Tell us about your tour vehicle.
When The Bo-Keys tour we typically rent a large passenger van. We can fit the band (7-8 guys), our equipment and luggage in one. We get them from a car rental place and they are usually pretty new and dependable. We did a tour with another artist last year who had a Sprinter van. The seats were not nearly as comfortable as a Chevy or Ford 15 pass van. I have come close to buying a van but it seems to come out a lot better for me to just rent one when we need it.
How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?
This is a major challenge, especially when you are touring across middle America. Most of the stops you make end up being at truck stops and your options are fast food or hot dogs that have been spinning on a rotisserie for who knows how long!
I stock up on healthy snacks before I go on the road…nuts, trail mix, fruit, so if I end up in a “food desert” I have something to fall back on and hold me over until my next hot meal. You can end up driving over long stretches of highway where you’re only option for food is what you can scavenge in a gas station. It seems more and more venues and festivals understand how food deprived traveling musicians are and take care of bands. It is important to have a good rider that covers hot meals and snacks backstage.
How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?
Me personally, I only change my bass strings every few years. I play LaBella flat wounds and they last forever. The older they are, the better they sound. The same with cymbals. Howard Grimes plays Istanbul cymbals and the longer he has them, the better they sound. Our guitar player however, he seems to go through strings pretty often. He doesn’t break any but he likes them fresh. Guitar strings are pretty affordable but good bass strings and cymbals are costly but they last a very long time.
Where do you rehearse?
The Bo-Keys rehearse at my studio in Memphis – Electraphonic Recording. I can’t think of anything crazy that has happened there but sometimes our rehearsals feel like a party or a family reunion. Other musicians may drop by or maybe we haven’t seen each other since the last gig so there is a lot of talking and catching up.
What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?
The first songs I wrote were instrumentals. My very first band was an all instrumental band called Impala. The first Bo-Keys record was primarily instrumental too. I didn’t start concentrating on writing lyrical songs until the 2nd album from The Bo-Keys, Got To Get Back, which was released in 2011. I co-wrote the title track with Darryl Carter who is one of the great soul music writers. He wrote with OV Wright, Bobby Womack, Willie Mitchell and many others. I have been writing more vocal songs since then including a lot of Bo-Keys cuts; “Writing On The Wall,” “I Need More Than One Lifetime” and two original tunes on our upcoming album “Learned My Lesson In Love” and “I Hope You Find What Your’e Looking For.”
Describe your first gig.
I started out playing at a place in Memphis called The Antenna Club. It is a famous (infamous?) punk rock venue that was around in the 1980s and part of the 90s. It was a great venue and I wish it was still around. My first gig was there when I was 15 or 16, I made a little money and was pretty impressed that you could actually get paid for playing you own music.
What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?
Music is the only thing I have ever been good at and the only thing I have ever been able to make money doing. I had a lot of manual labor jobs… painting, roofing, carpentry work, I was a valet at the Hotel Peabody one summer, I bar-tended, I was a short order cook at a dinner.
My very first job and the most important one I ever had was at a record distributor in Memphis called Select-O-Hits. It was a company started by Sam Phillips brother, Tom Phillips, in the 50s to distribute Sun Records product. I worked there for 5 years when I was just out of high school. I worked in their warehouse pulling orders but eventually ended up getting hired to produce records for a blues-roots imprint they started called Icehouse Records. I got a real education there on blues, southern soul, gospel, rap…you name it. I learned about the music and the business part of it. It was an invaluable learning experience.
After I worked at Select-O-Hits, I worked at a great record store in Memphis called Shangri-La Records. It was another great learning experience. I think everyone in the music business should work retail in a record store at some point. It really gives you a perspective on the music consumer that you would never have otherwise.
How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?
Music related income is constantly changing. Every time you think you have a handle on it, something else comes along that you have to sign up for in order to get paid. Tracking down your money can be a full time job.
When downloads first started it really took a cut out of the money that came in for physical product and then right about the time the payments for downloads were getting to be significant, streaming came along and took a big chunk of that away. Streaming royalties absolutely have to increase or I don’t see how anyone can afford to release and promote records in the future. From what I understand, the major labels cut a deal with the streaming services and left the indies with the scraps.
5-10 years in the future, I hope that there has been a solution to fix the financial inequalities of streaming. I would hope there would be a solution to the issue.
What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?
Honestly, I really cannot think of anything. My journey through music and the process of discovery and learning has informed my music, songs I’ve written and records that I have made. I feel like I caught the very end of a magical musical era in Memphis. I think back on the music and musicians I was exposed to at an early age who are now gone and how fortunate I was to hear and see them and in some cases work with them. Artists like Rufus Thomas, RL Burnside, Bobby Blue Bland, Willie Mitchell, Fred Ford and Honeymoon Garner, Roland Janes & Charlie Feathers. I sought out their sound and knowledge and what I picked up along the way I wouldn’t trade for anything.