Monday, February 11, 2019

Veteran players whose credits include Dolly Parton, the Mavericks, the Farm Bureau, Trailer Choir and Raging Fire band together to forge a flame-breathing update on rock, boogie, blues, and other sounds of the South—and take it on the road.  

NASHVILLE, TN — With a sound stronger than East Tennessee moonshine, Smoky White Devils have arrived … with a debut album called New Old Stock that packs six-string swagger, mountain-country soul, expert songcraft and mule-driving rhythms into 10 original tunes. New Old Stock is available now via Plowboy Records, as the band burns up the highways playing select headlining dates and opening for the likes of the Kentucky Headhunters and Richard Lloyd.  

Smoky White Devils unites four pedigreed players: singer-guitarists Richie Owens and Nick Kane, bassist John Reed and drummer Michael “Fergie” Ferguson. And the title New Old Stock—a term used in the musical instrument business for pristine, rediscovered treasures, like vintage tubes and transformers, from earlier eras—alludes both to their experience and to the fresh unfettered energy they bring to their music and live concerts.  

“The beautiful thing about this band is it’s all been organic,” says Owens, whose credentials include bandleader, songwriter, guitarist, instrument maker and producer. “We’ve shared the stage with each other over the years in various combinations, but when we got together two years ago just because we all thought it might be fun to play together … it just exploded. Ideas for songs and riffs just started pouring out. We had a sound that coalesced around Nick’s and my guitars and songs naturally. And with all of us being more seasoned and wily, we know how to get right to the heart of a song or a sound in the studio or onstage, and really make it count.”  

New Old Stock opens with “Hoppin’ John,” a song that plants Smoky White Devils’ flag via Kane’s big, bawdy roadhouse riff and Owens’ tale of a larger-than-life figure that’s a composite of some of the wildmen from his native East Tennessee hills—a place bookended by bootleggers and preachers, with musicians falling somewhere in the middle. “For me, telling the kind of stories I heard as a kid, about the kind of people from where my family is from, is an important part of the tradition I want to carry on,” says Owens.  

But other tunes, like the sinuous, wistful “Western Avenue,” speak to today. Owens draws on his experience of being homeless in Los Angeles in the 1980s, while he struggled to find his footing in the West Coast music business, to compose a soul-wrenching metaphor for modern America—where the division been the rich and the poor has never been wider. Kane perfectly capture’s the song’s yearning with the reverb-soaked tone of his customized Les Paul Black Beauty, and Owens’ voice is nakedly and affectingly plaintive as it rides the rich foundation laid by the extraordinary rhythm team of Reed and Ferguson.  

It’s back to East Tennessee for the legend of “Popcorn Sutton,” the true-to-life tale of perhaps the world’s most famous moonshiner—now enshrined by both the brand of liquor that bears his name and by Smoky White Devils’ driving, anthem Southern rock treatment of his musical biography. “Everything She Needs” is another rock masterwork. It’s juggernaut rhythm and liquid guitar lines sound plucked from an undiscovered page in Cream’s catalog.  

Throughout the album, Owens’ and Kane’s guitar interplay is mesmerizing. “When we first started jamming, we immediately fell into a place that respected both of our strengths,” Kane explains. “We’re both great rhythm players, and Richie is a master of slide guitar and lap steel, and I’ve got all the heavy old-school blues-rock elements covered. I was raised on that stuff, just like Richie was raised on all the sounds he heard as a kid growing up in his musical family.”  

Indeed, Owens has deep roots in the Southern music tradition. His great-grandfather, George Grooms, was the inspiration for the character Jack White played in the film Cold Mountain. And his father—musician, publisher, songwriter and producer Louis Owens—was, among other things, the man who first introduced Richie’s cousin, Dolly Parton, to the public. All of the Owens kids played instruments, and Richie discovered his affinity for the resonator guitar (He has several signature models via the Washburn company, and ran his own Owens brand for years.) when he was 10. By then, he’d already been performing on radio, and as a teen he supported Leon Russell, Joe and Rose Lee Maphis and others on stage. Next, he helped drive Nashville’s punk and new wave scene with his bands the Movement and the Resistors, even while broadening his skills to engineering and producing. His credits at the board include albums by Dolly Parton and the Georgia Satellites and Kentucky Headhunters.  

He’s also the frontman for Richie Owens & the Farm Bureau, a Nashville-based roots-rock institution that includes John Reed. The bassist and Owens met decades ago in Nashville’s punk scene, when Reed was a driving force in Raging Fire. During those years, Reed and Owens also met Michael “Fergy” Ferguson—who plays sessions and holds the drum chair for Trailer Choir—in Nashville rock clubs. They’ve all remained friends and collaborators ever since.  

Kane and Owens first crossed paths in Los Angeles during there playing days at the infamous alt country bar the Palomino Club, shortly before Kane joined the Mavericks as lead guitarist during their Grammy-winning platinum heyday. He, too, comes from a musical family. Kane’s father was a singer with the Berlin State Opera, but ultimately the rock and blues explosion of the ’60s and early ’70s ignited Kane’s still-burning passion for playing electric guitar. After moving to Miami in the ’80s and playing in local bands, he hit the road with a string of blues legends including Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers, and Hubert Sumlin.  

After the Mavericks, Kane embarked on a solo career, releasing the album Songs in the Key of E and fronting his hard-driving instrumental project the Balls. As he played around Nashville, he and Owens slipped back into each other’s orbit—and, along with Reed and Ferguson, they co-founded Smoky White Devils—which gets its name from a routine by comedian Shane Caldwell called “Alabama Rehab Guy.” (Look it up on YouTube.)  

“As songwriters and musicians, we’ve all come a long way as individuals,” Owens observes. “But with Smoky White Devils, this is truly a band of brothers. We’ve come to the best place musically that we’ve ever been. And we got there together.”  

— END —



Smoky White Devils - New Old Stock 

By Raul Watson 

Blues and Roots Music Blogspot                                   

 Monday, February 4, 2019 

Outta Maggie Valley in East Tennessee, once lives a man more famous than me  

Everybody knowed him for miles around, everybody liked it when he came to town  

Some called it liquor, some called it shine, everybody called it the best they could find 

A few years back, I caught the Farm Bureau at a show with Chris Scott’s Summit.  Richie Owens and I were discussing how much heavier the music was getting, compared to the more rootsy feel you find on their records. 

“They’re requesting my blues/rock songs more and more,” he remarked about his fans.  “John (Reed) and I are thinking we need to start a completely different project.” 

Fast forward to November 2018, and Plowboy Records has a CD release party for the Smoky White Devils new release “New Old Stock” at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville. 

Like a bull storming out of the gate, hungry and horny, The CD starts strong with Hoppin’ John.  

He likes to smoke, he likes to drink, he plays the fiddle and he sings 

He’s from up in those Tennessee hills, he Likes to do his own damn thing 

Smoky White Devils is a big sound.  Anchored in roots musical themes, the band delivers at eleven both in volume and boldness.  Richie and guitarist Nick Kane put it right in your face.  John Reed on bass and Michael "Furgie" Ferguson on drums roll it right over you.  The songs are interesting, intense and intoxicating.  The experience is like a tattoo, it’s with you forever. 

You smoked my weed, ate all my pills - You drank my whiskey and burned down my still 

Yeah I got nothing because of you - I’m Operating in the Blue 

They tell stories of their own life and the interesting characters they’ve met.  Richie spent his whole life in the Nashville and Los Angeles music scene, and has no qualms about exposing its dark and dismal underbelly.  Whether it’s the homeless dying on Western Avenue, or the ladies that are everywhere, Richie brings them to life in their own climate. 

You Must be from Nashville is a sweet crawling, crocodile groove, 

She got a thing for celebrities; she knows a ton of these 

She even went out with old Buck Owens

Her momma got rich by divorce of course, also got a thing about celebrities 

She even went out with old Buck Owens 

All the songs are abrasive but capture your attention.  Strong riffs over heavy beats.  In particular, if you don’t just love the delta groove of Black Leather Woman I’m afraid we can’t be friends. 

 In my favorite story of Richie’s, he’s a young musician working in Dolly Parton’s office.  Part of his duties include running to the parking lot across the street to meet Popcorn Sutton.  Popcorn and Dolly were friends, and when people would come to Nashville she would order refreshments. 

Swore he’d never go to jail – Shoot himself first, go straight to hell 

Jesus tuned the water into wine – Sutton turned it into real moonshine 

Popcorn Sutton had a still…

 — END —