By Geoffrey Rowlands
The do it yourself concept is not particularly prevalent in the music industry. At least, not when it comes to anything other than writing your own songs. But American blues-rock quartet Black Stone Cherry do not buy in to that practice. As far as they are concerned, the band want to do as much as possible themselves.
“This is something which has developed during the course of our career,” stated singer and lead guitarist Chris Robertson. “We didn’t have the confidence or knowhow to do anything but write our own songs back in 2006 when we recorded our first album. In fact, it took 10 years before we felt able to self-produce our own recordings. That was for our fifth album, Kentucky.
In addition to self-producing the songs on Family Tree, Black Stone Cherry’s recently released UK top 10 sixth studio album, Chris was entrusted with the task of mixing them.
“It’s great that Chris has the ability to mix the songs,” said guitarist Ben Wells. “We’re trying to do everything more and more in-house. That feels really good and really special. This makes us feel particularly close to our new album as we had pretty much everything to do with it from top to bottom.”
The cover artwork was created by bass player Jon Lawhon.
“I always enjoyed things like classic movies and the advertising posters for them. Having this kind of interest led me firstly to designing our drumheads and then to thinking I could design the Family Tree album cover. The other guys were encouraging and we were really pleased with the end result.”
Hailing from Edmonton, Kentucky, Jon, Chris and drummer John Fred Young were childhood friends. They attended the same high school and began performing together as part of the drumline in their school band.
“We played in the band for three years,” Jon recalled. “I think we can attribute that time in drumline to how tight we are as a band now. When you are playing percussion instruments together, you have to be one hundred percent on. It’s not like a guitar where a note can carry over. Drumming is an instantaneous beat. If you are not together, the whole thing falls apart.”
The boys met Ben in 2001 when Black Stone Cherry was officially formed.
“We’d been playing together since our early teens but Ben took everything to a different level,” smiled John Fred, son of The Kentucky Headhunters’ singer and rhythm guitarist Richard Young. “It got rolling when we first jammed together. We asked if Ben would like to practice with us. He came in with three guitars. The rest of us had one instrument apiece. We laughed that Ben was ready to go out on tour.”
Ben is credited with Black Stone Cherry evolving into a rock band.
“They were playing a lot of blues and soul stuff,” Ben remarked. “I was much more into rock so I suggested we try some rock songs. The guys were also into rock but just thought that they might stand out more as a blues band. We basically transformed into playing southern blues rock.”
The fledgling band rehearsed in the same outbuilding on the Young family farm which had been used by The Kentucky Headhunters since 1968.
“I owe so much of my music development to my dad but particularly to my uncle Fred,” John Fred stated. “He plays drums in The Kentucky Headhunters and gave me my first drum kit when I was five. I just beat on it then, I didn’t know what to do.
“As I got older though, uncle Fred helped me a lot. He showed me the rudiments of drumming and guided me along the way as I developed my own style. The rehearsal facility was put at our disposal and we had nothing but encouragement from everyone.”
Black Stone Cherry began performing at small venues in Edmonton and around Metcalfe County, Kentucky. They released their first demo CD in 2003 and recorded their self-titled debut album three years later. After doing so, they played a homecoming concert in the gym at their old high school.
“That was a great experience,” Jon reflected. “Our former school principal invited us to do the gig. Edmonton only has a population of about 1,500 people and just about everyone was at the show. It’s something we’ll never forget.”
Their first album peaked at number 90 on the Billboard 200. Subsequent albums have been much bigger hits. As popular as the band may be in America, they are much bigger in Europe. British fans are particularly enthusiastic. Apart from their debut album, which reached number 34, all of their other studio LPs have topped the UK rock chart. Their last three have also made the mainstream top 10.
“I think the rock music TV channels and magazines have been a big help to us in the UK,” Ben suggested. “We don’t have these things in America so the word is only spread through concerts rather than the visual or written media. But the UK fans are something else. We’ve sold out arena tours and headlined music festivals. We couldn’t ask for better support.”
Despite Black Stone Cherry’s extensive touring schedule, the band members all enjoy solid family lives. For Chris though, the time away from his wife and son can be particularly hard. He has been diagnosed as a manic depressive.
“Depression is a disease, just like anything else,” he insisted. “But most people don’t regard it as such because it’s a mental rather than physical illness. I suffer from severe depression and anxiety but most people have the attitude of ‘you’ll get through it, you’ll be alright.’ We don’t have the same support system or help associated with other diseases.
“I kept silent about my problems for years because I grew up in an area where you don’t talk about stuff like that. But with the likes of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell taking their own lives through depression, I felt I had to speak out. I’ve been with my wife since we were 16. If it wasn’t for her and our son, I don’t think I could have made it through.”
Family Tree will always be a particularly special album for Chris. His five-year-old son makes a guest appearance on You’ve Got The Blues.
“I was working on stuff at the house prior to making the record and he was always running around singing that song. I thought I’d record him and tuck it in somewhere in the song.
“But he sounded so cool that we put him right at the front of the song. It’s so cool and something the two of us will have forever. We can tell the story for the rest of our lives and I’m super happy we got to do that.”
His son was also the inspiration behind another track, the emotive ballad My Last Breath.
“We’d played a show in Spokane, Washington. I sat down afterwards, started playing my guitar and immediately sung what is now the chorus. It just kind of happened. The whole song is me talking to my son. It’s all the things I’d want to say to him in my final moments about how much he and his mother mean to me. It’s one of my favourite songs we’ve ever recorded. It really comes from the heart.”
American singer/ songwriter Ariana Grande has set a new Billboard chart record.
Her latest release, No Tears Left To Cry, is the lead single from Ariana’s upcoming fourth studio album. It debuted at number three on the Hot 100. In so doing, she set a record as the only artist to have the lead singles from her first four albums all debut in the top ten.
The Way, lead single from Ariana’s 2013 debut album, Yours Truly, opened at number ten. Problem, from 2014’s My Everything, hit number three while the title-track from 2016’s Dangerous Woman debuted at number 10.
The 2,636th star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame belongs to former boy band ‘N Sync.
Unveiled on April 30, the ceremony shut down Hollywood Boulevard as hordes of screaming and chanting fans camped out overnight to see Justin Timberlake, Joey Fatone. J.C. Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick and Lance Bass. All this despite ‘N Sync releasing no albums of new material since 2001’s Celebrity.
Their fans left the group in no doubt as to what they would like to happen. There was respectful silence as each member made a speech but these were followed by the fans all chanting Reunite.
Following Zayn Malik’s confession that his new single, Let Me, was written about his split from American model Gigi Hadid, it seems that her attitude towards the former One Direction star has softened.
The couple had been dating since 2015. It was Gigi who ended their relationship earlier this year. But Zayn and Gigi were recently photographed in New York sharing a kiss.
Zayn said he had wanted to be with Gigi for the rest of their lives. Perhaps his hope will be realised after all.
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