• News

    Posted on July 8th, 2014

    Written by ken green


    Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys perform ‘Neosho Valley Sue’ On Live & Breathing

    After leading several popular ‘80s cult bands in and around his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, Chuck Mead landed on Nashville’s Lower Broadway where he co-founded the famed ‘90s Alternative Country quintet BR549. In 2009, he released his acclaimed solo debut album, Journeyman’s Wager, and toured clubs, concert halls and international Rock, Country and Rockabilly festivals with his band The Grassy Knoll Boys.


    Check out ‘Neosho Valley Sue’ right here: http://liveandbreathing.com/chuck-mead-his-grassy-knoll-boys/chuck-mead-his-grassy-knoll-boys

  • News

    Posted on June 17th, 2014

    Written by ken green


    “It sounds like country music ought to sound.” Alan Cackett Reviews ‘Free State Serenade’…

    Chuck Mead – Free State Serenade

    Plowboy Records


    June 16, 2014

    It took me a little while to get to grips with this latest album by BR549 founder Chuck Mead. As soon as I placed the CD in the player, I was smitten. He showcases an exciting mix of honky-tonk country, folk, rockabilly and roots-driven music backed by his Grassy Knoll Boys, a kind of ad-hoc group of Music City pickers, including BR549’s Don Herron, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Critter Fuqua, Will Rambeaux and Mark Andrew Miller. Though I loved what I was hearing, initially there seemed to be a lack of continuity; no sense of purpose for what appeared to be a disparate collection of songs. After several more plays, it all began to fall into place. Chuck was born and raised in Lawrence, Kansas, where he led various bands playing a variety of music prior to moving to Nashville some 20 years ago and forming BR549. It is Kansas and Chuck’s obvious affection for his home state that is the link that ties all of these self-penned songs together.

    Much has been made over the years of the importance of such regions as Texas, Kentucky, the Appalachians, Oklahoma, Louisiana and the West Coast in the development of country music, but I don’t recall there being too many references to Kansas. Well, it’s just possible that Chuck Mead has addressed that faux pas with the aptly titled FREE STATE SERENADE.

    His smooth vocals, which are alternately passionate and vulnerable on this collection are chockfull of dazzling country music imagery, whether he is telling the story of a wild odyssey in Ten Light Years Away about when Chuck and some buddies saw a UFO, or laying down a cool rockabilly groove in Evil Wind, a true 1959 dark murder yarn, crafting a western swing dancehall two-step in Neosho Valley Sue, or spinning the folk-styled lament of the unfortunate Little Ivy. He shows himself to be one of country music’s finest storytellers, whether he’s evoking the thrill of finding love in Reno Country Girl —a song whose rhythmic steel and churning beat evoke his traditional country music roots—or romping through one of his patented rave-ups like A Short Goodbye.

    While the concept and lyrics aren’t quite revolutionary, they bear an understated authenticity—after all it isn’t cosmopolitan Manhattan of which Chuck writes. He mixes full-throttle Americana music with an introspective singer-songwriter approach. It sounds like the South. It sounds like country music ought to sound. Accomplishing what he set out to do, Chuck Mead does an excellent job of creating a cohesive collection of rootsy country music. If you’re one of those who were crushed when BR549 broke up, this will definitely be the album for you.


  • News

    Posted on June 12th, 2014

    Written by ken green


    Houston Music Review: “He keeps getting better.”

    Chuck Mead and the Grassy Knoll Boys – Discovery Green – Houston, TX Print E-mail
    Written by Eddie Ferranti
    May 15, 2014 at 07:00 PM
    ImageWhat goes perfectly with a nice outdoor venue, great weather, cold beer and killer good friends? How about Chuck Mead and his Grassy Knoll Boys rockabilly wonderfulness?!

    The Kansas native, who has hung his cowboy hat in Nashville for the past twenty years, is riding a nice musical wave right about now. His March release, ‘Free State Serenade’, draws inspirations from his growing up days in his home state and it is a goodie indeed. It is his first album for Plowboy Records, which is a Nashville label founded by former Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome, author/professor Don Cusic and Shannon Pollard, the grandson of country music great Eddy Arnold.

    Mead also has won rave reviews for being the musical director for the smash Broadway show Million Dollar Quartet, which is currently touring North America. When chatting before the gig with the Chuckster he told me they had scored a residency in Las Vegas, as well.

    As far as the live show this was Rose & I’s fifth go ’round and he keeps getting better. His sound is hard to peg, but you can call it country hillbilly blues with a boogie woogie honky tonk rockin’ shake tossed in for good measure. The tight band behind him helps majorly with Martin Lynds on drums and especially Carco Clave on the pedal steel and assorted guitars including mandolin.

    Mead dove in heavy on the new one and it played nicely through Discovery Green’s always stellar sound system. “The Devil By Their Side” rocks and the lyrics on “Neosho Valley Sue” about the girl by the Tilt-A-Whirl brought back fond childhood memories. “Girl On The Billboard” displayed how well these guys can shift gears and Mead’s real life tales are heartwarming and funny.

    ImageGreat crowd sing a long tune, “On A Slow Train Through Arkansas”, got the crowd into it and Mead does not flap jaw too much at all with the tunes flowing one after another. “A Long Saturday Night”, flash back to frontman days of BR5-49 days with “Crazy Arms” (dedicated to the late Ray Price) and a smashing rendition of Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” turned the place into a massive easy going picnic party!

    “Evil Wind” off the newbie about the crime commited in Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ was unnervingly spirited and by the time he did “Sittin’ On Top of the Bottom” the wave of pure blissful fun was washing over this reviewer.

    To say this guy grows on ya is putting it mildly. He’s a smart-aleck ball buster (in a good way!) and his easy going presence when interviewing him is humble and down to earth as you can get. His songs are the type you swear you heard before probably because they are about real life times we’ve all experienced. Try experiencing a show by this fella and I bet you’ll feel the same way…God Bless live music!


  • News

    Posted on May 1st, 2014

    Written by ken green


    “Mead has modernized his influences without diluting their idiosyncrasies.” Chuck Talks To The Nashville Scene about MDQ & ‘Free State Serenade’

    BR549 vet Chuck Mead helps re-create the Million Dollar Quartet, when four music titans made history by accident

    From Lower Broad to Broadway

    by Edd Hurt for The Nashville Scene


    When Chuck Mead started his job as expert rock ‘n’ roll technician and all-purpose rockabilly-lick adviser to a Broadway musical — even one about a celebrated event in the annals of Sun Records, and one of the greatest footnotes in rock ‘n’ roll history — he encountered a cultural divide that he probably expected. Still, it reminded the Nashville singer, songwriter and guitarist of an inescapable fact: We approach culture from different vantage points.

    As fans know, a vocalist named Elvis Presley dropped by the fabled Memphis studios on a December day in 1956, after Presley had become the kinetic embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll. With the tape rolling on what started out as a Carl Perkins session, Presley joined fellow Sun labelmates Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis in a spontaneous jam session filled with gospel glossolalia and rock ‘n’ roll cool — music gods captured at play.

    That session forms the crux of Million Dollar Quartet, the Tony-winning musical that makes its Nashville debut at TPAC this week with a major assist from Mead. Written by Floyd Mutrux and historian Colin Escott, the musical re-creates a psychodrama of stardom and defeat, while Mead’s musical direction brings soul and authenticity to a work that attempts to immerse audiences in a formative moment in American music.

    But early on, Mead figured out that possessing rock ‘n’ roll wisdom didn’t mean he knew how to help shape his passion for rockabilly into a tightly paced, narratively driven theater piece. And just because the show’s creative talents were wizards at stage machinery, that didn’t automatically make them aware just how remarkable the quartet’s lightning-in-a-bottle summit meeting was.

    “The theater people, they knew Elvis, and they knew Johnny Cash, and they’re familiar with Jerry Lee Lewis,” Mead says of his early days working on Million Dollar Quartet. “But most of them were, like ‘Who’s Carl Perkins?’ And I was like, ‘Who’s Carl Perkins? Are you kidding me?’ ”

    If you’ve spent any time talking with Chuck Mead, you know he expresses himself in the most affable, good-humored manner — his baritone voice is authoritative and down-home, and he laughs a lot while addressing the business at hand. As he describes his role in a musical about, well, the music he loves, he comes across as a quick study who has gleaned valuable lessons from his theater experience. If some of Mead’s collaborators have learned a little more about the rockabilly titan who wrote and performed such classics as “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Matchbox,” Mead says he’s learned what plays in the theater, where time and space can be compressed in many ways.

    “The whole idea was to keep the thing small, because most musicals have a cast of 20, plus an orchestra,” says Mead of Million Dollar Quartet. “We have eight people, total, and all the music is made right there on the stage. Putting music in a situation that moves the clock along is something I’ve learned about. For example, the first song that Carl Perkins does has got to be ‘Matchbox,’ because that’s why they were there.”

    Balancing the need for verisimilitude with the strictures of the theater is part of Mead’s role in Million Dollar Quartet, and he’s uniquely suited to perform that function. A student and performer of old-time country music, Western swing and rock ‘n’ roll, Mead has modernized his influences without diluting their idiosyncracies.

    A Nashvillian since 1993, Mead helped focus attention on Music City’s legacy of honky-tonk country and oddball rock as singer and songwriter with the band BR549. In the mid-1990s, the group set up in the windowfront stage of Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway, following a long, gloomy stretch in the city’s once-proud honky-tonk district, during which the mighty Ryman Auditorium sat padlocked and unused.

    Along with such equally forward- and backward-looking adepts of hardcore country as Greg Garing and Paul Burch, Mead and BR549 began to cast Nashville’s music history in a new light. Crowds started coming downtown again to experience how exciting and alive rockabilly is in the moment. It was a turning point in the revitalization of Lower Broad, and in part the musicians at Robert’s and Tootsie’s made it happen. They changed “honky-tonk” back into a verb.

    Mead may have left Lower Broad, but he’s never left the music. He continues to rework classic American musical genres to his own ends on his new full-length, Free State Serenade, which shows off his immense songwriting and conceptual chops. He says the new record’s narratives reflect some of the theatrical wisdom he’s gleaned from working on Million Dollar Quartet.

    “It’s weird, because it couldn’t help but influence what I was doin’,” Mead says. “I got this idea that I wanted to do something that was a whole lot of little stories to make up a big story, without making it some weird concept record, though it ended up kind of conceptual, in that all these songs on my new record are about Kansas — legends I grew up with, things that happened to me. My trippy Kansas, you know — in my mind.”

    Mead’s mental Kansas includes portraits of his hometown of Lawrence, where he played in local bands before making the move to Nashville. He had already made several pilgrimages to Music City before he settled in town. As Mead told me in 2009, when I interviewed him about a solo record he’d just released, Journeyman’s Wager, “I came here quite a few times in the ’80s, and got to be friends with Webb Wilder and those guys. We’d blow through town, and we’d play Elliston Square, it was then, and we’d always hang down on Lower Broadway.”

    Although Free State Serenade has its share of gentle moments, it contains a lot of turmoil that Mead artfully recasts as tall-tale humor. He’s not presenting an idealized Kansas, though he acknowledges the pull of home territory.

    “Being around my hometown in Lawrence, there — I don’t know,” Mead says. “I guess I’ve been gone long enough. I’ve been down here for over 20 years now, but I still think the light’s right back home in Kansas. I love being in Nashville, and it’s been real good to me, but the light is right where you come from, I think.”

    Written and performed in the slightly ironic, post-Stiff Records style of Journeyman’s Wager, the songs on Free State Serenade reveal Mead as a masterful modern rock artist. His reworking of Memphis guitarist Sidney Manker’s famed “Raunchy” lick, on the record’s “The Devil by Their Side,” registers as an intelligently conceived homage to Sun Records. Mead uses folkish, modal banjo on “Neosho Valley Sue,” and pulls off a funny flying-saucer song called “Ten Light Years Away.”

    An engaging live performer and excellent guitarist who can finesse Beatles-esque chord changes as easily as he can slip into rockabilly mode, Mead escapes Nashville’s gravity field of retro leanings throughout Free State. Meanwhile, his 2012 Back at the Quonset Hut tips its hat to Del Reeves, Charlie Rich and other country greats. The record combines the talents of young singers and instrumentalists, such as Elizabeth Cook and Chris Scruggs, with those of legendary session men Bob Moore and Hargus Robbins. The result is a rarity: a covers collection with a reason for being.

    With Million Dollar Quartet, Mead does much the same thing: He keeps the music true to what that ad hoc group of rock ‘n’ roll, country, gospel and blues singers produced all those years ago. They really did it all, as you can hear from the recording Sam Phillips and Jack Clement made at Sun on that December afternoon. And it could be that the cultural artifact of the musical will be the way non-specialist, non-rock ‘n’ roll-fans will remember Phillips, Perkins and Sun Records itself — a point that raises interesting questions about culture, memory and commerce, not to mention the relationship between musical history and the Broadway musical.

    As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Fame is finally only the sum total of all the misunderstanding that can gather around a new name.” It could be that the old names the play celebrates — a Mount Rushmore of 20th century popular music — have been misunderstood for so long that we could use a new level of comprehension. That’s where Chuck Mead came in.

    Having made history with the 1956 Sun single “Blue Suede Shoes” — a song that sold 1 million copies and made the country, pop and rhythm-and-blues charts — Perkins watched his chance to match Elvis’ success evaporate. In March that year, on their way to perform on television in New York City, Perkins and his band sustained injuries in an automobile accident. Meanwhile, Presley cut “Blue Suede Shoes,” and it’s his version that many rock ‘n’ roll fans, as well as many theater aficionados, now know.

    As Mead says, the occasion for the gathering of Presley, Cash, Lewis and Perkins was the Perkins recording session that produced “Matchbox,” a 1957 Sun single. On that fateful date — Dec. 4, 1956 — Presley returned to the tiny Sun studio on Union Avenue to hang out and listen to Perkins’ new music. Having made the transition from Memphis anonymity to global fame via his association with RCA Records, Presley was on top of the world.

    “Jerry Lee’s first record, which was ‘Crazy Arms,’ had been out for three days,” says Colin Escott, the English-born authority on Sun Records who wrote Million Dollar Quartet‘s book with American film director and screenwriter Floyd Mutrux. “He was trying to make a little money playing on the Perkins record. Then Elvis dropped by, and Phillips called to Johnny Cash’s house and brought Cash over. Elvis’ success was kind of the unspoken agenda in the room.”

    A collaboration between a seasoned stage and film professional and an equally accomplished writer on American vernacular music styles, Million Dollar Quartet came about as the result of a phone call. “Floyd had done a movie I’d really, really liked, called American Hot Wax,” Escott says. “He called out of the blue one day, about 2001, and said, ‘I read this book you wrote on Sun Records [1991′s Good Rockin’ Tonight, co-written with Martin Hawkins], and it had this little sidebar in there about the Million Dollar Quartet.’ He said, ‘You could spin a hell of a musical out of that. Do you want to help me put it together?’ ”

    Born near Canterbury, England, in 1949, Escott became enamored of American blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll, and first visited the American South in 1970. As he says of that time, Americans had forgotten large parts of their musical history. He, on the other hand, was hooked on the kind of cultural resonance one can perceive only in the names of such locales as Rosedale and Greenville, Miss.

    “I got to Memphis in 1970, and it was just a couple of years after the ’68 riots,” says Escott, a Tennessee resident for 15 years who now lives a couple of hours outside Nashville. “And it seemed like every bus route I took to Mississippi, there would be one resonant name after another, after another, after another. Now, it’s good to see the South embracing its heritage, which was certainly not the case when I got here in 1970.”

    Million Dollar Quartet was first staged in 2006, and began its Chicago run in 2008 with director Eric Schaeffer. Moving to Broadway in 2010, the show proved its staying power, and it was nominated for three Tony Awards that year, with Tennessee native Levi Kreis winning in the Best Featured Actor category for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis. But Escott says Million Dollar Quartet began as an attempt to stretch the boundaries of the American musical, not reinforce them.

    “We wanted to do a kind of anti-Broadway musical,” he says. “We didn’t want it all-singing or all-dancing. We wanted the group to play live, and we wanted mistakes. We started off thinking we’d do a totally unstructured musical. But then we kind of bowed to commercial necessity, really, and gave it a story arc.”

    The story arc — visionary Christian-capitalist producer Sam Phillips discovers the century’s most emblematic pop music star, develops new talent, and the new talent inevitably measures itself against Elvis, thus ensuring tension — is archetypal. But it’s safe to say that few theatergoers, and perhaps few rock fans, truly understand the role of Sam Phillips in American culture.

    “Carl Perkins is in my DNA, and I know that most people who are gonna come see this show know who Carl Perkins is,” Mead says. “He’s the one that more light is shed on. But when it comes down to it, it’s Sam Phillips’ story. He’s the guy who inspired all these guys to do what they did.”

    The Alabama-born Phillips moved to Memphis in 1950, and became part of a metropolis that had sprung up, brand-new and ready to face the future, out of the disorder of the late 19th century, when yellow fever had decimated the once-thriving city. Optimistic and hard-working, Phillips possessed a fervent belief in individuality, and recorded such great blues performers as Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker and Rufus Thomas before he cut Presley’s first single in 1954.

    “It was all about making your mark, and all about that ’50s era, where it was, ‘OK, now, we need to go into the future,’ ” Mead says of Phillips. “You sat in there and you found something: ‘Give me something different.’ That wouldn’t have necessarily been found here [in Nashville], because you’ve already found it by the time you get into a recording studio here.”

    Million Dollar Quartet expresses what it means to find what you’ve been looking for, and Escott says the show also takes a look at the downside of fame.

    “All the others were reacting to Elvis’ fame,” Escott says. “Perkins thought it should’ve been him — he’d had his moment with ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ but he could never get it together after that. Cash was looking on enviously: ‘Think what a major label could do for me.’ And Lewis was saying, ‘That’s where I’m gonna be a year from now.’ ”

    Lewis predicted correctly, though he would run into his own problems down the road. Phillips would lose one of his most talented collaborators, songwriter and producer Jack Clement — according to Escott, both Clement and Phillips were present at the recording of the Million Dollar Quartet, though Clement is not portrayed in the musical — and would sell Sun Records in 1969 to Nashville record-label owner Shelby Singleton.

    Mead says he even met Phillips a few times. “Sam showed up at a BR549 show one time years ago in Memphis,” he remembers. “He was diggin’ what we were doing, because we were just retarded and didn’t know what we were doing.”

    In his role as musical director for the show, Mead has to make sure performances stay true to what you would have heard in Phillips’ tiny studio on that December day in 1956. “The guy who’s playing Carl Perkins starts playin’ a little more like himself, instead of the vernacular of rockabilly,” Mead says. “You can’t do that.”

    You could say that employing Mead’s musical acuity — a sagacity that values the kind of originality and spirit Sam Phillips never stopped looking for — is a surefire way to keep the misunderstandings of fame that Rilke decried from ever accumulating so high that you can no longer see the people behind them.


  • News

    Posted on April 2nd, 2014

    Written by ken green


    Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys Perform ‘The Light Of Day’ on Live & Breathing

    After leading several popular ‘80s cult bands in and around his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, Chuck Mead landed on Nashville’s Lower Broadway where he co-founded the famed ‘90s Alternative Country quintet BR549. In 2009, he released his acclaimed solo debut album, Journeyman’s Wager, and toured clubs, concert halls and international Rock, Country and Rockabilly festivals with his band The Grassy Knoll Boys.
    Check out the video here: http://liveandbreathing.com/chuck-mead-his-grassy-knoll-boys/chuck-mead-his-grassy-knoll-boys-the-light-of-day

  • News

    Posted on March 19th, 2014

    Written by ken green


    A showman’s life: A stint as music director of an award-winning musical took Chuck Mead to places he never thought he’d go.

    by Joshua Boydston for Oklahoma Gazette

    March 12th, 2014

    Chuck Mead is something of a yes man.

    Across his storied career from frontman of alternative country outfit BR549 to his current days as a solo artist, Mead has always made a point of accepting more invitations than he turns down. That mindset has taken him down a path worthy of the winding narratives laid out in his rootsy, rockabilly-leaning songs.

    It has brought Grammy nominations, tours with the likes of The Black Crowes and Brian Setzer and a role as music director for the Tony Award winning Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet, inspired by a recording session featuring Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

    “It took me somewhere I never thought I’d go,” Mead said. “I said yes, even though I didn’t have a clue how to do something like that. I’d never have guessed it would have been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.”

    Broadway might have been new to Mead, but classic American music wasn’t. As BR549 drifted into an indefinite hiatus in 2006, Million Dollar Quartet proved to be a new gymnasium to exercise that songwriting muscle and historian-like appreciation for all things roots music, highlighted by his deep love of Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and Nick Lowe.

    It proved to refuel his creative energy rather than drain it, too. 2009 brought his solo debut,Journeyman’s Wager, followed by 2012’s cover record Back at The Quonset Hut, which features guest spots from Old Crow Medicine Show, Bobby Bare, Jamie Johnson and more.

    Now, Mead — appearing March 19 at Grandad’s Bar — is back with a new album of original works,Free State Serenade, inspired by his roots in The Sunflower State and the folklore he grew up on there.

    “It’s the Kansas of my imagination,” he said. “I just hope people will realize that things do happen out there on the prairie.”

    The tales play out like juicy pulp fiction or Southern gothic noir, visiting subjects as varied as crime, love, murder, UFOs and psychologically devastating personal tragedies. They’re treated with a bracing honesty and eccentric sense of twisted humor that Mead describes as “cathartic.”A song written in tribute to his wife proved to be an impetus for a long list of honky-tonk rock tracks and ballads, the collection acting less as a “heavy-handed concept album” and more as “a book of short stories,” in the eyes of Mead.

    “I swore to myself that I wouldn’t pull any punches. There are certain things you just have to get out there in the stratosphere, and I think I did that in celebrating my home state,” he said. “I learned that it’s good to purge yourself of certain thoughts — good ones and bad — just so people know exactly how you feel.”


  • News

    Posted on March 3rd, 2014

    Written by ken green


    “The range of Chuck Mead’s country, blues and rock sounds here is impressively adroit.” NPR Reviews Chuck’s New Record

    Chuck Mead: Gleefully Sinister Country Serenades

    March 3, 2014

    by Ken Tucker for NPR

    In “Reno County Girl,” Chuck Mead serenades us with a tale about a young woman with whom his narrator fell in love. It’s a loping country song, Mead’s version of cowboy music, but as its pretty melody unfurls, you realize that its scenario is bleak: Mead’s character urged her to leave home despite the objections of her father, and it turns out Daddy was right — this guy leaves her all by her lonesome much of the time. “She knows I’m the kind that likes to ramble around,” he sings, noting that she “suffers through it all with country dignity.” Mead hooks the listener, eager to show us the bleak side of what seemed like a bright scenario. That’s the way he operates during much of Free State Serenade.

    “Evil Wind” sounds initially like a rockabilly boasting song until its details begin to gather around the music. You realize Chuck Mead is singing in the voice of Dick Hickock, one of the two men who killed the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kan., in 1959. That awful crime was made famous by Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood. What Chuck Mead brings to the tale is an unnervingly spirited, almost gleeful recitation of the crime. Indeed, much of the Kansas that Mead spotlights over the course of this album is the state as a site for wild, illicit or illegal behavior, tinged with humorous eccentricity. There’s a song about a UFO sighting, as well as a tidy piece of Western swing called “Neosho Valley Sue.”

    The song that summarizes this album best may well be its final one, “Sittin’ on Top of the Bottom.” Its barfly narrator howls about his comedown in life — a fall from grace for reasons that are left unspecified, but which have the ring of clanging inevitability. Chuck Mead knows how to give despair a good, wrenching twist.

    The range of Chuck Mead’s country, blues and rock sounds here is impressively adroit. If he sometimes undermines his tragic themes with smart-aleck phrasing and the occasionally obvious rhyme, well, you could hear that as part of his strategy, as well. He wants to lull you into thinking you’re experiencing the kind of songs you’ve heard before, only to leave you as surprised as his narrators about how their sorry lives turn out.


  • News

    Posted on February 25th, 2014

    Written by ken green


    USA Today Premieres ‘Free State Serenade’ – Streaming Now!

    Former BR549 frontman draws inspiration from home state for his new solo set.

    Stream Free State Serenade here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2014/02/25/chuck-mead-free-state-serenade-album-premiere/5804391/

    Country singer Chuck Mead may not be in Kansas anymore, but his new album sure is rooted there.

    Free State Serenade, premiering at USA TODAY a week in advance of its March 4 release, draws inspiration from stories the Lawrence, Kan., native associates with his home state.

    Mead has described the album as “Kansas noir,” with songs about the Clutter family murder that inspired Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood and the Civil War’s Lawrence Massacre. Musically, the album ranges from the acoustic folk of Knee Deep in the Walkarusa to the revved-up rockabilly of Evil Wind.

    Mead has lived in Nashville for the past 20 years, first forming the acclaimed country band BR549 and more recently working as the music director for the Broadway show Million Dollar Quartet. For Free State Serenade, he’s backed by his band, the Grassy Knoll Boys, with guest appearances from BR549′s Don Herron and Old Crow Medicine Show’s Critter Fuqua.

    Free State Serenade is Mead’s first album for Plowboy Records, a Nashville record label founded by former Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome, author/professor Don Cusic and Shannon Pollard, the grandson of country music great Eddy Arnold.

    Mead will play an album release party March 5 at The Basement in Nashville.

  • News

    Posted on February 21st, 2014

    Written by ken green


    KCUR: All The Songs On The New Chuck Mead Album Are About Kansas

    By  for KCUR


    Chuck Mead left Kansas more than two decades ago when he set out for Nashville and made a name for himself in country music. Now he’s circling back to Kansas, where his career began.

    The first group he formed there, BR549, started out as the house band at Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway in Nashville, just across the alley from Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.  BR549 quickly built a huge following playing regularly in the small bar.

    “Finally the editor of Billboard magazine, Timothy Wise, came in here (to Robert’s) and got drunk, said he was going to put us on the cover of Billboard magazine,” said Mead, enjoying a beer at the bar. “He did and that’s how we got our record deal.”

    Several world tours and Grammy nominations later, Mead is ready to release an album based on his recollections of Kansas.

    “The whole record is sort of Kansas noir, I guess,” says Mead. “There’s a song about Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence. And there’s a song about the Clutter murder in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, made famous by Truman Capote’s book, In Cold Blood. And there’s a happy little romp about me and a bunch of buddies seeing a UFO, while suffering through a certain kind of self-induced mental duress. That’s a polite way of saying it, right?”

    “A little fancy and a little fact,” continues Mead. “It’s all a little dreamy. And you know, let’s face it, Kansas can get scary sometimes.”

    Chuck Mead’s new record is called “Free State Serenade.” It comes out March 4.


  • News

    Posted on February 19th, 2014

    Written by ken green


    Jambands: Chuck Mead on U.S. tour in support of ‘Free State Serenade’ album

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  Chuck Mead has announced U.S. tour dates in support of his debut album for Nashville’s Plowboy Records, Free State Serenade, a wild ride of hillbilly blues and honky-tonk. Mead, best known for his work as frontman for BR549, wrote the album based on the stories, legends, crimes and lonesome open roads of his childhood and formative years in Kansas. Free State Serenade was recorded with his longtime band The Grassy Knoll Boys.

    Free State Serenade jumps from jaunty mountain airs like “Neosho Valley Sue,” in which BR549’s Don Herron lends his fiddle to what Mead calls a “coming of age ditty,” to “Sittin’ on Top of the Bottom,” a whip-smart ode to “Sittin’ On Top of the World.” “The Devil By Their Side” is a dark, chugging rock ’n’ roll number about William Quantrill’s murderous 1863 Civil War raid of Lawrence, Kansas.

    Mead co-founded three-time Grammy®–nominated alternative country band BR549, who got their start playing on Nashville’s Lower Broadway before recording seven full-length LPs and winning a Country Music Association Award. With BR on hiatus, Mead formed the Hillbilly All-Stars featuring members of the Mavericks, co-produced popular tribute albums to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, guest-lectured at Vanderbilt University, and became a staff writer at one of Nashville’s top song publishers.

    Mead also serves as music director for the hit Broadway show Million Dollar Quartet, currently touring throughout North America to rave reviews. Mead has released two solo albums, Journeyman’s Wager and Back at the Quonset Hut, with the Grassy Knoll Boys. Free State Serenade was co-produced with longtime friend Joe Pisapia (k.d. Lang, Ben Folds Five) and features BR549’s Don Herron and Old Crow Medicine Show’s Critter Fuqua.

    According to Mead, “It’s been incredibly liberating to do all these things I’ve never done before. I’ve already gone from the bars of Lower Broadway in Nashville to the Broadway stage, and the upcoming album is one of the most unique and rewarding projects I’ve ever been a part of. I’m looking forward to where it all brings me next.”

    Plowboy Records’ founders are Eddy Arnold’s grandson and musician Shannon Pollard; author, professor and music historian Don Cusic; and punk legend Cheetah Chrome. Their first two releases include Darker Than Light by Bobby Bare, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last month, and You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold, a tribute album to one of the most influential country musicians of all time, featuring a track performed by Mead.

    Chuck Mead on tour, February-March 2014
    Fri., Feb. 21  KANSAS CITY, MO Folk Alliance
    Sat., Feb. 22  LAWRENCE, KS The Bottlenec
    Sun., Feb. 23  COLUMBIA, MO Mojo’s
    Wed., March 5  NASHVILLE, TN The Basement (album release)
    Wed., March 12  AUSTIN, TX Guitartown/Conqueroo Kickoff 2014 at the Dogwood
    Wed. March 12 – AUSTIN, TX SXSW, Shotgun’s on 6th, 9 p.m.
    Thurs., March 13  NEW BRAUNFELS, TX River Road Ice House
    Fri., March 14  AUSTIN, TX TBA
    Sat., March 15 – AUSTIN, TX SXSW, Saxon Pub, 11 p.m.
    Sat., March 15  AUSTIN, TX Folk Alliance Party, Threadgill’s
    Sat., March 15  AUSTIN, TX Alejandro Escovedo’s Maria’s Taco Xpress party
    Sun., March 16  TULSA, OK Mercury Lounge
    Tues., March 18  BLUE SPRINGS, MO Trouser Mouse
    Wed., March 19  OKLAHOMA CITY, OK Grandad’s Bar
    Thurs., March 20  AUSTIN, TX The Continental Club
    Fri., March 21   ROSCOE, TX The Lumberyard
    Sat., March 22  FREDERICKSBURG, TX Luckenbach
    Sun., March 23  HOUSTON, TX The Mucky Duck
    More dates to be announced soon!
  • News

    Posted on February 5th, 2014

    Written by ken green


    Chuck Mead talks Plowboy Records, his new album, and the Million Dollar Quartet

    Wed, Feb 5, 2014

    by Nick Spacek for The Pitch Kansas City

    As part of our International Folk Alliance Conference preview series, we’re rounding up a bunch of notable acts that are coming to town and chatting about what’s happening in their world. The International Folk Alliance Conference takes place from February 19-23. Details here.

    Chuck Mead is a familiar face around these parts. He grew up in Lawrence, where he was part of the cowpunk quartet the Homestead Grays, before lighting off to Nashville, where he’d rise to prominence as part of roots country act BR549. Mead’s a solo act these days, and has a new album, Free State Serenade, due out soon on new label Plowboy Records, which features among its backers Dead Boys’ guitarist Cheetah Chrome and Eddy Arnold’s grandson.

    There are a lot of topics to cover when speaking with Mead, and he was more than willing discuss all aspect of his career, from BR549′s roots to his work with the hit Broadway musical the Million Dollar Quartet.

    The Pitch
    : How’d you get involved with the Folk Alliance International Conference?

    Chuck Mead: As I’m sure you know, Louis Meyers, who’s the head of the Folk Alliance – he’s the guy who started South By Southwest. I’ve been knowin’ him for years and years. In fact, he reminded me a couple of years ago, down at South By, that a band I had been in years ago called the Homestead Grays had played the first South By Southwest. The second one, too. Actually, it might’ve been just the second one. And, y’know, I’ve played it a whole bunch since then.

    But, I’ve been knowin’ Louis forever, and his motives are very honorable, and he just wants to promote this kind of music. It’s kind of a mini South By, just concentrated on one form of music, which is folk music, and since I play country music, and that’s folk music, it just seemed like something I’d like to be involved in. So, y’know, for quite a few years now, I’ve been part of the Folk Alliance. I just really love what it brings, what it stands for, and I’m just really glad that it’s made its home in Kansas City.

    People don’t think of Kansas City when they think of a music town, but when you really think about it, it’s one of the music towns. I mean … shit, you’ve got jazz and blues alone, let alone the country and folk, which is all in the middle of the country. Even the Beatles came through Kansas City. So, I’m real excited it being there, and so close to my home – hometown, anyway.

    This new record’s being released simply as by Chuck Mead, rather than Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys. Is there a reason?

    I wrote 12 songs, but on the vinyl, there’s only 10 songs, because they’re all songs I wrote about Kansas, and my time growin’ up in Kansas. Stuff that I remember from my childhood and things that happened to me personally, and it just seemed like it was a much more personal thing that I wanted to say, and I didn’t want to involve those guys in it. [laughs] In all my little ghosts and nooks and crannies and shit, so it’s just coming out under my name, even though all those guys are still on it. And it really is a band record.

    I’ve heard the new single, “Sittin’ On Top of the Bottom,” and it sounds kind of raw.

    You know, ironically, that’s one of the bonus cuts. It kind of came out a little prematurely. It’s not one of the Kansas songs at all. That’s just one of the songs that I had kind of left over that I wanted to put on a record. So, that’s that, y’know. It is kind of raw, and I wanted it to be. I had that song before – I cut it for my Journeyman’s Wager record, and I really liked this version of it, because it’s my band, y’know? And it is a very drunken, two in the morning, sort of song.

    How’d you come to be involved with Plowboy Records? It’s kind of an interesting collective that runs it.

    Well, you know, Shane Pollard is Eddy Arnold’s grandson, and Eddy Arnold is kind of a larger-than-life country music figure. One of the architects of country music. [Pollard] was trying to get his grandfather’s name out. People know him for his later work – it’s real smooth, he’s such a great singer. But, his early work in the ’40s, that kind of helped define what country music was. He was known as the Tennessee Plowboy, and when [Pollard] decided to make a record company, he wanted to spotlight Eddy Anrold’s early work, so that people remember that it was a very cool thing.

    So, he called up all these different artists – and I was one of them – to do an Eddy Arnold tribute record. It has everybody on there from Pokey LaFarge and me and Alejandro Escovedo, and a number of really great artists to interpret Eddy Arnold songs, just to kind of get his early work back out there, and I think they really pulled it off. It’s really a fantastic record.

    So, that’s how I got involved with them. Then, they called me up again because they wanted me to do a Christmas song for them. So, I recorded an Eddy Arnold song called “Will Santa Come to Shantytown?” That’s how we got a relationship. And y’know, Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys – when that Young, Loud, and Snotty record came out, my friends and I wore that record out. So, having him be the A&R guy, really represents the two sides to me: the country side, which is what I’ve always done, since I’ve been playing music professionally – since I was 12 – but, then, I’ve got a rock ‘n’ roll heart. That’s pretty much how it came about, and those guys want to do it right, and for the right reasons.

    What’s your involvement with the Million Dollar Quartet musical?

    I’m the musical director, arranger, supervisor for that show. I just stumbled into that. A good friend of mine – Colin Escott, who’s a great music writer – called me up one day and asked, “Did you ever think about doing musical theater?” And, like … “No. Not really.” He said that he and this other guy named Floyd Mutrux had come up with this treatment for this Broadway musical that featured all that great rockabilly music, but they didn’t want it to get all musical theater-ized, if you know what I mean, with the jazz hands and everything.

    They wanted to make it authentic rockabilly, where people sang and played and acted like their character, which is not an easy thing to do. And so, I came aboard on this thing and it’d been kind of a crazy journey, you know? It’s still running in Chicago, and it’s been running since 2008. We were two and a half years in New York, which was a gift, and we went and did it a year in London on the West End, and the touring troupe is on their third year of touring.

    It was a great chop to learn, making the songs relevant for today without making them lose the spirit of the old rock ‘n’ roll – where anything can happen – but, to actually move the plot along with it, and to insert underscoring in certain places. I learned a whole lot. And, the next step is I’d like to write one, but that’s the selfish songwriter in me.

    Chuck Mead plays the Folk Alliance International Conference on Friday, February 21, and the Bottleneck on Saturday, February 22


  • News

    Posted on January 6th, 2014

    Written by ken green


    USA Today Debuts New Chuck Mead Song

    Premiere: Chuck Mead’s ‘Sittin’ on Top of the Bottom’

    Brian Mansfield, Special for USA TODAY12 p.m. EST January 6, 2014

    “Sittin’ on Top of the Bottom” comes from “Free State Serenade,” due March 4.

    Here’s a little howling hillbilly blues to start your week.

    Sittin’ on Top of the Bottom, premiering at USA TODAY, comes from Chuck Mead’s forthcomingFree State Serenade album. It’s the Nashville country singer’s first release for Plowboy Records, the nascent record label founded by former Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome, author/professorDon Cusic and Shannon Pollard, the grandson of country music great Eddy Arnold.

    Free State Serenade comes out March 4.

    Longtime country fans may remember Mead from his earlier band, BR549, which released a half-dozen albums between 1996 and 2006. Mead also has released two solo albums, Journeyman’s Wager and Back at the Quonset Hut, and he also served as the music director for the Broadway production Million Dollar Quartet, based on the music of Sun Records.

    Click here to hear the new track: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2014/01/06/chuck-mead-sittin-on-top-of-the-bottom-premiere/4337719/

  • News

    Posted on September 18th, 2013

    Written by ken green


    FROM LOWER BROADWAY TO BROADWAY: Rochester NY’s City Paper Talks To Chuck

    by Frank De Blase for The Rochester City Paper

    “We’re gonna make sure shit gets broke at Abilene,” promises country singer/songwriter/all-around rambunctious hillbilly cat, Chuck Mead. And though he and his band, the Grassy Knoll Boys, will undoubtedly tear up the joint, Mead is a respectful artist who speaks with an excited reserve when talking about his latest platter, “Back at the Quonset Hut.” It was recorded at what was originally known as Bradley’s Film & Recording Studios, the famed studio that birthed Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry,” and Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet,” among other classic songs. The studio closed in 1982 only to be revamped and re-opened in 2006 as part of Belmont University. Mead recorded this album of country and rockabilly songs among the dust and ghosts, going so far as to incorporate some of the original session musicians and hired guns that worked in the studio’s golden age.

    Mead first burst on the scene with the three-time Grammy-nominated retro-hillbilly outfit BR549. With the band officially on hiatus, Mead has focused on a solo career and producing the Broadway hit “Million Dollar Quartet.” He called from rehearsal to discuss recording in the country-music equivalent to the Vatican, how you always have to include Acuff and Williams, and why there will never be a BR549 musical. Here’s an edited transcript of what was said.

    CITY: How was it laying down a session at The Quonset Hut?

    Chuck Mead: Oh man, it was a pretty spectacular experience. You go into a spot where so much of what you do and what is part of you musically as an artist was created, for most of all hillbilly music — that and RCA studio B —was amazing.

    This seems like a perfect fit for you. Why didn’t you try this earlier?

    It wasn’t open earlier. It was dormant. Years ago when we BR549 changed labels from Sony to Arista, the studio that once was the Quonset Hut was where the art department worked. You could still go and stand in the spot where the singer stood, and it was this weird spot that didn’t sound like any other spot in the room. So Belmont University decided to revamp it and threw a bunch of money into it. And it just so happened that the sound engineering professor was Mike Janas, who had co-produced the first four BR549 records years ago. When I decided I was going to do a classic country record he said, “Why don’t you use the Quonset Hut?” It snowballed from there and I thought instead of just my band, why not get some of the musicians that played on all those old records I was recreating?

    How’d you run them down?

    Well, they’re still working. They’re in the union book. You just call them up and they’ll come play your session for you. It was a complete honor for me to have Harold Bradley and Bob Moore and Buddy Spicher, all those guys… Harold Bradley is the most-recorded guitar player in recording history and the sweetest, most honorable man I know. I love that guy. Having those guys come in and be the backbone on a handful of songs was a tremendous honor and just a total gas.

    How’d you pick the material for the album?

    I picked songs we’ve been doing live. I wanted to do songs that were recorded at The Quonset Hut, too. I know the Hank Williams song was recorded at the old Castle, but that doesn’t count. If you’re making a classic country record, you’ve got to put a Roy Acuff and Hank Williams song on your record. You know what I mean?

    What’s the Chuck Mead spin on the material? How did you make it yours?

    My spin is there’s always just a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll in it, because there was always a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll in those guys. It just wasn’t called that then; it hadn’t completely morphed into the atomic age. And we didn’t do exact replicas of the songs, because it’s ridiculous to match it note for note. We just kind of did it our own way. I think we modernized it. I mean, we recorded it on Pro Tools and bounced it over to tape when we mixed it to get more warmth. It all still went down live. There’re probably three or four overdubs on the whole thing.

    How did you get involved with the “Million Dollar Quartet” musical?

    It was a weird phone call I got in 2005 from Colin Escott asking me if I’d ever worked on a Broadway musical. Then he explained what it was. I knew the songs and thought, I can do this. We started with a little production down in Florida and I just approached it like I was producing a record. I just wanted to make it authentic rockabilly music. Those guys were really up there playing.

    Were you mindful of making it too corny or mainstream?

    I was looking at these guys as a musical legacy. I didn’t want it to get all cheesed out. And I think we achieved that. I think we achieved a very entertaining show that people who go to regular musical theater would enjoy just as much as the people who never go to musical theater who would think, “Hey, that’s a great rock ‘n’ roll show. I can dig that.” I got the bug now; I kind of want to write a musical.

    BR549 the Musical?

    It would be a great musical but I don’t know who we’d cast as Donnie Herron.

    What’s a dream collaboration, duet, or project for you?

    Well now, I’d like to do an old Carl Perkins tune with Paul McCartney. That’d be killer. The Beatles were just a rockabilly band, right?


  • News

    Posted on September 11th, 2013

    Written by ken green


    Chuck Mead – Upstairs at United, Vol. 8

    Chuck Mead – Upstairs at United, Vol. 8
    453-1969 (LP)

    On February 28th, 2013, Chuck Mead (of BR549) recorded Upstairs at United Vol. 8. Chuck graced the sacred space with 6 songs including cherished BR549 fan favorite, ”Opie And Me (Down By The Duck Pond)”. Upstairs At United Vol. 8. is the first of the series to have pedal steel captured to magnetic tape and we hope it won’t be the last. The recording stands as a real honky-tonk throw down that we’re proud to welcome to the Upstairs at United series. Upstairs At United is a series of all analog, direct to tape, live studio recordings, taped above the pressing plant in tribute to the rich historical significance of that space.

    Accompanying Chuck in the classic county romp is Mark Andrew Miller (Upright Bass & Background Vocals), Carco Clave (Steel Guitar, Banjo, Electric Lead Guitar, and Pedal Steel), and Martin Lynds (Drums & Background Vocals).

    Available at your favorite record retailer
    on Tuesday November 5th, 2013!

    Preorder it here. Records will ship on or near 11/5.

    More about Upstairs at United: Upstairs at United is a series of all-analog recordings recorded inside the historic United Record Pressing plant in Nashville, TN. All recordings were captured directly to analog tape under the leadership of mastering engineer Chris Mara of analog recording studio Welcome to 1979, then cut to 12” EP’s at 45 RPM. The records are presented in a Kraft-style packaging that highlights the authentic all-analog approach used in making these records, include session specific inserts with color photos from the recording sessions, and come in archival quality resealable poly bags.

    The purpose of the Upstairs at United series is to release outstanding music recorded in a classic all analog style, and to celebrate the rich musical and cultural history that’s taken place inside this 49 year old building. Established in 1949, the same year the 45RPM record was born, United Record Pressing is still the go to pressing plant for the industry from the biggest of big to four guys in a garage. The doors to its present location first opened in 1962. In response to a then segregated South, United created an apartment above the plant to host the record label executives and artists who were excluded from hotel accommodations due to the color of their skin. This apartment, now called the Motown Suite, is still intact and furnished in its original decor. Adjacent to the apartment is a large space solely dedicated to hosting record release parties and other events for labels and artists. Among the many, it’s believed that this room hosted parties for The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, The Cowsills, Wayne Newton, and a signing party for a 16-year-old Hank Williams, Jr. In addition to existing as a monument to our musical and cultural history, the space upstairs at United Record Pressing continues to host events for artists, labels, and other lovers of music. It is in this sacred space that the Upstairs at United series is being recorded.

    All recordings are engineered by Chris Mara and his analog studio Welcome to 1979 located in Nashville, Tennessee. All recordings were done live directly to ¼ inch analog tape using a sixteen channel vintage recording console and vintage microphones and outboard gear, with no overdubs, edits or audio sweetening. What you hear is music in its most pure form: the recordings capture the end product of the artists together in a single room, complete with all of the enthusiasm, spirit and soul that is the foundation for this great art form.

  • News

    Posted on July 26th, 2013

    Written by ken green


    A Prairie Home Companion Season Debut

    We’re very pleased to announce that Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys will be performing at the opening show of A Prairie Home Companion’s 39th season on September 14, 2013 in St. Paul MN!

    Keillor to kick off new ‘Prairie Home’ season

     The Associated Press

    Published: Friday, Jul. 26, 2013 – 2:10 am

    ST. PAUL, Minn. – Garrison Keillor kicks off the 39th season of “A Prairie Home Companion” in St. Paul on Sept. 14.

    Keillor will broadcast the season-opening show live from the Fitzgerald Theater. His musical guest is Chuck Mead of BR549 and His Grassy Knoll Boys.

    Keillor will be joined by the usual “Prairie Home” cast and the Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band.

    Following the show, the annual Prairie Home Street Dance and Meatloaf Supper will be held on Exchange Street in front of the Fitzgerald. The event is open to the public and free, except for the $5 meatloaf supper and a small charge for refreshments.

    Tickets go on sale at noon Tuesday, July 30, through Ticketmaster outlets or in person at the Fitzgerald box office.


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