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A Conversation With Matt Magill from The Magills & Co.

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By Johnny Griffith

Matt and Megan Magill love the stage. From the moment they met on stage in Oklahoma City years ago, through a decade in New York City, and a return to roots in East Texas, theirs is a marriage of music and ministry. As the “Magills” portion of The Magills & Co, the husband and wife duo take the stage singing songs of life, love, faith, failure, triumph, and trust. They like to call their music “grace music,” an honest conversation with the listener rooted in transparency, compassion, and music that flows from the lives they live together.

I sat down with Matt this month to get a better snapshot of who The Magills are and what’s coming up for them in the near future.

Johnny: When did you each start developing an interest in music, and what was really the moment when you realized this was something you wanted to do as more than just a hobby?

Matt: Ursula K. Le Guin said that “the creative adult is the child that survived.” Megan and I didn’t develop an interest in music. We just never left our childhood behind. We are children, and so making music is both hobby and vocation. It isn’t work to play. A child at play is unconcerned with things like deadlines or obligations. His/her life is an expression of possibility and joy. When considering “moments” that we realized music was something that was sacred to us, it’s more that there were moments that could have crushed us, that could have caused us to withdraw; rejection, failure, and discouragement did not have their way with us. Instead, our marriage has been a great gift to each of us – a friendship based on the mutual determination to remain open, expressive children, receptive to what we’re given and faithful to give it away to others.

Johnny: You two have a great story about meeting, whirlwind romance, marriage, and off to the Big Apple to “make it” where you persevered through struggles, eventually finding your way back to East Texas. How much of what you guys had to endure during that time period, going through the crucible of maturity and experience, influences how you approach the music today?

Matt: New York City was transformative for us because it’s an incredibly difficult environment to endure but also because we moved there two weeks after getting married. Cut off from our respective communities and parents, we had to learn who we are in light of our new city and new marriage. It changed us forever.

People often ask us, “Why would you all move (or stay) in Tyler, Texas?” or “Don’t you want to make it?” Our response is always that we’ve already made it, and we’re finally home. We dreamed dreams and lived lives in New York City and became a married couple there. We walked through “the fiery furnace of affliction” that is choosing to stay with someone who inevitably fails you from time to time. The commitment fuels the passion and as you look in the rearview mirror (which is all you have) you see that God was faithful to provide you the tools emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually that you needed to keep walking through whatever “valley of the shadow of death” you were enduring. Gratitude becomes the response, and hope springs eternal. Artists need to be critical of the status quo but hopeful about the future. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you’re not critical, then there’s no need to speak truth. If you’re not hopeful then you’re resigned to silence expecting truth won’t be received. Music is a means of truth in our lives both when it comes to us (and through us) as a cultural critique or an expression of hope. The roots of our commitment to and appreciation of this path were forged in our earliest days and darkest nights of our marriage together in NYC.

Johnny: When did you decide you wanted to make music as a duet instead of pursuing individual musical paths?

Matt: From the day I met Megan I knew my life would be better with her than without her. I feel the same way about our musical lives. I’m better when she’s beside me. Our sound is better when she sings with me. I’m a more honest performer when she’s there with me, and the reason is that I am who I am because she is my help-mate. I have become who I have become because of her help, and she has become more fully alive in that role. She is such a fully-realized woman….and probably because of how much help I needed! I HAVE to have her beside me.

Johnny: Do you primarily perform as a duet, or do you utilize a full band?

Matt: We love to play with our band. Collin Anderson (bassist and Meg’s brother), Chris Foreman (guitar), Loren Roe (drums), and Andrew Lindstrom (keys and trumpet) are brothers and are the most generous guys I know. We love to play with them as often as possible, but we also dig the intimate moments around town playing as a duo.

Johnny: Who are some of your most significant influences musically to this point?

Matt: I go through phases. When I was a kid I was crazy for Paul Simon, and I still am. Then I went nuts for The Black Crowes through high school, and then I got into southern California hippy folk rockers Gram Parsons and David Crosby type stuff, and then I got super into all the Tulsa Sound JJ Cale music and Leon Russell and Delaney and Bonnie. Currently Megan and I are huge fans of Dawes, and lately, an Ontario duo called Kacy and Clayton have caught our attention. We also really love Blitzen Trapper and their whole Portland, Oregon music scene. It’s so super rich right now (Fruit Bats, Vetiver, Blind Pilot, Laura Gibson just to name a few). And on the Gospel tip I still listen to old school stuff like Larry Norman, Andrae Crouch, and The Staple Singers – before the Christian music machine made everything sound the same. Don’t get me started on all that.

Johnny: How would you describe your musical style, and how much of your current set list is original versus cover songs?

Matt: We play songs we like to listen to as well as songs that I write. I’m a super record freak so I’m always discovering old tunes that I want other people to hear. So we learn them and play them. Learning the newest cover song that everybody is listening does not interest me at all. Megan loves the Standards (Great American Songbook) so we’re always mixing those in, and I’m always bringing the band songs from early Clapton or Spencer Davis Group or Steely Dan or Traffic or Sam Cooke. But, if people are listening, I’m apt to play more originals. So listen up, and you’ll hear them.

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Johnny: Faith is a big part of your lives and by extension, your music. Is that a deliberate decision to utilize music as a ministry tool, or would you describe it as simply an organic expression of your core selves?

Matt: We play with the same band that plays at Bethel Bible Downtown campus (above The Foundry Coffee House), so musically it’s like a “Farm to Market” band. We live lives alongside these guys; we pray with these guys; we break bread with these guys; we drink wine with these guys, so it follows that we would make music with them. Before we met, Megan and I were both trying to be something we weren’t yet. That’s what kids do. But God gave us one another to learn to become comfortable with who He created us to be and accept love. Because we have accepted that love (first from God and then from one another) we have become increasingly at ease with who we are. Whether it’s Saturday night music or Sunday morning music we are us – receiving love and giving love. We’re the same; our band is the same; our sound is the same. We’re not trying – we’re just being.

Johnny: What has been your best musical memory to this point in your journey together?

Matt: Watching the curtain close on Megan’s musicals each year fills me with so much pride. She has a musical theatre studio and teaches about 80 kids throughout the school year imbibing them with so much confidence and encouraging such profound character and emotional honesty in these kids. She writes these musicals that are just beautiful and so much work. When they come to completion it just fills my heart. As far as rock n’ roll goes, getting to play with Marc Ford of The Black Crowes, and probably the baddest guitarist ever, was THE highlight of my musical life. Period. (Not to mention he played guitar all over our new record, “Down is Up is Down” available on itunes, spotify etc.)

Johnny: What have been the biggest challenges to this point?

Matt: Megan and I don’t always agree. And mostly because I don’t want to be wrong. Our challenge is the same that any married couple working together experiences. I want her to think that I am strong and dependable and wise (the list goes on). But the trick is, when I fail her, I don’t want to admit it because it makes me feel weak and dependent and foolish. Vulnerability is the key, and it doesn’t get easier, but through the years we’re becoming more aware of our need to exhibit it. You didn’t know this was going to turn into marriage counseling, did you?

Johnny: What kind of experience are you hoping a first-timer gets when they come to a Magills concert?

Matt: On the best nights, they’ll get us talking into the mic saying things about our lives and laughing with the band. If we’re feeling good, giving grace to one another in the moment, then our music will sound great, our hips will be shaking, and I’ll probably be sweating. Those are the good nights – when the folks in our community are soaking up what we’re pouring out.

Johnny: What’s on the horizon in 2018 for you guys?

Matt: We’re thinking about taking all of our gear down to Meg’s folk’s lake house and setting up for four or five days with all the wives and kids and just working out some new tunes and writing together and living together for a while. The tribute shows at The Foundry will continue (we do four or five a year), and February 23rd-24th I’m putting on The 4th Annual Mockingbird Conference in Downtown Tyler. This year our musical guest will be Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper. I’m a huge fan of this guy, and it will be an honor to host him in Tyler. Megan will put on another musical in May, and we’ll play all year long with the band that goes by “& Co.” on our never-ending “Stick Around Town Tour.” Why would we ever want to leave?

For more info on The Magill’s go to www.themagills.org or www.facebook.com/themagills.

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Bands

Music With A Purpose: Hotel Drifters

 

By Johnny Griffith

There is a fairly established stereotype of what a drifter is. Webster’s defines it as “one that travels or moves about aimlessly.” We’ve all seen a movie based on someone who drifts from town to town, with no purpose in most cases, just sort of trying to find their way in life. Well, you can take that image of a drifter and toss it out the window when it comes to the Hotel Drifters. They definitely have a purpose, and that’s to try to leave every audience with a bit of themselves and in a better place than when they walked in. 

The brainchild of Jessica and Shane Smith, Hotel Drifters falls into the Americana category and has a solid foundation in a lot of classics, with a strong helping of country and roots music thrown in the mix. You’ll find a blend of influences in their originals, with a solid leaning towards country; and the covers run the gamut with everything from classic Rod Stewart, Waylon Jennings, and Stevie Nicks to Dwight Yoakam, Chris Stapleton, and even some Lady Gaga in the mix. 

Their excitement for the music is evident from the first note and their presence on stage is engaging, with powerful vocals, raw and bluesy guitar licks, and a rock solid rhythm section. As an added bonus, they are one of the few bands to actually have a steel guitar on stage, which adds an extra dimension to a lot of classic songs, not to mention the cool factor it brings.

I was able to catch up with Jessica Smith this month and had the chance to ask a few questions so we could get to know the band better: 

Johnny: What is the current lineup of the Hotel Drifters?

Jessica: The Hotel Drifters are currently Shane & Jessica Smith lead vocals and guitar, Charles Pierce on bass guitar, Clark Stone is our drummer, and Scott Akers is on electric and steel guitar.

Johnny: How did the band meet?

Jessica: Shane & I met in high school when we were both 15 and then we married in 2008. In 2010 we decided to start a band. We took a break during the birth of our first son and then formed a new band after that with most of the current members.

Johnny: Are you all local or are there some transplants to the area?

Jessica: Yes, the entire band is local to the East Texas area. Shane and I are from Chandler, a little town just outside of Tyler. 

Johnny: Have there been any unexpected challenges that come from being in a band with your spouse?

Jessica: There hasn’t really been anything too challenging because we’ve been married almost 12 years now, so we’ve already fought about everything there is to fight about, which is rare, but I think the most challenging part since we’ve become parents has to be leaving our son to play a show. 

Johnny: What do you feel some of the strengths of the band are?

Jessica: The energy! Music moves us, so when we really get into the groove it draws the crowd in and they get into it as well! 

Johnny: What about the name? Where did Hotel Drifters come from?

Jessica: Well it’s kind of a long story but most working bands will drift from one hotel to the next. In some cases you want to pocket the most money you can so they can be gross, cheap motels, so when people ask us this question we just simply say “we like the doors on the inside not the outside.”

Johnny: What first got you into music individually?

Jessica: For me I’ve always known singing was something I wanted to do for as far back as I can remember, and I started singing in church as a kid. Shane had the music bug from the day he was born. His dad had a band and he was always around music. Eventually, at the age of 13, he bought his first electric guitar and the rest is history.

Johnny: When did you the idea of forming the Hotel Drifters first start to evolve?

Jessica: Sometime around 2011 we decided to start doing some acoustic shows. From there it sort of snowballed, and then in 2012 we started our full band. 

Johnny: What was the first show as a band?

Jessica: Our first show was at KE Cellars in Tyler. They were the first place to give us a chance, so we were real sad to see that place go.

Johnny: How would you describe your musical style? Has it evolved since the band formed?

Jessica: We like to say we are country singers with a rock and roll band, but our style is always evolving. We have very strong country roots and we grew up with Willie Nelson and George Jones in our souls, but we love all kinds of music, from Tom Petty to Lady Gaga and a lot of stuff in between.

Johnny: What are some of the more popular covers you do as a band? 

Jessica: That’s a hard one to narrow down since we do so many covers. We have a lot of fan favorites, but “Stay With Me” by Faces and “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty are probably two of the more popular cover songs we do during any given show.

Johnny: What about originals? Are you and the band writing any original material at this point and mixing them into your shows?

Jessica: Yes! We do have some originals in our catalog that we’ve recently started adding to our shows when the situation is right. 

Johnny: About how many shows a month are you currently performing?

Jessica: We like to keep it to about 1 full band show a month and a couple acoustic shows in between. Obviously that can vary up or down, but that’s where we like to keep it at this point.

Johnny: What does the Hotel Drifters have on the radar for this year we should be aware of?

Jessica: This year we would love to be able to record our originals!

Johnny: How would you describe your show to a first timer?

Jessica: A good time! Wherever we play we just want to make sure whoever is listening is having a good time, because you never know what kind of day that person had and that one song may turn their day completely around! 

Johnny: Thanks for sitting down and taking the time with us.

Jessica: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our band with y’all, you can find a list of our current shows and everything else on our Facebook page Hotel Drifters and Instagram @hoteldrifters.

 

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Bands

A Blue State Of Mind:  The Bluez Boyz

Bluez Boyz Band

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By Johnny Griffith

Ask any blues player worth their salt, and they’ll tell you it’s not just a genre, it’s a state of mind that gets in your blood and won’t let go. It has to be in order to translate from the mind to the hands to the instruments or through the vocal cords. A true blues musician can reach down in their soul and pull from that emotion, leaving it all out on stage and you BELIEVE the music is authentic. Luckily, we’ve got a group of musicians here in East Texas that have come together to form one of the best blues bands in the area. Bluez Boyz is the brainchild of Bobby Edwards and has been painting the town blue for about 3 years now. I recently sat down with them to get to know the band a little better.

Johnny: What’s the current lineup for the band and a bit of musical background on everyone?

Bluez Boyz: Bobby Edwards started the band about 3 years ago with his son Ronnie on bass and Landon Green on drums. About two years into it we decided to add Chris Wallace to the band. We had seen Chris perform and became really good friends with him and thought he was the perfect fit for the band. All four guys in this band have been in music most all of their lives from early ages. Bobby has been pure blues all of his life and you can tell by listening to him, he didn’t get the nickname “Blue Eyed Soul Man” for nothing. Ronnie Edwards, the son of Bobby, well he was raised by Bobby so of course he is really a huge fan of blues as well. Chris Wallace is also a big blues fan and you can tell it when he sings as well, and he is also known to put some southern rock and a little country twist to things from time to time. Landon Green is the rocker in the group, although he will be the one singing the ZZ Top and Queen songs, he admits that he doesn’t care what genre they play because it just feels right: it’s like jamming with family with these guys; and him and Bobby have played together on and off for almost 15 years and just have that bond on stage that’s even rubbed off on Chris and Ronnie, and everything falls into place.

Johnny: How did the band meet? 

Bluez Boyz: Bobby and Landon met around 15 years ago through Bobby’s brother Frank who was playing bass at the time. Landon was asked to join their band “Bobby Edwards Blues Band” and they played for several years all around East Texas. The guys took a small break to do other side projects and later came back together; however by this time Ronnie Edwards had turned into a beast on the bass and was ready to become his dad’s bass player. After a couple of years of playing, and as the shows had continued to grow to a very steady schedule, we felt like it was time to add to the band, so of course we felt like the best fit for us was our good friend Chris Wallace. 

Johnny: Why that style of music? It’s certainly not a style that gets the most real estate on stages around the area. What led you to your sound? 

Bluez Boyz: Blues is definitely our genre of choice because Bobby started the band and if you have ever heard him sing the blues then you know why we call ourselves a Blues Band. However, just as you mentioned, it certainly may not bring the most real estate around this area and that is why we add other genres to our shows as well, so that when you come and hear us you will get a wider variety such as rock, funk, oldies, and country. If we play a festival, or a blues based show, then we can promise you that you will hear some of the best live blues that you have ever heard when the “Blue Eyed Soul Man” Bobby Edwards, along with his sidekick Chris Wallace, start throwing down them REAL blues!

Johnny: Who are some of the significant influences musically for the band? 

Bluez Boyz: Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, Buddy Guy, Wes Jeans, ZZ Top and many more.

Johnny: What was your first gig as the Bluez Boyz?

Bluez Boyz: We three pieced at first with just Bobby, Ronnie, and Landon and our first show may have been FRESH by Brookshires. Then our first show after adding Chris might have been Republic Icehouse. It’s been a while and we have played tons of shows in 2019.

Johnny: In an area that is traditionally dominated musically by country and rock acts, have there been any challenges getting gigs and building a base for a blues band? 

Bluez Boyz: Like we mentioned earlier we have added a lot more genres to our show. When you come to one of our shows now you may hear some ZZ Top, Hank Williams Jr., heck even some old school rap etc. We understand that these crowds want to hear a variety so we do our best to give them that nowadays; however we will always classify ourselves as a blues band and will push for success in the blues genre any chance we get. As far as coming to our shows, let’s say a local restaurant or club, then you’ll get an awesome mix of amazing music along with a great show playing your favorite mixes of all genres. So yes, we have met that challenge and know the struggle oh so well. 

Johnny: Are you guys typically local to the East Texas area or do you venture out into other markets at this point? 

Bluez Boyz: We do stay pretty busy locally around some great East Texas venues and restaurants etc.. However, we did branch out in 2019 and did several Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Dallas/ Ft. Worth Shows, and we plan to get out even more if possible in 2020, so get ready Bluez Boyz fans!

Johnny: About how many shows are you playing a month currently?

Bluez Boyz: About 8-10 , Usually every weekend and possibly a few during the week at times. 

Johnny: What has been the most memorable gig for the band to this point? 

Bluez Boyz: Probably opening up for, and getting to hang out with, Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters at TXM Music City in Lindale Texas; also we do have to say that being up on the Gas Monkey Stage in Dallas was pretty dang cool as well. 

Johnny: What does 2020 have in store for the band? Any projects or tour plans? 

Bluez Boyz: We are non stop booking as we speak and hope to fill 2020 up as soon as we can. We have some recording planned, and Christine Edwards (Bobby’s wife, band manager) is currently talking with a few venues in a totally different state than what we mentioned earlier, and let’s just say if that goes through for us in 2020 it could be the start of something big. 

Johnny: For new fans, what can they expect at a show with The Bluez Boyz? 

Bluez Boyz: We love having other musicians come up and sit in with us and we have been told numerous times by other musicians how they love the fact that we don’t plan out anything, and don’t even use a set list. We just act on what everyone is feeling and go with it and have a blast doing it on stage. You may get comedy, you may get bloopers, you may get an open mic night, but we can promise that when you leave you’ll be saying “dang, that was an awesome night!”

Follow the Bluez Boyz online at facebook.com/BluezBoyz73/and bluezboys.com.

 

 

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Bands

Guitar For Hire: Mayson Garner

Mayson Garner

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By Johnny Griffith

The term ‘mercenary’ has pretty much always had somewhat of a negative connotation with it throughout its history. It’s typically portrayed in literature and film as someone whose loyalty extends as far as the next highest bidder and in whom trust can’t be entirely placed. In the music world, however, being a “gun for hire” isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. In fact, some of the most talented musicians you’ve never heard called by name, you’ve actually heard on some of the most famous albums of all time as studio musicians or on stage as touring musicians. One of East Texas’ most talented musical mercenaries is Mayson Garner. With eclectic musical tastes, killer guitar chops, and the vocal range to cover a broad spectrum of styles, Mayson can be found on stage in the area several nights a week and has worked with several projects in the area as well.

We caught him at a Thursday Open Mic night at Alibi Barcadia over in Longview this month to get a little better idea of the man behind the guitar:

Johnny: What was one of your earliest musical memories growing up?

Mayson: I remember my mom having this classical acoustic guitar lying around the house. It had only three strings and I would play it anytime I got the chance. That little guitar sparked this intense love that I now have for music, and guitars in general. I ended up playing it until all three strings came off, but I couldn’t forget the feeling it brought me when I played it. That’s why I am the way I am till this day. 

Johnny: When did you first pick up an instrument, and was it a guitar or did you start somewhere else and gravitate to the guitar later?

Mayson: I was 4 when I discovered my mom’s acoustic, and from then until I was 15 or 16 it was only the guitar that I was interested in. Then it was drums, piano, bass, and other various instruments. 

Johnny: What were some of your early musical influences when you were learning your instrument?

Mayson: My real musical influences started to appear when I was an early teen; that’s about as early as I can remember having major influences on the guitar. Adam Jones from the band Tool, as well as Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, were major impacts on my playing, and still are in a few ways with Jerry Cantrell being the one I hear most in my playing these days. Guys like David Gilmour, Jeff Loomis, Michael and Christopher Amott, and Mikael Åkerfeldt played a part as well in shaping my earlier years of guitar playing. 

Johnny: Did you pick any of your musical abilities up from your parents?

Mayson: No not at all, neither of them could play instruments. I mean my mom could sing, but that was heard on the rarest of occasions. It’s still a mystery to me how I fell in with music. This might sound a bit quirky, but I like to think maybe whatever or whoever is looking out for me was like “here you go I want you to have this.” 

Johnny: When did you perform your first public gig and do you remember the first gig you ever got paid for?

Mayson: The first time I played for an audience was a talent show at my school. I loved being up on stage showing people what I could do. From then on I was hooked on playing for the masses, but it would be years before I would ever play my first paying gig, which was for the acoustic nights held on the patio of an On The Border here in Longview about 4 years ago. The first night I ever met Neal McCoy too – it was weird sitting there trying not to suck as this country star was sitting across from me. 

Johnny: When did you get the idea that you might want to be a bit more serious with music and take it just beyond the hobby stage?

Mayson: I think I’ve always been serious about music, and wanted to take it past my bedroom, so I started playing different churches and youth groups. But I wanted to keep pushing it further, so I went to a jam and knew at that point I had to be in an actual band. And before I knew it, I found myself in a few different bands basically marketing myself as a hired gun, and have been doing so since that jam, and I gotta say I’m very glad I labeled myself as a hired gun because I have met some really talented and genuinely awesome people along the way.

Johnny: You’ve got a pretty extensive catalog of songs you call on when doing open mic and solo events. What would you say some of your favorites currently are?

Mayson: I would have to say right now my favorites are “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, “I Am The Highway” by Audioslave, “Do I Wanna Know” by Arctic Monkeys, and “Keep on Swinging” by Rival Sons.

Johnny: How many originals do you have and how often do you get to work them into sets?

Mayson: I actually have a few notebooks of originals, but I have yet to work them into any of my sets because after I write them I either forget about them or never think they are quite right so I never play them. I tend to overthink my music thus keeping me from sharing it – a bad habit I’ve got to break – but that doesn’t stop me from writing. I will have some new originals waiting to be played in the near future. 

Johnny: Some of your work I enjoy the most is when you’re doing some of your bluesier covers. What direction do your originals tend to take stylistically?

Mayson: Thank you. I’m very much an eclectic musician, so I tend to write various styles of music, but if I had to pin down a specific genre I feel is the most me, I would have to say rock ‘n roll. Rock music inspired by the styles of the ‘70s and ‘90s is more what I dig than anything else. 

Johnny: You do a lot of collaborative work with other local musicians as well as your own solo nights at several venues around East Texas. Who are some of your regular partners you take the stage with?

Mayson: My good friends Jerry Johnson, who is a killer bassist; and Ladarius Daniels, who we all know for being the main man when it comes to playing a mean saxophone. But recently I’ve made a new friend named Kasey Moore who is a cool dude, and a good player. 

Johnny: About how many times a month are you on stage somewhere around the region?

Mayson: Anywhere between 5 and 6 times a month on average. I do some solo shows and some open jams, but with this coming year chances are my band and I will be everywhere else besides our home town. 

Johnny: What have you been the proudest of, so far, in your musical journey?

Mayson: Probably how far I have come with who I am as a person and how I am as a musician. Both of which are things I am constantly working on. 

Johnny:  What are you excited about, musically, as we begin the new year?

Mayson: The new shows my band and I have lined out for 2020, and really just the excitement of where me and my music are going. There’s a sense of excitement for me in what the future may hold as I keep my head down and keep working toward the ultimate goal. 

Follow Mayson Garner at facebook.com/mayson.garner.

 

 

 

 

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