I’m watching the horizon for the rising of Stu Simpson…
I wrote this in May of 2011. Since then, sadly Sunday Valley is no more. Stu Simpson however will be delivering very soon. He has new band, Sturgill Simpson and The High Top Mountain Boys, new project, and one of Nashville’s best managers–Marc Dottore.
This is the closest thing to a sample I could find.
I’ve been hearing all about the band Sunday Valley for at least 5 years now. That is, ever since Kevin Hamilton of the band Very Emergency became part of our family via my daughter Robin. It wasn’t until this fall though, while patiently waiting in the chairs of Bleed Blue Tattoo that I got to actually hear the true sound of Sunday Valley. If you Google ‘Sunday Valley’ you’re likely to pull up a version or two of the band that has long since belonged to days gone and that, in truth, is what I thought Kevin had been ranting about all along. I didn’t really get it but I did have to admit that I did hear something unique. When Hamilton hit the play button on his iPod that day in a casual manner like I would play Ned Van Go, I knew he was just playing something he liked. It wasn’t for me at all. He saw me cock my head and lean into the sound and then heeded my hand signal not start up his tattoo gun. There was something familiar there and yet it took me a minute. It was Kevin’s broad smile that aided in the realization that it was Sunday Valley blasting out the shop’s speakers. From that moment forward I’ve been a fan.
My next visit to Lexington coincided with their performance at the Austin City Saloon. I meet the band before and during and afterwards. I was dazzled by Stu Simpson’s voice and guitar skill. I was appreciative of Gerald Evan’s ability to lay a bass line that kept up with Simpson’s manically pace. I was left nearly speechless by what I could only describe at that moment as a 5 engine freight train on the drum kit that went by the name of Edgar Purdom. He is energy, drive, and a formidable magnitude of rhythm. If there is grace to be found with a drum kit it is with Edgar Purdom. He is ‘Arc of the Diver—effortlessly’.
Edgar Purdom is now the drummer for the Legendary Shack Shakers. He sure does help keep it shakin’!
I’ve also witnessed their unforgettable performance at their CD release party for To the Wind and On To Heaven at Cosmic Charlie’s (Lexington). I know exactly where I was inside that club and what I was doing when Stu Simpson halted the crowd with his undeniable stage presence as he stomped out ‘drinking and cursing your fu<%ing name’, the last line of the song “I Wonder”.
I stood grinning as the crowd erupted in an amplified, bona fide, resolute verification. I came back to Bowling Green shaking my pom-poms (as PennMan likes to call it) for Sunday Valley to play Bowling Green so others would know just how kick-ass this trio was.
I gave Gerald Evans all the local contact info I had, yet still no one seemed interested in booking them locally. So with the whole lot of help from a friend, Iíve gotten it done. On Friday, May 20th 2011 Sunday Valley will take the stage of the Capitol Arts Theater. Sandwiched between The Travis Mann Band and Ned Van Go, like the sweet delightful filling of a cookie, will be John Sturgill Simpson, Gerald Evans and Edgar Purdom of Lexingtonís Sunday Valley.
I have had opportunity to quickly chat with the different members of Sunday Valley but until I interviewed Simpson, it had been Gerald I had had the most contact with in regards to the bandís activity. Just recently Simpson relocated to Nashville and whether it was by my suggestion that Sunday Valley play The 5 Spot in Nashville or their newly hired manager, Marc Dottore, agreeing that it is the hippest place in Nashville to play, the next time I got to see them was at The 5 Spot. I took 2 friends, Daniel Johnson and Brad Garner, who had only seen Sunday Valleyís videos, to The 5 Spot to witness and give testimony. As Sunday Valley took to the stage that night I yelled out, ìHang on to your hats Nashville!î East Nashville, never having seen or heard of Sunday Valley was as predicted, blown away. Sunday Valley was hooted at, hollered at, and whistled at through out their 30 or so minute set. The crowd yelled for 1 more song, Johnson and Garner both were among the loudest to yell. I sat smug and content against the wall, looking over the pool table watching East Nashvilleís introduction to Sunday Valley.
East Nashville, TN and Bowling Green, KY have one very important thing in common. They are home to a pantheon of incredible musicians. Due to that collection the musical palette of either place is a bit spoiled. However, East Nashville welcomes anybody and everybody, in general, Bowling Green not so much. Yet once impressed Bowling Green does tend to embrace a band and stay loyal. East Nashville just folds them into the mixture and waits for the next ënew kidí to come along.
Wanting the May 20th show to be a success for a variety of reasons I know have to demonstrate to Bowling Green that Sunday Valley is more than worthy of their attendance on May 20th. Best way to do that without the band ever having played here is to explain and talk about Sunday Valley. So I interviewed front-man John Sturgill Simpson, or Stu.
I started the interview on the same premise as I have this story.
So I’ve been hearing about Sunday Valley since Robin started dating Kevin over 5 years ago. I’ve watched most of the older videos and it’s really a transformation to me. When you all look back how do you see the road that got you here?
“Everything for a reason”…I think at this point we’re only interested in learning the roads that take us where we wanna’ go.î
Have the 3 of you always been the core of Sunday Valley? How did you all come across each other? What about the name Sunday Valley–what’s the story behind the name? And the name of the album?
ìI knew Eddie from around town and knew Gerald through a mutual friend. One day, I randomly ran into to Eddie and we both had the day off. He knew I played guitar so he invited me to go and jam with a bass player he knew. We got to Geraldís house, jammed for about 30 minutes, I played a couple songs I’d written and we started a band that day. We spent the entire winter in Geraldís attic working up almost all of the principal material on album… at itsí sonic core, it’s a very rhythmic band and just makes more sense as a three-piece. There is a story behind the name,..it was a drunken, misunderstood lyric in an old bluegrass song…the album name was taken from a verse of it’s closing song, ‘Cut the Sails’.
It’s a bold statement you’ve made on the EPK about the current state of country music. Now that you, yourself, live in Nashville and live in the middle of the war zone that’s going on in the CW music industry are you still of that opinion? Even more so now? Rock music went through this splintering years ago and now it’s happening to Country Music. Being a Bluegrass/ Newgrass fan myself, it irks me that the industry insists on using the term progressive bluegrass instead of Newgrass. The musicians use one term and the business folks another. Do you think of yourself as ‘outlaw country’ or what?
ìI don’t even think about it anymore. It’s really just an irrelevant distraction since it really has nothing to do with Sunday Valley or what we’re trying to accomplish…the people you’re talking about wouldn’t know what to do with a band like us and would almost certainly ruin the thing that makes it work as soon as we got into a studio. The first time I was in Nashville was 5 or 6 years ago during the whole pop-country boom†but I was spending most all my time looking for any left over old-timers I could find to play Bluegrass with and learn from anyway so it wasn’t that jading for me. There’s always going to be a corporate faction in this industry…and right now being called “Outlaw” is about as commercial as you can get. We’ve been extremely fortunate in finding people in Nashville that still believe in honest, original music and are willing to help out. Really, the saddest thing I see going on right now is all the arguing about who is trying to save country music the hardest. There’s an extremely large revival scene of traditional country and roots music,..most of it is novelty acts and pure emulation,..and that’s great but it seems like a lot of it gets hung up on the scene and there is a ton of negativity between people that should ultimately be playing together. Sunday Valley was always about just trying to do something from the heart that’s unique while paying homage to the past but everything must adapt & progress to reflect the time it occupies to remain relevant. Real country music doesn’t need saving…it just needs to be heard again.
When I interviewed Curtis Burch of the New Grass Revival I was completely smitten with his candor. I’ve known him for 10 or so years now but I had never talked to him about NGR. I get feed quite a bit of crap about why people write or play. Every once in a while I get bare truth. Billy Mack, Ned’s younger brother, was completely honest about his main source of inspiration–his family. So where does your inspiration come from for this first CD? “Sometimes Whiskey, Sometimes Wine” is a great song.
So classically country–as I know it–that there’s got to be a story.
Please expand on some of the other songs on the CD. Your choice.
The album and the songs on it were really just a way of trying to honor my entire family and the part of Kentucky I’m originally from while introducing a slightly more chaotic, and violent country music to aptly reflect our modern world. Basically, I wanted to take old Appalachian blues, traditional country, and bluegrass and do to it what bands like Zeppelin did to the music of Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, etc. To this day, Appalachian blues musicians like Roscoe Holcomb, Charlie Poole, and Dock Boggs (a distant relative) are my greatest musical heroes. If I had to name the one person that had the greatest effect on how I approached the guitar on this record, I’d have to say Bill Monroe. In terms of the ferocity and attack he approached his instrument with, nothing else floors me the way his playing does. I truly believe that aside from bluegrass, he also invented punk rock.
I was raised on this crazy mixture of Porter Wagoner and Hee Haw and CSNY, The Beatles, and 70’s adult contemporary (Vicki Carr, Herb Albert, and the like). What was playing in your home as a kid?
My mom listened to a lot of Ronnie Milsap, Keith Whitley, and whatever else was coming out of Nashville in the 80’s. Dad couldn’t even turn on a radio. My grandmother loved old soul music, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, etc. and had one of those old record player furniture pieces with the lift up lid and built in speakers with a stack of old 45’s I must have worn through. My motherís father, Dood Fraley, played guitar and sang old Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, George Jones and really had a very beautiful voice. He taught me to chord a guitar and I now own his old Gibson J-55. We’d go to their house every weekend and watch Hee-Haw and her brother always played in bands so I got to hang out and play with them at a very young age so that was certainly a huge influence in my developmental stage. My other Grandfather, Ora Simpson, played mandolin and lived and breathed bluegrass. He lived in Knott Co. and spent his retirement years going all over the country to festivals in a motor home. Around the time†I was 8 or 9 years old, I had just gotten my first guitar so he came into my room and said I needed to hear something. He played all these field tapes for me he had recorded over the years and tried to explain bluegrass music but I didn’t have the musical palette to grasp what I was hearing yet. He said, “One day it’s gonna get in ya, and it’ll never get out.”…I’ll never forget that as long as I live.
Drummers are a big deal with me. Tell me about Ed. Every time I see you all play, he always amazes me. Will you talk about the first time he sat in with you all. When you write do you take in account his extraordinary skill as a drummer?
Eddie and I play and feed off one another on stage to the point of telepathy sometimes. He has a strong punk & metal background and the styles really aren’t that dissimilar from mountain bluegrass in terms of speed and intensity so it just works…period. The snare drum serves in place of a mandolin chopping on the one in the downbeat. I never tell him what, or how to play. He just hears the songs 5-10 times and wraps his head around what he’s going to do. The kid is sickly talented…It would be hard to even imagine Sunday Valley working with any other drummer…not to mention his Mother is from Hazard and her mom and my Grandmother knew each other well back in the day which we thought was kind of weird.
A rhythm section is essential to a rock band but so much a CW band…care to comment?
If you can’t dance to it what’s the point? …But really, I think of our sound more in terms of striving for a “pulse” than a rhythm.
So you’ve hired a manager right? Why this particular manager in an ocean available in Nashville. Choosing a manager is huge step. I’ve watched countless acts fall pray to bad management. The choice you’ve made seems to be a good one–he’s not shoving and cramming and trying to transform you into the next whatever. So please talk about the process that you all went through to choose him.
Pretty simple really,…he chose us. I sent a blind email, he listened to the music, and the next week we’re talking over a beer. Since then he’s done nothing but throw us one giant bone after another in terms of sound advice and opportunities….The rest is really up to Sunday Valley. Trust is everything for me and some people you talk to and know they’ll never bullshit you good or bad. I looked at who else he represented and they have all nurtured enormous amounts of respect from Nashville’s musical community and have built the kind of careers that I see for this band in terms of paving out a road where we can continue to do whatever we want while still being firmly rooted in tradition. Believe it or not, there are a great deal of execs and music row types in Nashville just as sick of the way things are as anybody else. What everyone else views as a time of uncertainty, I see as a wide open road to opportunity and change.
So that’s Sunday Valley. I swear to you Bowling Green you will not be disappointed. There are countless other things I could share like the respect JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shackshakers has for this band or I love it when Stu tells his Billy F. Gibbons story or some of the other stories Iíve heard from other musicians in Lexington. I could add that not one musician Iíve spoken to from Lexington has anything negative to say about Sunday Valley. I always hear, Man are they awesome.
And they are.