Freezing cold, and surrounded by ticketless fans trying to get in, we soon wondered if this trip was going to become the antithesis of our amazing trips throughout the previous year.  As we were told that the show was over sold, and that 25 names had been dropped from the guest list to keep the crowd within legal limits, our concern grew greater.  However, we kept in mind the fact that, even under much more daunting circumstances than this, neither the Rev. nor I had ever been shut out of a show.

 

And then, the moment we were waiting for – the sign of a final guest list being bought to the ticket window.  Suddenly, all of our concerns were eased, tickets and passes were in hand, and we headed in to the show. 

 

And what a show it was.

 

Robinson and New Earth Mud opened with the best set I’d ever seen them play.  By the time Mule worked their way down “Monkey Hill”, I realized they were playing their self-titled debut album. From beginning to end, a near flawless set, and, before it would end, the Rev. and I were rejoicing on many accounts, including the fact that much of the crowd joined us in chanting, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy” as our friend was suddenly spotted on the side of the stage.

 

The New Earth Mule Unit

The reaction on the faces of each member of Mule as they looked over and saw Jimmy told us all that no one, except for the Rev. and I, was expecting his arrival. As he looked in our direction and smiled with that infectious grin, our anticipation of the next set grew all the more intense.

 

While set two would bring forth no more (original) Mule, it did bring Chris Robinson back to the stage.  The set opened with a pair of classic covers, “Hard To Handle” and “Almost Cut My Hair”, and the show would only get better from there.  “Sometimes Salvation” has long been one of my favorites, whether performed by Mule or by the Black Crowes.  Having Robinson on stage to share the vocals with Warren only made it all the better. 

 

Then, the moment we had cheered for was upon us as we looked behind Warren and saw Jimmy strapping on a guitar, all the while looking our way, continuing to grin, and giving us a thumbs-up sign as he walked on to the stage for “Dreams.”

 

“Let Jimmy sing,” a chant that will seemingly follow this stellar musician through the rest of his career, rang through the crowd between songs.  This left Jimmy shaking his head “no” as he gazed down laughing at the perpetrator, none other the Rev.  Then, Jimmy and the rest of the band raged through a memorable cover of the Cream classic “Politician.”  From there, an all out jam, Mule style, ensued, starting with a great “Drums” in which Matt Abts was joined by New Earth Mud’s Jeremy Stacey.  This was followed by a battle of dual lead guitars as Jimmy and Paul Stacey took the stage, leaving Warren in much the same state as us, a smiling bystander, watching as these two sensational players matched each other note for note.

 

Through years of touring with bands such as the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz Is Dead, and Project Z, Jimmy Herring has always remained somewhat of an underground secret, a man who, with a guitar in his hands, can fill a room with emotion, joy, and pure musical bliss. I have seen Jimmy take the stage with some of the most famous names to ever play guitar, and without fail, his playing has always rivaled that of his more famous counterparts. On this night, it was Jimmy who was the better known of the two players on stage. And, although his playing was every bit as good as ever, for once he was not the most outstanding player on stage.  Stacey took control of the jam and, from my perspective at least, actually outplayed the man who is rarely outdone by anyone once he straps on a guitar.  While listening to discs of the show at a later date did not necessarily leave me with the same impression, on this night, I was certainly more impressed with Stacey than either of the other guitarists on stage (which is saying a lot, as Warren and Jimmy would both rank in my Top 5 favorite players of all time).

 

But, in the end, the most lasting memories of this, the first of a remarkable four-night run through Colorado with Govt Mule and the Q would always be the story of getting to the show, the feeling of excitement we felt when we finally saw Jimmy enter the Theater, and the pure joy of seeing him take the stage, joining a collective group of musicians from two bands, playing as one, who all seemed to be having every bit as much fun as those of us in the crowd.

 

Now, if we could only get Jimmy to open up those vocal chords…