By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
On Saturday, Jan. 4, a momentous event will take place on the familiar Americana “Peace” stage where, over the years, so many performers have shared their talents with Berkeley Bob’s customers.
On this night a group of musicians and songwriters will release their collective CD titled, “League of Extra Ornery Songwriters”. The compilation CD is a joint venture between old friends, most of who have preformed individually at Berkeley Bob’s, but not on the same night, until now.
Members of The League of Extra Ornery Songwriters are Michael Cannon (guitar and vocals), Skip Cochran (guitar and vocals), Joe Greg Winsett (guitar and vocals), Diana Mayhall (stand-up bass), Jonathan Mayhall (lead and rhythm guitar), Andrew Brasfield (guitar, harmonica and vocals), Fred Miller (sound man extraordinaire), Rick Watson (lead and rhythm guitar), and Jilda Watson (rhythm guitar and vocals).
Of course, as the name of the CD implies, they are all songwriters.
“We'd all been kicking around the idea of a Walker County songwriters group,” explained Rick Watson, spokesman for the group. “Andrew Brasfield sent everyone a note on Facebook and we all thought it was a great idea.”
They met the first time in June 2012, in Brasfield’s basement and they all loved the result. “That was 18 months ago, and we've been meeting ever since,” said Watson. “We'd all played at Bob's from time to time and we knew from the first it would be the place we'd want to do our release party because Bob's is one of the best music venues for acoustic music in Alabama.
“The League of Extra Ornery Songwriters was unanimous in our choice of venue of where to launch our CD,” Watson added. “We love Berkeley Bob's and greatly appreciate the support that Bob Keefe gives to local original music.”
The CD is filled with the bluesy, folksy, down-home sound of Southern musicians who cut their teeth on the bluegrass and country music of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, which of course, are arguably the best decades of music of any genre.
The group excels in bringing to life the melancholy stories of the hills and hollows in the South, a sound that reverberates with the nostalgia and heartbreakingly beautiful wisdom and history of a place and a time that have passed for some, but still live deeply embedded in the South’s traditions and folklore.
As they continued to meet and practice together, the group melded and complimented one another’s sound to the point where they realized that they had a potential CD in the making. Made up of their favorite cuts, the CD became a reality, filled with some of the best original music you will have ever have tapped your toes to.
Watson, who is a wordsmith by trade, having long been a columnist, with two books under his belt, has co-written several of the tracks on the CD. “My wife, Jilda, and I have been writing music together for about 30 years,” said Watson. “I was actually a songwriter before I became a columnist, so I guess you could say that writing songs has actually helped me with writing for newspapers because it’s all about storytelling, about weaving a story.”
The couple has spent a lot of time honing their craft in Nashville. They have written songs for Canadian vocalist, Tracy Reynolds, and Lamar Morris, among others.
“We got a call one night from backstage at the Grand Ole’ Opry,” said Watson. “It was Tracy Reynolds’ husband letting us listen to her singing our song on stage.”
Morris, who was an associate of Hank Williams Jr., recorded their song, “The Night a Country Star Was Born”, which did a two-week stint as number one on the Indy charts in Europe.
So, this group of musicians is not your normal, run-of-the-mill, back-porch band. There is real, seasoned talent here, and you’ll notice it right out of the gate.
For instance, Brasfield has played with blues bands all over the South. He has played harmonica in various bands in the Birmingham music scene since 1999. Brasfield began his musical journey when he was 16 and has sharpened his skills ever since. Having an interest in creative writing, Brasfield began writing songs as a member of Motel Ice Machine and has penned songs for both of their albums as well as creating a whole CD of his original music called “Moonlight”. The CD was written, produced and engineered by Brasfield in addition to featuring him playing or programming all instrumentation at what he laughingly refers to as, “Kilgore Opry Studios”, which is his basement studio. Only one song was recorded in a professional studio.
Brasfield has shared the stage with George and the G-Men, Joe Broadhead, The Sassy Brown Blues Band, The Regals, The Elijah Butler Band, Mandi Rae & Westover Water, Motel Ice Machine, 2 Blu and the Lucky Stiffs, among others. As a member of The Lefty Collins Band, he traveled to Memphis in 2012 after winning the Magic City Blues Society's Battle of the Blues Bands and was able to compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., with about 150 other blues bands from around the world. That year, The Lefty Collins Bands competed in the IBC finals with eight other bands.
Brasfield terms The League of Extra Ornery Songwriters as a group of “like minded, fairly centrally located musicians who encourage each other and generally enjoy the company of like-minded, creative thinkers”.
The CD release will be Brasfield’s first time at Berkeley Bob's. “It’s reputation as a listening room and the comments I've heard from other musicians makes me excited to get introduced to the venue in this way,” said an enthusiastic Brasfield. “Anytime I can share the stage with these folks it's a good time. I think the atmosphere and environment Bob's creates will make it an even more special performance. I'm really glad we could find such a ‘musician friendly’ venue to do our compilation CD release. Plus, the music isn't available at any digital music outlet — it's only available on CD directly from one of the artists on the album.”
Skip Cochran, who opened for Kevin Welch in Birmingham, is a veteran songwriter whose lyrics paint pictures in verse.
For the past 25 years, Michael Cannon has been studying guitar under the influences of Michael Hedges, Phil Keaggy and Leo Kottke. He is currently in studio recording three individual albums which will be available in 2014.
Jonathan Mayhall is also a member of The Spook House Saints, a duo made up of himself and his wife, Diana. “We describe what we play as rock'n'roll, but are also described as ‘rockabilly and/or folk punk’,” explained Mayhall. “We play original songs (that I have written) and have played at music festivals, clubs, coffee houses, car shows, ballparks, street festivals and live radio programs. One of our songs, ‘Spook House Bop’, was featured in the sound track of the movie, ‘The Last Trip,’ and another, ‘Zombies!’ will be featured in an upcoming movie, ‘Three Days Dead.’ Our songs have received radio play locally, nationally and in Europe.”
Diana is also a songwriter and together the couple has co-written several songs with other members of the songwriting group.
“We love playing at Berkeley Bob's Coffee House. We played there Halloween night and had our CD release show there last March. Bob is a talented songwriter and performer and a true friend of music,” praised Mayhall.
"If you are not familiar with The Spook House Saints, you are missing a rare musical treat,” said Berkeley Bob’s owner, Bob Keefe. “Right out of the ’50s, ’60s folk ‘rockabilly’ tradition with some of the best lyrics I've heard recently, in the tradition of the greats from that era including Garcia, CCR, even early Johnny Cash and, I dare say, Dylan. I can see them performing on the street corners in Union Square, Golden Gate Park or Haight-Ashbury back then. If you get a chance to see them you will see what I mean. I am high on this group."
Joe Greg Winsett says that he grew up on Hee Haw and Sunday School. “My big sister got me hooked on songwriting when I was just a kid,” Winsett recalls. “I love traditional country music, but still find plenty to like on modern country radio.”
Winsett moved to Nashville in the early ’90s and had the opportunity to travel with some of the hottest artists at the time, selling merchandise. “I learned so much and made some friends for life,” he said. Over the last five years he’s had the opportunity to record and do some demo work.
So save the date, Jan. 4, and note the time change, which starts an hour earlier than usual at Berkeley Bob’s, due to the extended lineup of artists. The show begins at 6 p.m. and runs through 9 p.m.
You’ll have plenty of time to meet, greet and mingle with The League of Extra Ornery Songwriters between sets and after the performance.
For a little sample of what you’ll be hearing Jan. 4, at Berkeley Bob’s Coffeehouse, visit this link: