October 2005 - GIDEON SMITH & THE DIXIE DAMNED
Hardly another musician embodies the rock 'n' roll outlaw so much like Gideon Smith. Already the first album shows that he has internalized the roots of American music and numerous sessions in the legendary Sun-studios speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the last years weren't simple for Gideon and The Dixie Damned and particularly the death of band-member Boo was a heavy slab for Gideon Smith. But nothing can stop a passionate musician from his music and the latest release "Dealin' Decks" is the next proof of the band's own identity. If you are on the search for the next Lynyrd Skynyrd-copy, then this band won't help you along. But if you're looking for a tasteful mix of 50's Rock 'n' Roll, Outlaw-Blues, Southern Rock and Goth-flavoured hardrock, then this band is the right choice. After the Cosmic Lava interview in 2002, I took the chance and talked with my friend Gideon about a lot of different topics. The result is a long, but highly interesting interview and gives a good insight into the heart of one of the last musical desperados!
Hello Gid! Welcome back for the second time here, after you did an interview with us a few years ago. .A lot has happened since "Southern Gentlemen", your debut album for Small Stone Records. I think, one of the most tragic moments was the sudden and unexpected death of your friend Boo Creepy, who was also the drummer of the Dixie Damned. How did you get over this big loss and have you found a new drummer? How you're doing?
Hello Klaus and thanks again for the interview. I appreciate all the support and enthusiasm you and Cosmic Lava have given my music. Having my good friend and musical partner pass away was definitely an incredibly difficult thing to deal with and face, like I have said many times, he was a great friend and a true good soul on this planet. It definitely hit hard on many levels, as I'm sure anyone could understand. As a friend, a person in your life, and in another way, a person who you played music with, yeah of course it's a big empty place in your daily life, your life's pursuits, and the organization of all the people involved. But yeah, he was a great man loved by many, and speaking for myself, I will always miss him.
A loss that like is not something you can replace, you just face it, buck up, adapt to the reality and move on. But yeah it took a few years really to acknowledge it fully, even though I regrouped the band and started playing again almost immediately, that was the best way to deal with it at the time. In some ways, it took a long time. I have always written songs and sustained my music, but definitely need the band members to make it jam down. After Boo died, I played briefly with Jeff Hale of God's Water, a great drummer and cool person but he didn't have alot of free time to work on music at that time, so then I met and started playing with Mark Binion, who is from Raleigh North Carolina. Mark is a great guy, a sincere good friend and drummer, so Mark's played the shows and recorded with the band since then. He just lives for music. I'm happy to keep the Dixie Damned going and make music- so its nice to meet new cats who want to be part of it and keep creating music together under whatever circumstances.
Let's talk about your newest ep "Dealin' Decks"! It has been announced as being recorded for a few years, and it seems to me, that it was a bit difficult to find a label. I was a bit surprised, that you hadn't released it via Small Stone, but on the Italian label Scarey Records. What was the reason for this decision?
To begin with, the recording of the EP was fast and easy. It started as the initial four songs. I had a guy I met that was going to release it for me as a vinyl only 7" EP record, on colored vinyl. Although it was sincere at the time, he flaked out on me and it did not come about like I had originally intended, which was a fast and solid tribute to my friend a few months after he died. Basically I grabbed a group of friends and we recorded it quickly with Jeff Hale, it was basically Jose Carlos Wright and my concept and plan to do something solid for Boo then get it out fast, then get on to the future. My original plan and intention was to have a vinyl EP recorded and released by October of that year. This would be of course, in between the next full length and full on album. I came in contact with the Scarey guys because they did records for my friends in bands from North Carolina. Carlo and his partner offered to release an EP if I wanted, so I took their offer and handed it to them. They were going to do the vinyl, but also passed on the idea because Cd's are much wiser to release as far as people's ability to buy and actually be able to listen to the recording.
There was never a question of Smallstone not being with me on it, it just unfolded in a manner different from my original plan or intention, It was definitely not a follow up full length or a cd with no label to release, it came out like did because of those factors. I did not want to make 'Dealin' Decks' a full length, such as the next full length is all about me and the Stone. I was bummed it took so long to get done and released, because its very old on the schedule and song writing periods, but the last few years have been uphill to say the least, I just keep on climbin' and moving along. I am pleased its out on cd and more people get to hear it than if it was a small run of vinyl EPs, and the artwork that Monkey from the Nerds did for it is really top line, it looks stunning, he did such a massive job. I'm really happy its out and people are digging it, but now I'm so ready for the future.
And what about the second full-length for Small Stone Records? I think, that I'm not the only one on this strange world who's looking forward to it, so what can you report about your plans?
I've been recording alot in the last several months. I have come to the decision lately that to talk about music too much before people hear it is a mistake. Miles Davis once said 'talking about music is like dancing about basketball' and I think that's a brilliant quote. So yeah, I'm not gonna describe new songs before anyone gets to hear them, and I can't really give out any release info or anything that I don't know for a fact. As for the album, lets just say it will be delta swampy, bluesy, psychedelic spacey, nasty, creepy, trippy pretty and deeply entrenched in magick and musical craziness. I'm glad people are with me and our music, happy to hear people are waiting on it. As for the next cd on Smallstone and future music I will quote the great poet Morgan Freeman when he was the "Easy Reader" on the 1970's tv show "Electric Company"..it will be 'heavy..heavy..out-of-sighteous!".
The ep contains six tracks, which had been recorded between 2001 and 2004. I suppose, that a few of the songs are outtakes from the "Southern Gentlemen" recordings or have you written the songs later?
The three songs recorded initially in 2002 a few months after Boo died. Jose Carlos and I wrote "Disco Devil Forever" and "Blood and Fire" together like in no time. I had "Breaking Hearts & Horses" for awhile yet. "Dionysus Child" was a b-side from earlier on, there were three acoustic spacey love rock songs in that vein that Boo and I did as intoxicated demos in one night in 2001 that were never released, they sat in a drawer at my house for several years. So the only out take from the "Southern Gentlemen" time was "Dionysus Child". The other two "Dreamchaser" and "Last Night On Mother Earth" I wrote and recorded quickly sometime in the last few years, I don't really remember the details. I must have had ten people come down and play on those various songs, and it's a collection of songs I thought people would dig out of the stuff in my endless "history of the band" box, which is not unlike a magic attic from Harry Potter's movies, guarded from evil souls by a giant drooling three headed dog.
After I listen to the ep over and over again, I admit that I like the production more than on "Southern Gentlemen". Do you think, that there's a difference between both releases?
Hey that's cool. The budget on the first album was much bigger, and the mixing and mastering definitely superior in quality to this EP. I did it all myself and with Jose's help. It was done an a extremely minimal budget and small bits of recording time..very little mixing time. As for enjoying the sound as being more minimal and stripped down, that's a compliment, to me man I think it keeps the spirit of true rock and roll. Its raw and fun, and I think it comes across as fun and old school, which is good in my eyes. While I would have preferred alot more studio time and leeway to work on it as a whole, it's not a real album it's an EP with the purpose being kind of like a one night party, a celebration and introspection. Kind of like reacting to alot of heavy events in my life, loud music and introspective thoughts, then a calm moment at the end, a trippy way to disappear. So yeah its different than the earlier cds, but it is what it is. I don't think its better or worse, just a different approach. It's only a like bird flying across the sky as far as a moment in time, take in it, get from it what you can or happen to find and then on to the future. It's more music meant to spread around, some extra recordings of b-side songs that had been hidden under a stack of old flyers, comic books, empty bottles and chicken bones...actually I think it was under my VHS copy of "Avenging Disco Godfather".
I always wonder, when other writers file your sound next to bands like Alabama Thunderpussy, Halfway To Gone or Dixie Witch just to name a few. Although all these are great bands, your sound is less brutal and stronger influenced by classic 50's rock 'n' roll as well as country rock and a bit of psychedelic. What are your thoughts on this? What do you think and can you agree?
When it comes to the bands you just mentioned, I am a fan of all those bands' music and enjoy them all in different ways. The ones you mentioned, are real honest bands I see as 'rock music'. There are alot of cool bands out there, Smallstone has a great roster of what I would define as high quality rock music, and has been highly regarded in my opinion with each release they make. But yeah I definitely think our groove is similar to those cats in the sense that it's often loud rock and roll music. I do enjoy psychedelia, old swampy blues, traditional outlaw country and Chicago blues and jazz, doom, old school reggae, hard biker rock much more over any kind of punk rock or grind core influences, which I just don't really enjoy at all. I love Johnny Winter, Roky Erickson, The Doors, Rolling Stones, Elvis, Zeppelin, The Cult, Allman Brothers..psychedelic and blues based stuff. Blues is the real power behind the roots of all rock music man. Obviously bands in all music 'scenes' or any other bands on the planet write what they need to write and get out what they need to get out and I do the same. Its all part of the picture of creativity. I think you gotta be honest when you sing, play or write anything, and what comes out from your sincerity is all that matters, regardless of theme or pretense.
What bands do you really admire these days?
Loads of bands I could name. But in the bands you know and like, I admire anybody I can learn from, but I suppose "admiration" only if they are cool genuine people when you meet them personally or their music is really stunning. But I do have initial admiration for anyone who has the guts to actually attempt to follow their dreams, whatever it may be. It really takes courage to do that, rather than let fear, other people's agendas, or society's programming discourage you from what you really need to do with your time given to you. Its amazing to watch someone give themselves completely to an art, whatever it may be, because it shines through in their validity. But as far as music goes, I could see or listen to any band and find something cool about it. I could go see a band and stand there and absorb something from their expression and enjoy it. I enjoy every kind of music created since the dawn of time from classical to blues to reggae to Gothic rock to psychedelia to hard rock, New orleans and Chicago jazz, Appalachian bluegrass, traditional country.
Limiting yourself in any manner is unwise when life offers so much to each person's options. I could easily see Ziggy Marley, Motorhead and BB King in the same day and love every minute. I could watch all those guys play songs in the same room together and I'd treasure it. I'll give you an example, if you see me at a show of any kind of band whatsoever, and I start holding my hands up in the air with my eyes closed, its cause I began to 'see' the energy they were giving off in giant color waves, so what I'm doing is taking it in and drinking it like fuel to the fire of my experience. I'd do it with any band anywhere that touched me somehow. No limits. I just enjoy it like a movie or a book. Its no different than watching a sunrise, flowers in a field, old scars on my arms, songs on the radio, conversations with people from all walks of life. Take from it what you can find there, walk on.
In the second half of 2005, the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute on Underdogma/Game Two Records will see the light of day as well as a Nazareth-tribute and the second issue of "Sucking The 70's". Can we expect any contributions from you and your band on one of this compilations?
I did turn in a song a few years ago for the Skynyrd set. Its a cover of 'Four Walls of Raiford' that was me with a few of my friends. It was really fun, it has Gina Stewart singing on it, it sounded real good. I turned in it quickly and I never heard it again. As far as I know its all clear and should be on there. There will definitely be alot of good bands on there! I did see the original cover years ago in an email and it was a fantastic, beautiful picture of Elyse from Slab laying on a bed with a gun, it was just classic. So I hope the artwork is still the same, I loved that picture. But as far as the Nazareth tribute I did contact them and ask to be on there, but I think I missed the train on that one I think it was full by the time I was aware it was gonna happen. For the "Sucking the 70's" sequel, we turned in a cover of "Season Of The Witch" by Donovan, so he's mixing it now and it'll be on there. I'm sure that release will be excellent, all the earlier ones were top line. I also did a song for the Zodiac Mindwarp tribute cd out on Sleazegrinder Records.
There's also an upcoming Anti-seen tribute cd on TKO records, I sang vocals on the 'War Hero' cover which is Jason Griscom's band Brothers Of Freaks. We did one show as a Seen tribute band a year or so ago, it was comprised by members of Dixie Damned, Dead Kings, Mad Brother Ward and Volatile Baby. Brenda Gambil plays violin on our song and its beautiful it sounds like an Irish Celtic version of the song. You should hear all the amazing and crazy versions of the band's songs on there, Volatile Baby did a song in these beautiful voices and it's really astonishing, it sounds like Tori Amos and some British gothic band doing Anti-seen. I also turned in two other covers of their songs I did at Sun Studio around six years ago, so I'm not sure what exactly will be on the final set. I believe it will be a two disc set of loads of bands, I have heard a few and its very creative what some of the band did with the original songs in a new light. Hank Williams III, ex-bassist Thomas O'Keefe, pioneer Simon Stokes, all did cool weird versions of the original hard rock songs.
During the past months you have had some appearances in diverse US-radio shows, but as far as I'm informed, it's been a very long time ago since you had done any tours. Aren't you interested in doing longer tours or what are your reasons?
Yeah recently I did a radio show interview with Jason Griscom on acoustic guitars, we did a few songs and an interview. We did some local shows around NC. We played recently at an outdoor cancer survivor benefit in Nashville,TN for Relay for Life. No, no tour plans such as I am getting a solid line up, booking agent, tour organization and things like that before I attempt to take on too much. Right now my perspective is to focus on some really good shows when I can, where I can, and get the line up proper, and then move forward again. Since I started this in '97, through line up changes, the good fortune and bad, one of my guys dying, and all kinds of things left untold, we have played where we could when we could, and had a great time every time. Every time I put on a guitar or pick up a mic, it makes me happy, whether its to a small crowd, a full house, a studio room or practice place, I treasure it all, and the guys I play with are the same, we keep the energy and the attitude around the band bright and easy, it's all about the love of the music.
Back in 2000, you visited the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, TN, where you had played and recorded an acoustic set. Have you ever thought about a release of this session, and how do you remember this day? I guess, it must be pretty amazing to enter a studio, where one of the most important chapters of music history has been written!?
Visiting Sun Studio in Memphis, let alone recording my own songs there, was a dream come true. I will never forget it as a great great moment in my life. For all my love of rock and roll history and mythology, it was just beyond priceless. One of the great things about it was visiting there, swearing to myself one day I'd be back and do my own recording in that sacred room, and then coming back a few years later and having it happen. I felt like I needed to do that to get my feet started on the road I wanted to walk on, and honestly I do feel like it was worth every bit of the work to make it happen. It has never been released, but I did pass some copies around. I think there might be some release of a song or two re-mastered somewhere down the line, but an official release no I don't think so. If it was gonna happen it should have been six years ago, now it's a million songs written and experiences later down the road. But its not a full band recording with lots of back up and tracks and embellishment, its just one voice, one guitar track live takes of songs over and hour or so. I don't think it would sit easy with most people unless they knew what it was about. Its a pretty dark moment of depressed type country and blues songs from many years ago, not everybody could relate to that batch of songs in such a raw form. Every once and awhile I run into somebody who has a copy of it and says how much they enjoy it, so it's cool that it has been heard by some people with similar understandings of rock and its origin.
What about recording at another legendary studio, Nashville's Burns Station Sound?
Another equally good and honorable experience. It is a legendary kind of hidden country music mecca studio. Cash, Nelson, Hank Snow, Emmylou, lots of legendary people had been there. We recorded some traditional straight outlaw country songs on the original Muscle Shoals Board, which was used by Skynyrd, Allmans, Stones, Wilson Pickett, among others. Sitting in was Glen Childress on pedal steel, and he played so great. He played with Lone Star and Jerry Lee Lewis among others. He played so easily and flawlessly, it was watching a man with a lifetime of experience on his instrument just do his thing with no strain. It was also a completely amazing and wonderful experience. Gordon Stinson, and the engineer Eric, and the staff were the best, kindest, professional people, it was completely great, the sound quality was so good. I cant tell ya what it mean to me, and Jason Griscom as well, to record on the same old board as Ronnie and Duane and so many of our heroes did, we kept touching the board and leaning on it. Jason has been a great musical partner, a great friend and a real pleasure to play with since he is easy and so enthusiastic about all the same bands I like, styles and ideas that flow within the band. He never gets thrown off for a single minute in any variation of song, any plans, any ideas, he's always ready to jump right in. I have to give all the inspiration to Jason for setting that up, I didn't even know much about it, he set it all up called me and said 'Come on bro- get in the car, we're due in Nashville!" and off we went, I was laid out sick, but I jumped out of bed and we went out there determined to cowboy it up. We were out of our minds with excitement about it. It was really fun.
Do you draw more inspirations out of times of loneliness, desperation and sadness or are you feeling also inspired by times of luck and love?
Both indeed. It depends on how your life is going at the time, that particular day or hour. I have drawn from all the times good and bad, it rare that I write anything that is too silly happy, or anything that is too dismal and dark. I never calculate it man, I just write what comes out and its often a weird kind of channeling from the universe that gives you the songs in a variety of ways. If I only wrote songs about laying on the beach, having fun, playing and laughing and having no worries, that would be a wonderful day indeed. I do write about fun stuff, cool stuff, creepy stuff, which is relief from anything too heavy emotionally, so I think the best thing is just to do what comes to you naturally and let it flow. Also being a big time psychedelia space rock UFO weirdo , I like expressing poetic lyrics that aren't necessarily bluesy, but its all part of the trip- its blues, its outer space love, its creepy gothic rock, its about passion, magic, fire, dreams, ecstacy, hope and challenges.
I love a big heavy sabbath inspired doom riff and psychedelic space music, but also the variations on folk music acoustic guitars. As far as stylistically I'm glad the band and myself have never been painted into a corner. It would not be unusual or awkward to play any of those styles from heavy crunchy riffs to light easy cosmic dreams, what I write naturally. I was having this conversation with Dan Rowe who does several variations on his musical projects, and we both agreed that if the songs were coming out, being given to you, then you shouldnt question them, you should let them flow. I think its like getting in the river of the flow of your creativity, dont fight it, just let it ease you to where it needs to take you. I have learned that if you fight it, it only slows you down and creates additional frustration. Essentially I really don't see any difference in music, its all music and magical.
What do you believe is the power behind music as a writer or listener?
That would be a long conversation. Music represents and affects everyone in different ways for whats right for their life. One thing I think is amazing is the idea of musical notes having affects on the physical body- notes and chords affecting certain internal organs, flows of chi energy. Jimmy Page was a master of the study of this- that's why certain Zeppelin songs are played constantly and entrance people so strongly, over and over in the format of rock music. In psychology there are actual studies and practices of 'music therapy' to heal damaged people. There are examples of blind deaf mute children that sit down and play beautiful pieces on piano having never taken a lesson or having any understanding of it. Deaf people that go to concerts and hold their hands in front of the PA speakers for hours and go home happy at the experience. What they experience or receive would be lost on the rest of the world. I could go on about this in all kind of bizarre ways to justify my vision of music in my life.
But I will say this- two people are like musical notes- when they meet- their hearts and souls vibrate together like a chord, and it creates states of love or the foundation of serious unbreakable connections outside of time. Listen to a chord or even just a two notes, if it rings out and really touches you, that's the same cosmically as a person looking in your eyes. If the people are not meant to bond for whatever reason, the chords clash, like dissonant guitar chords that are unpleasant to hear and the two people quickly run away from each other without ever speaking. Music is validated and affects reality on way many levels, from the deep existential to something fun to crank up loud and jam out without any introspection. Rowdy bluesy rock music is fun, but the source is bigger. It doesn't mean that all music has some heavy deep 'meaning' I'm just talking about the source of the raw power behind the beauty of it. Listening to AC/DC or Howlin' Wolf, Motorhead or Helios Creed, Leon Russell or Bob Marley.
I know, that you visit the local library pretty often. What are your favourite books and what can you recommend to the interested reader?
I do think libraries are real cool. A real gift to the people at large. I think personally there are three reasons people read books. First is for inspiration. In that case, you should read self help books if you're dealing with challenges or problems. Or you should read biographies, people you admire or anyone's biography at all and learn from their life story. Learn from their mistakes, their smart choices, their reactions to the good and bad in their life. Historical figures, celebrities, rock bands, anyone. If there is a person out there who inspired you somehow in your life's dreams, find their biography and tear it apart, learn all you can. Or you should read spiritual books, of any and all kinds..every single world religion. No limits, nothing is wrong or outlawed, read each one until one works for you or do like me and learn from them all and find you own road to wherever you need to go. Do not limit yourself out of society's programming, your social circle's definition of what is cool to like, your school education or family upbringing.
Pick up anything that calls you like a voice on the wind and read it. The second reason in my mind people read for knowledge. It is no lie that knowledge is power. In this reasoning, read about your favorite subjects to expand your knowledge and process and put into practice what you see there. Any subject under the sun, pick it up, take what you can, apply it to your life. Lastly I believe is to read for entertainment. To read fiction. In that case its a diversion, a break from reality, a fantasy. So whatever calls you in that manner, enjoy yourself. Every book every created was inspired by the powers of the universe to be written for a reason, so use them wisely. Remember that not everything 'written in a book' is true, just because its printed and sits on a shelf does not make it 'true'. I do believe a self educated man or woman is much higher on the chain of 'education' than someone who does immense school time. In school organizations, its all created with a plan to set you up and place you in a role in society.
A self educated person is outside of a school organization, is thus not subject to the bias with which a certain view of history, religion, philosophy is taught. That doesn't mean going to college or any kind of classes or seminars is 'bad' its just not the only way to seek knowledge. My mother is a librarian and my hippie leftover parents always encouraged me to read. When I was 11 years old my father sat in a chair outside in the the sun and said 'Son here you need to read this now.' and handed me a book. It was a beat up coffee stained paperback of "A Separate Reality" by Carlos Castaneda. At that point I knew the future awaited, Don Juan was my friend, and that Raven started calling me. A life time laid ahead of books of that nature and roads to travel. Like T.S. Elliot said "Every person is the sum of everything they have ever read and everyone they have ever met." Also its important to put to use what you read and learn anywhere in life, not just read it and then fail to retain or demonstrate it if needed. I encourage anyone to seek their own way and books await on any subject in any library on earth.
You talk about knowledge as power, spirituality, things like that are unusual topics for a rock and roll band interview.
Yeah I'm sure. I think music is one art form. Honestly, my whole life is about music. If you want to talk only about music, I'm very happy to do that. But as a person when asked my opinion on things like books, I am gonna lay on you my insights. As for being a man, born as man into this world, I think the Samurai ideal is really an excellent example in some ways. Take the great swordsman and legend Miyamoto Musashi who wrote the "Book of Five Rings" who is seen as Japan's greatest sword expert/saint like figure. He started out as an angry young murderous man, somehow found honor and dignity and re-invented his life. After he had perfected what he did as his calling, he was essentially unbeatable in sword fighting. He won every match he had across the country for many years so easily it began to sicken him and he refused to fight with steel swords, he only fought other men when challenged with wooden sticks and even once a boat oar, when they held the actual weapons in their best effort to kill him. He never lost.
Then he put his sword down and dedicated much of his time to painting, writing poetry, creating art and pottery, playing musical instruments, writing his thoughts down. I don't see alot of difference between the samurai, the blues man, the magician. A think a well balanced and fully lived life is wise and powerful for a man, or a women in this life. I think a person should be as tough as they can be, when they need to be, and as beautiful and artistic as they can be as well, as good as a friend, family member or partner they can be, the highest of their potential in any area. A chance to be any of that is a opportunity to demonstrate who you really are, what you're really about. The more books read- the more gained, the reasoning shared, the more gained. The more love given or received, the richer the life. I think there is a quote on Duane Allman's grave that says something along those lines. In my days so far, I have hung with rock bands, shaman, martial artists, poets, bikers, crazy criminals and holy sadhu gurus, my philosophy is 'use well the days." Let's say if a light comes on in the dark, its a good thing.
What advice would you give a younger musician starting a band?
People start bands for different reasons. I would say follow your heart and do whatever makes you happy. Whatever your band is about it should be fun, not a strain or a drama. If you want to do it for fun, remove any and all factors that make it a drag. Stay in touch with what made you want to do it before you even tried. I'd say do what you like, but blend your influences and just be yourself totally. I would say don't even take into consideration anything you see another band do unless it's inspiration and knowledge gained, not styles to imitate for personal quick gratification. Work on it all the time. If you don't work on it every single day, in some small or major way, you're missing a chance to expand on your music, band, life. Never take a day off. Do at least one thing for your band, art, whatever dream you have, every single day of the year until you're ready to walk away from it. I look at it as what lies between birth and death. Sing and play from your heart, give it everything you got. Be yourself, be bad ass, make the world recognize it.
Ok, Gid..... that's all for this moment! Thanks for all your great music and doing this interview! Please, fill the remaining space with whatever you like!
Fly on, free bird!