Pawtuckets – Vegetarians beware
The Western Steakhouse and Lounge oozes with greasy atmosphere. T. Tommy and Lil Thomsen have run the place for eons. Elvis used to frequent the premises; his favorite booth is now a shrine. The wait staff is very friendly and will put your bib on for you so that you won’t be splattered when your sizzling-hot platter of steak arrives.
When the Pawtuckets suggested we do the interview at the WS&L, I said okay, not quite sure how I was going to be able to decipher what they were saying while their mouths were full of USDA prime beef. We ended up waiting until after dinner, downstairs in the game room.
Mark McKinney and Andy Grooms first bonded over some undercooked deer tenderloin. Grooms has played around Memphis for quite a while, most memorably as half of the folk duo Grooms & Kelly. His honky-tonk keyboard is cookin’ and his acoustic guitar playin’ ain’t bad either, but his real strength is his voice. McKinney plays mandolin, harmonica and guitar as well as contributing lead and backing vocals. He played in the William Tell Routine, and also played solo gigs at the same coffeehouse as Grooms. The two songwriters drove to Little Rock, Arkansas, together for a folk night at Vino’s, and after a few nights of beer drinking, guitar playing and the aforementioned raw venison, decided to get a band together. Both write songs that sound almost familiar — slices of life that cut across boundaries, incorporating subject matter everyone can identify with.
Bassist Mark Stuart is a classically trained musician who performed with the Pine Bluff Symphony and played in rock ‘n’ roll cover bands. He answered an ad in the Memphis weekly paper from Grooms and McKinney, who listed the Band and Blue Mountain as influences. Guitarist Kevin Cubbins was omnipresent at the early Pawtuckets gigs, an avid fan who became a friend. Eventually the guys heard him play and asked him to join the band. Drummer Meyer Horne recently moved back to Memphis from New York City, where he was playing with Ivan Rubenstein. Also on his resume is a stint with the Austin band Those Who Dig.
The Pawtuckets’ debut CD, Cloud 9 Ranch, was recorded in November 1995. Some of the songs on the disc aren’t as band-oriented as their newer material, but everyone shares songwriting credits. “Everybody has input into every song; we make the song what it is,” Cubbins said.