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Big Sam’s Funky Nation: With Liberty And Funk For All

By Johnny Griffith

Some music is written to be listened to.

Now, before I get the “Well, Duh” response, allow me to explain.

Some music is written to be passively consumed in a subdued, structured, vanilla environment, and then there is music that is written to be not so much listened to…but rather actively experienced. Yes, you hear it with your ears…but you feel it in your soul in such a manner that you almost have no choice but to let the music move you, get you out of the chair, and onto the dance floor. That kind of music isn’t just written from a place of theory and technical proficiency, but rather its written from a place of being…a place where the music isn’t just what you know…it’s who you are, it’s what’s happening around you, it’s your North Star, and it’s your foundation.

This, my friends, is the foundation upon which Big Sam Williams has built his Funky Nation.

If you’ve never heard of Big Sam’s Funky Nation (BSFN), you are in for a rare treat. One of New Orleans best kept musical secrets, BSFN was the brainchild of Sam “Big Sam” Williams, a Crescent City native, dynamically gifted trombonist, and graduate of the prestigious New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Big Sam came up through the musical ranks in the Big Easy, gigging non-stop for most of his life in and around the streets and venues shadowing the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. Sam didn’t even let Hurricane Katrina keep him from a regular gig…at one point driving 9 hours from San Antonio every weekend for almost two years just to play back home.

Talent, hard work, and persistence will get you on a lot of people’s radars, and Big Sam has plenty of all three. After several years of playing an all-star run of gigs with acts like The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Widespread Panic, the Dave Matthews Band and recording with legends Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello on their collaboration, Williams was ready to step outside the box and mix it up a bit. Big Sam drew on his extensive experience and put together a phenomenal ensemble to share the stage with and collaborate on this new force of nature that wasn’t just another brass band from New Orleans. Big Sam’s Funky Nation takes the signature horn sounds of the trombones and trumpet as well as guitar, bass, and keys to weave a tapestry that includes threads of multiple genres and time periods that bring people from all walks of life together in appreciation of not only the music…but the experience.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will make a stop on their current album promo tour in Tyler at Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, Thursday, July 12th, for one show only, bringing the funk to the people of East Texas. I recently caught up with Big Sam on the road to get to know him and the Funky Nation a bit better.

Johnny: When did you first develop an interest in music and was the trombone your first choice or did you eventually find your way there?

Big Sam: I developed an interest in music around the age 15. I was in the marching band prior to that, but once I got to high school, I wanted to dig deeper, so I auditioned for New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), and I’ve been rolling since then.

Johnny: Growing up in a city where music is much a part of the fabric of life, was it always in your mind to find a way to make a living doing this thing you love or did the path find you along the way?

Big Sam: The path found me… I had no idea that I would ever be a musician, especially full-time. When you have a calling, you can’t deny it, you better answer!

Johnny: Speaking of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, there has obviously been an all-star roster of musicians to walk the halls there before you. How much did following in the steps of musicians like the Marsalis brothers, Harry Connick Jr., and Terence Blanchard inspire you to take your talent and love of the gig to the next level?

Big Sam: BIG TIME! Those are some heavy hitters, so to think that you’re in the same building that these cats came up in is enough motivation on its own.

Johnny: So you’ve had quite the impressive resume before BSFN, helping found the Stooges Brass Band, performing in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and sharing the stage with a diverse roster that ranges from James Brown, to Dave Matthews, to Elvis Costello. Do you feel being able to interact with and create with such a large range of personalities and styles helped plant the seeds of the Funky Nation?

Big Sam: Definitely! As a musician, you organically create from your experiences with other gigs and experiences in life. All of those ingredients help you create your own gumbo and Funky Nation is my gumbo.

Johnny: So how and when was the Funky Nation born?

Big Sam: BSFN was born in 2001 but I was touring with Dirty Dozen 300 days a year, so it was impossible to pursue my own thing full-time. After I left Dirty Dozen, I got a call from Allen Toussaint and performed with him whenever he had his big band, including the Elvis Costello tour and album “River in Reverse.” I didn’t pursue Funky Nation full-time until 2007-2008.

Johnny: You guys aren’t just another jazz band coming out of New Orleans; your sound is a mix of old and new that isn’t afraid to step outside the box and combine genres with flair, proficiency, and a little extra swagger. How would you describe your music to someone who is about to walk in to their first BSFN show?

Big Sam: Thanks! I would describe it just the way you did! Here’s the thing… some people have a preconceived notion of what “New Orleans music” is… especially when you say it’s a horn band. They think brass band and/or Trad band… but that’s not us. We come to bring the FUNK! Get out of your seat and dance kind of music! If you intend to sit down and drink some wine, this isn’t the show for you. You’re going to sweat and possibly wake up sore the next morning because you’ve never danced so hard before in your life.

Johnny: This tour is in support of the band’s latest album “Songs In The Key Of Funk.” How has the reception to this release been so far?

Big Sam: The reception has been off ‘da chain! The show is different than before now, so fans are getting a mix of some of the classic BSFN catalog mixed with the new and a couple covers. Some of the new favorites seem to be “Apple Pie,” “PokeChop,” “Buzzin,’” and “What’s My Name.”

Johnny: The new album has a definite throwback feel that takes the listener back to threads of the P-funk and R&B sound of the late 70’s and early 80’s. What inspired the fusion of sounds?

Big Sam: This is the sound that I’ve been going for for a minute.. even though “Evolution” was more of a rock album, you can hear where I wanted to go on “Coffee Pot” and “Bad Karma.” Even going back to “Funky Donkey.” We just took a slight detour, but we’re here to stay with the funk! The funk is here to stay. This is a dance album which represents the band perfectly.

Johnny: So for all the first timers who are thinking about making the trip out to Stanley’s to catch the show…what can they expect from a Big Sam’s Funky Nation experience?

Big Sam: Expect to party and have a good time! This music will definitely get you moving!

Big Sam’s Funky Nation is: “Big Sam” Williams (trombone, lead vocals), Drew “Da Phessah” Baham (trumpet, vocals), Jerry “JBlakk” Henderson (bass), Keenan “Butta Cream” McRae (guitar), Alfred “Sgt. Gutta” Jordan (drums), and Kendrick Marshall (keys).

For more information, tour dates, and music check out the Funky Nation on the web:;



July 27th: SFO, A Journey Tribute Band at Bergfeld Park

ben wheeler

The City of Tyler will host the annual Bergfeld Summer Showcase at Bergfeld Park, located at 1510 S. College Ave., on Friday, July 27. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with fun and food trucks and live music beginning at 7 p.m.

This year, SFO – A Journey Tribute, a Nashville native band will take the stage. SFO recreates the experience of a 1980’s concert, playing all the Journey hits that you know and love with a special salute to Kansas and Foreigner. The band is made up of top-notch musicians from Nashville, Florida, and Minnesota who bring the highest level of musicianship to the audience.

Frontman Gabe Jacobs delivers powerful vocals to his audience by closely emulating the vocals and stage presence of legendary Steve Perry.

“This band will transport you back to the 80’s with all the songs you know by heart!” said Adriana Rodriguez, event coordinator.

The local favorite food trucks will be present for quality dining including Say Cheese, Weinerland, Lupita’s, Kona Ice and Pokey O’s.

For more information, contact Adriana Rodriguez at (903) 595-7248 or at

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The Haggertys: Hey Hey We’re The Haggertys

By Johnny Griffith

There are times when things just click with someone and you know it from the start. Then, years later you come back across them and it’s almost as if no time has passed. That’s kind of what is like for local Tyler favorites The Haggertys. Having all been members of different bands, some together and some collaborative, over the years, the lineup of “Patrick James” Freden (guitars, vocals), Brad Thurston (bass, backing vocals), and Clint Hiltz (drums/percussion) have been together as The Haggertys since 2013 and have been exciting audiences ever since with their setlists of 90’s standard rock covers as well as reinterpreting some classic songs along the way.

We sat down with the guys recently to get some more history on the band and a better snapshot of the members.

Johnny: How about we start with a brief bio of yourself and your background in music.

Patrick: I was born in Minnesota, moved to Tyler in 1974 and then left in the summer of 1977. I basically grew up in Ocean Springs, Mississippi playing Dungeons & Dragons, riding BMX bikes, and listening to albums over at a friend’s house. My first band was a punk band called Spastic Fury in high school. After that, I did some college in Mobile, Alabama, and eventually came back to Tyler in 1988. I played in bands all through the 90’s and started a solo acoustic project in 2005. I’m a self-employed graphic artist by day building websites, designing logos, etc., and music is my second business. I’m a full-time dad and husband, a professional tinkerer who likes craft beers, Les Pauls, Orange Amps, and hanging out in my favorite music store, Action Sound in Hawkins.

Brad: I’ve been playing music since I was 15 when I purchased my first guitar. It cost me $50 and was in a brown paper bag in pieces. After getting it put together, I started looking around for a band. No one needs a guitar player, so the next year I went and bought a bass, found a band, and the journey began. The start of my high school music career included rock bands like Conspiracy, Guardian, and Blue Steel. After high school, I branched out and did a did brief stint in a country band.

The call of the Hair Bands drew me to California, Hollywood to be exact. I moved in with a friend from high school, joined a band, and played the Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd. within the first 3 weeks of being in California. I played in other bands there, like Hammer Lane. I did shows at The Roxy Theater and The Whisky A Go-Go. After wrapping up my California time, I moved back to Tyler, found an alternative band, Center Mass, which was later known as “Did Lee Squat?” (DLS?). That’s where I met “Patrick James.” We played venues in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and even Shreveport, Louisiana.

This too ended and I started my family, got a job, and put the band on the back burner. After some time, I started playing with Livid, a cover band around the Tyler/Longview area. This project just kinda wound down and I took a job out of town. More time passed with both family and job changes. I started playing bass in a praise band for Pollard United Methodist Church and did that for a few years until one day Patrick called. No, it was not the “I’m getting the band back together” kinda call. He wanted to redo his current project. I think he said he wanted to play more electric guitar and just rock out…so here we are.

Clint: I’m the baby of the band, born in Austin in 1974. I lived in Alvin, Texas through my 5th-grade year and moved to East Texas in 1986 where I joined the Union Grove percussion section in junior high and continued throughout high school. I played in the band and every sport Union Grove offered. As I got into high school, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to play football then at halftime, I’d take off my shoulder pads and march in the marching band. In 1992, I moved to Tyler and was offered a scholarship to join the Tyler Junior College drumline, better known as the Apache Punch. My hobbies are hunting, fishing, shooting guns, and working out. Currently, I work at Suddenlink as a Commercial Sales Supervisor.

Johnny: Who would you say was personally responsible, individually, for instilling that love of music you’d take the rest of your lives?

Pat: My mom for sure. She was the one that got me going as a kid…from playing Johnny Cash records to buying me a guitar and taking me to lessons.

Brad: My mom, she had me taking piano at the age of six, and we loved Elvis.

Clint: Hands down, my father. He played drums as well and he got me started gigging at the early age of 13 when I would sit in for him and play Wipeout.

Johnny: When did you three first meet?

The Haggertys: During the 90’s, Pat and Brad were playing in a band called DLS? and Clint was in a band called Affinity. The two bands did several shows together, including one at the Oil Palace in Tyler with DLS? as the headliner and Affinity providing support…the friendship and collaboration grew from there.

Johnny: How did the idea of starting the Haggertys come together?

The Haggertys: Sometime in the summer of 2013, Pat was doing his solo acoustic thing and had done some earlier shows with Clint and Brad as the Patrick James Band but these were still “acoustic” shows. After playing these kinds of shows for so long, Pat just got the itch to play with electrics and amps again, and Clint was on board to “get loud.” A permanent bass player was recruited and the band was formed. Really the Haggertys morphed out of the Patrick James Band and the guys started rehearsing so the song list grew. The band covers lots of material but kinda focuses on 90’s rock. The old “If it’s a good song, it’s a good song….doesn’t matter what genre it’s from” always applies.

Johnny: Okay, so the name. Where did it come from and whose idea was it?

The Haggertys: During one of the early rehearsals the idea of a band name came up and of course lots of stuff was thrown around. Pat noticed that all the band members had some righteous beards going at the time and this got him to thinking about people with beards and the one person that came to mind was a childhood hero from the show Grizzly Adams. Pat said, “the best beard ever, in my opinion, hands down, was Dan Haggerty, let’s call the band that!” So originally he wanted the band to be called the Dan Haggertys which morphed into the Damn Haggertys which quickly changed, for obvious reasons, and the band settled in with The Haggertys.

Johnny: When and where was the first Haggertys show?

The Haggertys: The first show was March 22nd, 2014, at Shoguns (#2) under their black tent outside. It was an alright turnout, and the band had fun. We later learned that many people were turned away or had to wait to get outside under the tent because of limited seating and fire codes.

Johnny: How would you describe your sound to a new listener?

The Haggertys: Straight-up, no-frills, fun-having, 3-piece rock cover band with a few surprises.

Johnny: You guys move in and out of different genres and decades of music pretty easily. Would you say there is one you’re more comfortable with than the others?

The Haggertys: Being a 3-piece with everyone doing something, we kinda gravitate towards 90’s rock songs we can easily play and cover well. More complicated songs with multi instruments tend to be harder (or impossible) to pull off with just three instruments, so we shy away from them. However, the art of taking a song and “making it your own” remake/cover is what we strive to do. Really any song we can cover well and make our own stays on the set list.

Johnny: Are you primarily covers or are you throwing some original stuff in the mix?

The Haggertys: We all played in what we called “Showcase Bands” back in the 90’s…all original songs and we all made albums, struggled to get gigs that paid, rehearsed a lot, tried to get signed, etc. Today we just play covers, play a lot, rehearse way less often, don’t care about getting signed, and get paid to play, which is nice. We won’t rule out that one day we might start writing songs again, but it isn’t on anyone’s radar anytime soon. We have done some reunion shows by combining Did Lee Squat? and Sand Dollar band members into a group called Did Lee Dollar. This allowed us to reconnect with old bandmates and fans and play some of the old originals. Come to think of it, it’s probably time for another one of those shows.

Check out The Haggertys online at:



  • Thursday, July 12th – Razzoo’s, Tyler, 7-10pm
  • Friday, September 14th – Gregg County Fair on Dennis Hiltz Memorial Stage, Longview
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Southern Charm: Small Town Girls With Big Time Sound

By Johnny Griffith

So there’s an old saying that has something to do with ‘dynamite comes in small packages’ and that certainly holds true with the two talented, dynamic artists in the East Texas duo Southern Charm. Both hailing from small East Texas towns, Shelby Ballenger and Billie Jo Sewell have been making a name for themselves both as successful solo artists and the fast rising duet, Southern Charm. Both artists have honed their crafts on many local stages and along the way found they had a knack for harmony and similar musical interests. Borne of a shared passion and great timing, Southern Charm takes advantage of each artist’s unique vocal ability and is greater than the sum of its parts…which is saying something because Shelby and Billie Jo both have burgeoning solo careers in their own right. So much so that Southern Charm as a duet has to book six months in advance and then they have a seven show run in seven east Texas venues.

We caught up with them in the middle of this latest run to get some more background on these ladies and their “Southern Charm.”

Johnny: When did you two first take up an interest in music?

Shelby: From the age of 13 I began singing at The Wylie Opry. From there, I was self-taught to play the guitar. I eventually began going to open mic nights all around north Texas to make a name for myself. About 2 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my day job and pursue music full time. I haven’t looked back.

Billie Jo: I started singing when I was 4 years old and grew up singing in church. I went from singing at church to Opry’s, restaurants, and festivals, to opening for people such as Ray Price, Gene Watson, Justin Moore, Mike Ryan, and Stoney LaRue. I had the honor to be on “The Voice” where I made top 150 on season 6 and recently I made top 100 on “American Idol.” I just recently signed to TXM Records and am currently in the studio working on my first country single!

Johnny: Who were some of your early influences?

Shelby: I always looked up to dominant female singers growing up. My lead inspirations were Shania Twain, Lee Ann Rimes, and The Dixie Chicks. When I began songwriting, I leaned on lyrics by Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, and local artists such as Meredith Crawford and Matt Grisby for inspiration.

Billie Jo: I was raised by my grandparents so I was inspired by the oldies but goodies, as I like to call them, such as George Jones, Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and many others.

Johnny: When did you decide music was more than just another hobby and was something worth pursuing?

Shelby: Once I began taking the stage with my guitar, people began talking about the talent and potential I had. I tried to make an impression at every new venue and began to see the joy it brought to people listening. I began entering songwriting competitions once my repertoire grew and placed with within the top four each time out of hundreds of hopefuls.

Billie Jo: I knew at a very early age that God didn’t give me this voice to just sing at home. I just knew that He gave me this voice to share with the world and that one day this would be my full time career which, gratefully, I’m very close to being able to say. I’ve always wanted to use my gift that God gave me in hopes that the audience may come to know Him through my music and testimony.

Johnny: How did you two first meet and when did the idea of a duo project come up?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We met at an East Texas singing competition a little over four years ago. From there, we became instant best friends.

Johnny: When and where was your first show as Southern Charm?

Shelby & Billie Jo: Our first official show was at The Foxhole where we won a karaoke competition. We took home $2,500 which made it our first paid gig together. From there Southern Charm played The Forge in Ben Wheeler and then our solo careers started taking off. We now book six months in advance for the Southern Charm East Texas Tour.

Johnny: How about the name? Where did that idea come from?

Shelby: Billie Jo’s son Chandler won most handsome baby boy at the Emory Rains pageant in 2014. I saw Billie Jo make a post on Facebook needing a car to ride in the parade with. I offered her convertible slug bug for the event. While we were in the car, we started trying out songs to sing together. I mentioned that I’d always wanted to put a duo together and name the act Southern Charm. Billie Jo loved the idea so we ran with it!

Johnny: How would you describe your sound?

Shelby: Southern Charm’s sound has a pure tone and the harmonies blend extremely well. I [Shelby] have more of the bluesy tone and Billie Jo brings the powerhouse country twang. Together, our voices mesh to create a unique country sound.

Johnny: What do you feel you bring to the table individually that compliments your partner on stage?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We know the dynamics of music. We never try to overpower each other onstage and that’s something every duo needs in order to be successful.

Johnny: About how many originals do you try to work in during a show?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We try to work in all of our most favorite originals at each and every show. Usually there’s about four to five each.

Johnny: You’ve had a busy summer already, what’s coming up on the radar the rest of the year that you’re excited about?

Shelby: I’m currently working on my full album with Joe Austin as producer. I’ve written 12 brand new songs and my new single “Heartbreaks & Hangovers” will be released late July while the album will drop next summer.

Billie Jo: I have a big secret I’ll be able to announce in a couple months about where I will be on the National Stage. Currently I’m in the studio with Chad Mauldin and Mauldin Productions working on my new single that will be released in early August.

Johnny: What can a first timer expect at a Southern Charm show?

Shelby & Billie Joe: Harmonies that give goosebumps and two best friends shining, as they do what they love onstage.

Keep up with Southern Charm online at

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