One of my little tidbits of wisdom for the 21st century music business is that if you’re going to make an album and put your name on one of the 100,000 CDs released in a year, it should be more than just your latest collection of 11 songs. It should have a deeper reason to be than it was two years since your last album. It should have story and some kind of conceptual center that will help it rise above the noise. Case in point: Chuck Mead’s new Back At The Quonset Hut album. It’s a story within a story within a story. And the guy who dreamed it up and pulled it off (and who ably guest-hosted the show late last season, by the way) is playing the next Music City Roots.
I was fortunate to work on the video component of Chuck’s Quonset Hut album, producing and directing a documentary that’s included in the album package. It tells the story of Chuck, the Quonset Hut itself and the A-Team session players whom Chuck invited into the project. So here’s a taste of all that to get you keyed up for April 11.
Chuck set out for Nashville in the mid 90s after growing up in a working family country band and playing rock and twang in his teens and twenties. He came because of Nashville’s legacy, not because of the scene that was here for classic country music and live performance. Because there really wasn’t much of one. So he helped make one. By launching BR549 and its famous residency at Robert’s, Chuck helped spark one of the great cultural/downtown revivals in America. Today, Lower Broad is a honky tonk Mecca largely because of the parties BR threw five nights a week for several years.
Now Chuck’s a solo artist, and while his first album Journeyman’s Wager showed off his songwriting, the Q-Hut album takes advantage of his deep knowledge of classic country music. Friends made a series of suggestions that led to the idea and the place: an album of savvy cover songs recorded at the legendary first studio of Music Row. Special guests were invited to fit the scene. Guitarist Harold Bradley co-built the Q-Hut with his late great brother Owen in the late 50s. Bassist Bob Moore played on “Crazy” and “El Paso” and a billion other great country hits. The same could be said of fiddler Buddy Spicher and pianist Pig Robbins who rounded out the A-Team band.
So the scene I got to capture was those legendary senior musicians sharing a big circle with Chuck’s regular side guys, including Earl Scruggs’ grandson Chris Scruggs, under the sheltering arched roof of a beautifully renovated Quonset Hut, now nested inside the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. Chuck was resolute that he wanted the band to play all together and listen to one another in the room without headphones, the way records were recorded before the 1970s, so the natural push-pull of a band working would affect the tracks. And it did. The Q-Hut album is lively and vital in ways that conventional studio creations aren’t. The band and Chuck stayed relaxed, practicing each tune to a polished gem and then selecting the take that had everything dialed in. Besides the camaraderie and expertise, you can hear the sound and spirit of the historic studio etched into every track. It’s a delight.
I saw Chuck debut the Q-Hut album songs at the Belcourt and then at SXSW in Austin, so I know they translate into a great stage show. But then Chuck’s been performing some of these songs like “Girl On A Billboard” and “Wabash Cannonball” for years. It’s the right blend of polish and spontaneity, and since Chuck’s a master showman, it’s going to be a special set.
The rest of our lineup features a veteran rocker who went over to the rootsy side, a cerebral newgrass outfit and a world-folk collective. Walter Egan found fame with his radio hit “Magnet and Steel” in the late 70s and since has been a solo performer and a member of the Brooklyn Cowboys, as well as a guitarist for Wanda Jackson and others. Mandolinist Matt Flinner and his trio make beautiful and intricate instrumental music with bluegrass instruments. And we’ll kick things off with a return visit by HuDost, the world-folk band from New York and Montreal fronted by the dazzling Moksha Sommer.
Come see us at the Barn. You’ll leave feeling revived.