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.
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?
Donny: 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.”
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.