Nevermind the Slackers, Here’s the Loafers
While nowadays it’s hard to view the latter half of the ’70s through anything but the safety-pinned lenses of punk, at the time there were pockets of resistance blissfully unaffected by the Sex Pistols and their unholy spawn.
Back then, up in the Smoky Mountains, news from the outside world arrived slowly. Particularly near the tiny North Carolina village of Loafer’s Glory, where five hippies tended hemp by summer, bottled moonshine in the winter, and enjoyed many a Southern-fried, country-rock jam. Out of these jams evolved a sound that was equal parts Burritos, Allmans and Commander Cody. Adopting their moniker from the nearby town, the band subsequently enjoyed Southeastern cult fame from 1975 to ’79. “Psychobilly boogie-woogie jazz” is how Loafer’s Glory — guitarists Dick Webb, Woody Mitchell and John Dalbeck, drummer Pete Stevens (the four shared vocals) and bassist Ron Cheek — dubbed their craft.
As Mitchell now recalls, “Like the ’50s trailblazers made rock ‘n’ roll out of blues and country, we made country out of rock ‘n’ roll. Not the stiff Nashville country, but a country fueled by the leftover ’60s magic — the whole ‘outlaw’ movement. What set us apart from our contemporaries was the Western swing, the Bob Wills element. We were doing horn arrangements on twin guitars, and had some very improvisational, ragged-but-right originals.”
Evidence provided by Loafer’s Glory lone recording, an 8-track tape (that’s right) titled Hotel Carolina, suggests their musical fusion was daring. One minute they’d rip through a 15-minute tri-guitar rave-up (“Loafer’s Medley”), the next would find them traipsing across cosmic cowboy territory (“Tumbling Tumbleweeds/Saddle Up/Ghost Riders In The Sky”), then touching down south of the border (“Manana/Yo No Comprendo Mio”). Honky-tonkin’ (“Since You’ve Been Gone”) wasn’t overlooked, either, which came in handy helping to empty a club’s cooler prior to last call.
“Lordy, I wish we had a six-pack and a couple of shots to talk about that!” laughs Mitchell. “That was the last wide-open era in the cultural rearview mirror, and we lived it to the max. Of course illicit agricultural pursuits were an art in the high country, and our bus mechanic’s daddy made some superb corn liquor. When we left the mountain, we’d stash about 20 gallons under the bunks of our funky old church bus with a ‘Christ is the Answer’ sign on the back and sell the jugs of ‘shine to selected amigos from town to town, kinda defraying our expenses. We opened for David Allan Coe and others, but we thrived in the honks, and eventually rooted out the coolest ones between D.C. and Atlanta. Our gigs were events, special occasions kinda like Dead gigs that brought people outta the woodwork for the particular insanity we bred.”
By the end of the decade, however, the group had run its course. Just another regional band tale, with members moving on to other pursuits, some of them continuing in music (Stevens later drummed for zydeco band File). Except for one detail: the 8-track. In the summer of ’77, flush with a $900 assist from a patron-fan who’d sworn never to own a “dinky cassette player,” the band had recorded Hotel Carolina in Charlotte, later selling their 200-piece run of 8-tracks at gigs.
Cut to 1999, Charlotte’s Reflection Studios: Hunched over a refurbished 8-track player connected to an analog-to-digital converter is the original engineer from the ’77 sessions, producer Mark Williams (Southern Culture On The Skids, Lou Ford, Carrie Newcomer, Tammy Faye Bakker, etc. — see www.mixermark.com). Williams never forgot Loafer’s Glory, calling them “a treasure trove of American music which has only become more relevant in recent years.” Having saved perhaps the only surviving 8-track — a sealed one at that — he aims to see it reissued.
Williams: “So I ceremoniously unwrapped the 8-track and stuck it in. For a moment I heard the old music in startling clarity! And then — THE PLAYER ATE MY DAMNED TAPE!!! I had forgotten that endearing quality of 8-track players. I sent out the alarm and Dick Webb actually found one more sealed copy. I threw out the first player, located another, and very carefully rebuilt it. This time it played and we got a good transfer.”
Along with a remastering job from Williams, for the CD reissue Mitchell assembled a booklet adorned with hirsute, Stetson-hatted photos of the band and equally entertaining liner notes. Additionally, noted songwriter R.B. Morris offered to sell copies via his website (www.richmountainbound.com). And that, friends, is what we call a happy ending. Nevermind the Sex Pistols, here’s…Loafer’s Glory.
“If there’s any real contribution to posterity,” Mitchell summarizes with no small touch of pride, “I’d say it was being on the edge of the tide that made rural roots music cool again.”