TENNESSEE RIVER CROOKS 1976
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1.Waiting For A Better Day
2. Song Of David
3. We Are All Brothers
4. Old Music
5. Tennessee Land
6. Life On The Road
7. Hot Busch
This story played out locally all across the USA in the wake of the paradigm changing Beatles / British Invasion of 1964. Childhood friends Jimmy Stewart and Larry Farrar heard electric guitars and started a garage band, evolving into Rat Salad by 1970, Hit And Run after that, and finally the Tennessee River Crooks. The band name is taken from the cigar box roadie/manager Jerry Crouch used to stash cash in while working the door at countless gigs across Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois… like most regional working bands of the day these guys played crowd pleasing cover versions at live shows to pay the bills. However, they intended to do their own material from the very start. Originally issued as a private pressing in 1976, this rare LP is an unfiltered slice of real life in the Southern Rock genre. We are lucky some slick producer didn’t stumble across them and water it down with dollar signs in his eyes! This stuff is as pure as it gets!
They say it concisely in the liner notes on the LP sleeve: “It is not produced by a major record label. It does not contain many of the tricks and gimmicks normally associated with such a production… what you hear is the band, with most of the rhythm tracks recorded live, just as they sound when you hear them live. The music is all original, the reproduction is realistic.” Yes folks, it is not merely a record, it is life itself! While the big Southern Rock bands like Skynyrd, Allmans, 38 Special, etc. are influences what you get here is akin to a secret glimpse behind the curtain into one of the myriad local scenes across America… in this case out of Paris, Tennessee. Recorded way out in the sticks at Sound Farm Studio in Puryear, Tennessee. Way beyond reach by the long arm of the record biz. One of the joys about discovering lost buried vinyl treasure like this is the superior power of a diamond in the rough over the polished stone. You get the real deal that tends to age best, the low budget “warts” become beauty marks across time because they breathe like real human beings having a blast!
The band on the LP are Jimmy Stewart on bass and lead vocals, his brother Ricky Stewart on drums, Larry Farrar and Ronnie Waters on guitars. Previous member Mike Hendrix returns for the sessions to add lead guitar. Jimmy and Mike wrote the songs. Some friends also help out including Dianne Davidson on backing vocals who made several LPs of her own and worked with Tracy Nelson of Mother Earth. Honey Combs also adds background vocals besides having the coolest name out of everyone involved. Kenneth D. Simmons adds steel guitar and Alan Raidt adds a bit of synth, Kenny Snow adds mandolin. It’s basically a no frills 2 guitars, bass, drums lineup with the extra instruments used very sparingly in inventive ways. The uncluttered directness of the recordings wears well as plenty of space is left for your own head to fill in. The energy is not diluted by unnecessary elaboration. The guitars do tasty southern dual action at just the right moments. The vocals inhabit a space somewhere between Steve Miller and Ronnie Van Zandt without imitating them. Bare bones equals long shelf life here in the vivid manner the guitar tracks are arranged, the loose but tight rhythm section below and the clear way the vocal harmonies are deployed with just the right balance. The harder rock elements and the country moves blend seamlessly supporting lyrics with little of the common southern iconography of the genre. Their concerns are more rooted in the moment than in the past. Life on the road, women, a friend’s death, living naturally… more an outdoors rural post-hippie new man vibe than a born to lose roadhouse brawler. Capable of bringing the two together on stage I am sure… the LP is song oriented but I bet they jammed the hell out of some of these tracks in the flesh. Nothing abstract or arty here, this is music made to reach people straight up.
The rare original LP was issued with two different sleeves, tragically. The first press from 1976 has a photo of the namesake Tennessee River Crooks cigar box on the front. The second press from 1977 has a photo of Ronnie Waters and is titled “To A Brother” in his memory as he passed away only months after the LP first came out. 1000 copies of each version were made and they pull hundreds of dollars on the collector scene nowadays.
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