More than anything, the South is known for its music and its strong family ties. Both are highlighted with Black Stone Cherry, a Kentucky band that redefines southern rock for a modern audience. By any standard, BSC is unconventional: they take the larger-than-life mystique of classic rock and modernize it with a driving attack that is equal parts roots and modern hard rock. Few bands this young â?? none of the four members is older than 23, the youngest is 20 - sound this powerful or versatile. They're hard and heavy, but Black Stone Cherry is southern to the core, and they come by their love of music in genuine way: it's in their blood, and it's in their home.
BSC hails from Edmonton, a small town in south-central Kentucky that's in the middle of a dry (alcohol-prohibited) county, where there is very little to do. For many, including the members of BSC, music was their escape. And there was a lot of music around. "There's lots of great bluegrass and southern gospel groups which we all love," says Ben. Given all this music, it's no shock that the four members of BSC have a rich musical tradition in their own families, handed down from their grandparents, through their parents, to the band themselves. John Fred's father Richard is a founding member of the Grammy Award-winning Kentucky Headhunters, while Jon's Great-Uncle was a jazz drummer. Chris received his first guitar from his grandfather, who built instruments by hand, and learned his first chords from his dad. And it wasn't just their family that encouraged them to play: whenever Chris got into trouble at school, he wound up in the principal's office, jamming with the principal himself.
Surrounded by music and support down in Edmonton, Black Stone Cherry was able develop far away from the mainstream. "When you're from an area where you don't have the competition to be playing the same kind of music, you create your own style of music," explains John Fred. Robertson agrees: "being down here, in the middle of nowhere, you kind of have to come up with your own thing just to entertain yourself." Chris and John Fred began playing together while they were still teenagers in high school, with Jon and Ben joining them soon afterward, officially forming on June 4, 2001. Black Stone Cherry took over a century-old practice house that had been the territory of the Kentucky Headhunters since 1968 and rehearsed relentlessly. There was a special vibe in that practice house that emanated from the walls plastered with decades of rock memorabilia - posters, flyers, album covers. "We grew up looking at these posters and visualizing ourselves being on kids bedrooms," explains John Fred. "It pushed us to try to create something up to that level."
While there are echoes of the past in their music â?? their fluid musicality recalls Zeppelin and they have an honesty often associated with bands like Skynyrd and the Black Crowes - it merely acts as a foundation for their music. Black Stone Cherry is a full-throttle modern rock band, with guitars that rage and a shuddering rhythmic attack. They sound as earthy and raw as Soundgarden, as heavy and fun as AC/DC, yet there's a higher level of musicianship to their performances and songwriting that makes them like no one else. They can grind out an intense, bluesy riff thatâ??s equal parts Guns N Roses and Alice In Chains on "Lonely Train," a gripping song about how war effects the families left behind when a soldier goes off to war. There's an intensity to "Lonely Train" that cuts to the bone. They also can conjure up spooky, cinematic drama as they do on "Rain Wizard," a tune based on a local legend about mysterious wisemen that could bring about rain at a time of drought and famine. And with the rampaging "Backwoods Gold," BSC proves they're master storytellers, too, with a tale about a local man who ran moonshine out of the hardware store in the heart of town. This variety is unusual in a young band, and John Fred says that was the intention: "We wanted to dig deep into the well and pull something out that was totally different from what was going on. We wanted to make music that people could really latch onto - something that was still totally different from what was going on today but reminded people of the great rock icons of yesteryear."
That's what happened in Edmonton - everybody from eight to eighty embraced Black Stone Cherry. "People heard about these kids taking over these old-time music clubs and we turned them into rock & roll parties," remembers Ben. Soon, there wasn't a soul in town who didn't love the band. Once recording was finished, the band played a homecoming concert, and 1500 people packed into the local middle school gym - the same school where Chris used to jam away with the principal. It was that principal who invited the group back for a concert to celebrate their debut album on In De Goot/Roadrunner Records. Pulling into town, the roads were covered with signs welcoming the band back home - even the digital construction signs hailed their return, trumpeting "BSC TONIGHT at the Middle School" - a sure sign of how beloved this band is in Edmonton.
Appropriately, the debut was recorded at home in Kentucky, with friends and family: John Fred's father along with engineer wiz David Barrick produced the album. Kevin Shirley of Aerosmith's "Nine Lives" and Led Zeppelin's "How the West was Won", mixed the record at the Palm's Studio in Las Vegas, Nevada. Chris says, "We went in and recorded it like they did in the old days. It's really human, it's not robotic or anything." "It's all about the groove," says Jon, the way it makes people move." This album captures the kinetic energy and force of the band's live show and it is proof that Black Stone Cherry are true southern originals. Or as Ben puts it: "We're a straight-ahead, in-your-face rock & roll band that tells the truth and sometimes stretches it beyond the imagination."