Beauty and the beasts: Big Trouble declares that rock ‘n’ roll isn’t dead
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After Melanie Grigsby signed on as the vocalist for local rockers Big Trouble, some fans wanted to know when the band would start adding Fleetwood Mac and Pat Benatar covers to its repertoire.
After they heard her sing, however, they only had one other question:
“‘Where the heck did you find that singer?’” drummer Scott Ledbetter told The Daily Times this week.
“Everybody thought we were going to shift in a new direction,” added bassist Tom Wilson.
“Instead, we threw Van Halen and WASP and Judas Priest in their faces,” Ledbetter chimed in.
Big Trouble returns to The Thirsty Turtle on Saturday night, the venue where Grigsby debuted with the band for the first time. Big Trouble — Wilson, Ledbetter and guitarists Ben Yearout and Greg Marmon — got its start in 2009, when a group of Blount County boys (Ledbetter and Wilson graduated in 1989 from William Blount High School; Marmon from Maryville High in 1989; and Yearout from MHS in 1990) teamed up with former vocalist Keith Burnett.
They’d played off and on in various combinations for years, but by the time all approached 40, they realized the best thing about playing rock ‘n’ roll is doing it for fun.
The band’s first gig was at the American Cancer Society’s 2009 Relay for Life event; the second Big Trouble show was at the annual Battle of the Bands held at the (now-closed) Big Mama’s Karaoke Cafe in Seymour, where the group came away with a second-place trophy.
But in late 2010, Burnett decided to step down; his friends wished him well, and the search was on for another singer. It wasn’t an easy endeavor, Marmon said.
“The first time we replaced Keith, we had five or eight people come down; when we replaced Jeff (Fields, Burnett’s replacement), we had three, and every time, they came in and did their thing and we were like, ‘Don’t call us; we’ll call you,’” Marmon said. “One guy came in and told us he had been working with his vocal coach. We told him he might want to ask for his money back. Another guy thought he was David Coverdale from Whitesnake, but he was about 60.”
Via Facebook, Wilson reached out to Grigsby, a fellow William Blount graduate. A classically trained singer, she’d performed opera and classical, and Wilson asked if she would be interested in singing for a rock band.
“He said, ‘We need you to bring your opera pipes over,’” Grigsby recalled with a laugh. “I was pretty excited about it, because it’s music I’d never done before.”
From the first rehearsal, they threw her into the fire. After years of being told what to sing and how to sing it, the guys gave her the key and the timing and let her sink or swim.
She belted out Sammy Hagar’s “One Way to Rock” for the first song, and the four guys were in agreement: She’d nailed it.
“The search was done,” Wilson said. It took a few months to get her up to speed with the band’s vast repertoire of covers, but what they found was that she was often a better fit on some of the hair metal songs than another male singer might have been.
“It brought a whole new dimension to the sound,” Marmon said. “Every rock band that’s out there that has a guy singing sounds like he has vice grips on his privates when he tries to hit those high notes. With us, it’s evident that this is a girl who sings the notes clearly. She’s not trying to sound like a rock singer; she is one.” The
hardest part, Grigsby said, was settling into her role on stage. Her first performance with the band was at Wallypalooza in early 2012 to a packed house at Big Daddy’s (now the Thirsty Turtle), and she found that rock fans are more skeptical than what she was used to.
“When you sing with a group like this and go do a show, the people sit and look at you and go, ‘What do you got?’” she said.
“With opera or church music, they know what you’re giving to them. With rock ‘n’ roll, it’s like they’re saying, ‘Entertain me — give me what you’ve got.’”
She has, and Big Trouble is better for it, the guys agree.
“We haven’t really scratched the surface of what she can do with this band,” Marmon said. “We’re a rock band, and we play rock ‘n’ roll, and she can do it as well as anybody.”