By Johnny Griffith
Music is a funny thing. It’s really all up to interpretation as to how it affects the listener, no matter what the original composer intended. That’s why music performed live and in person is so important to conveying a certain feeling with that music as it gives a chance for people to experience the performance rather than just listen to it, and there might not be a better example of a musician in this area bringing people into the experience of music than Wesley Pruitt Jr.
A lifelong music fan, Pruitt has been immersed in the blues since he was a teenager, but his outlook on life is anything but blue. He believes he had the destiny to play music and share his joy of performing with those around him and he has been sharing that joy on stages for a couple of decades now. A talented vocalist and accomplished guitarist, Pruitt takes the stage with his band and delights audiences with his interpretation of blues classics. I sat down with him earlier this month to learn more about the bluesman:
Johnny: Let’s start with a little history lesson. Are you from East Texas originally?
Wesley: I grew up right here in Canton. I moved away for a brief time but currently reside in Canton. I graduated from Canton High School in 2001 and later received my associates degree from TJC. Earning my associates was a personal goal I set before completing high school and it was a “must do” before I pursued music full time. I’ve worked some jobs while playing gigs but I’ve been a full time musician since about 2007.
Johnny: So when did you first start taking an interest in music?
Wesley: I honestly don’t think I took an interest as much as it took an interest in me from the time I was a baby. Long before my dad, Wesley Sr., passed I remember he and mom telling me stories of how proud he was that he finally had a son. He would ride around the community with me as a baby listening to music, and I really remember the music. I remember the guitar bends of BB King, the driving bass lines of Waylon Jennings, and the smooth phenomenal vocals of Bobby Blue Bland. Still to this day, Mom is shocked how I can remember describing what I heard. Since then I’ve been chasing what’s been in me the whole time.
Johnny: Was there anyone in particular that helped push you in those early years and kept you focused on music when it would have been easier to have gone another direction?
Wesley: In my early years there wasn’t really anyone that helped me. However, as a young boy I was heavily drawn to the electric guitar and I loved when they had gospel quartets at church. My sister took piano lessons, so in grade school I broke the house rules then of not being allowed to play the piano without supervision. Back then I was trying to play by ear and didn’t really know what I was doing. I just heard what I liked and it had to be figured out. While growing up James Temple would play songs for me when mom took me to the music store. He knew I was destined to play and was very patient in helping me understand the things I ran from in my early days of trying to learn guitar. Rob Toups is the single most important person that lit the fire under my behind with music. He taught so much more than learning how to play. He provided all of the band students with every tool it took to be successful in high school and beyond! Oh did I mention I was a sousaphone player in the Canton High School Mighty Eagle Band. My first choice was to play the sax but we couldn’t afford the instrument.
Johnny: Who were some of your early musical influences?
Wesley: My early musical influences range from B.B. King; a gentleman by the name Stanley McGee who was at the time the lead musician – he was a guitarist of Evangelist Temple C.O.G.I.C; and all blues guitar players that I heard while growing up. I received my first electric guitar at age 7 and I have to admit the enjoyment and work ethic at learning didn’t last long at that point, but at age 15, I was introduced to Stevie Ray Vaughan. He blew me away and I’ve never looked back since then.
Johnny: At what point did you first get the feeling you could take this beyond just a hobby and do something else with it?
Wesley: At age 15, I was learning at a very speedy pace and by age 17, I was one of two guitar players in the high school Jazz Band. I absolutely got crushed day after day by my band director Mr. Toups and it was the best thing that really could’ve happened at the time. I was learning everything backwards. All I cared for and knew was that I wanted to shred and play like Stevie Ray Vaughan. Well, obviously there is so much more in being a musician and mastering the guitar. I’ll never stop learning ya know! The jazz band played at one of our pep rallies and the school literally exploded with cheer when I first sang and played “Tightrope” with the jazz band. It was so loud, none of us could hear the vocals or music like we needed to. After that, I knew there was really something there and I started to see a path to push forward.
Johnny: When and where was your first public performance and what do you remember from it?
Wesley: I have had so many performances, but I think at my first performance I wasn’t even a guitar player at the time. I had put together a band to perform at church. It went well but I wanted so much more.
Johnny: What is the current line up of the Wesley Pruitt Band?
Wesley: The core line up of The Wesley Pruitt Band is Chase Murdock on drums, Calvin Sheffield on bass, and myself on guitar and vocals. I hire out guest players as our fourth piece. We’ve been very honored to have players such as Junior Knight, Chris Keathley, Andrew Frye, Danny Phillips Jr., and so many more.
Johnny: You’ve played a lot of stages around the region and state, do any stand out amongst the rest?
Wesley: For the longest, the Main Silverado Stage of the Great State Fair of Texas has always been one of our favs. It truly is one of the best of what we call “the big” stages.” Performing at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Georgia ranks really high, but one of the best shows, and best times, we’ve had on stage is when we performed on the outside stage at Omas Secret Garden. It’s in Gruene, just outside of New Braunfels. We played 3 hours straight our first time there with no break. We tried to end the show and got two standing ovations in a row with encores. That’s a feeling, and a stage, I’ll never forget!
Johnny: East Texas isn’t necessarily synonymous with the blues like other parts of the country are, yet there have been notable blues artists to come out of this area and find success. Do you feel it has been more of a challenge to “convert” local fans to the gospel of the blues or do you feel there is a firm foundation in the genre here for newer generations of blues artists?
Wesley: I think the foundation of the blues is as firm as ever, but I only feel that way because everything has the blues in it. I get such a kick out of seeing younger musicians than myself be taken by the blues. It feels so good ya know. With that being said and thankfully getting to pick up knowledge from reading things by my idol, Buddy Guy, I no longer try to “convert” people with the blues. I used to be ashamed early on to perform it amongst certain “cool” people, but from hearing from the added list of influences that I have now, it’s all about just saying something, man, from deep within. The end result is digging out, loving one another, and spreading the love through music.
Johnny: What have been some of the biggest challenges in your musical career thus far?
Wesley: The biggest challenge has been to balance music career full time and be a father with school for my son and all the responsibility that comes with that. Sometimes I have to miss him for a day or two during the week because of out of state shows. I also know at times I will be more demanded and will miss even more. I try to make sure I spend as much time with him as I can at this point. He’s definitely my heartbeat! I thank God every day for the awesome support system I have through my mom, aunt, and best friends that are always there for him as well. It really does take a village.
Johnny: How many albums have you released to this point? Are there any plans for one in the near future?
Wesley: I’ve released a total of three albums: two EPs and one full album, “Line ’Em Up.” There are definitely huge plans for several more in the future. It’s not officially launched but I’m currently in the middle of kicking off a campaign to raise funds for a new album, two music videos, radio promoting, artwork, album designs, radio tours etc. Our number one goal in the beginning was to get businesses and individuals to sign on for 10 private shows for “X” amount of dollars. There have been a few to already commit to that. All of the funds, except for what we have to pay out for sound, will go straight to our album campaign. It’s very hard and we learned so much from having such a great album with “Line ‘Em Up” but now we are not able to put all the resources behind it. I’m not saying we have it all figured out, but a lot has been learned since our first chart single fizzled out at number 39.
Johnny: When you take the stage each night, what is one thing you hope you can convey to the fans before they leave to go home?
Wesley: Before every show I can almost see it from beginning to middle to the end of how I hope it goes! It’s not always that way but the path of life I’m on, which comes with my faith in Christ, is to speak good things into existence. I want people to leave our show much happier than they came and I want them to have a sense of peace in their hearts. I don’t think the world can have too much of that.
Johnny: What do you have coming up on the radar that excites you for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
Wesley: We have shows all the way through next year and our calendar can be seen at wesleypruittbandmusic.com. Anytime we are at Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler, Texas it’s a blast. I know we are doing some Arkansas runs and very excited to be performing a festival in Missouri, I think in mid October. I’m very excited to perform at Moore’s Store for New Year’s Eve again this year and raise funds for The Van Zandt County Children’s Advocacy Center as well. Some of the proceeds from us and other ways will go towards the Advocacy. Keep watch on our website for more information as we head into 2020 with a bang.
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.
A Blue State Of Mind: The Bluez Boyz
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!”
Guitar For Hire: Mayson Garner
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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