Vidalias – This onion rings true
Known for their sweet, mild flavor, vidalia onions were declared Georgia’s state vegetable in 1990. It’s a fitting name for one of Atlanta’s most promising country bands, whose pedal-steel-washed music is rooted in the soul of sweet Southern soil.
Vidalia onions hare harvested only from late April through mid-June, but this year’s harvest comes early in the form of the February release of the Stayin’ in the Doghouse . It’s the Vidalias’ second release on Upstart/Rounder, following last year’s acclaimed debut, Melodyland. The band’s press clips are full of Gram Parsons comparisons and the tug-of-war between country and rock, but more importantly, their music is real — definitely not the kind written in some 9-to-5 Nashville songwriting sweatshop.
Charles Walston, the band’s singer, guitarist and songwriter, spends his days as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the daily paper. One night, a member of an Atlanta band was over at Walston’s house, and Walston played him a song, hoping the friend’s band might play it. After listening, his friend said, “Why don’t you do it yourself?” Walston replied, “I can’t sing.” But after being convinced that he sang as well as a lot of other singers in bands about town, Walston started playing with some musicians in a “garage-type” setting and started thinking seriously about trying to make his songs heard.
“I dropped a tape off to Page Waldrop, a guy I knew in a music store who was a real good guitarist and had played in the Atlanta band Miss Margie & the Tall Boys,” Walston recalled. Waldrop, also an alumnus of a rockabilly outfit called the Claremonts, called Walston that very night and said he’d like to get together and play. He brought along Jim Johnson, who had played bass in a rock band called the Chant. Pedal steel player Henry Brun, who had once sold a pedal steel guitar to Waldrop, joined them onstage one night and has been with them ever since. The group has had a revolving cast behind the drum kit.
Asked about the alleged Parsons influences, Walston replied, “Well, I grew up in Florida, where Gram lived. I don’t consciously try to sound like him, but I think it goes back to the fact that I’m an untrained vocalist, as Gram was. When you have a voice like that — Gram didn’t have a lot of range, nor do I — you focus more on experience and emotion, and sometimes it comes out raw and full of pain. It’s kind of like being a method actor.”
Of the songs on the new disc, “Misery Loves Company” and “Such a Mystery” lean more toward that Parsons feel both vocally and lyrically, while “Whole Lotta Doin’ Without” owes more to Johnny Cash. “What A Nice Surprise” features backing vocals by a hardened honky-tonk female singer who turns out to be — surprise — Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. The kicker, though, is a cover of the Ramones’ “Questioningly” (which originally appeared on a 7-inch single last year).
The summer of ’96 found the band playing at the Southern Crossroads Festival at Centennial Park during the Olympics, where the seats were too hot for people to sit down. The group hopes to hit the road this spring and spread the word beyond their hot-seat home region, with tours to the Northeast and the Midwest planned and possibly the West Coast as well. Walston says he just wants to go where people know his songs.
And come springtime, the Vidalias are always sweeter.