- Google has a new look.
- FCC push to ‘softly regulate’ broadband: http://www.pcworld.com/article/195773/
- Virgin: $25 text/data plan: http://tinyurl.com/26ty59s
- Nowmov.com is cool: http://nowmov.com
- Justin.TV CEO on live video: http://tinyurl.com/34nojx7
- Check out Larry Sabato on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrysabato
- Dan McDermott: http://twitter.com/danielpmcdermot – http://live.warrencountyreport.com – http://youtube.com/wcrnews – http://warrencountyreport.com – http://sherandotimes.com
Recorded on 5/8/2010 – Captured Live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/warrencountyreport-com-live
The Oak Ridge Boys ran into local Iraq war veteran and local hero Bunky Woods backstage before their Aug 2, 2009 concert at the Warren County Fair. The band hit it off with Bunky and chatted so long they were actually a few minutes late for their show! The legendary country performers asked Bunky to let them know if he ever came near one of their shows so they could bring him in as their guest.
After their first song, Oak Ridge Boys tenor Joseph Bonsall mentioned meeting Bunky to a happy crowd and then the group sang “American Made,” one of their biggest hits.
COMPLETE FAIR INFO: warrencountyfair.com
Local singer-songwriter Jon Hafferman aims at national television exposure
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
A Front Royal, VA native and former lead singer of the Florida-based country rock Diablo Canyon band, has set off on a different path into the national consciousness. That path is a shot at performing in front of a national television audience on one of the “reality” talent hunt shows that have become so popular in recent years – this one is NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
Jonathan “Jon” Hafferman has spent much of the past 20 years, mostly based in Florida, pursuing his musical dream, while often supporting that dream with “real” work. For as anyone who has flirted with the music business knows, the glamorous, high-flying “rock star” lifestyle stereotype comes to but a few on the back end of years of decidedly unglamorous, van-propelled, road trips, seedy venues, often distracted audiences, and the type of internal squabbling that characterizes an art form involving the collective product of a group of artists, in this case musicians. (I suggest renting the movie “The Commitments” for perhaps the most entertaining and insightful primer on the lifestyle).
Feeling the pull of family ties and personal roots, the 44-year-old Hafferman relocated to his native Warren County last year. In fact he points out it was his sister, Joy Colton, who submitted his name and musical resume to the producers of the show “America’s Got Talent.” That submission resulted in a first-round audition at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center on the Maryland side of Washington D.C. on Feb. 13. Hafferman, who performed under the stage name Jonathan Wade for the first-round “America’s Got Talent” scouts, says he was very satisfied with his one original, one cover song audition.
However, showing that he is firmly grounded in the reality of musical dreams, he asked us if it was all right to include the information he is seeking area musicians to work on an album project he would like to see completed by the onset of summer – (how’s that for a subtle, up front plug, Jon? Not that a classified would hurt either).
Showing some of his musical roots, Hafferman (Sorry Jon-boy, I can’t get used to Wade) selected 1960’s Motown stalwarts The Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain” for his cover, adding an original ballad penned with son Cody – “Heaven” in his quest for the next round of America’s Got Talent.”
“I feel good about it,” Hafferman said of his first-round audition. “I was comfortable, I was rested up and did what I needed to do to get the pipes just right.” – which is a good thing since Hafferman was told to report to the DC-area audition at 8 a.m., hardly a familiar time for popular musicians of any style. But Hafferman wasn’t the only musician dragging themselves out of bed a who knows what time for the shot at network TV exposure. The auditions ran from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Hafferman estimated around 600 on hand to give it their best shot.
“It was great. There were a lot of people there. I saw a lot of talent, people came from everywhere with all different kinds of styles – there was opera, there was jazz, there was country, there was blues, rock & roll, rap. There were dancers there, everything.”
Asked to rate some of the competition he witnessed waiting his turn, Hafferman said, “Some of them were really, really good. Like I said there was a lot of talent there. And that’s one thing when you go to something like this, you never know what kind of talent you’re going to be surrounded by till you get there and hear these people.
“Actually in the audition room where we were separated from other musicians and other genres of music, I didn’t really find anything that would be compatible to what I was doing. A lot of R&B was there, a lot of newer things – Britney Spears, how would I classify that (be nice, Jon) – a newer type of thing that you’d see on MTV or VH-1. There was a lot of that there, a lot of young people – and old people, I say old, about my age. And some were older than me. I saw a couple guys that were in the 50’s, early 60’s going up and doing their thing.
“What I really wanted to present to the judges was something along the lines of Motown, but on a different tick. I grew up around Motown, my parents were born and raised in DC, so most of The Temptation songs I’m very familiar with. And I picked ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ because it’s such a good, wholesome tune that basically everybody can relate to. If you hear the words of that song, everybody’s been there; everybody’s had their heart broken. But it wasn’t about the broken heart, it was about being soulful through the rocky side of life. It was good – I enjoyed it, myself.”
Hafferman, or should I say Wade? – said his performance seemed to go over well in front of the four judges at this first-round venue. He said initial feedback likened his vocal style to a combination of Bob Seeger and Greg Allman – not bad if you are grounded in a soulful, American country-rock, R&B-tinged framework.
“There were no celebrity judges [at this stage],” Hafferman observed, noting however that there were music business professionals on hand, one would assume in the talent scouting mode.
As for expectations, Hafferman mixed a musician’s dreams and the “if” that characterizes the reality accompanying such dreams.
“Absolutely,” he said of the goal of national exposure in rounds broadcast across the country. “If I do go on to the second round, the next round will be down in Miami. And after that, the following round will be in Chicago. And when they do the taping of the show, which will air on NBC – that will be in New York City. And that’s what I’m, everybody is working up to.”
Hafferman said the televised round judges include David Hasselhoff, who while known best as a TV star in America (maybe he’ll bring some of the “Baywatch” lifeguards along), has a strong musical following in Europe; Sharon Osbourn (Ozzie’s wife), and I’m not really sure who the last one is – he’s somewhere along the lines of a Simon Cowell, he’s the controversial one.” (we’ll make sure to cut this part out online, Jon, so he doesn’t know you didn’t know his name)
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
Prepare yourselves for “a memory of a lifetime” was the general message of Warren County and Town of Front Royal officials greeting a high school band from Petal, Mississippi, to Front Royal and Skyline High School on Jan. 19. While school was closed for Martin Luther King Day, school administrators opened two-year-old Skyline High’s doors and grounds to allow the Petal High School Marching Band a final outdoor rehearsal prior to their appearance in the Presidential Inaugural Parade the following day.
And while the Petal Marching Band is no stranger to honors, state championships and appearances around the nation, several band members we spoke to seemed to realize the import of the approaching moment to themselves, their band, school and nation.
“This is the biggest thing since Kennedy’s Inauguration,” Principal Trombonist E.J. Miller observed of the mood of many younger Americans. For while President John F. Kennedy may be ancient history to the teens of the early 21st Century, his well reported appeal to the nation’s youth of the early 1960’s rings familiar to their own generation’s emotional connections to President Obama.
“It’s a true blessing for me to be in this organization and to see the President and to be able to march in the parade. To be in the band selected out of all the different bands in Mississippi is a true blessing and an honor,” 17-year-old T.J. Taylor said as he stood with fellow baritone player Joy Grimsley preparing to brave temperatures 30-some degrees colder than characteristic of their home town.
We asked Trombonist Miller if the cold and snow might dampen the Mississippi band’s spirits come inauguration day.
“It doesn’t matter. My mind’s not going to be focused on that, my mind is going to be focused on how awesome it is to be there,” Miller enthused, along with Flute Section Leader Ericka Morris, who agreed wholeheartedly that the weather would be irrelevant to the events of the following day for the Petal contingent.
And while the temperatures on the 19th hovered slightly below freezing throughout the day, as if on cue as the band left the comfortable confines of Skyline High’s auditorium around 1:45 p.m., the clouds lifted, snow flurries evaporated and the sun even peeked out to cast a soft glow as the 158-strong Petal Marching Band and Color Guard warmed to their task in the Skyline football stadium parking lot.
As the brass and reeds warmed both their lips and instruments at one end of the lot and the drumline beat a steady rhythm at the other end, it quickly became apparent why Petal High was one of 70 marching bands chosen to participate in the 56th US Presidential inauguration from a pool of 1,300 applicants.
“They are better than my high school band already and they’re only warming up,” Dan McDermott whispered to me in case any ghosts of his high school past were listening.
“Yea, this droning horn and reed warm up with the drums rattling away down there is pretty avant garde – I wonder what their stage band is like?” I wondered aloud.
Ninth-grade Principal Mike Lott, one of Petal High’s four principals, pointed out that 40 percent of his school’s 1,200, 9-12 grade students are involved in music in one way or another.
The Petal High School Band website – http://www.petalbands.org – notes it “is the largest organization in the Petal School District, comprised of approximately 160 students in grades 9-12. During the fall, these students are a part of the All-Superior PHS Marching Band. The band performs at football games and makes appearances at parades and community events as well as competitions throughout the South. During the winter and spring, the band is divided into two performing ensembles that include the PHS Symphonic and Concert Bands. The Petal Band program now also offers winter performing opportunities with the Indoor Visual Ensemble and the Indoor Percussion Theatre. All of these groups have received continuous superior ratings in state and regional competitions.” – And some federal, state and local bureaucrats and politicians would have you believe the arts don’t enrich the US student experience enough to fund directly.
Lott said that while the Town of Petal’s population is about 10,000, the school district’s population reaches beyond the town limits into Forrest County to serve a total of about 25,000 people.
And while the band is no stranger to travel and awards, Trombonist Miller said the band’s director didn’t initially alert the band about the application for the Inaugural Parade out of fear of setting his oung charges up for a big fall.
“Our Band Director Mr. “G” (Garnard) made the statement to our Hattiesburg American Newspaper that he didn’t even expect to make it, that’s why he didn’t say anything [to us] about it. And then when he got the papers back it was a huge surprise for us.”
And speaking of huge – Warren Public Schools Superintendent Pamela McInnis noted that Skyline (60) and the new Warren County High (50) bands combined were smaller than the Petal contingent.
As the band practiced on Skyline High’s grounds under the watchful eyes of Assistant Directors Ryan Saul and Chris Word on Jan. 19, Director Mr. Mike Garnard was in DC running through the logistics of the Petal High School Band’s march through history the following day.
“We congratulate you on your achievement, and maybe someday our schools can reach the kind of achievement you have – we hope so at least,” the Petal band, school officials and sponsors were told during welcoming ceremonies in Skyline’s auditorium.
Front Royal, VA Mayor Eugene Tewalt, Warren County, VA Board of Supervisros Chairman Archie Fox, FR Vice Mayor Bret Hrbek, Town Councilmen Shae Parker and Chris Holloway and Warren County, VA Administrator Doug Stanley, his wife and family joined McInnis in welcoming the Petal contingent to Front Royal as a staging area for its jump to the nation’s capital just 70 miles to the east the following day.
Also lauded for their work in facilitating Petal’s trip north were members of Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce on both ends of the trip. Local resident Stephanie Fretwell of the Linden Rotary, whose sister lives in the Forrest County-Hattiesburg area of Mississippi where Petal is, acknowledged several months of logistical efforts to see that Petal High would have their place on the national stage on Jan. 20, 2009, as Barack H. Obama is inaugurated as the 56th President of the United States. Deborah Reynolds (not that one, you aging movie buffs), both a Petal Rotarian and Chamber President thanked her local counterparts for their help, and other local officials for their support and assistance as the Petal Band got in its final practice before the big day.
And remember what the late opera singer Pavorotti said about practice, kids – “If I don’t practice for one day, I notice; if I don’t practice for two days, the band notices; and if I don’t practice for three days, the audience notices.”
The band arrived in Front Royal at about 11 a.m. on Jan. 19 after an overnight stay in a Roanoke Holiday Inn. They descended on the South Street Burger King and McDonald’s for lunch before arriving at Skyline to be greeted by Activities Adminstrator Buck Smith at 1 p.m. They will stay at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center in southern Warren County the evening of the 19th before heading east early.
“I think they told us we’d be getting a 4 a.m. breakfast call,” one band member pondered. That estimate was later pared back even earlier as those around the band said they were expecting to pull out of the 4-H Center and Warren County by 4:30 a.m. for their march into the historical American landscape.
(Dan McDermott contributed to this story)
Story and photos by Dan McDermott
Warren County Report Newspaper
17 year-old T. J. Taylor stands in 30 degree weather with 16 year-old Joy Grimsley as the two baritone players await practice outside Skyline High School in Front Royal, VA Jan. 19.
Both are members of the 160-strong Petal High School Band in Petal, MS which was selected to represent the state of Mississippi in the 2008 Presidential Inauguration Parade in Washington, DC. More than 1,300 different bands applied for 70 slots in tomorrow’s march through the nation’s capitol. Petal HS will be the only representative from the state of Mississippi.
A slightly shivering Taylor, who had traveled from a town 30 degrees warmer, was bursting with pride at the opportunity to represent a state of almost 3 million people at what is expected to be the largest attended Inauguration Parade in American history. “It’s a true blessing for me to be in this organization and to see the President and to be able to march in the parade. To be in the band selected out of all the different bands in Mississippi is a true blessing and an honor,” Taylor said.
Front Royal, VA Mayor Eugene Tewalt, Town Councilman Shae Parker and Warren County, VA Administrator Doug Stanley were among the local dignitaries who welcomed the band.
The students and many of their parents and boosters will spend the night at the Northern Virginia Regional 4-H Center since D.C. hotel vacancies are virtually non-existent.
Hear the drum line practicing: Petal High School Drum Line
[140 total pictures. Click on the picture above for more.]
Inside this issue:
- Front Royal, VA woman loses finger in domestic dispute
- Browntown Road shooting
- Additional charges filed in Warren County, VA house ramming incident
- Two arrested in Papa John’s Pizza robbery
- Be on the lookout for Daniel Eli of Bethlehem, PA
- Driveway scams
- Openings for Citizens Police Academy
- R-MA teacher honored
- State River Park attendance down
- New Linden, VA trash site opens
- Town of Front Royal, VA approaches liaison: Let’s talk – just not about ‘that’
- Warren County, VA approves 5-pronged January liaison agenda
- Capt. Richard H. Furr makes it official – applying for Front Royal, VA police chief’s job
- Del. Clay Athey’s Report from Richmond, VA
- Neighbors point fingers (not guns) during shooting debate
- ‘Pawsitive Pup’ makes dog grooming more convenient
- NFL playoffs – Still Cheering Purple Pride
- Activities & events in Front Royal and Warren County, VA
- Opinion: The Gaza Holocaust
- Letter: History’s Revenge
- Front Royal/Warren County, VA Chamber of Commerce news
- Entire issue is free here.
Also, 2008: The Year in Review
- 2008 – It wasn’t that great: From bad weather to a lousy economy – good riddance
- Inventor John Kovak: Childhood machine could be key to clean energy production in Front Royal, VA
- CPV, Dominion Power make it official – the ‘buy’ is on
- Paying for our own noose? Front Royal, VA debates the true price of power – 50 years of coal
- Loss of father, two young children mourned at Candlelight Vigil
- Town of Front Royal, VA approves corridor, EDA resolutions – Threat of litigation by Riverton Commons restaurants hovers over passage
- First Crooked Run Center tax revenue estimates in
- Town, FDR Services settle water-sewer rate war – Two years of litigation ends with compromise, 15-year service contract
- Should the Dow be at 3,000? Up a grand, down a grand – Great Depression 2.0?
- Show me the money – Brooks calls out EDA financing – EDA’s reduced municipal funding request opens a fiscal can of worms
- Town move on EDA assets likely futile – Virginia state law protects autonomy of economic development authorities
- Town to EDA – ‘Pretty please with sugar on top’ – Town rephrases effort to gain control of millions in EDA assets
- Abusive driver fees’ hit the dustbin of legislative history – Refunds included in ‘civil remedial fee’ repeal signed into law by Virginia governor
- Virginia Governor Tim Kaine cites importance of dialogue in state government
- Va. Supreme Court rules against NVTA road taxing – Local plaintiff, delegate weigh in on decision, state funding responsibilities
- Questions remain about Virginia state trooper collision – Public’s right to know at issue as accident investigation continues
- Humane Society board recalled under contentious circumstances – Accusations fly over membership voting eligibility, animal care priorities
- Wagner Shelter two weeks later – ‘a remarkable change’; In the wake of contentious board recall, humans & animals move on
- Monk murder mystery – A personal remembrance of a soul in wonder
- Entire issue is free here.
By Dan McDermott
Warren County Report
At the age of 24, Derek Wells is the band leader and lead guitarist for the top-tier country act that is Josh Turner, Inc. In an interview with Warren County Report conducted a few days after a sold out high energy appearance at the Warren County Fair near Front Royal, VA, Wells talked of his first big break, life on the road with Josh Turner, recording with Dolly Parton and the joys and risks of playing in a high profile national act.
A tale of two Nashvilles
Both of Derek’s parents are musicians. His dad is a guitar player and producer. His mother is a songwriter, singer and piano player. Derek moved from Nashville, Arkansas to Nashville, Tennessee when he was one, a fact that Josh Turner frequently picks on Derek about between songs.
“He’s the only guy in the band from two Nashvilles,” Turner jokes.
Despite the 24 year-old’s long list of accomplishments, Derek only got serious about playing the guitar when he was 16. After finishing high school, Derek attended Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY for two years where he majored in journalism. While Derek is clearly intelligent and a quick thinker, the call of the lights and stage beckoned. He says he lost the bite for journalism when he started a career in music.
Derek’s first real paid gig was for Tammy Cochran of “Angels in Waiting” fame.
“I was 19 in 2003 and was playing around Nashville for free for anyone who would take me. I was playing acoustic guitar for a friend at a writers’ night when this guy came up to me after the set and said, ‘Man, you don’t know me and I don’t know you but I play guitar for Tammy Cochran and I can’t make a gig this weekend. I’ve called every guitar player I know and nobody can do it. Will you sub it? And I said, ‘Sure. Absolutely.’ So I drove over to this guy’s house the next day and he gave me 75 minutes worth of music and I got on Tammy’s bus the next day and went out.
With 24 hours to learn 75 minutes of music, Derek relied on his knowledge of the Nashville Number System, a simplified method of writing chord charts with numbers popularized by the Chordettes in the 1950′s and widely used among Nashville’s session players ever since. The idea is to assign regular numbers to notes so the song can be easily transposed into any key on the fly.
“It’s tough. I mean it was definitely unnerving to go get on a bus where you’re at least 10 years or probably 15 or 20 years younger than everybody else and you don’t know a single person. It was a little bit nerve-racking but luckily I made it through. I just sort of laid the charts down on the floor next to my pedal board as discretely as I could. It was intimidating. They were nice guys but there was definitely this feeling of ‘Well, we like you but are you going to be able to handle this show tomorrow….’ But it worked out well and they really welcomed me with open arms, especially after the first show.”
Derek says Tammy and the band liked his substitute performance so much he ended up staying on and did a handful of gigs for her until he got the call to sub for Kellie Coffey in 2004. Derek played for Coffey for about 6 or 7 months. Her biggest hit was the Billboard Top Ten “When You Lie Next to Me.”
Also in the mix was a stint with Julianne Hough who recently released the single “That Song in My Head.” Hough toured this summer with Brad Paisley, Jewel and Chuck Wicks. Hough can be seen along with Paisley and Willie Nelson in the Snoop Dogg video for “My Medicine.”
Derek was touring with Kellie Coffee when a friend who was playing for multi-platinum artist Josh Turner suggested Derek be considered for Josh’s band.
Josh Turner made his debut with the 2004 hit “Long Black Train,” an inspirational song that highlighted his powerful and deep voice. At the time of Derek’s audition, Turner had just finished the “Your Man” album, which would produce two #1 Billboard country singles: the title track and “Would You Go With Me.” “Your Man” also featured the #16 hit “Me and God.”
“I auditioned with about 9 other guys that day. The auditions were at a place called SIR Rehearsal Studios in Nashville. It took about two days for them to call me. The way it works is you work up about 2 or 3 songs. You walk in and set up your stuff. You play and no matter how good or bad you did, they’ll look up at you and go, ‘Well great. We’ll call you.’ And you pack up your stuff and leave. And as you leave the next guy’s coming in. It’s a very nerve-racking experience that doesn’t inspire confidence.”
Derek was quick to praise the talent off all the skilled guitar players he was competing against but conceded that there are factors besides musical ability that weigh on an artists mind.
“The musician in me would like to say it’s all about the playing but the truth of the matter is on a road situation like this where you’re going to be on a bus traveling with somebody in close proximity all the time I’d say 70% of it is how much do they like you. Do they think you’re going to be a good dude? Are you going to be on time? Are you going to know you’re stuff? You know, all those little things. You obviously have to be able to play well but like we talked about earlier in a town like this playing well is just understood. Everyone who auditioned that day could play well, it was just a matter of if they played well stylistically, did they give Josh what he wanted and beyond that, did he just get a good vibe from ‘em. He was there at the audition. He’s really laid back anyway.”
Derek joined Josh Turner’s band in February 2005 and was at Josh’s side playing lead guitar for packed venues over the next year as Josh’s songs slowly climbed up to the top of the Billboard country charts.
“Before Josh had a band he was playing guitar and singing by himself for years so he’s pretty comfortable with it. There are a couple of songs that Josh doesn’t play guitar on because he likes to free things up for mobility’s sake but Josh is a pretty good musician. He’s got a pretty good ear. He went to a music college here in Nashville and has a degree in music performance.”
How much does a touring musician earn?
From Derek’s experience, the pay for a touring musician runs the gambit.
“Every [earnings] scenario is different. It just depends on the artist and their management and what they decide they want to do. Some bands are on a salary; some bands get paid by the show; and some get paid by the show but have a retainer for when they’re off. It absolutely depends on the artist. The low, I’d say is $250 a day. And it’s understood in Nashville you’re not going to pay for any room and board or travel. They’re going to pay for all your airline or whatever. They’re going to take care of you; they’re going to feed you – all those things. The upper scale guys, they could be making anywhere from a grand to $1,500 a day. It just depends on the scenario. A lot of those guys are on salary. There are a couple of acts that make a hundred or a hundred and fifty thousand a year on salary and they may do thirty shows; they may do sixty shows.”
Like most musicians, Derek owns all of his guitars and uses quite a variety.
“I use all kinds of stuff. Mainly I use Fender guitars with Josh. That seems to be the call for his gig. It depends what the situation calls for. When I played for Kellie or Julianne Hough I may not have used any of the guitars I use for Josh. It depends on what the situation calls for.”
While there are lots of budding stars in Nashville, Derek looks at the race as a friendly competition.
“Every waiter in town is a musician, singer or songwriter. It’s real competitive. Take Tootsies Orchid Lounge, the famous bar next to the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. You can go in to any one of those places at one o’clock in the afternoon and run the risk of hearing the best guitar player you’ve ever heard. Everyone is sort of clamoring for the same thing. But at the same time everyone is really friendly. It’s still that southern sort of atmosphere. It’s competitive and everyone is working for the same goal but everyone likes to help each other. Everyone likes to throw each other a line when they can. You won’t get anywhere without somebody’s help and you won’t get anywhere without helping somebody. That’s the way it goes.”
In country music, the musicians that usually play on the records are from a select few of the top tier of Nashville talent. The touring band is then hired and learns the songs the way they were recorded. “There are probably 60 or 70 guys in town who play on 60-70% of the records. And then there are a handful of other guys who play on other stuff. There is a lot of demo recording. There is a lot of what we call ‘limited pressing’ which aren’t really your major labels but are lower-end independent albums and things like that. You do see a lot of other guys, the session thing is a real hard racket to break into because there is a limited number of albums being made, there is a limited number of producers and when the call comes down and there is money on the line, the producer is going to call the guys they know that are tried and tested and that they know are going to come in there and play great, play great parts, come up with great ideas. Those are the guys who have proven themselves time after time. These guys are great players but I can’t stress enough that the good playing thing is pretty much just across the board. There are guys playing down on Broadway who have never played on a record in their whole life who are every bit as good as some of the guys who play on records. It’s just understood that you have to be good and then it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time and proving yourself over and over.”
Derek agreed that the job of playing music gets easier to an extent as your career advances. Nightclub bands play for 4 or 5 hours a night while national acts do a set of around an hour. There are also other benefits.
“It’s kind of a running joke. You get on a high profile gig or you play on some high profile records these companies call you up and they’re going to give you something or they’re going to give you a really good deal on something. That’s when you don’t even need the deal. You can afford it. I can afford to go out and buy guitars now but when I was 19 nobody would give me a deal.”
Making it in Nashville
Derek has no problem coming up with the most frequently asked question he receives.
“We’ll travel and we’ll be in Oklahoma or Ohio or wherever and people will say, ‘Man, I really want to make it to Nashville. What do I do?’ Well, you’ve got to come to Nashville. Must be present to win! It’s sort of like the session musicians but on a smaller scale. I mean everyone is good. There are a lot of good players. And no doubt those A-list session guys are the best musicians in the world but they would be playing Broadway too if they hadn’t met the right person or gotten to play on the right project. It’s kind of the luck of the draw to a certain extent but you have to be good.”
Country legend John Anderson once sang that the Cumberland River was filled with Nashville tears.
“There are lots of talented people here in Nashville who can’t even take smaller risks. They can’t quit their day job. You can be great but if you don’t take the right steps or kind of by happenstance end up at the right place at the right time then no one will ever know.”
Life on a million dollar bus
There is no doubt about it. The tour bus is the way to travel.
“Probably the first time I ever stepped foot on a tour bus was when I was a little kid with my parents. It was probably one of the nicest ones at the time. The first time I stepped on one as a paid musician was probably for Tammy Cochran and it was a nice one. It was definitely a nice new Prevost. It definitely wasn’t a junker. We are fortunate. The busses are the best way to travel. There is a band bus, the crew bus and a bus for Josh and his wife. Jennifer has toured with Josh since I started the gig. There are usually three sections of a band or crew bus. There is the front lounge, the bunk area and the back lounge. Most of the buses are what they call 12-sleepers which means they come with 12 bunks or you can have like what we have they call ‘condo bunks’ and the bunks are larger and then you can only carry 8 bunks but that’s the setup. We have satellite TV in the front and back lounges and video game systems and there is Wi-Fi on the bus and bathrooms and some of the buses have showers and little kitchens and microwaves. It’s really a home away from home. There is no way we could do what we do without them. We’d be miserable.”
Is it hard to sleep in a bus moving down the highway?
“How you sleep depends on the person. Light sleepers sometimes have trouble if it’s a rough bumpy road. I never have trouble sleeping on them.”
“Every day when we wake up on the bus we are at the hotel. The bus driver is already in there asleep. He’s parked us in the parking lot. He goes to sleep. We wake up at our own leisure and we go up front and there will be room keys with everyone’s name on them. There is a day sheet so we know it’s 8:30 and the bus is going to go to the venue at 11. So I know I’ve got until 11 to do whatever I’m going to do at the motel. You go in and get showered. You get back on the bus and you roll over to the venue. There’s lunch and a sound check. Then there is some down time and you can go back to the motel or you can hang out on the bus. Then you have dinner and then it’s show time and then you get back on the bus and you go to sleep and you wake up at another hotel. Repeat ad nauseum.”
How do you stay skinny when there is a huge fancy spread at every stop?
“A lot of guys can gain weight. There is a big spread of food at each place. You’ve got to really either control yourself or you’ve got to be able to work out. A lot of our guys work out. We’ll go play basketball, Josh included. Everyone tries to do what they can to keep thin. You have those spreads everyday but everyone has a day when they just say ‘I can’t.” You’ve just got to try to govern yourself.”
The show must go on
Inevitably, there comes a time when you get sick. In show business, there is no convenient time for this to happen.
“I had a gig about a year and a half ago with Josh when I was throwing up on stage and they set one of those big 5 gallon trash bags off the back of the stage. And every time I thought I was going to throw up I’d just run over there by the drum riser out of sight and hang my head off the back of the stage and just throw up all over everything. It was awful. Nobody in the audience knew. All of the crew knew because I had been sick all day. You just try to conceal it as best you can. A lot of times the adrenalin will kick in. You’d be surprised what you can through for an hour or an hour and 15 minutes. Those are the days when you’re really happy you have a crew to set up and take down your stuff.”
When Derek and I spoke, he had just finished a demo session for Dolly Parton who wanted to record some of the songs she had written over the years but hadn’t gotten down in the studio.
“We were re-doing some of her old, old songs. She found a bunch of old songs that were just work tapes of just her singing and she may have decided she wanted to have them for herself but I’m not sure. I got to play on Dolly’s last record and she is just a joy and so, so talented. Everyone kind of knows her for being Dolly and being this icon and kind of forgets that she’s this amazing songwriter. She’s one of the best singers and harmony singers I’ve ever been around, period.”
The public eye
One of the side effects of playing in a national act on stage and in videos is that you will be recognized.
“It was a lot worse before. We had a few instances where we had done a live album for Cracker Barrel and when that was out they were really promoting it and there were posters up and there was this big display and so it was a little bit more harried. When you walk in there with Josh and there is a life-size poster right next to you the cover’s kind of blown. But we haven’t had any big Cracker Barrel mobs in a while, which is good because we really like Cracker Barrel. Josh is always really cool about it. We find that it only takes one person. Sometimes you’ll go places and you can tell that people around notice who he is or notice you because we’ve done enough videos where even some of the band is recognizable now. Sometimes you’ll go to a place and they’ll notice but no one will come up to you but if one person comes up and asks for an autograph or picture that’s all it takes. That’s like the ‘okay’ for everybody else. It’s usually all or nothing. Sometimes we’ll get out of there without Josh having to do anything and sometimes it’s half the restaurant.
Derek points out that while they love the fans and know they are the cause for their success, there are times when you want to sneak in and out of a place to get a bite to eat.
“Sometimes you just woke up. Sometimes it’s after a show where it was 100 degrees and we’re all sweaty and nasty and wearing our gym shorts and stuff and we want to run by Denny’s and grab some food and there are a bunch of people there.”
The Internet has added a new twist on the problems caused by overzealous fans.
“You have to be a bit guarded. I’ve known musicians who have played for other artists who have had all sorts of bad stories come up. Some girl comes up and snaps a picture with someone and then the next week there’s some blog on the Internet with this girl and how she slept the night with the guy and he’s got a wife and two kids. That’s the unfortunate thing that a lot of people don’t understand. Unless we feel that it’s absolutely the most innocent of innocent situations we’re reluctant to take pictures anytime because some people just lie. People will just make up stuff. My mom and my fiancé get on Josh Turner message boards all the time and I can’t tell you how many times they read stuff like ‘Well my cousin is Derek Wells and he told me that Josh’s new record is going to have this song on it.’ Well not an ounce of that is true. What compels a person to completely fabricate an entire story from top to bottom and include me as their source?”
While there have been some concerns, Derek hasn’t yet had to go to Josh about an untrue story.
“Most of the time it’s really trivial. No one, knock on wood, has ever said something like ‘Derek hates Josh’ or anything. Most of the time if it’s on the message boards Josh probably doesn’t know about it anyway since he is so busy. You get used to it. As for stuff like that, anyone who is around the situation knows immediately that it’s not true. The unfortunate thing is that they trick the people on Josh’s web site or wherever. These folks really want genuine information and these people are telling them lies. For example, if Justin, our steel player, ever got on there and saw something like ‘I took this picture when I ate dinner with Derek at Wendy’s’ then Justin’s going to get on there and say ‘I was with Derek that night.’ So it doesn’t really effect any of us but it probably effects some unknowing Josh Turner fans.”
Looking toward the future
“When I’m not on the road I play around town with a bunch of different musicians. I just enjoy playing music and I love playing with Josh and I love being his band leader. If I wasn’t able to play in a gig I’d lose my mind. I’ve been doing some recording. I’ve been lucky enough to get into the session world and play in some records. As band leader I’m kind of the extra ear for Josh to make sure everyone is playing right, everyone’s playing their part. When we’re learning new songs I’m kind of in charge of writing the charts out for everybody. But it’s a great bunch of guys so I don’t have too much to do. They’re really great about playing great and doing their homework.
There is no doubt that Derek Wells enjoys his job. But he also knows he won’t be 24 forever.
“I’d like to be a studio guy full-time and I’d like to produce. I’m starting to produce some stuff here and there with some local artists. That’s the ultimate goal. I love Josh and a lot of other artists but I would like to eventually quit traveling as I get a little bit older.”
One of the biggest questions we had was how Derek’s fiancé Amy handles his schedule and career choice.
“She’s great about it. You hear all sorts of horror stories about women who aren’t so great about being engaged or married to a traveling musician but things were really good from day one. She really respects what I do and she thinks I’ve got a cool job. She really loves it and she’s really supportive and I want to mention something about Josh. If you want to go on the road and try to raise a family then Josh is the guy you want to go with. It’s really a tame bunch of guys. No one is out there partying. No one is out there tearing up hotel rooms and Josh is so family oriented. He’s really family-first. When I came to him and told him I was getting married I asked him if he wanted me to get a sub and he said no, absolutely not. We’re going to block off a whole entire week. I want everyone to be there. I want to be there. A lot of artists would have given me all kinds of grief. They’d have said ‘No way, you plan your wedding around our shows.’ So that attitude has really helped. When we started dating she came out to a show and once she met everybody it was sort of, ‘Wow. These are just the nicest, sweetest, most down-to-earth people ever so what kind of trouble could he get in with them?’ “
[Some artists biographical information provided by Wikipedia.]
Dan McDermott: editor [at] warrencountyreport.com