Interview with The Beat Daddys
Hosted by: LouLombardi aka Loudini
Time: 10/08/2015 06:30 PM EDT
Episode Notes: Formed in 1986 by core members Larry Grisham and Tommy Stillwell, The Beat Daddys have spent almost 30 years bringing their blend of American roots music to audiences around the world. With nine international CD releases, several film & TV soundtrack credits, and countless shows in the US and abroad, The Beat Daddys are a duo with authentic American roots. Coming of age in rural Kentucky where the nearest interstate highway was 100 miles away, Tommy Stillwell and Larry Grisham's musical journey was shaped by their families and the deep music traditions of Kentucky and the South.
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Grisham, who can claim country music icon Merle Travis as a family member, spent his early years in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Muhlenberg County has a rich history of musical legends, not only Travis, but the Everly Brothers and thumb picking legend Mose Rager . During these years, Larry was immersed in fiddle, harp and guitar playing sessions that took place in his family’s living room. On a donated piano from a local church, Grisham began his music journey. Grisham’s gospel music loving grandfather was not happy with his loud rock and roll playing. Enraged, he pushed the piano out of the house into the front yard and set it a fire. But Grisham’s musical path didn’t end with the piano going up in flames.
In the Ohio River town of Cloverport, Kentucky, Tommy Stillwell’s introduction to the power of music came in the form of Pentacostal tent revivals and churches. Performing at the age of 8 as the drummer for the preacher’s gospel band, Stillwell experienced music’s emotional power early in his life. During these soul-stirring services, Stillwell studied the guitar playing preacher and quickly emulated the strumming and fingering of the chords the preacher made. “Still know that first song I copied from him today, ‘He’s All I Need,” says Stillwell.
“Searing guitar, wailing harmonica and undeniable vocal power”.
The year was 1970. With Grisham’s family situation always in flux, he headed to Cloverport with a foster family. In one of the most Kentuckian of places, the basketball court, Grisham and Stillwell met. Connecting immediately on their enthusiasm for music, especially the British Invasion, the duo began their long musical collaboration. After several years of the standard high school, community events and early club gigs, Grisham and Stillwell decided to pursue different paths and ended their first musical endeavor.
The duo’s next collaboration, an 80’s power pop band The Phonz(pronounced phones) began their productive song writing partnership. After a successful EP and a hand full of 45s, much sought after in the Japanese Power Pop collector’s culture, an epiphany occurred. After always including chestnuts from the Yardbirds, Kinks, Stones, and Animals in The Phonz set list, they reexamined their initial passions, the British Invasion, which led back to Muddy, the Wolf, and the Kings, Feddie, Albert and B.B. Dissolving The Phonz and creating The Beat Daddys, the duo began exploring American Blues and all the regional variations: Texas Blues, Memphis R&B, Chicago, and Muscle Shoals.
After releasing a self-titled disc in 1990 featuring 14 tracks of Grisham and Stillwell compositions, the duo embarked on an extensive tour of Asia. Upon their return, a tour of the South brought them to a lunch stop at a popular Jackson, MS barbecue joint that offered live Blues on the weekends. Unbeknownst to Grisham and Stillwell, the restaurant was owned by executives from Malaco Records, a world class label in the Blues and Gospel music recording industry. Leaving a complimentary copy of their self-titled disc in hopes of possibly securing a venue to play, led to a recording contract with Malaco Music Group.
They were signed to Malaco subsidiary Waldoxy Records in 1992. Heading to the famous Muscle Shoals studio, two CDs were recorded and released on the Waldoxy label: No, We Ain’t From Clarksdale in 1992 and with famed Muscle Shoals’ Swampers, South To Mississippi in 1994. During that time, the pair also appeared on Z Zelebration a compilation disc celebrating the life and songs of Malaco artist the late ZZ Hill.
The experience of the Muscle Shoals recordings were rewarding, but creative and directional differences led to Stillwell’s departure in 1995 and he did not return until 2007.
Stillwell, remaining in the Evansville, Indiana area, began recording, performing and leading several combos. Most notably he lead Stillwell-Rodenberg & Co. which had two CDs released and appeared on the PBS national broadcast of Jubilee, featuring their performance at the W.C. Handy festival.
Grisham relocated further South, first to Jackson, MS then to the Gulf Coast region. Living and exploring the musical heritage of the region, he formed a new line-up consisting of players predominantly from the Gulf Coast area. Most notably: Britt Meacham of Muscle Shoals recording fame, Lewis Ross drummer for the group Wet Willie, and Johnny Neel formerly of The Allman Brothers Band.
During that time the group recorded and released four CDs: The Beat Daddys Live, Delta Vision, 5 Moons, and Root Rubbin’ Ball. 5 Moons earned the distinction of being named among the top 5 self produced CDs in the International Blues Challenge in 2008. The group also toured extensively in both Asia and Europe.
Disaster struck Grisham in 2005. Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast destroying all of Grisham’s possessions. Relocating to Nashville, TN, Grisham and Stillwell renewed their collaboration with a renewed passion and energy.
Releasing the live set Live at the Quincy Blues Festival in 2007, the duo began writing and touring, sharing the stage with many blues and rock Hall of Famers.
2014 began a turning point for Grisham and Stillwell. Winning the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s IBC band competition, the group earned a trip to compete in Memphis. Emerging from the hotly contested IBC band competition as a semi-finalist, The Beat Daddys focused on production of hoodoo that we doo. Grisham and Stillwell created an eclectic set of songs drawing on a lifetime of musical collaboration. Combining blues, rhythm & blues, gospel and touches of rock, hoodoo that we doo is the consummate American roots music record. “These Chains” is a gospel shouter that releases the soul, “The Moment” is a reflective ballad of the instance love is lost and “I Need A Woman” is a blues stomper of an empty hearted man.
While they cover a lot of musical ground, there is still the common thread that binds their music together. Rooted in the Blues with a dash of Southern Rock and old school R&B, it is undeniably The Beat Daddys.