As a child of the 70’s and a lifelong music lover, I remember well the days when my first love, classic Honky Tonk Country Music, had been forced into the back seat of a figurative squad car, hand-cuffed, and door slammed shut. Then this figurative “law” gave way to a brand of country radio that pandered to marginal movie soundtrack fodder. Suddenly denim and pearl snap shirts, boot-cut Levi’s and Wranglers gave way to satin and designer fabrics being sold in western stores. The residual effects included a basic pair of Tony Lamas going from $70 to $170 in the course a short year or two. Resistol or Stetson hats doubled in price and every banker, CEO, or lawyer had ‘em all in his closet ready to adorn himself and drive a BMW up to the newest Gilley’s wannabe for a night of fancying himself an Urban Cowboy.
I also recall, during damn-near the same time frame, the likes of Grand Funk, Led Zeppelin, The James Gang, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, and Elton John being shepherd-hooked offstage as mirror balls were hung from the ceiling and KC & The Sunshine Band proclaimed “That’s The Way (Uh-Huh, Uh-Huh) I like It. People were doing “The Hustle” (dances suddenly had names again) and good ol’ guitar-driven Rock and Roll was, like classic Honky Tonk, hand-cuffed and shoved into the same figurative squad car seat and driven away.
But simultaneously something had been stirring, oh so subtly, in the American roots music scene prior to this musical martial law fiasco. Hendrix and Pink Floyd fans were getting into Levon Helm and The Band and, later, Lowell George and Little Feat. Jefferson Airplane fans were digging Gram Parsons & The Flying Burrito Bros., Poco, and the Eagles. Bob Dylan was being touted by Johnny Cash as the next American folk messiah. Down in Houston and Austin, Texas radical rebels Jerry Jeff Walker, B.W. Stevenson, Guy Clark, Gary P. Nunn, and others were shaping Texas into a mecca for authentic, homegrown art. Most curiously, way down yonder in the Land Of Cotton a gentleman by the name of Phil Walden, in Macon, Georgia, was discovering, promoting, and recording music on his Capricorn Records label; music made by southern boys that was to become known as Southern Rock. The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Dobie Gray, and Elvin Bishop are just a few. All these events were in the background, the underground, swelling, stirring, waiting for that alignment of cosmic properties and an awakening of distraught souls and crap-laden spirits to notice. Suddenly there were pockets of hope. That hope was contagious as hell and everything that was cable-towed to our hearts, that was seemingly taken away from us in the mid-70’s was wondrously reborn, and, like the Highwaymen, will always be around, and around, and around, and around….
When The Statesboro Revue’s CD Ramble On Privilege Creek came to my hands I was intrigued by the cover art, designed by a fellow named Billy Perkins, who incidentally did a fine job creating a mood for the imminent listening experience. From the moment the lead-off track, “Fade My Shade Of Black” (the first single released to radio) began until the last strains of the final cut “Hands On The Sun” concluded something splendid occurred. Ghosts came to me. My most satisfying moments absorbing music these days are those times when I feel, literally experience, the presence of those ghosts. It’s not that they came to me per se, but, rather, they were drawn, conjured by the recording to which I was listening, as if to push play on Ramble On Privilege Creek mystically opened a door to another dimension. What in the hell am I talking about, you may be asking yourself. It happened first on “Huck Finn” and then again on “Lil Mary’s Last Stand.” Those tracks brought Levon Helm somehow mystically movie screened on my windshield, translucently sitting behind his kit, one shoulder higher than the other, pouring his soul into skins and a mic as I drove the highways listening to Stewart Mann’s soulful voice. And Mann certainly has his own voice. He makes no attempt to sound like anyone but he amazingly embodies the spirit and character of many. It isn’t a vocal similarity. This fellow’s artistic vision and heart is atavistic.
Track three drew another old friend from the ethers to listen as the heart-stirring soul of “Cold November” hung in the air like dew. I don’t know if Dobie Gray came to sing along or just to listen, but he came and we shared the song together. No sooner than “Till I Leave” began, Duane Allman and Berry Oakley came ambling into view, shaking hands with Dobie and Levon. They smiled and winked in approval of this music they were being treated to. This song and its chugging southern blues riff, iced with a bottleneck guitar and impassioned, raspy vocal was certainly all it took to make eating a peach seem like Heaven.
And so it went. Over the course of two days on the road listening to Ramble On Privilege Creek, I, as Mann sings in “Half Mile To Lincoln,” had “revelation in a song,” as Lowell George stomped his foot, played hand drums on his legs and bobbed his head knowingly in the seat beside me. As the album closed Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and Otis Redding formed an arm-around-each-other arc as “Hands On The Sun” with its funky guitar riff and wah pedal made us all feel every ounce of jubilation that we experienced in 1973 when the James Gang and Sly Stone were funkin’ the place the ground.
Stewart Mann, his brother Garrett Mann, and the rest of the band known as The Statesboro Revue have made the preservation of past greatness, while taking the banner forward, their raison d’etre. In listening to the carefully and expertly crafted songs on this 12 tune collection you will experience exhilarating things. You’ll wax nostalgic, you’ll want to shuffle ya feets, you’ll want to break out the blackberry brandy and share it with a few good buddies. You’ll hear a magnificent voice wielding both fire and longing, guitar tones that will take you straight back to Duane and Dickie. You’ll hear crafting of vocal melody, as in the beautiful “Isabella,” and its waltz beat that has been all but lost over the years. You’ll hear funked out drums and bass beside high lonesome violins, Hammond organ beside heart-rending pedal steel guitar. Deliveries that are, at once, Muscle Shoals, Memphis, Macon, or mountains, and friends it works like Grandma’s kitchen. One day when all of us alive today have made that journey to the beyond, there will be another atavistic surgence that will bring Stewart and Garrett Mann, and maybe Leon Russell, some members of the Black Crowes, and Dr. John back through that celestial door to put their stamp of approval upon the work of their musical progeny. It’s magic. It draws kindred spirit. It makes all ages feel as one and young again. And it brings those wonderful ghosts.
“You and me was kids, at the age of 18…trying to hold onto our youth, me and you…You’ve got to live a little, love a little, laugh a little when you can. Bear a little, care a little, share a little for your friends…those were the days…” (~ from “Live A Little”).
~ Jeff Hopson
Jeff Hopson resides in Garland, TX and has been in the Lone Star State since September of 1989, when he moved here from his native Tennessee. After three and a half years in Nashville, he channeled the spirit of his upper East Tennessee kinsman, a certain diplomat named Crockett, and stated, “You may all go to hell…I will go to Texas”. Jeff is a songwriter and performs often in the North Texas region, and has a collection of short fiction in the works.
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