THREE CHORDS, FOUR SONGWRITERS AND THE TRUTH Truth & Salvage Co.

With a
new leg of their year-long tour kicking off this week, Chris Robinson’s
favorite group of roots-rockers aim to pursue their communal concern as far as
it can take them.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

It ought to come as no surprise that ego is an essential
additive when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, indicative not only of the need to
seize the spotlight but to also maintain a competitive edge over the
competition. Sadly, this desire to assert an imprint on the proceedings has
often led to the dissolution of ensembles top heavy with talent, owing to
internal squabbles spurred by jealousy, a struggle for control or other forms
of distrust and dysfunction. The fact that bands as brilliant as the Beatles,
the Band and the Buffalo Springfield fell prey to that fate all but affirms the
fact that any outfit so rich in resources could indeed stumble upon similar
pitfalls.

 

Consequently, it’s a rare circumstance – but a refreshing
one at that – to find that a band boasting no less than four singer/songwriters
not only survives but thrives. While it’s too soon to wager on the ultimate
prospects for the band that dubs itself Truth & Salvage Co., the members of
the group insist they’re more concerned with the collective effort by the band
as a whole and less about assuaging individual interests. According to
singer/songwriter/guitarist Tim Jones, ego doesn’t enter into the equation.

 

“That was the first thing we all had to let go of,” Jones
says. “It was like, look, if we’re going to do this, it’s not going to be about
me anymore, it’s going to be about us. 
They’re not my songs anymore,
they’re our songs. So there’s been a
spirit of brotherhood throughout all this that’s become the overriding theme. I
was a front man in a band from the time I was 16 years old basically until this
band. I’d so much rather not be the
front man, and I think everybody feels that way. It’s so much better to have a
real band, you know – one that’s not focused on one person.”

 

If Jones’ explanation sounds somewhat euphoric… and perhaps
a bit naïve… then so be it. Jones insists he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The joy I get from singing harmonies is far greater than any individual
attention,” Jones maintains. “I’m totally happy the way things are. I don’t
need my ego scratched any more. It’s great when people love the songs that we
do.  I love to be able to sing lead
sometimes, but it’s never like I have to sing that many songs, or have my song included in the set, because we only
want to do the best songs – and
that’s the way it was on the record too. It was like, well, we have this wealth
of material to pick from and let’s pick the absolute best.”

 

Indeed, the band was brought together out of a desire to
discard the baggage each of the members had accumulated over the years and
simply play music purely for the pleasure of doing so. Jones was booking talent
on Sunday nights for L.A.’s
famed Hotel Café, the city’s premier venue for young, unsigned talent and a
gathering place for its burgeoning singer-songwriter contingent. He met
vocalist/keyboard player Walker
Young, vocalist/guitarist Scott Kennebrew and vocalist/drummer Bill “Smitty”
Smith – late of North Carolina outfit Scrappy Hamilton, who’d relocated from
Asheville to L.A. in search of a wider audience – when they performed at the
club as the back-up band for an aspiring artist named Lissie, who subsequently
released a solo EP.  “Smitty was playing
drums and I just thought he was the best drummer I had seen in the longest time
and he sang as well,” Jones recalls. “I thought, this guy has got to play in my
band. So Smitty and I started playing together and then suddenly it just
evolved into all of us playing together, because we were all friends and there
wasn’t this pressure of trying to start a band.”

 

When bassist Joe Edel and keyboard player Adam Grace
completed the sextet, the chemistry clicked. Even their choice of branding
reflects that optimistic approach and the desire to keep their intents more
personal than professional, at least in the beginning. “We just got together as friends and
for fun,” Jones explains. “We called ourselves the Denim Family Band because we
had this kind of alter-ego – like characters that lived in this whole fantasy
land.  But once we started thinking more
seriously and we started talking about record deals, our manager, Pete Angelus
told us that Prince owned the name Family Band. Apparently he produced a record
back in the ‘80s called the Family Band. And Robert Randolph and the Family
Band own the website.  So that meant we
had to find a different name.”

 

As it turned out, the search for an appropriate moniker
became the most difficult part of their trajectory. Jones says that the band
considered hundreds of names (“One day we loved the Neverbirds and the next day
we loved Bonfires, and the next day we loved something else”), and after
perusing a like number of websites, it was a friend of Kennebrew’s who
suggested the handle Truth & Salvage Co. 
“We thought that really kind of makes sense because our whole basis is
that you can salvage anything, Jones relates. “We all had been playing music
for so many years, and we had been burnt on the business side of it. Finally,
we were just coming back to playing the truth, playing rock ‘n’ roll for the
sake of rock ‘n’ roll. So it all kind of fit. Walker sums it up by saying that the truth is
our songs and salvage is our collective history, and we were all able to come
together and make these songs that are the truth to us.”

 

With Jones, Kennebrew, Smith and Young all being seasoned
songwriters, the band had ample material to take into the studio. Eighteen
songs were considered for their eponymous debut, a choice that was eventually
pared down to a dozen. Three more were written during the sessions, which were
allocated as B-sides. In addition, several have been penned since the album’s
release, leaving an ample catalogue to draw from in the future.  “There’s no lack of material, which is
great,” Jones proclaims proudly. “Even if all of us have writing’s block for
the next year, we still have plenty of songs.”

 

They also had a talented mentor in the studio as a producer
in the person of Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson. Robinson was suggested by
Angelus, who has managed the Black Crowes since 1990. The relationship was
further cemented when the two bands went out on the road together. “Chris
brought an arsenal of musical knowledge,” Jones relates. “He was really what I
had hoped for.  He was very hands on in
terms of trying to get the best performance out of us and the best songs, but
he was very hands off in terms of his trying to change something. He didn’t
want us in our comfort zone, but he was never forceful about trying to make any
changes that we didn’t agree with. There was never any fighting at all. He was
just the best coach that we could possibly have… and the funniest dude. If he
put out a comedy record, I would buy it. I can’t say enough about the guy.”

 

The music that emerged from those sessions bears the
optimistic attitude borne out by Jones’ assertions. Upbeat and infectious at
practically every turn, it brings to mind the strains of classic country rock
once borne by the likes of Poco, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the New Riders of
the Purple Sage and their like-minded Southern California
brethren. The easy ramble that guides such songs as “Welcome To LA,” “See Her,”
“Old Piano” and “Jump the Ship” becomes so effusive and engaging, it’s all but
irresistible. Opening track “Hail Hail” sets the tone, heralding their arrival
by ushering in their innate optimism:

 

“Hail,
hail, the gang’s all here
With their heads full of reefer and their bellies full of beer.
Sixteen years of living the dream…
Ready to see what it means to be the rulers of our destiny.”

 

“I consider us more of a rock ‘n’ roll band than a country
rock band,” Jones suggests. “But I love country music – Merle Haggard, Waylon
Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Faron Young, and even back further to
Harlan Howard and back further than that to Stephen Foster, and the origins of
American music – the blues, Western Swing like Bob Wills. But as kids growing
up in the Midwest and the South, we were
listening to a lot of popular music too, like Van Halen and Prince and Hall
& Oates. A lot of our earlier influences were heavier because that’s what
you’re into when you’re first listening to music.

 

“I started listening to Gram Parsons when I was about 19 or
20,” he continues. “But the funny thing is that a lot of the artists Gram
Parsons was listening to was the same stuff we were listening to – a lot of
country and western, a lot of folk music and a lot of rock ‘n’ roll. His
contemporaries were, I’m sure, also a heavy influence. When you listen to the
live stuff from the Fillmore East, when he’s opening for the Grateful Dead,
he’s actually playing country covers.”

 

Those earlier impressions seem to have had a marked impact,
not only on Jones and his colleagues, but on their producer as well. “Chris was playing a lot of the New
Riders of the Purple Sage when we were making the record,” Jones confides. “He would
say, ‘The only reason I have a computer is so that I can watch old New Riders
videos on YouTube to see what kind of fashions I should be wearing!’ Yet
whatever the reason for watching, it’s also apparent that Robinson was so
stoked on those giddy good vibes that he felt free to disperse them in the
studio. In listening to the final product, it’s that optimistic attitude that
defines the band’s stance. With a sound that’s both rustic and rollicking, it
strikes a marked contrast to the low lit, downtrodden approach purveyed by many
of their contemporaries these days.

 

“It wasn’t a conscious effort but that’s really where we all
came from,” Jones explains. “The band is all about fun. We all spent years
doing the more downtrodden, low-fi indie thing. Scotty and Smitty and Walker
were all involved in Scrappy Hamilton, which was like a swing, jazz indie kind
of thing. I led the Tim Jones Band, a singer/songwriter project which was very
kind of emotionally driven, break-up song heavy, and we all came together at a
time where we had stopped trying to make music a career and we wanted to play
music to have fun. And so the songs we were playing were the songs that ended
up on the record, songs that were a lot more about the joy of life rather than
the misanthropy of it all. What are we going to focus our attention on? What
are we going to talk about? I would much rather focus on the joy of traveling
around and meeting people and make music for the folks that are happy to come
out and see the concert. The people that come to concerts aren’t necessarily
the ones who are worrying about their 401K. Their joy of life comes from seeing
live music.”

 

That euphemistic mindset has been borne out by good fortune
so far. “We’ve just been really blessed with the tours we’ve gotten to do with
the Black Crowes and the Avett Brothers,” Jones gushes. “It’s great to get that
kind of an audience, especially in these times.”

 

As for the future, Jones and the others seem content to
pursue this communal concern as far as it can take them. “We’re not even
thinking about the next record. I’m hoping we’ll get a good two years of
touring off of this one. Because the longer we get to play and the more
audience we get to see, the more records we’ll get to sell and the more fans
we’ll get. I would like to be in a position to do this for the rest of our
lives and I’m hoping that this first record is going to let us do that. We have
dates booked all the way into January, so we’re trying to get as much exposure
as possible at this point and play for as many people as possible.”

 

For now anyway, that scenario seems to be playing out.
Having been chatting from a stop in Idaho Falls,
Jones tells Blurt he’s about to board
the band’s van and head to Boise
for a headlining show. Then, he says, it’s off to Eugene,
followed by San Francisco and then back home to L.A. prior to rejoining
the Black Crowes and the Avetts Brothers for tours that will take them through
the end of the year. Peering down the proverbial road, Jones even seems a bit
wistful. 

 

“It’s a dream to eventually retire and set up shop at some Tiki
bar and play Van Morrison covers,” he sighs. “Or maybe we’ll sell a few million
copies of our album and it will create enough demand that they’ll ask us to
play our own songs!”

 

Truth
& Salvage Co. kick off a new U.S. tour on Wednesday, Sept. 1.
Full list of tour dates at the MySpace page.

 

[Photo Credit: Henry Diltz]

 

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