Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/tdtmaryville/blountblogs.com/wpmu-settings.php on line 45
Jeff Barbra at Steve Wildsmith

Steve Wildsmith

A cross between Rolling Stone, Soldier of Fortune and the Oxford American

Archive for the ‘Jeff Barbra’ tag

More “Spirit”: Jeff and Sarah’s radio show expanding in 2013

without comments


Hard to believe Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle have been on the air for more than a year, co-hosting their “In the Spirit” radio show since August 2011.

When we talked to them around the show’s humble beginnings, their goal was a simple one: To play “just good, inspirational music — from Sam Bush to Sam Cooke, from Bob Marley to Bob Wills, from Loretta Lynn to Mahalia Jackson,” Barbra said.

“Basically, it’s what you would hear if you came to our house on Sunday mornings,” Sarah added. “It’s what you’re going to hear from our collection while we make you breakfast.”

But 2012 has been good to the duo, and starting Sunday, Jan. 13, “In the Spirit” will air twice on Sundays: From 8-11 a.m., and from 4-7 p.m. They won’t be a repeat of one another, meaning the evening show will stand on its own and feature different music — including some more upbeat numbers that might sound a little too wound up for the a.m. hours.

In addition, the two are incorporating a new segment into the show: “In the Moment,” a 15-minute interview/performance segment recorded at the couple’s house in Blount County’s Barb Hollow community. One recent guest: Local picker/guitar teacher Roscoe Morgan.

“In the Spirit” airs on WFIV-FM, i105, which can be found at 105.3 on your FM dial.

Written by wildsmith

January 4th, 2013 at 11:52 am

Knox music royalty pays homage to Woody Guthrie

without comments


The Laurel Theater, that esteemed church-turned-concert-venue in Knoxville Fort Sanders neighborhood, is a beautiful setting in which to see a show, and it’ll be the perfect setting for a “History Songs: A Celebration of the Life of Woody Guthrie” that’s scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the American folk music icon, local artists — including Maggie Longmire, R.B. Morris, Jack Herranen, Sarah Pirkle, Jeff Barbra, Greg Horne and Daniel Kimbro — will gather to recreate Guthrie’s canon, from his dustbowl ballads and traveling songs to his more political songs and writings. When we caught up with Longmire earlier this month, she said the concert is a small token of appreciation on the part of East Tennessee musicians for Guthrie’s influence over the years.

“It’s something we’re looking forward to,” Longmire said. “There are shows going on all year to commemorate this, and some of the big guys are doing their shows at places like the Kennedy Center, but I think this one will be real interesting. It’ll be a mix of music and spoken word, and with everyone we’ve got, it won’t be a straight-edge show.”

Longmire counts among her favorite Guthrie songs “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” Guthrie’s tale of a plane crash of undocumented Mexicans on their way south out of California, and his scatching indictment of the treatment of the dead.

“You know how you have a song that sort of impacts you? There’s something about that one that tied it together, the telling of these horrific stories through folk songs, for me,” she said. “Sometimes, things just kind of line up, and that’s one I connected with and sang as a young folk singer.”

More information about Guthrie can be found here; the concert, which takes place at the Laurel (1538 Laurel Ave. in Fort Sanders), costs $12.

Rhonda Vincent selects Jeff Barbra and Darrell Webb song for next CD

without comments


Rhonda Vincent is a pretty big deal in the world of bluegrass music.

How big, you might wonder? Well, she received the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” Award in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Her 2010 album “Taken” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums chart, No. 3 on the Heatseekers chart and No. 21 on the Top Country Albums chart — no mean feat, considering the pop-country competition.

Now, she’s got a new CD and a DVD project in the works. The former, “Sunday Mornin’ Singin’,” will be out July 10; the latter is a gospel concert filmed at a church in her hometown of Greentop, Mo. (no word on its release details). Both will include a song co-written by a feller whose name most local music fans will recognize: Jeff Barbra.

The song, “Silent Partner,” was co-written by Barbra and Sevierville-based singer-songwriter and bluegrass guy Darrell Webb. And you can hear it this weekend, when Jeff and his fiddling/singing partner and wife Sarah Pirkle spin it on their Sunday morning radio show, “In the Spirit.” The spiritually oriented program airs from 8-11 a.m. Sundays on WFIV-FM, 105.3 on your radio dial. You can tune in and listen live via the station’s website.

Written by wildsmith

May 4th, 2012 at 10:05 am

Jeff Barbra gracefully bows out of The Drunk Uncles

without comments

The-Drunk-Uncles1The Drunk Uncles: (From left) Jeff Barbra, Mike McGill, Eric Keeble, Gordy Gilbertson and Aram Takvoryan

Jeff Barbra and The Drunk Uncles have parted ways, but both parties are reporting the split is amicable, mutual and in no way reflects any sort of bad feelings or bad blood.

Barbra, a Blount County resident who’s been working as a singer-songwriter, most often with his wife, Sarah Pirkle, for years, formed the Uncles with another local tunesmith (Mike McGill, who’s also doing the solo thing and playing as part of the Barstool Romeos with Barbra’s brother-in-law, Andy Pirkle), told us he simply feels led in another direction.

“It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, and it wasn’t an easy decision,” Barbra said. “But it’s like my pappaw used to say: If you can’t do something 100 percent, you shouldn’t do it at all. I’m just going where my heart leads me and trying to do what feels right.”

According to Barbra, the increase in church performances and house concerts with Pirkle has fanned the flames of his desire to have a conversation with fans. He and Pirkle were saved and joined a local church a couple of years ago, which led to the creation of last year’s gospel album, “Family Singing.”

“When we play in someone’s basement or in a church, you get to talk to people; really talk to them,” Barbra said. “A lot of times, that leads them to wanting me and Sarah to tell our story, which is as rewarding as anything I’ve ever done.”

In addition, the Sunday morning radio program “In the Spirit,” which he and Pirkle co-host for WFIV-FM i105, has brought the couple additional opportunities and is taking up more time, something he’s not complaining about at all.

According to McGill, the Uncles will soldier on, although the loss of Barbra will be a heavy one. At this time, there are no plans to mothball the retro-c0untry outfit, although carrying on will mean reconfiguring how the band — which includes bassist Aram Takvoryan, drummer Eric Keeble and fiddler/vocalist/songwriter Gordy Gilbertson — does so.

“We will fulfill all of our obligations, which includes a May date at Toot’s (Little Honky Tonk in Downtown North Knoxville) and another show in June,” McGill said. “Eric will probably play some electric (guitar), and I may, too. And Eric and Aram will both be singing, at least on harmony, to fill in that hole. We’re not sure how it’s going to work — we may have a couple of different drummers filling in — but the Uncles will go on.”

The band’s new album, which began last year at Music Row Studios, is still on deck as well, McGill said, but there’s no timetable for its completion — or whether it’ll be re-cut to reflect the band’s new lineup. Barbra’s songs, as well as his studio contributions before he left the band, are still planned for inclusion.

Both men say their friendship is intact, and neither rules out a return to the stage with the Uncles by Barbra, either as a guest or at some point down the road. For now, however, they’re focused on doing what’s best for them as individuals, and while it won’t be the same for them — or for the rest of us, for that matter — whenever the Uncles play “On Tap, In the Can or In the Bottle” or “Drunk Talkin’,” it’s with relief and admiration that we wish both parties the best on their new journeys.

“It’s a little sad, no doubt,” McGill said. “Going back to when Jeff joined White Oak Flats (the Sevier County-based show band that was a predecessor of the Uncles) and us playing together through the Uncles, we’ve had a lot of fun, and we’ve become more than friends; we’ve become brothers. We wish him nothing but the best, and we respect that he feels led to do something else.”

“No band is bigger than friendship,” added Barbra, who said that his resignation is effective immediately. “Those guys are still my best buddies in the world. We’ll still see each other, and we’ll still hang out and pick a little bit. But this is what I feel called to do now. I have no regrets, because playing with the Uncles and watching people get up and dance and have a good time was a whole lot of fun. But I’m looking forward to seeing where this new calling takes me.”

Written by wildsmith

April 16th, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Sarah Pirkle gets props from The NYT

without comments


Any time one’s name is mentioned in The New York Times, it’s a big deal. And when it’s mentioned with a fine dose of praise from that esteemed publication, it’s even better.

Blount County’s Sarah Pirkle got some props from the Times in a recent review of “Somewhere South of Crazy,” the new album by bluegrass queen Dale Ann Bradley. Bradley, the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year for 2007, 2008 and 2009, recorded Pirkle’s song “Come Home Good Boy” for the record, and the NYT picked it as one of the album’s best moments: “The highlight is ‘Come Home Good Boy,’ an affecting, quietly enraged song written by Sarah Pirkle about sending a child off to war.” Read the full review here.

Bradley recently shot a video for the song, which first appeared on Pirkle’s 2010 solo record “Walking Tall Through High Weeds.” The video should be released any day now, and you can read about it here. Pirkle and her husband, Jeff Barbra, are putting the finishing touches on their gospel album, “Family Singing,” which should see the light of day any time now as well.

Written by wildsmith

September 4th, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Blount couple launches “In the Spirit” radio show starting Sunday

without comments


Seventy-five years ago, folks all over rural Tennessee would gather around the family radio on Saturday nights and listen to the sounds of the Grand Ole Opry transmitted across the airwaves from Nashville.

Starting this Sunday (Aug. 14), there’s another type of family show that will be broadcast over the local airwaves — “In the Spirit,” which will air from 8 to 11 a.m. every Sunday on WFIV-FM, i105. You can pick it up at 105.3 FM, and it’s the latest specialty show on a station dedicated to local music. And the best part — the two hosts are Blount County’s Americana royalty, Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle.

“Tony (Cox, the station’s general manager) wanted to do a bluegrass-gospel show on Sundays, but after we talked, we decided to expand and not put any limits on it,” Jeff told us this week. “It’s all just good, inspirational music — from Sam Bush to Sam Cooke, from Bob Marley to Bob Wills, from Loretta Lynn to Mahalia Jackson.”

“Basically, it’s what you would hear if you came to our house on Sunday mornings,” Sarah added. “It’s what you’re going to hear from our collection while we make you breakfast.”

For now, the couple will pre-record the program from their home in Walland’s Barb Hollow community. Plans are in the works to expand it to the noon hour, and given the company the couple keeps, there’s no telling who might show up for a live segment — Larry Cordle or any number of local players.

In the meantime, Barbra and Pirkle are hoping to have their forthcoming gospel CD ready to go in time for their set at the “Worship in the City” music festival taking place the last weekend of the month. The two will perform at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27, at the festival.

For more information, check out the “In the Spirit” Facebook page.

Written by wildsmith

August 9th, 2011 at 11:24 am

Country music’s new Blount County home: 850 AM

with one comment


It’s no secret that Jeff Barbra is no fan of what’s considered mainstream country music these days.

He’s good buds with Larry Cordle, the man who wrote “Murder on Music Row,” about the death of traditional country music. His band, The Drunk Uncles, are standard bearers of the “Kill Nashville Pop” movement, a grassroots organization dedicated to bringing back “real” country music to Nashville. So it was with great joy when, roughly a year ago, he discovered a radio station right here in Blount County that made him grin.

“I grew up listening to this same old format,” Barbra told me of WKVL-AM 850, transmitting from a station that’s little more than a year old and located at 261 Gill St. in Alcoa. “It reminds me of the old WGAP from 30 years ago.”

The station was once owned by WIVK, who gave it to the University of Tennessee. UT sold it to local preacher J. Bazell Mull, who in turn sold it to Horne Radio. The current owners are Jim and Johnnie Sexton, former owners of Knox Air who share Barbra’s fondness for the country music of yesteryear. They discovered the station was for sale roughly 18 months ago and decided to pursue it.

“Jim’s retired from the airline business, and this little station came up for sale and was having transmitter problems,” Barbra said. “Jim’s the kind of guy who likes to tinker with things, and he loves country music. He aw this station as a way for him to go mess with the technical end of things and a way to put on traditional country music full time. So it’s a labor of love for him.”

Not long ago, Barbra was going over the state of the finances he and his wife, local music teacher and fiddler extraordinaire Sarah Pirkle, share in their Barb Hollow household. Playing music is a good gig if you can get it, obviously, but it doesn’t keep the lights on during lean times. He’d already been trumpeting the station’s old-school format, so he dropped Jim Sexton a line one night and got a reply the next afternoon. The two set up a meeting, and Barbra was brought on board to sell advertising and work the promotional angle for the fledgling outfit.

“I’m coming from a different perspective, from a musician’s standpoint, and I explained to those guys how many younger folks are listening to this station,” Barbra said. “They’ve gotten a lot of feedback from older folks, but there are a lot of younger folks tuning in. The only alternatives are the bigger stations playing the new country-pop, and they’re wanting the real deal.”

At 50,000 watts — the maximum allowed for an AM station by the Federal Communications Commission — WKVL stretches across East Tennessee and into the Carolinas, and Barbra said the Blount County station has the potential to serve as East Tennessee’s version of WSM-AM, the Nashville station that broadcasts the Grand Ole Opry.

“We have the same wattage that WSM puts out, and my vision is to make this the WSM of East Tennessee, which it can be,” he said. “This is where it all started anyway before they took it down to Nashville.”

Already, Barbra is bringing on board some sponsors who appreciate the music AM 850 plays. This week, Morelock’s Music owner Matt Morelock and local lit-rocker Phil Pollard are coming in to cut a commercial for Morelock’s downtown Knoxville music store, a 60-second spot the two wrote themselves.

“That’s what’s cool about this station — even the commercials are funny and good,” Barbra said. “This whole thing has a hometown feel, and that was a big selling point for me to contact them. I think that’s so important, man, to stay in touch with the hometown people.”

Soon, Barbra and Pirkle will launch their own show on the station. Tentatively titled “Jeff and Sarah Live,” it’ll be a one-hour program devoted to showcasing local musicians that will air at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays.

“For example, Sarah’s been teaching for a long time now and has students who are full-grown adults, out gigging and are just tremendous musicians, and we want to bring them in,” Barbra said. “There are a few people we have in mind who don’t fit on other stations because they might be too country. And we want to bring in some of the older guys from here in Blount County who just can’t make it Knoxville.”

The 11 a.m. time is designed to compliment, not compete with, WDVX-FM, the grassroots radio station broadcasting out of Knoxville with whom Barbra, Pirkle and most traditional country, Americana and bluegrass musicians throughout East Tennessee have had a great working relationship for years.

“I do realize how much and appreciate how much WDVX has done for me and Sarah,” he said. “They’re the reason we have a career today. We want people to be able to tune in to ‘The Blue Plate Special’ at noon every day, but the hour before on Tuesdays, they can tune us in. There’s no competition whatsoever. We just want to do something different and put our show on before they go on the air; that way people can enjoy both.”

When he’s not playing Don Draper for the station, Barbra has his hands full with a number of other projects. The Uncles have roughly 85 percent of their new album finished, he said, and hope to finish recording sessions at Music Row of Maryville before the band performs at September’s Rhythm and Roots Festival in Bristol. A gospel record that he and Pirkle have been working on for several months is 95 percent complete, he estimated, and he’s crossing his fingers that several of their songs getting cut by higher-profile artists will lead to discovery of their songwriting talents by more and more people.

“Off our gospel record, there’s a song Darrell Webb and I wrote that Rhonda Vincent is putting on her live gospel DVD that she’s going to be recording at the end of this month, and Dale Ann Bradley just cut Sarah’s ‘Come Home Good Boy’ for her new album, which is coming out in the fall on Compass Records,” he said.

Written by wildsmith

June 14th, 2011 at 7:50 am

The Drunk Uncles to send off 2010 in style, look ahead to productive 2011

without comments

w-drunkunclesPhoto courtesy of William Foster

The Drunk Uncles may not be any more sober than fans have come to expect, but like all experienced drinkers, they might be getting a little more philosophical while in their cups.

(NOTE: This is a metaphor. The Drunk Uncles are not, in fact, a bunch of drunks.)

As the slimmed-down old-school country outfit prepares for its final show of the year at Southbound Bar and Grill, 106 S. Central St. in Knoxville’s Old City, next Thursday, Dec. 23, the guys — guitarists/songwriters Jeff Barbra and Mike McGill, bassist Aram Takvoryan, fiddler/songwriter Gordy Gilbertson and drummer Eric Keeble — are rethinking how they go about music and looking ahead to a new album in 2011.

“We had a practice the other day in my living room, out of necessity, so we said, ‘Let’s not set up a full drum kit, let’s not break out the electric guitars — let’s jam on some new songs,’” Barbra told The Daily Times this week. “We worked on some originals from Mike and from me, and we sat down and got more done and had more fun than we’ve had in a year. We put down six new original songs and got a list of 19 songs to pick from for the new record.

“We started digging the sound of Mike and I taking leads on the flat-top, swapping back and forth. It leaves more room for vocals to breathe and be out front. When you’re playing electric, by the end of the night everybody’s on 11, and you have to scream the vocals to get them out there.”

In fact, Barbra said, the band is seriously considering doing more low-key shows in that vein — acoustic guitars, Keeble using brushes and a snare, adding some different elements — like his and McGill’s lifelong love of bluegrass — to change up the sound and get out of that rowdy bar band niche that the boys have done so well for several years now.

“It’s nice to do something different, and we’ve all loved bluegrass and played it since we were kids,” Barbra said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not gonna do the country thing — we still love that, and we’re still going to plug in and play the hardcore stuff. But I think we can make that jive with doing some more acoustic stuff and some more bluegrass stuff. It’s not going to turn into this jammy, hippie-sounding thing. We’re not going to turn into Phish — although I wish I had their money.”

Some of the change has to do with the loss of pedal steel from the band’s sound — former member Brock Henderson left the group to focus more on his own band, The Brockefellers, and while the guys dabbled with fill-in steel players (as well as local harp maestro Michael Crawley on harmonica for a few shows), finding a permanent replacement has been rough, Barbra said.

“Everybody’s busy — if you play pedal steel in this area, you’ll never go without work,” he said.

Satisfied with their sound, the guys are also more at peace with the business side of things. After releasing “Smashed Hits” in 2009 — a phenomenal concept record that featured a number of covers and a handful of originals built around a band playing in a bar — the time seemed right for the Uncles to go places. And they did, for a while — playing some out of town dates, capitalizing on the momentum of the CD and earning ink for shows like the Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival held earlier this year, when during their show at The Bijou Theatre, they threw cans of beer to thirsty audience members after the venue’s bar shut down before the Uncles had finished playing.

“We’re all kind of on the same page these days,” Barbra said. “We sat down and just jammed, and it was like, ‘Alright, let’s not over-think things. Let’s not think about any business crap, let’s just sit down and jam on some songs.’ And when we did it was like, ‘Oh hell — that’s why we’re together.’ We figured out we all like the same music, and we’re all going for the same thing.”

In January, the guys hope to get back into the studio with local wizard (and Moonshine Cherrys drummer) Scott Rader at Music Row Studios in Maryville, the same guy who recorded “Smashed Hits” as well as “Walking Tall Through High Weeds,” the solo album released earlier this year by Barbra’s wife, Sarah Pirkle.

“We love working with him, and this time I’d say it’ll be a more traditional record,” Barbra said. “We’re rolling right now with eight to nine original songs, and we may have four covers and a few hidden tracks.”


The Drunk Uncles

  • PERFORMING WITH: Van Eaton, Andy Pirkle
  • WHEN: 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 23
  • WHERE: Southbound Bar and Grill, 106 S. Central St., Knoxville’s Old City
  • HOW MUCH: $7
  • CALL: (865) 474-1038
  • ONLINE: http://www.thedrunkuncles.com

Jay Clark announces new live album, DVD

without comments

Local singer-songwriter Jay Clark, who now calls Blount County home, dropped me a line this morning announcing a new project — a double-disc live album and a separate DVD scheduled for a May 1 release. Here’s how he describes it:

“It was recorded as part of the ‘Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s’ television show that airs nationally on a number of PBS stations.  Cruz Contreras played the whole show with me and the CDs and DVD (sold seperately by the way) include not only 21 tunes representing a hodge-podge of the songs from my three studio records but also the stories about how the songs came about.  I’ll be using the show at The Laurel Theater with Jeff Barbra (we’ll be doing a song swap) on May 1 as the ‘release show.’ Hippie Jack has become a good friend of mine, and I not only play at his festival every Memorial Day Weekend but help out as well.  It’s the best grassroots festival that I know of, and in my opinion, the best kept secret in Americana music.  The CD is actually going to be titled ‘Jay Clark … Live at Jammin’ with Hippie Jack’s.’

Written by wildsmith

March 24th, 2010 at 7:16 am

Sarah Pirkle, Naughty Knots, Jay Clark and more help out a good cause

without comments

There are few ladies in music these days more gracious, kind and equally talented as Blount County fiddler Sarah Pirkle. A member of The Naughty Knots, the Maid Rite String Band and a frequent collaborator with her husband, singer-songwriter Jeff Barbra of The Drunk Uncles, she’s the real deal — big-hearted, super-cool and amazing to hear sing and play.

So when she throws her weight behind a benefit show that’s close to her heart, I can’t help but urge you to attend, help out and do what you can.

Here are the details:

Hearts For Hunter Benefit Concert and Chili Supper

6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20

Deane Hill Community Center, 7400 Deane Hill Drive, Knoxville

Pirkle writes that Hunter Graham, her cousin, “is a precious 17-month-old baby boy, who has a potentially life threatening disease, Menkes disease. On Feb 20, 2010 there will be a benefit concert at Dean Hill Community Center to help raise funds to send him and his mom and dad to the Family Hope Center in Philadelphia for treatment. Performers will be Andy & Sarah Pirkle, Jeff Barbra, Jay Clark, Van Eaton and the Naughty Knots. Suggested donation for adults $10.”