By Johnny Griffith
We’ve seen them before; the solo act, the lone wolf, up on the stage with the spotlight firmly on them and no one else for better or worse. In an area where live music is dominated by group acts, whether that be in the form of traditional bands or namesake bands with a semi-regular roster of backup musicians, there is a small but growing number of musicians who want to completely control the product they create.
One of these local musicians is Cole Allen. A 2005 graduate of White Oak High School, Allen went to UT Tyler for a degree in Civil Engineering and currently works as an engineer in Longview. After getting his first guitar at the age of 15, Allen spent his high-school years playing bluegrass, and after a few years scratching a competitive itch as a bull rider, Allen decided to focus his free time on playing gigs. A capable multi-instrumentalist, Allen has been entertaining audiences with his one-man-band style that includes guitar, harmonica, and a custom foot-drum setup that supplies the rhythm section.
We tracked down the musical engineer to get some insight on what drives him:
Johnny: Okay, exactly how many musical instruments do you play?
Cole: I can “play” most anything with strings, but I’m not going to win any awards for my musicianship. When I perform, I play acoustic guitar, a Farmer Foot Drum kit, and harmonica.
Johnny: When did you decide to forego the traditional route and become a one-man band?
Cole: When I first started I didn’t have any friends around that could play anything, so I just figured I’d start my own band. I started by adding harmonica for lead, and then added a kick drum, and eventually the Farmer Foot Drum. Now I have musician friends, but I’m solo out of necessity. I’m over-committed to too many different things to make time for a band.
Johnny: That foot drum setup is pretty sweet, and I don’t recall seeing one quite like it. What’s the story on it?
Cole: They are called Farmer Foot Drums, and a guy named Pete Farmer makes them out of Michigan. I was looking to add some percussion, but most of the stuff I found was electronic or bulky. I needed something that was acoustic and small enough to fit in a Honda Accord along with all my other stuff. I found the foot drum online and thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It has a kick, snare, tambourine, hi-hat, a shaker pedal, and can be carried like a suitcase.
Johnny: What have been the pros and cons of being a true solo act? Any special challenges to getting gigs because of it?
Cole: Freedom is the pro. I can book where or when I want and don’t have to consult with anyone else. I also don’t have to worry about a band member not showing up or drinking too much. I make my own set list, and if I want to try something new, I do it.
The cons are that it can be lonely. Travelling alone, setting up and tearing down alone, and playing alone. I have to try and interact with the audience so I have someone to talk to.
It can be tough getting gigs, most places only want solo acts for weeknight slots, and definitely don’t want to pay a one-man band like a band. Most of my problem is I’m not very persistent. Booking agents get bombarded with people wanting to play. If I was booking somewhere and some balding white guy in a polo with no tattoos sent me an e-mail asking to play, I probably wouldn’t listen to his stuff either.
Johnny: What has been your best memory this far into the ride?
Cole: This summer I opened for one of my heroes, Joe Ely, at Liberty Hall in Tyler. It was a packed house for Joe, and nobody had a clue who I was. I’ve played a few listening rooms and house concerts in the past, but nothing of this magnitude. There were a couple hundred strangers in the theater quietly staring at me as I walked on stage. It was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. I hit them in the head with a song about a homeless vet with PTSD on the fourth of July, then made up some stories about some of the songs I was playing, cracked a few jokes, and they ate it up. I nearly sold out of all my CDs and t-shirts after the show, and then I got to watch Joe play a great set. He sat down beside me after his set and told me stories about Guy Clark, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and his late girlfriend Ramblin’ Jan, and I ate it up.
Johnny: How would you describe your music?
Cole: Americana is the broad, catch-all genre for those that don’t fit into a specific category. I’m on the rural roots songwriter side of Americana.
Johnny: I hear echoes of Reckless Kelly, Hayes Carll, and perhaps Charlie Robison in your original material. Who would you list as your influences at this point?
Cole: I like all of those guys and can hear where we are similar. I would say the main influences on my song writing are Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hayes Carll, James McMurtry, Robert Earl Keen, and Adam Carroll.
Johnny: How much of your material during your show is original?
Cole: It depends on the venue and crowd. Venues where you play an hour and a half set, I’ll play mostly all originals. Most venues that I play in East Texas are three hours, and I’ll play a mix of originals and songs I like. If the audience is engaged, I’ll play more originals. If they are there to have a good time and I’m mostly background, I’ll play more covers.
Johnny: Your first album, “Sabine River Blues,” gave us a poetic, if melancholy at times, snapshot of life in east Texas around the Sabine. What was your inspiration for the material, and how was the album received?
Cole: Most of my inspiration comes from the lives of those around me. Since I’m an engineer, I’m too practical to have drama in my own life, so I have to rely on others for inspiration. Each song has it’s own story and inspiration. For the song “Sabine River Blues” I tried to write a song that would capture the culture of the area around Zwolle on Toledo Bend. The only logical thing to do was write a ‘dirty murder’ ballad where all the characters ended up in the bottom of the river. The album was received well by friends and fans, but no press recognition or anything like that.
Johnny: As 2016 draws to a close, what do you have on the horizon for the new year?
Cole: Not much. I’ve got my second baby due right about the time this interview will be printed, so I haven’t done any booking to give myself some time to adjust. I’m hoping to have my new album done in spring 2017, and then my plan is to try and get out into some different venues and listening rooms after that.
Johnny: Tell us a little more about the new album? All new original material? Any collaborations?
Cole: I’m pretty excited about it. I think it’s much more cohesive than my first. I’ve got songs about east Texas, west Texas, and south Texas. There’re personal songs about being a dad, trying to balance life aesthetically while being an engineer and a musician, and living in your own head. There’s the song about PTSD I mentioned earlier, a song I wrote with Nick Brumley about a struggling musician trapped in the velvet rut of Shreveport, a song about the oil field recession, and songs about busted relationships. Then I also have a few songs with Zevon-esque inspired weirdo characters, like the stalker who is getting tired of his love’s cat and mouse games, the Highway 80 hair-lipped harlot, and a few others. I’m also going to include “Sabine River Blues” cut in 4/4 time.
Johnny: As a new fan, seeing you for the first time, what should I expect at a Cole Allen show?
Cole: Americana songwriting with the grit of a one man show. If I’m playing as a duo with John Fox, it’ll be more rocking than the solo shows. Full band shows that I split with The Mansion Family are like an East Texas version of Bob Dylan with The Band. I play a set, Mansion Family plays a set, then I’ll join them for a set.
EGuide Magazine’s Gig Guide
Jason Herrin, Shooter Jennings, Dirty River Boys in Concert this Weekend
March 9th (8pm) Jason Herrin will be at Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler. Tickets are available at the door. Cover is $7.
March 10th (8pm) – Shooter Jennings – Shooter Jennings is an American singer-songwriter, active mainly in the outlaw country music and Southern rock genres. He is the son of country music legend Waylon Jennings. Tickets range from $35 -$45. Liberty Hall is located at 103 E. Erwin St., Tyler. Tickets are available at libertytyler.com.
March 10th (8pm) – Dirty River Boys with Pushwater will be at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at outhousetickets.com. Tickets are $15 for general admission.
March 16th (8pm) – Parker McCollum will be at Coach’s & Cowboys. Tickets are available at wildtexastickets.com. Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Parker McCollum treats each song he writes with a painstaking level of dedication, reverence, respect and as he will readily admit, even a bit of obsession. His new album “Probably Wrong” follows the Austin-based performer’s ultimate goal is to reinvent himself with each record he makes. Tickets are $13-$20.
March 17th (8pm-1am) – St. Patrick’s Day Metal Massacre will take place at Click’s Live, 1946 ESE Loop 323, Tyler. The St. Patrick’s Day Metal Massacre features Edge of Misery, No Due Respect, and LowLife. Cover at the door. Doors open at 8pm.
March 22nd (7-10pm) – Zach Winters and Jason Barrows will perform at The Foundry Coffee House, 202 S. Broadway, Downtown Tyler. They will be performing songs from their new albums and changing every city they visit to the city of brotherly love. Early bird tickets are $10. Pre-sale ticket are $12. At the door tickets are $15. Doors at 7pm and music starts at 7:30pm. All ages are welcome. For more info go to zachwinters.com or jasonbarrows.com.
March 24th (8pm) – Bibeau Record Release Party & Concert – will be held at Click’s Live. Tickets are available at the door with proper ID.
March 25th (8pm) – Texas Sunday Returns with Brandon Rhyder at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at outhousetickets.com. Tickets are $15 for general admission.
April 7th (9pm-1am) – Post Profit with Travis Christian will be at Garage Bar, 418 E. Erwin St., Downtown Tyler. There is a $5 cover.
April 7th (7pm) – Sam Riggs will be at Coach’s & Cowboys. Tickets are $15-$20 and available at wildtexastickets.com.
April 8th (8pm) – Texas Sunday: Jason Boland & The Stragglers will be at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at outhousetickets.com. Tickets are $20 for general admission.
April 12th (8pm) Wesley Pruitt will be at Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler. Tickets are available at the door.
April 12th (7pm) – The Legendary Johnny Rodriguez in Concert – Texas Country Music Hall of Famer, Johnny Rodriguez, has had fifteen top-ten singles and 6 number-one hits since 1973. Some of Johnny’s classic hits include: “Pass Me By,” “You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me),” “Riding My Thumb To Mexico,” “That’s The Way Love Goes,” and “Just Get Up and Close The Door.” For tickets call (866)710-8942. Tickets start at $35.
April 15th (8pm) – Texas Sunday: Chris Knight will be at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at outhousetickets.com. Tickets are $20 for general admission.
April 21st (8pm) – Mouse & The Traps – After more than 50 years together, Mouse & the Traps continue to be one of the best examples of “Texas Rock & Roll.” Formed in Tyler, Texas in 1965, Mouse, Nardo, Dave & Larry continue to give the public just what they want – great rock and roll. Whether you remember “Public Execution,” “Hit the Bricks,” or not, Mouse & The Traps has something for everyone. Tickets are $20-$25.
April 21st – Bowling For Soup at Clicks Live (8pm) – American pop-punk band Bowling For Soup emerged in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1994, but have since relocated to Denton Texas. Tickets are on sale at the door for $19, and may be purchased in advanced online for $15 at etix.com.
The Blacksmiths: Still Like That Old Time Rock & Roll
By Johnny Griffith
Bob Seger has a well known hit from the early 80’s called “Old Time Rock And Roll.” This song laments the lack of soul in the contemporary music of that time period and declares his intent to keep playing classic rock as a solution. I’ve never gotten the chance to meet Mr. Seger, but the closest thing we have here in East Texas is Chris Austin of the local classic rock band, The Blacksmiths. A native of Chapel Hill, Chris played drums on the drumline at Chapel Hill High School and went on to graduate from the Dallas Sound Lab with a degree in Audio Engineering and Sound Techniques. Blessed with parents that loved music and supported him in his endeavors early and often, Austin developed a love for classic rock through the sounds he heard coming from his parents’ collections and eventually started a band and is still playing to this day.
We managed to get a word in with Chris recently to find out more about The Blacksmiths
Johnny: What is the current lineup of the band? Any changes over the lifespan of the band?
Chris: The current lineup consists of myself on lead guitar and vocals, Joshua Stewart on drums, Angelo Lopez on bass/rhythm guitar/vocals, and Ben Carter on bass and vocals. Angelo and Ben have both been filling the shoes of bass player when available, but recently we decided to shake it up a bit and go with a 4 piece instead of 3 with Angelo on guitar as well…as our busy schedules finally allowed. The lineup has changed immensely over the years. I haphazardly started this project about 6 years ago with a couple of friends just messing around in my kitchen,,,which was the only place we had to set up all the equipment at the time…typical broke musicians haha. We eventually gained a keyboard and rhythm player and were a 5 piece band by the time we started playing shows. We decided to go back to a 3 piece after about a year for convenience and scheduling issues. Our drummer at the time had to move for work but introduced me to Joshua before doing so. Joshua had played with Angelo before with “Something Blue” and I met Ben after watching him play for “King Richard and the Bayou Boys” …and as they say, the rest was history.
Johnny: Who were some of your early musical influences?
Chris: My parents were very into music and had a plethora of vinyl records to dig through. I was turned on to The Doors, The Who, The Allman Bros, Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, CCR, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, SRV, David Bowie…but most importantly Led Zeppelin. When I was 12 I received a cheap electric guitar and Led Zeppelin IV on cassette tape for Christmas and that changed everything..
Johnny: At what point was the decision made to be a primarily classic rock band? Have to say you guys are a bit younger than most of the other ones in the area.
Chris: That’s really the stuff I always enjoyed playing the most and felt most comfortable with, because those tunes were ingrained in me from a young age. When we first started, we tried a lot of 90’s stuff and some 80’s Metallica and Misfits which we were pretty decent at but learned pretty quickly what we had more fun with. Even though we’re a bit younger, I feel we were all entranced by that era of music growing up. We were very lucky to have Miss Robin Griffith from XLN on 5th street give us the chance to really explore our potential. We played every Sunday there for quite a while as the house band which gave us a lot of quick feedback from the crowd…and from the venue owner haha.
Johnny: Is there any specific period of classic rock you guys gravitate towards over others?
Chris: Not really, I’ve just personally loved the 70’s era most, but we cover the 60’s and 80’s as well. We do seem to cover a lot of Creedence Clearwater and The Doors though, if that says anything.
Johnny: Where did the band name come from?
Chris: The guys from the original lineup and I were hanging out after practice having a beer or two and trying to come up with something, After a length of time and much pondering, we looked around the room and noticed the main theme of what we were looking at…which was old, broken down, second hand, very junky equipment that I had been hoarding and frankensteining together with duct tape and zip ties for years. I’m really not sure how we didn’t shock or hurt ourselves but I remember us saying…”well, we sure know how to make something out of nothing…like a dang ole’ blacksmith” (speaking of the ramshackle but playable equipment). And just like that, it stuck.
Johnny: do you guys do any originals at this point or is it primarily covers?
Chris: I’ve had a couple of blues tunes in the works for a while but we’ve honestly been so busy playing shows and working full time day jobs or careers it’s been tough to find time, but I think this is our year to shine.
Johnny: You’ve been playing music in this area for a while now, do you have a favorite memory so far?
Chris: I’ve had a lot of really cool experiences along the way getting to play with some amazing musicians. I was the guitar player in a band with Jonathan Scott from Resident Hero for a while and grew up with the singer Ryan White. I also toured a bit as guitar player for Stewart Mann and the Statesboro Revue out of Austin. I’d have to say though, my favorite memory thus far is a recent one. Joshua and I were both taught drums by Nardo and I learned guitar from Larry Stanley. We had the opportunity to open for Mouse and the Traps for the New Years Eve party at Love and War in Lindale and man was it an experience! We got to open for the guys who taught us everything in a packed room. Too cool
Johnny: Where can people get their Blacksmiths fix over the next couple of months?
Chris: Our next scheduled gig is March 31st at Club 155 on Frankston highway…at least for the public. We do a lot of private parties, bike rallies, and events as well. But always keep an eye out for us at XLN on 5th street…that’s our main stomping ground
Johnny: What do The Blacksmiths have on the radar through the rest of the year?
Chris: We have a lot of new stuff planned for this year. A whole new set of songs, some killer merchandise and a new demo ep. Also, I’m told that you might see us opening for Mouse and the Traps again in the near future…so keep your eyes peeled
Johnny: What can a new listener expect to see at a Blacksmiths show?
Chris: A good ole’ Rock show with lots of classic favorite tunes played by guys that do the best they can to respect and represent the music for what it is….life and love
EGuide Magazine’s Gig Guide
Date Night: From Fancy to Simple, Tyler Offers a Lot of Romance
March 24th – Tyler Azalea 10k, 5k, and Kids Run plus MORE!
Theatre Guide: March 15-18th, “The Lucky O’Learys” on Stage
The Apple Didn’t Fall Far From The Tree
March 24th: Save the Mayfair Fundraiser, Dinner & Live Music
“Playhouses on the Plaza” Downtown Tyler Through March 22nd
UT Tyler Graduate Student Exhibits Feature Steel, Wood Creations
DATE CHANGES!! April 2nd: Glass Rec. Center, Summer Camp Registration Open
The Skinny on Cooking at Home: The Cookbook Junkie
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