Southern Rock Revival part one: Tishamingo

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Editor’s Note: When Honest Tune Magazine made the decision to move into the digital future by becoming a free, web-based magazine, we did so with a print magazine nearly completed but not yet printed.  What was to be the Summer 2007 issue of Honest Tune featured a cover story on a burgeoning reawakening of roots based rock ‘n roll that we called the Southern Rock Revival.  Alas, that issue never made it to ink and paper.  Rather than let those stories be relegated to the cutting room floor of our transition war room, Honest Tune is proud to present the stories from that "Lost Issue" of Honest Tune her online. In the coming weeks and months, be sure to check back here at Honest Tune to read about the primary purveyors of this revival. We start this month with Tishamingo.

tish_live4.jpgGregg Allman once said that the term “Southern rock” is redundant; that it’s like saying “rock rock.”  What he meant was that essentially all rock music finds its origins in southern blues, country and even jazz.  Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis are often considered the forefathers of American rock and all hailed from the Deep South.  But it was bands from the late 60s and early 70s like The Allman Brothers Band (Georgia,) The Marshall Tucker Band (South Carolina,) Charlie Daniels Band (Tennessee) and Lynyrd Skynyrd (Florida) who came to define Southern Rock as a genre. 

The movement became so powerful that it bled far outside the South and came to incorporate much more than just rebel flags and blues-soaked guitars.  The Allmans were adding elements of jazz, Marshall Tucker was incorporating country and western, and Skynyrd was lacing their music with heavy metal riffs.  Around the same time, up north Canada’s Neil Young and The Band and Northern California’s Creedence Clearwater Revival working off a foundation of rootsy, Southern-based rock as well. 

After reaching its peak of influence and popularity in the 1970s, Southern Rock waned a bit in the 80s and early 90s but still produced bands like Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes and R.E.M. who all called Georgia home.  While these bands didn’t fall squarely into the classic Southern Rock mold they were steeped in the tradition, yet took it in new directions.     

In the mid-to-late 90s and into the next decade we had the next set of southern-bred rock groups.  Bands like The Drive-By Truckers, Gov’t Mule, North Mississippi Allstars, Slobberbone and even indie-tinged and world-flavored groups like My Morning Jacket, Derek Trucks Band and Kings of Leon emerged as leaders with a guitar-driven, southern-basted backbone.

As Southern Rock grew it continued taking on influences from across the country and around the world.  It’s gotten to the point where it can be difficult to determine exactly who or what a Southern Rock band is.  Patterson Hood of The Drive-By Truckers has said countless times that he doesn’t even think of his band as a “Southern Rock” band, but simply a rock band.  Perhaps Gregg Allman was right – maybe Southern Rock is redundant.  However, the fact remains that we have another wave of young rockers with southern souls coming up, and for lack of a better term, we see them as the Southern Rock Revivalists.

Tishamingo

Hometown: Athens, GA

Latest Release: The Point

Forefathers: Gov’t Mule, Lynyrd Skynyrd

Sometimes in life, you find something special: that comfortable pair of shoes, those perfect fitting jeans, someone special to spend your days with.  When Tishamingo first enters your life, the feeling is much the same.  Like a brotherhood you’d never leave, this band’s songs get in to your mind, your heart, your soul, leaving your world a better place for having taken the time to listen.

 

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Tishamingo’s roots lie in the heart of North Florida – Tallahassee to be precise – where the members of the band met while  attending Leon High School.  Cameron Williams (guitar/vocals) and Richard Proctor (drums) had played together previously, as members of the Black Creek Band, while Jess Franklin (guitars/keys/organ/vocals) had led the Best Little Blues Band, along with bassist Stephen Spivey.  When Chuck Thomas replaced Spivey in August 2005, he took the stage like a deer caught in headlights.  Just a few short months later, it was quickly apparent that he brought far more rock to the deep end, in the vein of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, whereas Spivey’s playing had been was more melodic, ala Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools.  For a band that never quite fit the jam band bill, the move has proved to be a match made in rock-n-roll heaven.

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Nasty Riffs, Slammin Rythyms       

On their latest album, The Point, Tishamingo came out of the gates hard, with the nasty guitar riffs and slamming rhythm tracks of “Get on Back,” quickly serving notice of a entirely new element behind the band’s dual lead guitars.  While Richard has been banging the drums for the band since their inception, Chuck’s addition has obviously helped the band elevate their game. 

One of Chuck’s first contributions to the band was to revisit an idea he’d previously mentioned to Richard.  “One of the ‘a-ha’ moments for this album,” Richard recalls, “happened before Chuck was even in the band.  He and I were roommates and he heard a live take of ‘Get on Back.’  He said it was a really hard rocking song, and he liked the riff, but he said, ‘Why does it start here with this chorus-sounding thing that is not really a chorus.’  He said I should twist that around, and I kind of joked, ‘Yeah, we’ll think about that.’

tish_live1.jpg “Then, when he joined the band, he said, ‘Now back to that ‘Get On Back’ song.’  So we started messing with the arrangement last summer during our Alligator Point rehearsal sessions, and we definitely had something.  Then we sent (producer John) Kurzweg some live tapes and he said ‘Why does it start here with this chorus-sounding thing that is not really a chorus.’

 “Chuck felt very validated at that point, that Kurzweg had said the exact same thing as him.”

Kurzweg, whose claim to fame includes producing CDs for Creed that sold over 10 million copies, is a name the band mentions often when discussing their The Point.  When asked what makes this release stand out from their previous two, the band credits his talents for capturing the perfect take.

“Kurzweg is all about the take,” guitarist Jess Franklin notes.  “For the album to be this polished and produced, yet still have the energy it has, that is pure John.  He knows where the line is between allowing imperfections, and it being the right take, versus being sloppy with some mojo.  There is a line right in the middle that he finds, and it makes for the perfect take.”

Richard adds, “He does a good job of getting a big room sound, or what some may call the (John) Bonham sound.  I sound like a big man (laugher).  John is a huge Zeppelin freak, and their stuff is raw, powerful and ballsy, but very produced.  Jimmy Page spent a lot of time on those records, adding layers of sound.  But even Zeppelin’s most produced stuff, like ‘Kashmir,’ doesn’t ever come across like ELO or Supertramp.  It is sophisticated and produced, and it just rocks.  It is a gift, and that is what Kurzweg brought to The Point.”

A New Era

tish_full.jpg While Kurzweg does indeed bring out the Bonham in Richard, The Point showcases far more than the band’s world class musical talent.  The album is filled with classic tracks, songs that can stand the test of time.

“When we launch a new era or a new album,” Richard says, “and have a back log of material, there always seems to be one song that gives us momentum to move forward, and not get stuck in a rut.  When Jess brought ‘This Time’ to the band, that was our momentum song.  I knew we had at least one great song for the next album.  Even if the next album had nine okay songs, I knew we’d have one great one.  That gives you the confidence.”

Jess adds, “This was the first original where I play keys, so it was the beginning of the ‘me playing keys’ era.  From album to album, ‘Tradition,’ ‘Worn Out Soles’ and ‘This Time’ are songs that are similar, and came from the same place within me, but turned out to be really different.  ‘This Time’ is one of my favorite songs we’ve ever done.”

It is no coincidence that “This Time” is another track that bears a heavy Kurzweg influence.  As Chuck notes, “This was the song that John became most attached to. (Since he was suggesting so many changes) it became band versus producer in a lot of ways.  It was his favorite and he really wanted it to be a particular way.  We all had this understanding that we wanted him to produce the record, and we were going to let him.”

“At some point,” Jess adds, “you have to let go and trust the producer.  He is the only producer in the world that collectively we all trust this much. We all had to give in different spots and trust in John.  Hopefully, he becomes like our fifth Beatle.  We all trust him and love him and respect him so much, and he has shown interest in working with us, from co-writing songs, to inviting us to stop by any time we are out west and running through tunes. We definitely hope to keep a working relationship.”

 

Anthem

As drummers go, Richard’s role in Tishamingo is quite unique.  He writes the lyrics to many of the band’s best songs, yet never sings a word.  While “This Time” may have been the one great song the band needed to feel confident going in to the studio, “Mitchell” is the track with the most crossover appeal, an anthemic tune that could play well to fans of just about any radio format.  While the song seems an instant classic, guitarist Cameron Williams was actually slow taking to the song.  As Richard begins to discuss about the history of “Mitchell,” Jess comments “Here we go,” and the room fills with laughter.

“This is a song of patience,” Richard continued. “I wrote the words in 2003 and it was one that Cameron just never could get a hold of.  I thought, ‘What the hell, they’re good lyrics; write something good, damn it. ‘And Cam would say, ‘Well, learn to play guitar your own damn self.’

tish_live3.jpg “He would pick at it every now and then, but I just don’t think it took to him.  Then, in late 2005, something finally hit him, and Cam sat down and, in one night, wrote the music all in one sitting.  By that point, it was something I thought would never be a song at all, and would just be a poem in my journal.  I had just kind of accepted that, so him pulling it out was really cool.  Now I am glad he waited to find the right inspiration.”

  “Mitchell” is the tale of a spiritual resurrection that occurred when Richard met a homeless man in Birmingham, AL, a fallen hero who had once honorably served his country as a fireman, and was now being shunned from church, on Easter Sunday of all days, because of the color of his skin.

“Before we decided where to do this album,” Richard recalls, “we met with David Barbe and asked for feedback on Wear N’ Tear, which he produced.  He commented on our song ‘George’ and said, ‘That is a cool song, it is a story about this guy George, and it is a cool story.  But it did not really grab me, because it is not about you and George.  There is nothing about you…it is just about this guy George.  So it didn’t really bring me in to your world.  There is not this intimacy there.’

“His advice to me was, when you write, the songs that involve you can get the listener into your soul, and those are the ones that are going to be more effective.  I had already written the song before he told me that, and I went back to my journal and thought, there is that ‘Mitchell’ song, it is a song about me.  I think that is part of what makes it special, and I think Mitchell is going to reach more people, because it is a true story that I lived that day.”

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Hard Fall, Lesson Learned

“Hard Fall” is another deeply personal song, written as a way to deal with the struggle of wrestling with a tough situation.  Everyone has had a hard fall in their life, and listening to the lyrics, one can feel the pain Richard felt as he poured his heart out into his pen.  Jess’ guitar is inspired by Warren Haynes’ guitar riffs from “Painted Silver Light,” making this a song that some have called “the best Gov’t Mule song you’ll never hear Mule play,” or more accurately, shows the direction many Mule fans wish the band had taken.

If Cameron was slow to come around to “Mitchell,” “Tennessee Mountain Angel” is a song that has long showcased his strengths on vocals and guitar.  “Cam sang his ass off on this one,” Richard proclaims. “If someone said to me ‘Who is this Cameron Williams guy?’ and asked me to show them 5 minutes of him musically, his guitar playing and singing, here is exactly what I’d play for them.

“We knew going in to this album that we were going to pull out an old song.  Cam and I had recorded this before with the Black Creek Band, so we wanted to do something new with it musically.  We felt like it was a good song, and a good fit on the album, but we told Kurzweg that we needed to trim the fat off a little bit and make something else happen; to make it different and worth putting it on the album.

“It was almost like recording two different songs.  We did the first half, about the legend of the Mountain Angel in Suwannee, TN.  When you go through the stone gates to the college there, and leave to go on a trip, you are supposed to grab your angel before you leave; your Mountain Angel, and she will protect you while you are gone. And when you get back safe, you put her back.

“We came back later to do the second half, about my friend Caldwell who fell off a cliff and died right before our junior year. I think all of the songs with a big epic ending are kind of ordered that way, and this is definitely one of those songs.”

 

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“I have always loved this song,” adds Jess. “I loved the Black Creek album Live from Gainesville.  For me, recording this song was really cool.  This song was like the ‘Mitchell” for Black Creek – it was their really special song.  So it was important to me to play it really well.  It was really an honor when Cam and Kurzweg asked me to come back in and just riff out to a song that I’d always loved so much.”

From the epics “Mitchell” and “Tennessee Mountain Angel,” to the hill country blues of “Travel On,” the Texas twang of “Devil Love Song,” the simple ditty “Walkin’ Shoes” and the uncompromising, .38 Special-like riffs of “Bad News,” The Point is pure classic rock, served up Southern-style.  “Walkin’ Shoes” sings of someone who’s told they are “bound to hit the big time,” yet we never know what the future holds. With The Point, Tishamingo leaves little doubt that, at this moment in time, they are amongst the very best of the new breed of Southern rockers.

To quote the band, "You only live life once, so you better make it the best."  Once you’ve tasted their "hillbilly wine," you can’t help but agree: life is better with a good dose of Tishamingo.

Studio shots by Brad Hodge / Live shots by Josh Mintz  

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