Black Stone Cherry
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 – 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 – 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 that’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 wise men 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 intent.