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The Alan Fox Band: Persistence Pays Off

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By Johnny Griffith

If you’re a fan of live music in East Texas, then you’ve most likely come across the Alan Fox Band (AFB) at some point along the way as they’ve been one of the stalwart musical collectives in this region for the past decade and a half.

They started in 2000 from the remnants of the band “Sidekick.” Alan Fox spent the next decade looking for the right combination of talent and personality to find a group of world-class musicians capable of putting out quality music. The current lineup consists of Alan Fox, Donnie Pendleton, and Donny Hart sharing responsibilities on lead guitar and vocals; Greg Cagle on bass and vocals; and Terry Salyer on drums.

Not just content to be another local party band, AFB has been extending their reach over the years to become one of the most successful regional blues/rock bands and has even garnered recognition nationally, winning awards in the highly competitive music meccas of Los Angeles and Nashville.

Along the way AFB has crafted a powerful twin-guitar sound that few bands attempt these days, and even fewer succeed at accomplishing. Alan Fox and company translated this sound into a loyal fanbase and rewarded that support with two previous album releases: “Never Learn,” a four song EP; and “JuJu Ear Rub,” a full length album released in 2008.

The blues/rock powerhouse band has recently released their latest offering, “Coal Black Sky,” and we were able to sit down with Alan and Donny to catch up on what AFB has been up to:

Johnny: You guys have been at this, individually and collectively, a long time in East Texas and beyond, and still produce a quality entertainment product. What is the secret for the AFB’s continued success?

Donny: I think that our sustained success is due to the fact that we’re not kids anymore. Things that might have derailed a band when we were younger just roll off our backs now. I think that we understand that, at our age, we won’t get many more chances to start over. We are more selective and seasoned now.

Alan: We all share a common goal. We at AFB want to have a quality product for our fans for generations to come.

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Johnny: To that point, you’ve been racking up the awards the past couple of years, some in markets well removed from your home-base area. How did AFB get the exposure necessary to beat out what is undoubtedly a ton of local bands in the LA and Nashville markets and showcase the high quality of talent we have right here in East Texas?

Donny: We have to give credit for this to our record label, Mesquite St. Records, and to Alan Petsche and Victor Erwin particularly. They have provided us with an avenue to record and promote our music in a much wider area than we could have ever dreamed of 10 years ago. The awards are just proof that, in the era of internet music, there are no boundaries. If you are willing to put in the time to create and produce your art, your promotional opportunities are limitless.

Alan: There is a lot of great talent all over the world. Thanks to the support of our fans locally and regionally, the 23rd Annual Music Awards was dependent on our fans logging in and voting. In Nashville, we were selected from more than 5,000 bands by a select group of Music Industry Reps. with our single “Riverboat Man” being played on Country Blast Radio and the Josie Radio Show, who chose us to receive their award.

Johnny: AFB has been together since 2000. What would you say your crowning achievement has been, to this point, in the 16 years since coming together?

Donny: The achievement that I am most proud of is our brand new record, “Coal Black Sky.” It is the strongest recording we have ever made, front to back. It has everything you want in a rock album: great guitar work, melodic vocals and harmonies, and a super tight rhythm section. Thanks to our producer, Mike Gage, and engineer, Doc Davis, it has a sonic quality that we have never been able to achieve before.

Alan: I think the growth from where we all started individually to where we are currently as a band could easily be considered our crowning achievement. We’ve had a lot of changeover through the years, and it took us a while to find each other at the right time in our careers that allowed for the success we’ve enjoyed.

Johnny: What has been the biggest challenge over that same span?

14523135_1294678227238713_1101334298052333704_nDonny: The only thing that I can think of as a “challenge” for the band is the fact that we are rather spread out geographically. Alan lives in Carthage; Terry in Longview; Greg in Palestine; Donnie in Lake Worth; and I live in Arlington. No matter where we meet, someone is going to have to do some driving, but we accept that as our reality and a necessary evil, and carry on without complaint.

Alan: I’ve always felt the largest obstacle to overcome, was finding the right combination of musicians that wanted to be more than just average.

Johnny: What do you guys look back and laugh about the hardest when you’re sitting around telling stories?

Donny: Anything having to do with Greg (just kidding). When we get together, we laugh nonstop. We truly get along well as people first, as well as musically. The true measure of a band’s longevity is how well you get along when not on stage. There is not any one particular thing that we laugh about; it is literally just about everything.

Alan: We constantly are joking and laughing. This is one of the best things about AFB. We believe in getting the job done, but have fun doing it.

Johnny: Tell us a little about the new album, “Coal Black Sky.”

Donny: “Coal Black Sky” has something for everyone. It has high energy rockers. It has party tunes. It has bluesy tunes. It has reflective moments. It has GREAT guitar work. It has lyrics that mean something. It has rich harmonies. And it has a song about a volcano!

Alan: “Coal Black Sky” is our labor of love. I must take time to thank the Petsche Music Group and Mesquite St. Records (Alan Petsche owner, Victor Erwin president, and Doc Davis, Jack Watkins, Bill Testa, Delbert Raines, and more) these guys knew we could do this all along. With the help of Mike Gage as our producer, AFB as a band decided to co-write the entire album except for “El Cabrone” (Donnie Hart) and “Never Learn” (Donnie Pendleton, Donny Hart, Brian Christian). This was a time-consuming effort, that actually turned out to be the best decision that we made overall. It took us over two and a half years to write and record this project, but I feel it was time well spent as the final tracks are as Mike Gage says, “All Killer! No Filler.”

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Johnny: Which track do you feel captures the essence of AFB?

Donny: Trying to pick a favorite song you’ve written is like trying to pick your favorite child. I find much to like in every one of them. That being said, I would have to say that “The Path” captures where we are in our lives. The first time that I heard the rough tracks, I knew it would be special.

Alan: Personally, I don’t have a favorite song on “Coal Black Sky.” Every time I listen to it, I love it all. It flows very well from first to the last.

Johnny: Which track seemed to come together almost effortlessly, and which track was the one that had you guys ready to pull your hair out in production?

Donny: “Redemption” was a song that came together almost immediately. We wrote it on a Saturday and recorded it on Sunday. We wrote the lyrics while the rhythm tracks were being laid down. It just came out like “boom.” I think the one we had to tinker with the most was “Ride.” We had several versions of it before we got it right. I love the way it ended up though.

Alan: “El Cabrone” and “Never Learn” recorded quickly because we had been performing these songs before we walked into the studio. “Ride” was the one that was a little sketchy. Donny Hart and Greg Cagle were writing the lyrics as Pendleton and I were finishing up guitar tracks.

Johnny: Listening through the tracks, I can immediately pick up threads of great bands from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s woven into some of the riffs and structures. Would you describe this album as a tribute to those classic sounds or a statement that they still have relevance in the modern musical landscape?

Donny: I would have to say both. We are children of the 60’s and 70’s, and our music reflects that. We cut our teeth with the music of the 80’s, and our music reflects that. I will refrain from ranting about the state of creativity in modern music, but I would like to say that our music sounds authentic because it IS authentic. It was made by people playing instruments and using their own voices. Though it was recorded digitally, we wanted it to feel analog. It was Gage’s idea to put the scratchy record sounds at the beginning and end of “Redemption,” but that was the vibe we wanted the whole record to have. And yes, it is still relevant, if not essential.

Alan: AFB grew up listening to great compositions that are still being played today on classic rock stations. The southern rock and old school blues were great influences in our riffs and creations. I don’t see a tribute to classic rock with “Coal Black Sky.” I see brand new southern rock or even new country. AFB didn’t write songs with a specific genre in mind. We wrote from the heart.

Johnny: As 2016 draws to a close, what is on the horizon in 2017 for the AFB?

Donny: Touring! Meeting new people and turning them onto our record for as long as we can. We are looking forward to 2017 as the year that AFB meets the rest of the world.

Alan: AFB has some very exciting plans in the 2017 that we all hope will come true.

Johnny: What impression do you hope someone seeing an AFB show for the first time takes away from the show?

Donny: The initial thing that I would like people to take from our show is that we are good musicians making good, worthwhile modern/classic music without gimmicks. That we can put on an energetic, dynamic performance every night. And that you can still be an overnight success after 50!

Alan: I feel that AFB is very personable as individuals and as performers. We hope that our fans can leave with a great feeling inside as our music touches them to leave them with a positive and warm feeling that no matter what is happening in their world as an audience, that they can walk away feeling better that when they walked in to hear the show. This is how great music touches us all.

For more info about the Alan Fox Band go to alanfoxband.com, facebook.com/alanfoxband, or reverbnation.com/afbalanfoxband.

 

Bands

October 13th, Award-Winning Band MercyMe in Concert

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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 oilpalace.com. 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:

www.blacktopmojo.com 

www.facebook.com/BlacktopMojo.

 

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