Christmas with the Family: East Tennessee roots musicians make merry at Barley’s
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mike McGill doesn’t have time for the apocalypse.
Between juggling three bands, working on two new albums, eyeing various solo projects and coordinating the Friday night “Barley’s Family Band” shindig in Knoxville’s Old City, he’s got much bigger things on his plate than Mayan predictions surrounding Dec. 21.
“I was brought up in church, and I honestly believe it’s out of our hands,” he told The Daily Times this week. “We got enough (stuff) to worry about other than that.”
First and foremost is Friday night’s gig at Barley’s Taproom in Knoxville’s Old City, which has the potential to turn into one of the biggest all-star jams that East Tennessee has seen all year. It grew from an idea that Barley’s General Manager Rodney Lee had about putting together a one-off house band. The “Barley’s Family Band” is a veritable dream team of local musicians: McGill, who plays with The Drunk Uncles and the Barstool Romeos, on guitar and vocals; Tim Lee of the Tim Lee 3 on guitar; Brock Henderson, formerly of the Uncles and an in-demand sideman all over town, on pedal steel; Jon Whitlock of Christabel and the Jons and Band of Humans on drums; and Daniel Kimbro of Mountain Soul and Brendon James Wright and the Wrongs on bass.
“I think you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better band of musicians,” McGill said. “I’ve done things in the past where I’ve talked to these fellas, and we’ve done something like this in one variation or another. It’s like Tim Lee said: We’ve sent up the ‘Bat signal.’ These boys can do it.”
The early start time (by Barley’s standards, at least) is built around the idea that the “Family Band” will kick off the festivities with six or seven songs, and then various guests will take over the stage to perform sets of their own.
“With all of the replies I kept getting back from people I’ve invited who are going to be in town for this thing, we’re going to have half or all of these bands in the house that night,” McGill said. “All of the Tim Lee 3 will be there. All of Brendon James Wright and the Wrongs. All of the Barstool Romeos. The Naughty Knots. R.B. Morris and Greg Horne. The Drunk Uncles.
“The first half of this thing, I want to start off with six or seven songs with the guys I’ve got together as the core, and then we’ll start turning it over to the full bands who are going to be there and let them do five or six songs. Then those last two hours will be where to really start mixing and matching. If they’re there and they want to play, they can walk in, plug up and play with whomever they want to at any time.
“We want to make it a big revolving door; that way everybody who’s playing gets a break to enjoy the music and the night from both sides of the glass, so to speak,” he added.
Given the sacrifices McGill has made in recent years — downsizing his life from a house to an apartment, from the countryside to the city of Knoxville — that he finds himself in such a respected position is humbling, he added.
“I can’t begin to tell you many times I’ve put my head on the pillow at night that I’m so thankful for all of the wonderful people, that either I’ve been introduced to or played with or put something together in some shape, form or fashion,” he said.
The past calendar year has been a busy one for the East Tennessee native and Carter High School graduate. Traditional country group The Drunk Uncles (a band that includes Blount County residents Gordy Gilbertson on fiddle and Eric Keeble on guitar and drums) recorded a new album at Music Row of Maryville studios, and McGill and engineer/Music Row owner Scott Rader hope to complete the final mixes in the coming weeks. Honky-tonk band the Barstool Romeos, which includes fellow singer-songwriter Andy Pirkle (brother of Walland fiddler Sarah Pirkle) and Keeble as well, have completed the album “Twisted Steel and Sex Appeal” and are releasing it at the end of February. And The Cathouse Prophets, a makeshift “house band” at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson in Maryville, is getting more serious as well.
“Scott Maddux (owner of SMH-D) started it as a rock ‘n’ roll band, and that’s a little outside of my comfort level,” McGill said. “We’ve all (McGill, Maddux, David Glover, Steve Burgess, Roger Schmidt and Mark Akers) been acquaintances and friends to some degree, and when we got together about a year or so ago, we just started jamming. It challenged me, and the next thing you know, we played a few shows together at ‘The Shed,’ and now we’re writing songs together.”
Now, the Prophets are floating around the idea of cutting an album at “The Shed” at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson, where it all started. Which means that 2013 stands to be just as busy for McGill as 2012 has been.
“I think it’s gonna be just wonderful,” he said. “I’ve been writing more songs than I ever thought was possible. I’ve just been overwhelmed with collaborations with all sorts of all people. I’ve sacrificed a lot, but the good Lord has really blessed me with a gift and again, that just speaks volumes about the people who have been around me and came into my world.”