By FRANK MORRIS 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.