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Tishamingo

Stewart Oksenhorn

Cameron Williams rode into Aspen with a bang. Moving to Aspen from Florida in the winter of 1997-98, Williams rolled into town to see that his old friend and occasional jamming partner, Derek Trucks, was playing at the old Double Diamond that night. Williams called Trucks bassist, Todd Smalley, and arranged to join Trucks band on stage. So Williams spent his first night as an Aspenite jamming in front of a packed Double D with an up-and-coming guitar star.That was one of those fluke, cool, weird, fun experiences, said Williams. It was a nice way to be introduced to town.It is a far different Williams that will make an entrance in Aspen this week. He is no longer an Aspenite, having returned to the South in 2000. And he is no longer an unknown quantity, having led the Aspen band Jes Grew to numerous memorable appearances in his four years here.But Williams should once again ride high into Aspen. Tishamingo, the Southern-jam band Williams co-founded soon after leaving Aspen, should receive a warm welcome when it performs Friday, March 12, at the Grottos, and Saturday, March 13, at Whiskey Rocks.Tishamingo has been on a roll of late, keeping company with the upper ends of the jam-band world.In January, Tishamingo which includes singer-guitarists Williams and Jess Franklin, bassist Stephen Spivey and drummer Richard Proctor, plus most-of-the-time keyboardist Jason Fuller was included on the Jam Cruise, a four-day Caribbean sojourn that featured Galactic, the Disco Biscuits, Keller Williams and others. Tishamingos first gig of the voyage was in an unenviable early-morning slot. But the second set, on the last night of the cruise, was on the stage right by the area restricted for artists, a prime venue. The group was joined by jam-band heavyweights saxophonist Karl Denson, bassist Rob Wasserman and guitarists Jeff Raines of Galactic and Bill Nershi of String Cheese Incident.It was like a revolving door of musicians, said Williams, adding that the Jam Cruise is the high-water mark of Tishamingos three-year existence.The other bits of good news for Tishamingo come on the recording front. The band released its first, eponymous CD in October 2002. For a jam band making its debut, Tishamingo was a noteworthy effort, with accomplished song writing to go with the groups impressive instrumental and vocal skills. And with John Keane, who has worked frequently with Widespread Panic as well as with R.E.M. and the Indigo Girls, sharing producing credits with the band, the CD had a polish and focus rare for young jammers. The album sold modestly. But recently, Tishamingo was picked up by Innerstate Records, which is re-releasing the album Tuesday, March 16.Also on the recording front, Tishamingo is scheduled to return to the studio next month to begin making a second CD. This time, Dave Barbee, another top knob-turner, takes the producers seat.A band is bornThough the band was formed early in 2001, Tishamingo traces its lineage more than a decade earlier. Williams, who had been playing guitar since fourth grade, was a friend, jamming partner and classmate of drummer Proctor at Tallahassees Leon High School. Three years behind them at Leon were guitarist Franklin and bassist Spivey.In the early 90s, Williams and Proctor were founding members of Black Creek Band and Uptown Rudy, acts that shared stages with the likes of Derek Trucks and Widespread Panic. Meanwhile, still in high school, Franklin and Spivey formed Jess Franklin and the Best Little Blues Band which, despite the youth of its members, played alongside B.B. King and Govt Mule.In December 1997, Williams came to visit friends who were living in Aspen. The plan was to stay for two weeks. But one of his friends was working at Up 4 Pizza on Snowmass Mountain and informed Williams that the pizzeria was looking for help. Williams went back East, packed his clothes and guitars, and returned to Colorado. His first night back was the jam with Derek Trucks, and Williams Aspen reputation was launched.In 1998, Williams joined local band Jes Grew, which featured such players as Rob Dasaro, Paul Valentine, Andrew Simmons and Randolph Turner, who still leads the group. We had a blast together, said Williams of the Jes Grew years. That was a band that really had fun we all had day jobs, and it wasnt a career, so thats a good way to have fun. It was a great group of friends.But Williams was a good few years younger than his mates, still young enough to want to make music a full-time job. He returned to the South in 2000 to audition for Iratowns, a fusionesque Alabama-born jam band. Williams didnt get the gig and moved back to Atlanta, where he hooked up again with Proctor. He also got in touch with Franklin, and the two began doing duo gigs in Tallahassee. Gradually, those three came together with Spivey to form a full band. As Tishamingo a name taken from the dusty Southern crossroads where the Soggy Bottom Boys begin their recording career in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? the foursome played its first gig in March 2001 at the Warehouse in Tallahassee. The band members then took a regular Friday night spot at Potbellies in Tallahassee, where they expanded their repertoire by covering a different classic album Hendrixs Axis: Bold as Love, Derek & the Dominos Layla and self-titled albums by the Allman Brothers and Black Sabbath in their entirety.The next item on the bands agenda was to find a home. Tallahassee was their hometown, with all the inherent distractions. Atlanta was too expensive, crowded and big. Finally the group settled on the music Mecca of Athens, Ga.Athens, we were going to, to see shows anyway, said Williams, and its got a music scene, and its a college town. And we didnt know anybody in Athens, which is good. We had no distractions.Shacked up in an Athens farmhouse and left on their own, the members of Tishamingo rehearsed maniacally. When they began touring the Southeast, they built up fan support from Florida to the Carolinas to Tennessee by playing some 200 shows a year and appearing on bills with the Derek Trucks Band, Col. Bruce Hampton and Karl Densons Tiny Universe. When it came time to record, the band picked up the phone book and looked up the number for the much-respected John Keane.We just called him and said we have a band and would like to record with you, said Williams. He invited us to his studio and we played some of our live tapes for him. Keane was eager to produce for the upstart act. He works with a lot of bands in Athens, for sure, said Williams.Southern soundsAs far as the sound goes, theres not a whole lot of daylight between Tishamingo and another band from Florida that found its fame in Georgia, the Allman Brothers Band. From the first boogie slide-guitar notes of Whiskey State of Mind, the opening song on the bands CD, to the deep, blues-drenched, Southern-accented vocals, Tishamingo closely echoes the band that originated in Jacksonville before moving to Macon.Williams doesnt mind such a comparison. The Allmans original guitar tandem of the late Duane Allman and the fired Dickey Betts were his strongest influences.Honestly, before I knew Duane and Dickey Betts, I was into hard rock stuff. I was into Ozzy Osbourne. I was into Randy Rhoads I named a dog after him, said Williams. But after I heard the Allmans and got into Duane and Dickey, that became a big influence. Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks [the current Allmans guitar team], those are big influences. The Allman Brothers Band influence is there, and it should be. Richards teacher was [Allman Brothers drummer and Derek Trucks uncle] Butch Trucks. I grew up listening to Butch and knowing Derek. There should be an influence there.On Tishamingo, the band occasionally sounds more like that other stalwart Georgia jam band, Widespread Panic. The album also features producer John Keane sitting down to his pedal steel on several tracks, giving the music a bigger country feel than the Allmans or Widespread have ever had. And Tishamingo is still developing its sounds and influences. Williams of late has been listening to the Hill Country blues of such Mississippians as R.L. Burnside and Kenny Brown.In the end, sounding too much like the Allmans isnt much of a concern for Williams.Were still trying to find our sound, for sure, he said. And I cant sing nearly as good as Gregg Allman.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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