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Riley Redding: Shovels and Strings

By Johnny Griffith

For several years, radio country music has been pushing what could be described as a shallower brand of the genre. Just like anything, there are ebbs and flows in the industry and often ratings are driven by the most easily digested version of something out there. Luckily, there has been an opposite and equal reaction to this trend with many artists opting for a more genuine version of the craft that stays more true to the roots and history of country music. Local artists here in East Texas seem especially proud to stick to those roots, and one of those up and coming artists is singer-songwriter Riley Redding from Lindale.

A 2012 graduate of Lindale High School, Redding attended Tyler Junior College where he received an associates degree in Business Administration. After an early interest in sports, Redding wasn’t overly involved in school activities and spent most of his summers, as well as spring breaks, working during the day and hanging out with friends at night. Little did Redding know at the time that these memories would provide fertile soil for cultivating great songs just a few years later as a performer and songwriter with an album to his credit.

Riley took some time to answer some questions for us recently:

Johnny: When was your first memory of showing interest in music?

Riley: I’ve always enjoyed music, but when I tried picking up a guitar to learn when I was 12 I got frustrated very quickly, put it down, and didn’t come back to it for several years. When I turned 17 I decided to try again, but this time started taking interest and really trying to learn. Initially, I began playing in church. Looking back, a forgiving audience is a great place to start when you’re young and building your confidence. The rest, as they say, is history.

Johnny: Who were some of your early influences that kept you focused and involved in music?

Riley: I’d have to say my grandmother mainly, but between her and my mother, I managed to stay focused long enough for the bug to catch. Musically the list of influences goes on and on forever! There are too many great songs and great songwriters out there to narrow down the list.

Johnny: When did you discover you had a knack for songwriting?

Riley: I met a man named John Defoore, and he introduced me to it when I was around 20, mentoring me along the way. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was a knack, though, but rather more of a learned passion. You write, and write, and write, then before long, it becomes a way of life. Sometimes It becomes hard to operate in the real world because you’ve spent so much time creating your own little one to live in during the writing process.

Johnny: Where do you tend to draw inspiration for your songs?

Riley: Inspiration is all around us, but I tend to draw from a mix of my own experiences growing up as well as those around me. I had some great times with my friends when we were younger, and those memories can make for some great songs. Really though, creativity is where you find it, and if you look hard enough, you can see it in just about anything.

Johnny: Are you primarily a solo act or do you play with a band during live sets?

Riley: Right now I’m trying to do a good mix of solo and full band sets. It really just depends on the venue and the circumstances.

Johnny: How integral has your family been when it comes to this musical path you’re following?

Riley: You know, everyone just wanted the best for me so obviously some were hesitant about it at first, but others have supported 100% the entire way. Eventually, everyone came around, and they all support it now.

Johnny: Your bio says you spent summers working with your father as a kid. Do you feel those days grounded you with a work ethic and connection to East Texas that comes through in your music?

Riley: Yes, very much so. It taught me that working hard can get you a lot of places dreaming and talent alone can’t. A lot of folks don’t want to put in the man hours or get frustrated and quit when it gets a little rough. I feel like when I combine talent and passion with hard work, the sky’s the limit. God has blessed me with a wonderful up bringing and wonderful passion and dream to follow. Focusing on Him is what keeps me going.

Johnny: You recently released an album. How was that experience?

Riley: It was tough! A lot of work goes into it. I must admit, I was naive. It’s been wonderful, though. I have learned so much, met some amazing people, and built tons of great relationships. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

Johnny: How has the reception been to the new music so far?

Riley: Amazing! I have been overwhelmed with kind words and comments. People seem to really be taking a liking to it, which I am very glad of!

Johnny: What have you been most proud of to this point in your career?

Riley: This album is the highlight of my career right now, but anytime I can connect with someone through my music is pretty amazing as well.

Johnny: If I’ve got one word to describe Riley Redding with to potential new fans, what do I use?

Riley: Authentic.

For more info on Riley Redding find him on Facebook at

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October 13th, Award-Winning Band MercyMe in Concert

October 13th, Award-Winning Band MercyMe in Concert

MercyMe will be in concert at The Oil Palace is October and is guaranteed to sell-out!

Since their debut in 2001, Grammy®-nominated, multiple American Music Award and Dove Award winners, MercyMe has sold more than 8.5 million units in CD, single and DVD sales, garnered 27 No. 1 multi-format Christian radio singles and four consecutive mainstream radio hits with ‘I Can Only Imagine,’ (No. 4 AC/Top 25 on Top 40/Hot AC), ‘Here With Me’ (No. 4 AC), ‘Homesick’ (Top 10 AC), and ‘So Long Self.’

Their radio success has continued with recent singles ‘Flawless’ (No. 1 for 15 weeks) and ‘Greater’ (No. 1 for 16 weeks)​, landing them the Top Christian Airplay Artist spot on Billboard’s 2015 Year End charts.

MercyMe made history in 2014 as ‘I Can Only Imagine’ surpassed 2 million digital downloads, making it the first song in Christian music to go platinum and double-platinum in the digital domain. In 2009, Billboard named MercyMe’s ‘Word Of God Speak’ the No. 1 Song of The Decade and the group the No. 1 Artist of the Decade in both the Christian Songs and Christian AC Songs categories, recognizing them as one of the industry’s most notable talents.

They have sold out venues throughout the US and Canada, including Radio City Music Hall, and have appeared on The Today Show, CBS This Morning, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Fox New Channel’s Fox & Friends, CNN, ABC News, and in the pages of Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, USA Today and more.

Their most recent project “MercyMe, It’s Christmas!” debuted atop the Billboard Top Holiday Albums chart and became an instant classic. Their eighth studio release, “Welcome To The New,” garnered Billboard Music Award nominations in all three Christian categories and two Grammy® nods; the album is available in stores now.

Tickets start at $19 and are available at The Oil Palace is located at 10408 State Highway 64 East, Tyler, (903)566-2122.

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Blacktop Mojo: Burning Up The Roads To Success

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By Johnny Griffith

About a year and a half ago I sat down to interview Blacktop Mojo, a Jacksonville based hard rock band riding a wave of momentum after several successful years together and an upcoming album release. The end of that interview finished with this:

“Blacktop Mojo can still be heard around East Texas on a regular basis, but I would definitely suggest checking out their website for more information and a sample of their music if you haven’t heard them. If it’s in your wheelhouse, get out and support a great local band that won’t be local for much longer at the rate their Mojo is working.”

As it turns out, I was a little more prescient that I anticipated as Blacktop Mojo’s stock has only risen in the ensuing months. With a successful album release, ever increasingly distant tour stops, and mounting accolades from industry critics and magazines, local BTM shows are becoming harder to come by.

In case you might not have heard of Blacktop Mojo, their sound can be described as “modern rock that got dragged through a puddle of southern rock and then dipped in a little bit of grunge”. The band was originally formed in 2012 and the current lineup includes Matt James on vocals, Nathan Gillis on drums, Chuck Wepfer on rhythm guitar, Ryan Keifer on lead guitar, and Matt Curtis on bass.  

With a huge sound and chest shaking vocals, Blacktop Mojo brings a high energy rock show that leaves fans wanting more everywhere they go. While in the midst of rehearsals last month for their most recent tour that kicked off in San Antonio on April 20th, we caught up with them to see what had been going on for the past year and a half and what was on the radar for the rest of the year.

Johnny: So it’s been about a year and a half since our last interview with you guys and the last time we talked there was an album in the works. When did “Burn The Ships” release and how was the process different from the first time around when you recorded “I am”?

BTM: “Burn The Ships” released in March of 2017. The biggest difference between this record and our first record, “I Am”, was the amount of time we took for pre-production. On “I Am”, we spent about two weeks getting ready and arranging the songs before we went in to record it, where on “Burn The Ships”, we spent about eight months demoing and playing around with different ideas.

Johnny: How has the reception been to the album so far and do you guys have your own personal favorite song from it?

BTM: The reception to the album has been incredible this far. We’ve had countless positive reviews and feedback from publications all over the world. Also, our first single off of the album entitled “Where The Wind Blows” reached number 27 on the Billboard Active Rock chart last summer.

Johnny: You guys got to open for Bon Jovi last year in a sold-out stadium. Tell us about that about how you guys got that honor and a little about the experience?

BTM: We actually won that honor in a contest the band was putting on. We submitted some of our original music and were picked by Live Nation and the band’s management to open up the show. The experience was beyond amazing and the crowd was very receptive to us. We cannot thank the Bon Jovi camp enough for the opportunity and for treating us so incredibly.

Johnny: Obviously that put you in front of a lot of potential new fans but what would you say the biggest takeaway from that event was?

BTM: Our biggest takeaway from that night was that whether you’re playing in front of 20 or 20,000 people, you should treat it the same way. Make everyone feel like you’re playing in a stadium even if it’s an empty room.

Johnny: Blacktop Mojo has been trending steadily upward the past couple of years with several accolades from industry publications, over 40 thousand likes on Facebook, a new album, and you guys seem to play everywhere and anywhere. What kind of effect has the increased exposure and success had on the daily routine and what kind of new challenges have came along?

BTM: Our daily routine hasn’t changed much when we’re home. We still write and rehearse on a regular basis and go about business as usual. The increased exposure has made touring opportunities more readily available for us and has increased the number of people we can reach with our music, which is super exciting for us.

Johnny: You have a pretty extensive tour coming up that you’ll already be on the road for when this goes to print. Is this the biggest tour BTM has embarked on and what goes into planning a 2-month long road trip that covers, as best I could count, 32 states, both sides of the country, Canada, and 43 shows?

BTM: This is our most extensive tour to date. A lot of planning, routing, and generally putting the puzzle pieces together has gone on over the past few months by us and our team to make this happen. We couldn’t be more excited to get back out on the road and see our friends across the country.

Johnny: I’d say it would be time for a break after that sort of trip, but you guys are right back at it, playing Rock Fest 2018 up in Wisconsin with some huge names, do you guys ever have to step back, take a breath, and say to yourself “this is our reality”?

BTM: We are very blessed to be able to wake up and do what we love every single day. They say “you never work a day in your life if you do what you love”, so I don’t think we’ve ever really thought about taking a break.

Johnny: Were you able to see yourself at this point back when you played your first show at the Neches Fall Festival or the first “official” show as BTM at the Shelton Gin back in 2012?

BTM: It would have been hard to imagine getting to do what we do now back then. We’ve always just been happy to be able to play music for people.

Johnny: With what’s on your plate for the first half of this year, I almost hate to ask, but what’s on the radar for the second half of 2018 that you can share with us?

BTM: We have plans to keep touring throughout the rest of the year and are currently writing music for our third record.

Johnny: What has been the best memory from the ride so far?

BTM: It’s hard to pick just one from all of it. One of my favorites so far was riding back into town off of our first tour last Summer/Fall. We’d been out on the road for over 60 days straight with 7 of us basically living out of our van. We were tired, beat up, and hungry, but everyone was smiling and joking with each other. It really felt like we had accomplished something.

For more information on Blacktop Mojo and when they’ll be back at a location near you, check them out on the web:


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