A former Lawrence resident brings the honky-tonk sound back home for two shows.
Lawrence native sons Chuck Mead and "Hawk" Shaw Wilson, and the rest of BR5-49, Nashville's hottest hillbillies, will be bringing their well-honed road show this weekend to the hallowed stage of Liberty Hall. That's where Mead once held the title of movie projectionist while swinging his guitar for the Homestead Grays, one of the most popular area bands of the 1980s.
After almost a year and a half of whirlwind touring that took it across the world, the band that found a future in country by looking to the past is gearing up for 1998.
Mead still seems to be enjoying every minute of the ride and appreciates the hard-won circumstances that his talent has brought him. He spoke recently with The Mag about the band and where it's heading.
How have things changed for you in the last year?
We're making less money than we were when we were playing for tips, but on the other side of that, we had a bunch of other irons in the fire. We got to do that Southwest Airlines commercial, and a lot of people know us from that. Our record got played on the radio somewhat, which was a surprise. Six months ago I didn't know Bob Dylan and now I do. That's a significant change. That was kind of unreal. We played with him the whole month of August.
How was that?
It was unbelievable. He's the best -- he really is. ... I'm sure he doesn't have to go out there and tour. He's Bob Dylan. They were intense shows. Sometimes I would just get mesmerized at what he'd be doing.
For us, especially going from playing state and country fairs on flatbed trucks in the middle of a horse ring to big rock 'n' roll shows was quite a change. But at the same time, we felt really happy doing both of those things. ... Seen a lot of the world in the last year.
Are you planning new recordings? What do you have going on for 1998?
We're getting all that kind of ironed out. We finished a record but we have to go back in and do a few more songs for it. It was going to be out in April, now it's going to be out June 2, because of scheduling conflicts. We were ready for it to be out right now, but that's us and the big wheel takes a little while to turn ...
So will folks be hearing some new tunes at the show?
Yeah, but we've been playing some of the songs that are going on the new record for a little while anyway. Really, we never know what we're going to do out there -- ever.
What about touring for 1998?
We're fixing to go out and do a couple of dates in California in February, which we've been needing to do for a while, then go back East and hit all the places that we did before. We have a few dates around Wichita, Tulsa, Springfield, and Omaha with Marty Stuart. That'll be great. We get along with him really well. He's a great guy and he's been a long-time supporter.
We'll probably go to Europe in May. The record can come out in May over there. It's just that here there is a scheduling conflict in Arista -- different releases of different people. It's sort of like the space shuttle: just a few windows of opportunity to get into orbit.
How long are you usually out on the road for?
From April '96 to September '97 we were home for about a month -- not all at one time. That kind of gives you an idea of how hard we were going at it. We were in Europe seven times and we went to Japan once.
How was Japan?
In Kumamoto we played this big country festival. We played with Toby Keith, Ronna Reeves, Mark Collie and Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen. It was us and 40,000 Japanese people dressed up like cowboys. It was something else. We were there for four days. They kept us busy doing touristy things. They even took us to an active volcano.
All over the world our crowd looks the same -- it's all different
kinds of people. You see punk rockers, country fans, business-looking type people, musician types and the rockabilly people. It's weird; it's great. That's what it's all about.
What about radio? I know Big Sandy and the Fly Rite Boys have had a hard time getting radio airplay on country radio stations. It's hard to
hear you guys on, say, 61 Country.
Well, actually they did play us on 61 Country -- quite a bit. There are a lot of radio stations that do play us. There are also a lot of radio stations that don't, as well. We didn't have like a major hit or anything. But everywhere we go, people seem to know "Cherokee Boogie" because that was the single that everyone played.
What is the best thing and the worst thing about touring for you
The worst thing is that I'm away from home a lot. The best thing is that I'm pretty much seeing the world. Why should I complain? That's what I want to do. What I've wanted to do all my life is go out and pick. I don't have to have a job. That's been my major thing in life ... not to have a job.
What about your guitars that were stolen from your home recently. How many did you lose?
I lost eight, and I've bought two now. I have a 1957 Gretsch Country Club. It's Cadillac green. It's my main guitar, and then I bought a 1974 Telecaster, too. Now I'm working on getting a Martin. I haven't seen
hide nor hair of (the stolen ones).
What about playing Liberty Hall?
I can't wait. It's going to be great. We had such a great time there last January. I'm just hoping people come out to both nights -- lots of people from both Kansas City and Lawrence. It'll be a tearful reunion.
-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.