Tshamingo gets to ‘The Point’
Ten years ago, Cameron Williams and Richard Proctor, students at Florida State University who spent their spare time making music, employed a local musician and producer to record some tracks for their band, Uptown Rudy. Williams and Proctor had respect for their producer, knew that he’d had an earlier deal with Atlantic Records, and recognized him as a figure in the Tallahassee scene. Still, it was for more practical reasons that they chose John Kurzweg as their producer.”He was one of the least-expensive producers we could find at the time,” said Williams by phone.The members of Uptown Rudy treated that decade-ago project as the low-budget endeavor it was. The eight-song recording never even got a title. By the time Williams finally got his hands on a copy of what he had made, he was in Aspen living the life of a modern ski bum, with multiple jobs, including membership in such local bands as Jes’ Grew and His Boy Elroy.Kurzweg’s profile – and presumably, his price – have risen since 1997. “My Own Prison,” an album he produced for the Tallahassee hard-rock band Creed, came out of nowhere to sell 5 million copies, and featured four No. 1 singles. “Human Clay,” Creed’s follow-up, also produced by Kurzweg, sold in the neighborhood of 10 million. Showing he could replicate the success with another band, Kurzweg produced “Come Clean,” the major-label debut by the little-known St. Louis outfit, Puddle of Mudd. It became one of the first hard-rock hits of the new millennium, eclipsing the 3 million mark in sales.
Meanwhile, Williams and Proctor took their own uncertain steps in the direction of rock ‘n’ roll glory. Williams made a beeline for Colorado and, in between day jobs slinging pies at Up 4 Pizza on Snowmass Mountain and nannying, became a prominent singer and guitarist in Aspen club bands. Proctor’s path was even more circuitous; he went from Florida State student and part-time drummer to seminarian. But both realized that their callings lay elsewhere, and in 2000, the two regrouped in Atlanta, rounded up singer-guitarist-keyboardist Jess Franklin (another former Florida State colleague) and bassist Stephen Spivey, and formed Tishamingo.Tishamingo would quickly prove to be a far more serious venture than Uptown Rudy. Soon after forming, the quartet moved into a farmhouse outside of Athens, Ga., and used the remoteness of the location to bond with each other, write songs, and play to the nighttime air, which was indifferent to excessive volume. For two years, they concentrated more on writing and playing than recording and touring. “We were poor, we were struggling,” says Williams on the Tishamingo website of that time. “It was probably the best two years of my life that I never want to do again. It proved how committed each one of us was to the band.”In 2002, Tishamingo emerged with an accomplished self-titled CD. It would be the start of a steady climb up the rock ladder; Tishamingo has shared stages with B.B. King, the Derek Trucks Band and Emmylou Harris; released a second CD, 2005’s “Wear ‘n’ Tear”; toured Europe twice; and appeared at the festivals Bonnaroo and Down on the Farm, where they were headliners. Williams and Franklin sang the national anthem at an Atlanta Braves game in 2005.Tishamingo’s latest CD, “The Point,” released last month, represents a reunion of Williams and Proctor with Kurzweg. A CD-release party is set for tonight at Belly Up, with San Francisco singer-songwriter Samantha Stollenwerck opening.
* * * *Listen to a few seconds of any song on any Tishamingo CD, and it is clear where the band is coming from: the South. It is a reflection of their roots: Williams and Proctor grew up in Tallahassee; Franklin spent his early years in Birmingham before moving to Tallahassee for his teen years. Chuck Thomas, who replaced Spivey in the bass position, was raised in Atlanta. Tishamingo hasn’t wandered far from those roots; their sound has obvious ties to such sons of the South as the Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic and the Radiators.The band’s first two albums seem an effort to solidify those roots. “Tishamingo” was produced by John Keane, noted for his long-standing relationship with Georgia’s Widespread Panic. For “Wear ‘n’ Tear,” they used David Barbe, a protégé of Keane’s, who has worked with Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers.For their third album, Tishamingo went with something a little different. Over the past decade, Williams and Proctor had watched as their first producer, John Kurzweg, made a name in hard rock, also working with Jewel, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and Eagle-Eye Cherry. They also kept in touch, inviting Kurzweg to see Tishamingo perform. When Tishamingo played a gig in Phoenix, opening for the Black Crowes, they made a side trip to New Mexico, where Kurzweg had moved his operation.
The initial visit was just to do pre-production work on the recording, but Tishamingo had more in mind. They assumed that the Tallahassee-bred Kurzweg would hear the familiar strains of Southern rock, and be brought back to his origins. They were correct.”He digs this stuff. He said this is something he could do,” said Williams. “The music we were doing is his kind of music, and he wanted to get back to it.”So much so that Kurzweg invited Tishamingo to stay for two months at his spread just north of Santa Fe, in a house formerly owned by Glenn Frey. Kurzweg only flinched when he saw the cover song they proposed to record: the Band’s “Chest Fever,” a gem with a Southern rock flavor that Kurzweg was hoping to save for an album of his own. Once they passed that hurdle – Tishamingo did record “Chest Fever,” with Kurzweg on guitar and melodica – the process was a pleasure.”It was really cool because it took a lot of pressure of working against the clock off,” said Williams. “If it wasn’t happening, we’d just take a break. If we were feeling it after dinner, we’d just go and record. We’d never had that freedom in the studio before.”
Williams said the northern New Mexico setting had its effects, both subtle and pronounced. Of the atmosphere which has attracted numerous artists, Williams said, “There’s something magic about it.” More specific was the impact on the song “Hard Fall.” The song had been fully written before Tishamingo set up shop in the Southwest, but Kurzweg thought more could be done with it. While fiddling with the song, a lightning storm came in, which inspired Kurzweg to come up with a keyboard part that ignited the new arrangement.For all the influence Santa Fe and Kurzweg had on “The Point,” the bigger force behind it is Tishamingo’s home region. Songs like the religion-focused “Mitchell,” and the tale of bad love, “Walkin’ Shoes,” are soaked with the sense of struggle and redemption that have marked Southern music for more than a century.”It’s the history of the South, the slave trade, the African-American influence that gave us the blues, jazz,” Williams said of the essential ingredients in all Southern music. “It sounds corny, but hard times and oppression make great art. Without a doubt, you feel some connection to that. When you grow up around that, you can’t help but have that kind of influence. It all goes back to that history.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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