Archive for the ‘The Drunk Uncles’ tag
The 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.”
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.
Photo 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.”
IF YOU GO
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
OK, everybody sing along now: “Happy birthday to you … happy birthday to you … happy birthday Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson … happy birthday …”
You get the idea. It’s the annual Labor Day/birthday bash celebration this weekend out at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson, 1820 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville, and to commemorate the occasion, owner Scott Maddux and his crack team of motorcycle and music enthusiasts have a full weekend of events planned.
Saturday night, there’s the annual visit by country-rock hooligans the Kentucky Headhunters with opening act The Van Lears; the show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $20. On Sunday night, Blount County’s own The Drunk Uncles, with their pal and roots-music ace Larry Cordle, will take the stage at 8 p.m.; tickets to that show are $10. But it’s tonight’s headliner who’s getting a lot of press these days — piano man Leon Russell, he who resembles Gandalf the White and has played with just about everyone on the planet, from the Rolling Stones to George Harrison.
His most recent project is the one getting the most attention these days — “The Union,” a collaborative album with Elton John. The new record, produced by Oscar and multiple-Grammy winning producer T Bone Burnett, marks the first time these iconic artists have worked together since 1970. It was recorded live in the studio with Elton and Leon on dueling pianos, features 14 songs (including ones written by Elton and his lifelong lyricist Bernie Taupin, as well as the combined songwriting team of Leon, Elton, Bernie and T Bone).
According to a recent press release, Leon first met Elton in 1970 when he attended Elton’s first ever U.S. show at the famous Troubadour in Los Angeles. The meeting heralded the beginning of a long friendship and a mutual appreciation between the two artists. “In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the one piano player and vocalist who influenced me more than anybody else was Leon Russell,” Elton said. “He was my idol.” The pair went on to tour together shortly thereafter at New York’s Fillmore East and to this day have held such high admiration for each other’s work.
After years of being out of touch, Elton listened to Leon’s music while on safari in Africa last summer and was inspired to reconnect with his idol. “Elton called to ask if I would do a duet album with him,’” Russell said. “I’m very happy that he chose me to do this.”
Russell’s performance takes place at 8 tonight; tickets are $25. Husky Burnette opens the show.
Nashville may not be ready for the likes of The Drunk Uncles, given that city’s proclivity for pretty-boy country-pop and doe-eyed teen waifs who sing songs about getting their little prepubescent hearts broken. But the Uncles went anyway, Jeff Barbra told me this weekend:
“The Uncs just got in from a Nashville run. We did the WSM ‘Music City Roots’ show at the Loveless Cafe on Wednesday night, which is hosted by Jim Lauderdale and announced by Eddie Stubbs. We, apparently, went over big. They want us back on a big time slot.”
No doubt. Here’s an excerpt from a write-up on the Uncles’ performance:
The Drunk Uncles! They need at least one exclamation point. Six guys with plenty of beards and good humor, the Uncles hail from East Tennessee where genuine country music still reins supreme. They brought the full Telecaster, pedal steel and fiddle contingent and the full-on cactus/rhinestone shirts, along with some big bold singing and a slow waltz tribute to their hero Vern Gosdin. “If I drink too much beer, before I get out of here,” sang Uncle Jeff, “It’s not my fault, just blame it on Vern.” And then that’s when they brought out Larry Cordle. He’s the kind of cat you almost have to move to Nashville to know about and appreciate. Revered as a bluegrass songwriter and singer, he had his biggest moment in the national spotlight a few years ago when George Strait and Alan Jackson had a hit with his song “Murder on Music Row” and the dang thing won CMA Song of The Year, a surreal triumph of irony if there ever was one. And of course, that’s what they sang last night. Thanks for visiting Cord. Please come back and sing for us again.
The next day, the guys did the “Coffee with Cody” show, featuring host Bill Cody, and apparently were well-received there, too. And the cool part? Barbra writes, “WSM has had to move their offices/studio out of the Opry Hotel, due to flooding of course, and put together a makeshift studio in the original broadcast tower building that was built back in 1932. The Drunk Uncles were the first band EVER to perform a LIVE broadcast out of that orginal WSM building … pretty damn cool.”
Congrats on making some history, fellas.
Check out the Uncles online. You can catch the Uncles locally next on June 5 at World’s Fair Park, when the band performs as part of the Smoky Mountain Blast. Here are a couple of tunes the Uncles have been so gracious in allowing us to share:
As the year winds down to a close, it’s only appropriate, we think, to look back on all of the ink we’ve spilled over the past 12 months. Over the next several days, we’ll be rounding up all of the interviews that have graced the pages of The Daily Times Weekend entertainment section … starting with all of the East Tennessee bands and musicians of all genres to whom we’ve devoted space this year. Presenting … the local interviews of 2009!
Southbound (cover story)
The Drunk Uncles: (cover story)
Jonathan Sexton and The Big Love Choir (cover story)
Whitechapel 2 (front page story)
Dirty Guv’nahs 1 (cover story)
Royal Bangs (cover story)
R.B. Morris (cover story)
Maryville Metal Fest (cover story)
Brandy Robinson (cover story)
Scott Miller (cover story)
The Black Lillies (cover story)
Teenage Love13 (cover story)
I’ve worked with local marketing guru Chyna Brackeen on a number of occasions, from her time with Knoxville Opera and AC Entertainment to her most recent gig as marketing director for Knoxville Botanical Garden (a k a Stone Wall Gardens, which we profiled back in July.)
A couple of months ago, it was announced that she had taken on local band The Black Lillies as a management project, quickly parlaying the group’s local success into a six-week national tour that’s wrapping up in the next couple of weeks. Now, she’s picked up two more East Tennessee bands to manage — The Drunk Uncles, whom we’ve profiled a couple of times recently (in an August cover story and again last month for the band’s CD release), and Jonathan Sexton and The Big Love Choir, which graced the cover of our entertainment section back in October.
“For The Drunk Uncles, the fact that they’re playing real country music is so rare these days, and it’s really setting them apart from the crowd,” Brackeen told us today. “We’re looking at a bunch of country music festivals for them, and we hope to really make a big impact regionally before spreading out next fall to some national festivals.”
Good news for the Uncles; be sure and check out the band’s new website as well.
“With the Big Love Choir, there’s so much potential there on a number of levels,” she added. “There’s a message to the music because it’s so positive and spiritual without being denominational.”
Sexton, she added, performed at the re-dedication ceremony of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, after a tragic shooting there in July 2008 left two dead. Because of his involvement there, she sees an opportunity to spread that positive message and expose the band to new audiences at the same time.
“One of the things we’re looking at is a way to kind of marry two tours together — one during the day of Unitarian churches and spiritual centers, and one at night at the rock clubs, so that we can hit two different audiences at the same time,” she said.
Be sure and check out that band on Myspace.
You may remember that, about a month ago, we did a big piece on The Drunk Uncles, a group that continues to make waves around these parts. Not only are the Uncles gearing up for an October album release — it’ll be called “Smashed Hits,” according to Uncle Jeff Barbra — there’s also a new standing weekly gig by a couple of the Uncles. (Well … it’s tentatively standing, so go out and support!) Barbra and Uncle Gordy Gilbertson will be playing from 9 p.m. to midnight tonight (Thursday, Sept. 10) at Brackins Blues Bar, 112 E. Broadway Ave. in downtown Maryville, and if the crowds come out, it’ll turn into a standing gig.
Be sure and check out the Uncles on Myspace, and mark your calendar for a few upcoming shows by the full band: At noon on Friday, Sept. 25, at The Square Room in downtown Knoxville, where the guys play WDVX-FM’s “Blue Plate Special” with bluegrass phenom Larry Cordle … at 9 p.m. Friday , Oct. 9 at the Waterfront Bar and Grill in Maryville, next door to the new Blount County Public Library … and on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at Two Doors Down in downtown Maryville. You can also check out the paired-down version of the band — The 3 Uncles (that would be Barbra, Gilbertson and drummer Eric Keeble) — on Saturday night, Sept. 12 at the Par-T-Pub in Maryville.
Hey, if you can put this in your myspace blog tomorrow…
Me and Uncle Gordy Gilbertson are playing duo at Brackins.
This will be our first Thursday, and if we can draw a good enough crowd, we’re gonna do it EVERY Thursday….
It’s a wonder that those of us covering local music around these parts don’t pull our hair out. (Another reason I shave mine.) Every time we turn around, it seems there’s another event popping up that’s slipped in under the radar. For example, the K-Town Sound Local Music Showcase, which is being presented by WDVX-FM and taking place from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, at the World’s Fair Park Amphitheatre in downtown Knoxville.
On the bill: The Bearded, The Drunk Uncles, The Leadbetters with Phil Leadbetter, Brendon James Wright and The Wrongs, Van Eaton and Friends, The Early Morning Stringdusters, The Tennessee Shines Band, The Black Cadillacs, Y’uns, Medford’s Black Record Collection and more.
The cost is $10 in advance and $15 at the gate; UT students are admitted for $5; children 12 and younger are admitted free.
For more information, call WDVX at 544-1029 or visit the station online.
We love giving away free songs, and we love the local bands that are lending us their music. We like to think we’re building up quite the library of tunes by various local artists, and today we have three more to offer you.
In conjunction with this week’s cover story on The Drunk Uncles, you can download a free mp3 of the band performing “Drunk Talkin’” live! The song was written by bluegrass dude Larry Cordle for the guys, and no doubt it’ll get a workout when the band performs at 7 p.m. Saturday at “The Shed” at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson, 1820 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville. (The guys open for the legendary Billy Joe Shaver.)
Download “Drunk Talkin’” by The Drunk Uncles: Right-click here (choose “Save Link As” or “Save Target As”
The Drunk Uncles on Myspace: Click here
Our cover story package on the Uncles and the “Kill Nashville Pop” movement: Click here
Download “Blame It on Vern,” by Jeff Barbra: Right-click here (choose “Save Link As” or “Save Target As”)
Jeff Barbra on Myspace: Click here
Buy “Country Music for Country People,” by Jeff Barbra: Click here
If country’s not your bag … well, there’s something wrong with you, but we’ll leave it at that. Perhaps you prefer something more rock-oriented. If that’s the case, never fear! Dr. Weekend has your prescription, and it’s most definitely NOT more cowbell! In fact, it’s a song by the local band Seeing Skies, which will perform — along with four other bands — at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Capitol Theatre, 127 W. Broadway Ave. in downtown Maryville.
Read the story about Seeing Skies: Click here
Download “Don’t Stop Breathing In,” by Seeing Skies: Right-click here (choose “Save Link As” or “Save Target As”)
Check out Seeing Skies on Myspace: Click here
And don’t forget … The LoneTones are playing “Hot Summer Nights” at the Blount County Public Library at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13. Get the lowdown on The LoneTones and find out about their most recent album, “Canaries,” by reading the article we recently wrote about them. Here’s a song off that album The LoneTones were gracious enough to allow us to give away: