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Monday, May 2, 2016

From The Practice House to The Sheid

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

If you were a sailor in the mid-1600s, the last place you wanted to end up was between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Land-lubbers too, including a fast-rising rock band from Kentucky, can also relate to that old English saying about being stuck with a rock on one side and a hard place on the other.

That sums up why Black Stone Cherry dubbed its third album Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Roadrunner Records).

"That's kind of where we were for the year that we took to write the new record -- between a rock and a hard place," Black Stone Cherry bassist Jon Lawhon said from the road in Des Moines, Ia. "We figured it would be just a couple of months worth of writing when we started. We kept turning stuff in to the label and they kept saying, 'no. We want you guys to push and keep pushing to make these songs better, so they're at a Platinum level.' So it was hard, but we just kept at it and kept going. It (the title of the album) was all about the struggle of bringing this record to life. It was a difficult record to write emotionally and it was difficult to have the label breathing down our necks, pushing us even farther. But bless them for doing it, because the album turned out great."

And, in the month's time since that record hit the streets, the music-buying public seems to agree with Lawhon's assessment.

"So far, it's been very good (the reaction to the Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea). It's still in the top 10 in the U.K., which is amazing," he said. "And people in the U.S. are starting to dig on it. "White Trash Millionaire" (the first single from the album) is the top 15 and still climbing. So no complaints so far. We've not heard any bad reviews and the fans seem to be digging on it."

New songs like the afore-mentioned "White Trash Millionaire," with its stomping power chords and blasts of talk-box, along with the instantly-catchy "Blame it on the Boom Boom" are bound to get a workout July 23 at the Vada Sheid Community Development Center in Mountain Home, as Black Stone Cherry pulls into town to headline the 2011 Sheid Rockfest.

Since working their way out of Edmonton, Ky., over five years ago, Black Stone Cherry (Chris Robertson -- Lead vocals; Ben Wells -- guitar; Jon Lawhon -- bass; John Fred Young -- drums) has criss-crossed the globe several times over and seen its sophomore release, 2008's Folklore & Superstition, debut at number one on the U.K. rock charts.

Not too shabby for four country boys that hail from a town with a shade less than 1,600 residents.

But as can be heard on their new album, as well as Folklore and the 2006 self-titled debut, you can take Black Stone Cherry out of the country, but you can't take the country out of Black Stone Cherry.

Much of that can be traced to the rundown farmhouse that the band basically grew up and honed its chops in, a place that is almost the fifth member of Black Stone Cherry -- the rehearsal space called The Practice House -- a place decked out with a well-weathered sofa on the front porch, complete with the obligatory mix-matched cushions, of course.

"The Practice House is a major part of who we are and what we do. It's always shaped us as individuals and musicians. When you sit in that room, music just pours into your veins," said Lawhon. "And on this record, we wrote quite a bit at The Practice House. But we also wrote some in Nashville and California (where the album was recorded). "Blame it on the Boom Boom" was written at the Practice House, but "Won't Let Go" and "Like I Roll" were written in California. So the environment you're in at the time does reflect in the songs. There's a line in "Like I Roll" that talks about 'I roll like the hills under the California sun,' and, when that was written, we were literally sitting on a balcony in Southern California and we're looking out at the rolling hills, with the sun right in the middle of the sky and ocean on three sides of the house. So because of where we were, it made sense to have that line in the song. So environment does help shape our songs."

While its title might suggest otherwise, "White Trash Millionaire" is not a stinging putdown on the way that big-city folks view the way that those in rural communities live their lives.

"White Trash Millionaire," we wrote that one in The Practice House and it has some elements of who we are, but there's also a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff in there, too," said Lawhon. "But there's a positive message in there, as well. It's pretty much saying that it doesn't matter who you are, or where you come from, or how much money you've got, all you really need is your friends and family -- people that love you -- to be a millionaire."

Where its first album may be a bit heavier and its second album a bit more polished, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea finds Black Stone Cherry molding elements of both into the group's strongest installment to date.

"What we wanted to do with the third record was land somewhere in between the first and the second album, but even do it in a larger way," Lawhon said. "Almost like land between them, but come up with something that hadn't been done yet."

Black Stone Cherry's bloodlines run deep through the swampy parameters of southern-fried rock, deeper than just having a place to jam in the Kentucky countryside can provide.

Percussionist John Fred Young's dad (Richard) and uncle (Fred) are founding members of the Kentucky Headhunters, another band that carved out a long-lasting career from the ground up.

Even though they fully embrace those roots, evidenced by the way they put their own spin on The Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See" off the new album, Lawhon says be careful not to just pigeon-hole Black Stone Cherry as a straight-up southern rock outfit.

"Some songs we do are more southern rock leaning -- "Like I Roll," for example, off the new record, or "Rollin' On" from the first record or "Devil's Queen" from the second," he said. "At the same time, a song like "Killing Floor" is by no means a southern rock song. Ultimately, the way I like to look at is, we're just a rock band -- bottom line. It doesn't matter what kind it is, we're all forms of rock. That's what we do."

And with a new album to showcase, Black Stone Cherry has been burning up plenty of miles on both sides of the Atlantic the past couple of months, playing to hordes of fans eager to get their fill of explosive rock-n-roll.

"We started out in April and did a few shows with Hinder and then came back with Alter Bridge," said Lawhon. "Then we went to Europe for a few days to do some press, came home for a few days and then went back over there to do some festivals (including the massive three-day Download Festival at Donington Park, England). And after we're done with our current headlining tour here in the States, we go into the Carnival of Madness dates, then it's back to Europe for some co-headlining gigs with Alter Bridge."

While the Carnival of Madness tour, kicking off Aug. 13 in Twin Lakes, Wi., features Theory of a Deadman, Alter Bridge, Adelita's Way and Emphatic, fans that want to see Black Stone Cherry stretch out in concert, playing some of its deeper cuts, would probably be advised to catch the group on its current headlining jaunt.

"You have to change things up some. There's less room on the stage and the set is shorter because of the other bands on the bill," Lawhon said of playing on a multi-band bill. "So when you're doing a support set, you have about 45 minutes. You have to make sure you're playing the singles - or anything that could possibly be a single -- along with your best live stuff. You have to play the songs that people appreciate and dig the most live. You have to cram an hour-and-a-half set in 45 minutes. But when you're headlining, you can play some other cool stuff in your set that the fans also want to hear. "

Though concert attendance has been down the last couple of years, with people being choosy about how they spend what little disposable income they do have, Lawhon said that the fans that do come out make themselves heard, loud and proud.

"I see that there are a few less people there, but the ones that are there are more diehard than they ever have been," he said. "I think that has to do with the fact that people really can't afford it (entertainment). Nobody can. But the people that force themselves to do it are all about having to be there. It's like going to church. So they give it their all, which makes us give even more on stage."

So what can those attending the 2011 Sheid Rockfest expect when Black Stone Cherry rolls into Mountain Home?

"An action-packed time. It's hard to explain, you just have to see it to believe it," Lawhon said. "There will be a lot of energy on that stage. And then us spending 20 minutes after the show, sitting on the bus, feeling like we're going to die. Wondering if we need to dial 911. And then us coming off the bus and signing autographs and hanging out."

True to its blue-collar roots, Black Stone Cherry handles its business with a workman-like approach, showing up every day, punching the clock, rolling up its sleeves and getting down to the matters at hand. That's regardless of whether the band is in the studio, or out on what has become its home -- the road.

And while that's no guarantee at long-term success in the ever-fickle music biz game, Lawhon says Black Stone Cherry has no plans to deviate from the path the band is currently on.

"Hopefully, as far as dreams go, in a few years we'll be playing some of the larger arenas, headlining, with a couple of platinum records, working our way up to playing stadiums," he said. "When we were kids and first got together, we never said, 'if we get to play Wembley (Arena, in London),' we said 'when we get to play Wembley.' that will be the greatest thing ever. And I'm here to tell you, when we played Wembley, it was the greatest thing ever. We've always kept an 'it's going to happen' attitude. Not if, but when. That's the mental makeup of this band. And so far, we haven't let ourselves down. We're still achieving new things every day and it's growing. We're just as determined now, with as much fire in us, as we were when this band started in 2001 when we were still in high school."

For more info on the Sheid Rockfest, go online to www.vadasheidcdc.com, or www.blackstonecherry.com.