I’m Back …

August 13, 2015

Miss me, dear readers? (Kinda presumptive, I guess, to assume anyone is reading this, but a fellow’s gotta dream.) I’ve been remiss in my scribbling duties, and I apologize for that.

Let’s see, what’s been going on around here? After an actual slow week, musically, for me (not for Susan, bless her heart, who spent a whole five days, nine hours a day, working with kids at the Knoxville Girls Rock Camp … it was hard, but she said it was rewarding), last week got back to some sort of normal busy-ness.

On Tuesday, I rehearsed with the Barstool Romeos, the rockin’ honky-tonkers I play with from time to time. The band is fronted Mike McGill (who I’ve mentioned before) and Andy Pirkle, and features Josh Sidman on bass and Mark Dunn (who I played with on a McGill and the Refills gig a couple blogs ago) on drums.

I’ve known Mike and Andy since the Corner Lounge days. Back then, Mike was a clean-cut bluegrass picker and singer and Andy was the leader of a great punk rock band called Speed Shifter. Since that time, Mike’s hair has grown out and he’s delved deeper into his hard country and southern rock roots, while Andy has moved more in that same direction. Once the long-time friends figured out they could write songs and sing together well, sparks started to fly.

And they both have excellent beards.

I’ve been a fan of theirs from their first gig as Andy Pirkle and the Axis of Evil, and have always had fun playing with them live (I was also one of the several guest guitarists on their debut CD, Twisted Steel and Sex Appeal).

Last year, when Andy severely injured his hand in an industrial accident, I became more of a regular when I was available. Last week’s rehearsal marked his return to playing acoustic guitar, and it was great to see him back strumming along.

We were preparing for the coming Saturday’s show at the Pine Ridge House Concert series in Clinton, Tennessee, just up the road from Knoxville. More on that later.

Two days later, we had the first regular TL3 rehearsal in a month or so, following July’s activities with recording and putting together the Neil Young tribute. Glancing at the set list, we all wondered how well we’d play through everything. But muscle memory won the day, and we ran down everything we needed with little trouble. Chris and Susan clicked like we’d never stopped, and as always, they made my job easy.


Mitchell Garza & Headface

It was fun to feel the old TL3 chemistry kick back in so effortlessly. For a little old band from Fountain City, our power trio is pretty versatile. It felt great, and I was stoked by the time we wrapped up. We were definitely looking forward to spanking the planks on the outdoor stage at this weekend’s Smokin’ Day Fest at Sweet P’s Barbecue and Soul House.

Back to last week, though, on Saturday Susan and I played a Bark set in the late afternoon at Fatty’s Fest at Big Fatty’s, one of our favorite soul food joints in town (I don’t know how we end up playing so close to the best kitchens around, just coincidence I suppose). We got there early enough to set up and catch the opening set by Headface and Mitchell Garza, who swapped an acoustic guitar and songs back and forth. We’ve seen Headface (C.C. Blaine) with her band, the Congenitals (which features her brother and sister), a couple times and always dig her quirky songs and singing, so it was nice to hear them stripped down. It was almost as good as the band.

I mentioned Mitchell a couple blogs back. Man, what a voice. It’s like a tuneful foghorn … big, boomy, and melodic. Some of the coolest, weirdest lyrics around too.

It was a great set all around. I really enjoyed it.

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Big Fatty’s special of the day, a turkey burger topped with sage dressing, sweet potato fries, and some kind of cranberry sauce. It was like Thanksgiving dinner in one incredibly tall burger stack. I took it on, and it was delicious, but more than I could handle in one sitting. Besides, I had to save myself for other food opportunities later.)

I forget who the second act was supposed to be (we were scheduled to play third), but for some reason the organizer Brad Fowler (of the Criswell Collective, Daddy Don’t, and others) asked us to go on second. No problem; we were set up and ready to roll in no time.

We blasted through eight or nine songs and had a great time (yeah, I know, I sound like a broken record … but when you get to play one on one with your soul mate and best friend, you can’t help but love it). The early crowd seemed pretty small, but the longer we played, the more it grew, and they were very supportive.

We loaded out quickly to make way for the other acts. We didn’t get to hang out long, as I had to get up the road for the Romeos gig, but we stuck around for a bit. Got to visit with my pals Will Fist (unfortunately, his band Psychic Baos had to cancel because Elizabeth’s grandfather was ailing), Jon Wells, who was in town around his usual work travels, and BF’s owner Lisa Smith, one of my favorite Knoxvillains.

Although I hated to miss the other bands (especially Nervous Wrecks and Ex-Gold… sadly, Wifepile had to cancel as well), we took it to the house where I swapped the Bass VI for the red Tele, left Susan with the dogs, and headed north toward Clinton.

The Pine Ridge deal is a long-running series by Bryan and Wanda Smith that they host at their home. I’m glad I had good directions, because it is out there a ways. It was a beautiful evening, and the 30-minute drive was scenic once I crossed the Clinch River and went north off the main road to find their house.

When I got there, Andy, Josh, and Mark were already there and set up. Mike had another gig as well, so he wasn’t expected until the last moment. My little Fender Pro Junior amp had bitten the dust at TL3 rehearsal, so Andy was kind enough to bring his for me to use. I set up quickly and then settled in to visit with Bryan, a fellow barbecue fan who’d smoked some pork butts overnight for the party. I could smell it in the kitchen, and was ready to dig in when they started passing out paper plates at 7. The man knows his craft; this was really good ‘cue.

A pretty good crowd gathered, and eventually Mike showed up. Not long thereafter, we took the “stage” (a corner of the den that was part of a bigger room including the dining room and kitchen). As usual, we kicked off the first set with the Romeos’ “Cheap Bourbon Whiskey,” a great song that actually dates back to the last days of Speed Shifter. (Here’s a bit of worthless trivia: I played bass on the original Speed Shifter demo recording of the song and guitar on the Romeos’ version on Twisted Steel)

The gathering of 35 or 40 folks really got into it, and the vibe was really good. Andy was happy to be playing guitar again, and the whole band was grooving. Mark’s made himself at home behind the kit, and as per usual Josh was the rock that held it all together. The guy just doesn’t screw up. Mike and I traded solos, and he and Andy sang their asses off. The three-part harmonies with Josh were spot on, too. It was a damn good Romeos set.

After about an hour, we took a break. The smokers went outside to do so. I visited with friends and tried a sample of the red beans and rice that I saw come in as part of the potluck just before we started.

I’m really digging this house concert thing. The TL3 has played four of them over the past year, including the amazing Wood House Concert in St. Louis and the killer Roots Hoot in Peace Dale, Rhode Island (two of the best times I’ve ever had in my life), in addition to fun ones in Richmond and D.C. The shows are geared toward an older audience who don’t necessarily like to go out and stay out late. They’re generally earlier shows that feature a potluck component, BYOB, and a great party atmosphere. And don’t let the “older audience” thing throw you, in my limited experience these folks are there to throw down and have a good time.

I still love a dark rock club (my native habitat, I doubt you’ll ever get me to stay out of ‘em), but house shows are a fun change of pace.

During our second set, random acts of dancing broke out in the kitchen, and the energy ramped up as we went along until we wrapped it up around 10:30. It was another great set, marred only by Josh’s amp intermittently cutting out.

I packed up my stuff, resisted Wanda’s offer to take leftovers home with me, and made my good-byes.

When I left, I had to reverse-engineer my directions in the deep dark of night, but I did pretty well and only missed one turn, which was easily rectified, getting home before midnight, happy but exhausted from a long day.

Sunday was a day of rest, but I did some cooking too. I love to cook a big breakfast when we’re home on the weekend, and the knowledge that there was a package of Benton’s Country Ham (thanks, Steve Dupree!) in the fridge inspired me to whip up an egg scramble with veggies, Dixie Lilly grits (one of my favorite recent discoveries … stone ground grits that cook in minutes), and ham with red-eye gravy (using Alan Benton’s own recipe from the Southern Foodway Alliance’s A Gracious Plenty cookbook … yeah, I still use analog cookbooks; got a couple cabinets full). Not to brag, but it was delicious as it sounds.

Since I got carried away and made more grits than intended, that led to the evening’s inspiration: shrimp and grits, based on our bud John Currence’s City Grocery recipe in the Square Table cookbook from Oxford.

I cheesed and spiced up the leftover grits, and then cooked up some shrimp with mushrooms and scallions in white wine and lemon juice, simple and understated the way we like ‘em around here. I’m okay with the modern method of overdoing everything from the broth to the addition of heavy sausage, but done with the right amount of care, a lighter version of this coastal classic (how’s that for some Food Network terminology?) is heavenly.

Susan dubbed them the “best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had,” so my work there was complete.

We were gonna unload the stealth van from the previous day’s Bark gig, but Susan reminded me that we had another Bark show coming up on Tuesday at the WDVX Blue Plate Special, so we yielded to laziness and left the big stuff onboard.

The Blue Plate Special is a six-days-a-week live noontime show at the DVX studio, which is located in the Knoxville Visitor’s Center downtown. It’s a cool little space that’ll hold about 60 folks, and the show is broadcast live over the airwaves and the Internet. I’ve seen some great shows there in the past, including folks like Greg Brown (with Bo Ramsey), Fred Eaglesmith, my pal Dan Montgomery and band, Mary Gautier, and others. Susan and I have played it several times over the years, but never as Bark.

We were sharing the bill with Greg Horne and his band. Greg’s shown up in these blogs several times. He’s a good friend, and his band consists of all good dudes who’ve appeared amongst these scribblings: Nate Barrett, Chris Zuhr, and Po Hannah.

Daniel Kimbro (remember him from the last Songwriters in the Soul House show?) was running sound and another longtime friend, Red Hickey, was hosting, so it was like old home week at the studio.

I like to think of myself as a world-class smart-ass, a classification that Po and Daniel have both attained as well (granted, Susan, Greg, Nate, and Chris are no slouches, just not as loud as the rest of us), so the good-natured jibes flowed like the coffee we’d nabbed from K-Brew on the way down.

Bark. photo by Beto Cumming

Bark. photo by Beto Cumming

Both bands sound-checked, and then Bark took the stage promptly at noon to Red’s introduction. Susan wasted no time establishing a groove, and we played “Our Lady of the Highway” (the only song that both Bark and TL3 play) and “Gator Lake Road” before stopping for the brief interview with Red. A decent crowd was on hand in the studio, and they were very receptive.

After the chat, we played the traditional blues gospel song, “Wish I’s In Heaven Sitting Down” followed by “It’s Your Grave (Dig It If You Like),” and “Ball Park” (which is newer than the CD), before closing with a raucous “Recipe for Disaster.”

It all went over well, and we settled in to watch Greg and company’s set. They sounded really good on the small stage, and it was a fun time all the way around.

Afterwards, we joined Red, Daniel, Sam from the station, and our friends John Harvey and Mary Podio down the street at Nama for $5 fish taco day. Damn good tacos and good folks to hang with while eating them.

An unexpected highlight of the week came that evening in the form of a visit from RB Morris. You’ve heard about him here: great artist of many stripes, one of my favorite songwriters, etc. He dropped by to return a borrowed Patti Smith book, pick up a proof of the Ali Akbar book that Susan has been helping with, and drop off some tomatoes and peppers from his and Karly’s garden. He and I sat out on the deck and put away a few beers (for safe-keeping, mind you) while we swatted mosquitoes and caught up. It was what we in the South call “a good visit,” but he eventually had to bug out of the dugout to go home and help prepare little Oona for her first day of pre-school.IMG_6415

On Wednesday, Susan launched her line of Wrist Rock-its, custom-made, hand-tooled, and painted leather cuffs. It’s a project she’s been working on for several months, and they are very cool. I’m pleased to report that she landed several orders immediately and sold a couple that she’d already made.

For Knoxvillains, you can check ‘em out at Lost and Found Records. Everybody else can go to WRIST-ROCK-IT.com or the Wrist Rock-It Facebook page.

IMG_6324So she’s toiling away in her workshop while I scribble this stuff.

By the time you read this, the TL3 will have played at the Smokin’ Day fest, sharing the bill with Joey Kneiser and Kelly Smith from Glossary (a band that I dig very deeply), RB Morris, Jennifer Nicely, and our pals from Charlotte, Amigo. I’ll be stage-managing in between playing and eating barbecue.

You can read about that next time, but until then, remember that a bottle in front of me is better than a frontal lobotomy, keep it between the ditches, and brush between meals.

We’ll keep the light on for you.

— TL