Back in the 70s and 80s when The Pittsburgh Steelers were winning Super Bowl after Super Bowl, Steeler’s QB Terry Bradshaw tried his hand at singing country music. His piano player was a young Ron Fairchild of the Oak Ridge Boys’ band. Out on tour one day they all decided to toss around a football. Ron says, “Terry, I’ll run a deep pattern, hit me with a pass just like you hit Swan (Steelers receiverLynn Swan).”
Terry replied, “No, you don’t want me to do that,” as Ron continued to insist he was ready. Finally, Bradshaw relented. Ron went very, very deep asnd Terry let it fly hitting Ron directly in the chest, knocking him down flat to the ground and hurting. The other band members thought it was hilarious. You can about hear Ron thinking as he pulled himself up off the ground, “Ok, so let’s forget this ridiculous football stuff and get back to music…”
The Crows Run Band Story, The Early Days: John Roebuck, Bill Watson, Nudist Colonies and Rock & RollPosted: May 10, 2014
Crows’ Run Band, began performing with four pieces in the Pittsburgh, PA area during the 1970’s. The group typically played five to seven nights each week, but after only 15 months into Bill Watson’s first stint as lead guitarist with the group, and with plenty of work on the schedule, they disbanded for a period due to personal reasons.
A few years later guitarist/singer, John Roebuck, reformed CRB in a three piece drums, guitar and bass guitar configuration that eventually saw Bill Watson return playing bass rather than lead guitar. Watson, who now produces music and plays on sessions for his Nashville, Tennessee based music recording business, Nashville Trax, soon began alternating between guitar and bass with lead singer/guitarist John Roebuck. Watson, predominately on bass, would sing 3 or 4 songs per set, switching briefly from bass to play guitar while singing.
CRB achieved a degree of local notoriety during the 1980’s with Paul Dennis in the drum chair. They won a local band contest in spite of competing against bands as large as six pieces. They also released a cassette album mix of originals and cover songs, one of Watson’s first producing efforts. After five years with that configuration, Watson left the group, forming The Billy Elroy Band with Watson on lead vocals and guitar, Don Plum on bass guitar and vocals and “Stitz” (Forrest Stolz) on drums. The Billy Elroy Band went on to moderate success, working steadily for four years, developing a sound that featured intricate vocal harmony, but it was without Plum, who dropped out early, replaced by Butch Curry on bass and harmony vocals. Plum wouldn’t work with Watson again until the band Sidewinder was formed by Watson and drummer, Jimi Miller, in the early 90’s.
In 1991 Bill Watson returned to The Crows’ Run band for the third and final time with Watson on bass guitar and the talented Mike Thellman playing drums, creating a thunderous rhythm section to complement John Roebuck’s powerful vocals and unique guitar playing. But after only a little over a year into the third go-round of performing in small bars, clubs and the local nudist colony, Watson, desiring to focus on propelling CRB to a level beyond the small bar scene, but meeting resistance, became unhappy.
Eventually Watson and Roebuck parted ways, opening the space for Watson and drummer Jimi Miller to form the highly successful and exciting five piece concert band, Sidewinder, with Julie Peterson on bass/vocals, radio celebrity Jimi Miller on drums, Watson’s girlfriend (later his wife) Rhonda Watson, a recording artist in her own right, who would later tour overseas, on keyboards and lead vocals.
Sidewinder was high energy, modern country, served up concert style, just as country rock was replacing traditional country music on radio stations.
Don Plum initially joined Sidewinder on acoustic guitar, but later took Peterson’s spot on bass.
Watson and Plum both continued with Sidewinder, riding the wave of success through various configurations, one with Watson’s cousin David Watson. on drums, until Bill Watson moved permanently to Nashville in 2004 to pursue music producing.
Basket Case at 3rd & Lindsley, Left to Rt: Steve King (keyboard); Holly Steele (background vocals); Rodney Ingle (background vocals); Tom Wild (guitar); Kristen McNamara (lead vocals); Bill Watson (bass guitar/bandleader); Tigar Bell (fiddle) ; John Heinrick, (sax). Background: David Northrup, (drums).
I received the first e-mail from songwriter Jon Smith back in my short hair days, 2005 I believe, saying he was disappointed with the work he’d received on his songs at several other Nashville studios and asking that 5 songs be produced for him at a budget far higher than any I’d experienced up to that point. The previous attempts to record his songs were interesting and the musicians competent, Jon said, but the music was flat, bland. There was no magic that he was sure was there.
We found it.
That initial e-mail led to multiple sessions totaling over 80 songs, a friendship, lots of rehearsals at S.I.R, and Soundcheck Nashville, a CD release, two videos and this live band that played Jon Smith tunes at venues in the greater Nashville area. What great fun it was!
Over the years of producing those sessions I used a lot of different top Nashville session players, excellent musicians all, but when Jon asked that a band be assembled so he could hear his songs performed live, I chose the ones I considered not just great musicians and singers, but also friends.
And my friends came through big time, the band sounded fantastic!
We initially resisted Jon’s suggestion that the male members wear white coats, but it turned out to be simply one more stroke of Jon genius. We only did a few gigs but quickly became known as “the white coat band” and it was memorable enough people still mention it occasionally, always referencing the white coats.
Here’s a swingin’ little tune that always made the setlist:
My Tears Are Puttin’ Out Your Fire is © 2007 Jon Smith. Co-writers: Jon Smith/Bill Watson, produced by Bill Watson. Used by permission.
That’s the studio version of MTAPOYF I produced in ’07 using mostly the same band pictured above.
Jon’s work was where I learned how to use horns effectively as opposed to creating a train wreck. Arranging, doubling, combining different horns together, stabs, swells, stacked horn tracks… if you have a tune you need sax, trumpet, clarinet or trombone on, or any combination of them, you’re at the right place! Send out an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for a quote!
I have the vids around of the band yet too and when I get around to it, will post some footage- b.e.
Wow! A truly fantastic day today tracking the first songs for the Kerry McFate CD at Nashville Trax. Two days of rain welcoming him to Nashville couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm that only increased as the recording progressed. Kerry ended that evening with, “Bill, this is way beyond anything I could have possibly imagined, just incredible, I’m so excited!”
Drummer David Northrup laid down fabulous tracks, including a couple of country shuffle beats, for Tom Wild, Wanda Vick, Mike Douchette and other session players to build on. As always, the Nashville Trax studio drum kit sounds were killer.
Kerry played his new Taylor acoustic purchased just for the session. It was routed through the Avantone CK-7 large diaphragm microphone plugged into the Avalon compressor/preamp, a combination I’ve come to rely on for acoustic instruments and it produced the rich, full bodied sound with excellent articulation it always does. We’re getting a reputation for delivering excellent acoustic guitar, fiddle, dobro and mandolin sounds.
Part of the fun for clients coming in to town is hanging out with the session players between takes. Kerry was treated to stories from David about his recent gigs with Wynonna and other artists, a story from Mike Douchette about how, back in the day, a master tape with hundreds of thousands of dollars of work on it, the only copy, was accidentally erased by some drunk guys clowning around who decided it would be a good idea to record their antics and grabbed the wrong tape to record over. Just lots of priceless stuff I’m sure Kerry will delight in sharing with everyone back home.
Tom Wild played two of the tunes on the same rig he used to played The Opry this past weekend, a maple Telecaster direct through his pedal board that could have easily passed for a Fender Twin Reverb amp.
Early vocal tracking on Kerry’s project, then mix tomorrow, I can’t wait to get at these fabulous tracks!- b.e.
One of the best moments at the studio I can recall was the time I had acclaimed session musician Wanda Vick in to play on a client alternative music project.
Some background: Wanda is a bit unusual because most musicians can play one instrument at session quality, two or three max. Wanda plays seven. There are a few pro female session players around town, but far more males, adding further distance from the norm.
Wanda’s reputation preceded her and at some point I simply had to try this “female musician who plays seven instruments at session quality.” When I finally did she easily lived up to her rep and I’ve hired her many times since. A producer sometimes has to give note-by-note direction. With Wanda that’s at a minimum. I learned fast it’s usually best to stay out of the way and let her do her thing.
So I knew what to expect but my clients that day, songwriters Ed and Jennifer had no clue. They’re early twenty somethings writing alt rock and Wanda’s from a different generation, warming up in the adjacent room on bluegrass licks. How does this work?
So just as Wanda finishes tuning up and starts adding tracks on their tune, in walk two horn players who were scheduled to play on a different song later that day. The door to the control room was open because Wanda’s in the attached iso booth.
We start tracking and she;s doing her thing, padding exactly where it’s called for adding some tasteful licks between the phrases in the verses wherever I’ve marked the chart for fiddle.
Then she reaches the solo, and man, no doubt, it was just amazing.
We backtrack to the solo where I’m hearing possible harmony. As Wanda played the horn players had apparently felt compelled to move into the control room because there they are, watching Wanda through the iso booth glass. They couldn’t hide their excitement as the second pass on the solo built, increasing in intensity and passion as it progressed. She finished off with an incredible flurry of notes, in harmony to the first part she had laid prior, exactly what the tune needed to take it to a whole new level. The horn players, who really had nothing to do with it, were high fiving each other, totally caught up in the moment, and I noticed one of my clients, I won’t say which, wipe tears of joy from their eyes, the solo was that perfect, the moment so emotional. Me? I was thinking, “Just another Wanda session.” Emotional, spot on playing is what she’s about.
After the mixing was done Ed and Jen thanked me profusely for choosing such fantastic players for their tune.
Especially that Wanda Vick lady.
And if you ever read this Wanda, Producer Bill thanks you too : )