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through a freak of nature, Beat Daddys co-founders Larry Grisham and
Tommy Stillwell are setting the stage ablaze with their distinctive
hybrid of rockin’ blues.
Bassist Jon Rochner lays down a rock-solid foundation behind
Grisham’s full-bodied, soulful vocals on their latest CD, "Live at the
Quincy Blues Fest 2007." Stillwell’s scintillating guitar licks burn
with passion and intensity.
Stillwell replaced Britt Meacham, who was the Beat Daddys' guitarist for 12 years following Stillwell's departure in the mid-1990s. Meacham grew tired of driving 600 miles by himself from his residence in Mobile, Ala., to Grisham's new home, then facing the prospect of hopping into a van for yet another lengthy journey to his next gig.
Although the bluesfest was only the Beat Daddys’ third gig with this revamped lineup, their raucous energy level and crisp musicianship is prevalent throughout.
"Live at the Quincy Blues Fest 2007" features 14 songs from throughout their career, showcasing the band’s diversity. Stillwell has written several outstanding new songs and the band plans to begin work on a new studio album in early 2008.
Rochner, who lives in Newburgh , Ind. , has played professionally since his teens. As a sideman for country artist Marty Brown, he performed on Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry and has toured nationally and internationally. His versatile style has led to work with an abundance of rock, country and jazz sessions.
Dave Sappington is the newest member of the band. Originally from Mississippi, this drummer now resides in Nashville where he worked as an Opryland performer while playing in various bands.
GRISHAM, STILLWELL GET THEIR START
Born in Evansville but a self-professed Gypsy, Grisham began playing with Stillwell at Cloverport ( Ky. ) High School in 1970.
"We played as a duo, drums and guitar, both of us switching each set, only for a couple of small high school, community center things," Grisham recalls.
Although Stillwell became enthralled with the idea of becoming a musician, Grisham had no plans to play music for a living.
"I was going to teach, coach or be a doctor," says Grisham, whose 6-foot-5 frame enhances his towering stage presence. He earned a basketball scholarship to Lander (S.C.) University, but his future was music, not shooting basketballs.
After playing in various bands, Grisham and Stillwell formed the Phonz (pronounced with a long "O"), a power-pop band that enjoyed some success in Southern Indiana in the early to mid-1980s.
"We wore nylon jump suits like Devo," Grisham says, laughing.
They finally found their true calling, the blues, with the Beat Daddys in the late 1980s.
Albert King CHANGES STILLWELL’S LIFE
Stillwell's first lasting exposure to the blues came in 1972, as a wide-eyed 17-year-old at a music festival at Bull Island, near Griffin, Ind. After sitting through various rock acts, he became transfixed watching blues legend Albert King - a moment that has never left him.
Although playing the blues felt the most natural to both him and Stillwell, Grisham dismisses the label "blues band," saying it’s too narrow in focus.
"I feel being called a ‘blues band,’ limits listeners' expectations, yet it all seems to come from the blues," he says, citing Muddy Waters’ classic: "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock And Roll."
"I think our influences come from all kinds of music. But it seems that all of our music has a bluesy influence being the lyrics, the delivery, the timing, the seduction, the beat, the feeling."
The Beat Daddys’ legend spread from Southern Indiana well into the deep South. They opened shows in the Mississippi Delta for such blues luminaries as Johnny Winter and B.B. King. They signed a recording contract with Waldoxy, a subsidiary of Malaco, a respected Jackson , Miss. , blues and gospel label.
Instead of allowing Stillwell to cut loose with his trademark solos, the producers reigned him in on the Beat Daddys' first two records for Waldoxy, 1992’s "No, We Ain’t From Clarksdale," and 1994’s "South to Mississippi."
Their first album, the hard-to-find independently released "Houserocking Rhythm and Blues" in 1989, is much truer to their live sound.
Despite the overabundance of horns and background vocals, "No, We Ain’t From Clarksdale ," and "South to Mississippi " contains several gems, ranging in scope from powerful blues-rock to haunting ballads.
Spin Magazine gave "No, We Ain’t From Clarksdale," a rave review: "It feels like Johnny Winter and Carl Perkins meet Bob Seger and Mitch Ryder. Nothing flashy, just big guitars, big drums and funky whiteboys."
As quoted in the liner notes from the compilation "The Malaco Story/The Last Soul Company: Grisham’s vocals are described on his song, "I’ll Always Love You" as "unbelievably soulful" and "in some twisted way seems to be the bastard great grandchild of Percy Sledge’s ‘When a Man Loves a Woman.’ It’s a track of absolute purity."
In addition to sharing the stage with Winter and King, the Beat Daddys toured with national artists such as Koko Taylor, Robert Cray, Little Milton and Delbert McClinton, among many others. They also toured Europe and Asia.
The Beat Daddys were spotlighted as the "Breakout Band of the Week" on the nationally syndicated "House Of Blues" radio show, hosted by Dan Aykroyd.
Grisham’s emotive vocals and songwriting talent was nearly overshadowed by his lip-blistering harmonica prowess on the Grammy-nominated "I’m a Blues Man," recorded by legendary Bobby Blue Bland, from the compilation album, "Z. Zelebration: a Tribute to Z.Z. Hill."
Seeking even greater success, Grisham drove the band hard. He eventually became disenchanted with his bandmates’ propensity for living the rock ‘n roll lifestyle.
"In retrospect, I was irresponsible, and that drove him up the wall," Stillwell admits.
Enter Meacham, who played on three Beat Daddys albums, including their most recent studio release, "Five Moons," which was nominated by the Kentucky Blues Society as one of the top 10 independently-released blues albums of 2007 throughout the world and has recently progressed to the Final Top 5 IBC (International Blues Foundation) CDs with the Award to be presented in Feb. 2008. Grisham and Stillwell, however, were never completely alienated from each other. Stillwell even attended the CD release party for "Five Moons," setting the stage for their eventual reconciliation.
"LIVE AT QUINCY "
"Live at the Quincy Blues Fest 2007" crackles with rhythmic precision.
Stillwell, whose fluid, flamboyant style enabled him to advance to the regional finals of a "King of the Blues" contest in May, 2007 in Detroit, downplays the Stevie Ray Vaughan. comparisons. He says their styles may appear somewhat similar simply because they were about the same age and grew up listening to some of the same music.
Stillwell’s style is an amalgam of sources, blended into an intoxicating style all his own. If you’ve ever seen him live, it’s a case of burn, baby, burn.
"Tommy is a guitarist, not just a guy who owns the guitar," Grisham says. "There are guys who own tools and claim to be mechanics, guys who own hammers and claim to be carpenters. Tommy is the real thing. He studies, practices and is forever developing his technique/style."
As far as lead singer Grisham’s trademark growl, he says he came by it honestly.
"In the early years, I was trying to sound like whoever I was into that given day," he says. "I liked Paul Rodgers, Burton Cummings, Lennon-McCartney, Jagger, Clapton, the Everly Brothers, Elvis!!! It took many years, but I finally started relaxing and just sang in my natural voice, me. The secret to anyone’s success is to be yourself."
"I have a strong voice, not pretty, you either like it or you don’t. But think of the many voices that have moved millions of souls yet they really, technically can’t sing a lick: Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan...stylists."
In 2007, the circle is complete. Grisham and Stillwell are together again. Their future appears unlimited.