J.D. Cable and the Empty Bottle Band: ‘Pleasantly traditional’ outlaw country
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The music brought J.D. Cable to the stage, but the girls kept him there.
Growing up in Indiana, the self-styled Southern country-rocker got his start singing in his grandfather’s barbershop quartet. As a teenager, some friends down the block discovered he could also play piano and asked him to join their rock ‘n’ roll band.
“They were ’80s glam rock, and they did all the Dokken tunes,” Cable told The Daily Times this week. “When they realized I could sing, they wanted me to get up front and sing a song or two. I got up there, and that’s when I realized that’s where all the chicks were, and that was it, brother.
“The rhythm guitarist showed me a few chords so I started playing guitar, and that was all she wrote. Being up there, it’s an adrenaline rush. You can have a headache, have stress, whatever, but when you hit the downbeat on that first chord, it all goes away.”
After high school, Cable joined the U.S. Army and wound up stationed in Fort Polk, La., where he played in the Fifth Infantry Division Band. From there, he transferred to the prestigious Second Armored Division Band, which was talented enough to warrant a spot at an all-Army battle of the bands in Fort Stewart, Ga.
“We came in second in rock ‘n’ roll, chosen from all of the groups from Korea and Germany and the United States, but I was picked out with about five other people to put together this ‘super band’ called the U.S. Army Express,” Cable said. “That ruined me. We toured down the Gulf Coast, up through the middle of the country to New York, back down the East Coast with this top-notch sound and light rigging and stage equipment the Army has, just a six-piece band hobnobbing with generals.
“It made everything else in life that I would do for money or a job seem just like a job. It was probably the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.”
After living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle on Uncle Sam’s dime — a stint that included a performance for former President George H.W. Bush — Cable left the Army and returned home to Indiana, intending to settle down as a family man. It wasn’t long before a band in Ohio called Diamondback tried to recruit him as its singer; the deal fell through, but the bug had bitten once again.
“It kind of led to my divorce, and my priorities changed,” he said. “It made me realize what my real career goals were, so I moved to Nashville permanently.”
In Music City, he put together the first incarnation of the Empty Bottle Band and gigged around town for six or seven years. He counts among his friends former “Nashville Star” winner Matt Mason and country star Mark Mills, but the Nashville lifestyle started to take its toll, and three years ago, he and his new wife decided to move to East Tennessee. He had a sister-in-law living in Bean Station, and by the time he settled in this area, he’d already sold all of his music gear to put his wife through nursing school.
“I had no intention of playing in any bands, but sure enough, we went to see a couple of local acts play, and I got on Craigslist to see what people were looking for and what kind of ads were on there,” he said. “I found a band looking for an outlaw country/Southern rock vocalist, and I thought, ‘What the heck; I’m going to give them a call.’”
That band turned out to be Hillbilly Jedi a local outfit of weekend warriors who offered Cable the job. He stayed on board for about a year before departing to start his own project; after putting his own ad on Craigslist, one of the first players he recruited was his lead guitarist: Marcus Ott, a graduate of Heritage High School and formerly with the band Gun*Slinger.
The lineup has changed a bit over time, but with Cable’s professional experience guiding his hand, the rough edges are slowly being sanded down, and the Empty Bottle Band is poised to make an impact — at the very least, one that entertains those who want to hear good music.
“I’d call us ‘pleasantly traditional,’” Cable said with a chuckle. “We play a variety of music. We’re an outlaw country band that plays just a little bit of everything.”