The Goose Creek Symphony
Mitchell Plaza, Rome, GA • October 6, 2000
“I think I’ll grow my hair long, I think I’ll grow a beard/I think I’ll go out an’ smoke some pot and start actin’ kinda weird/’Cause I’ve always been a leader, and I ain’t never been no back-seater/I’d do anything but cut off my peter/Just to be a rock n’ roll star.” from “#1 Gravy Band.”
These guys have been plugging away at the craft that they love for more than 30 years. They can’t be in it for the money. Despite the fact that this band has drawn — and continues to draw — some of the finest musical talent from all over the country, their touring has been limited to small clubs in a very limited circuit that covers a handful of states in the Southeast, with their focus being Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Basically, they play for “their people” — the hillbillies. It seems they play when they want to and where they want to.
The Goose Creek Symphony headlined one of the first real concerts that I ever attended, back in the early ’70s. At the time, I was totally unaware of the fact that I was seeing a group who had been on the bill with Jimi Hendrix at the Atlanta Pop Festival a couple of years prior. I also did not know that “Papa Goose,” Charlie Gearheart, had already been working in the music business for over ten years before forming Goose Creek, and had been successful enough in pop music to land himself a spot on the Dick Clark show long before Dylan and others inspired him to form the Goose Creek Symphony in the late ’60s. What I did know immediately about the Goose, and leader Charlie Gearheart, was that I was in the presence of some sort of humble greatness. A greatness that was still in evidence on this perfect fall night in Rome, Georgia.
Not much had changed since I saw them last. The Geese have added a half-dozen or so new songs to their set list, there have been a few personnel changes here and there, and they were without the horn section that sometimes still appears, but they were still all powerful, and as a bonus, they did have an Atmospheric Technician in tow, whose obvious duties — in addition to keeping the musicians provided with water and checking out the babes — seems to include keeping the incense burning. This was a nice little touch that added an additional little communal element to the whole proceedings.
Decades of playing VFWs and other smaller halls have in no way embittered this group. It has only served to hone their performance to a razor-sharpness. Goose Creek haven’t changed their demeanor, and they certainly haven’t lost any of their spirit. If anything, they are better than ever. Despite their appearance and the laid-back attitude that they project, these guys are the consummate professionals. Their mission here was to inspire and entertain. On this night, they surely did. They also likely shook some of the mortar out of the 100-year-old brick walls of downtown Rome, Georgia.
Charlie Gearheart brought tears to the eyes of the most-loyal Gooseheads when he said, “I want to dedicate this next song to Mama Goose,” and then said, “No, I wanna dedicate the ENTIRE SHOW to Mama Goose.” He then broke into “Going Home,” one of the more recent offerings from the Goose songbook. “Mama Goose” was not Mrs. Charlie Gearheart, as I originally imagined, but was, in actuality, some kind spirit named Kathy, a 40-something-year-old Goosehead who had tragically passed a few months prior to this show. Dedications usually draw a response, but this one took the show from an event to a revival.
The dedication gave a near-spiritual quality to the show, but it didn’t put a damper on it. From the first opening notes, the loyal Gooseheads were on their feet and dancing throughout the entire show, stopping only long enough for a round of hugging right after the dedication — then it was right back to mostly full-on flat-footing the rest of the night. One guy was doing the pogo the entire time they played — which was for well over two hours.
As far as I’m concerned, this group has proven themselves to be THE definitive Hillbilly Rock n’ Roll Band. This group is the closest that you’ll ever get to seeing the likes of the Band since their Last Waltz. No knocks to Southern Culture on the Skids or any of the others out there rockin’ their arses off, but no band that I know of captures the true hillbilly spirit better than the Goose. The Goose doesn’t need to rely on the tired, old white-trash stereotypes and imagery that many so-called hillbilly bands employ just so that they can appeal to the masses. The Geese are comfortable enough in their hillbilly skin and confident enough in their Appalachian-American identity to be themselves, to open their hearts in song, and to offer up the real pictures of what a hillbilly holds dear. Granted, just like a Goose, some of it may fly right over an outsider’s head, but most of it won’t.
Goose songs are beautiful in their lyrical simplicity and often downright striking in their musical sophistication. Drawing heavily from mountain folk standards, the songs of Charlie Gearheart (the primary songwriter and lead-singer) and Paul “The Pearl” Spradlin celebrate the simplest pleasures of life. Charlie, Paul, and the rest of the guys infuse these sometimes hymn-like songs, with layer upon layer of influences that range from pre-Bill Monroe to Miles Davis to the Beatles and, sometimes, even a stoked-up Bob Marley. Occasionally, you’ll find it all in one of their songs.
If you ever get a chance to see this band, do. You won’t be disappointed. If you live outside their touring range, I’d recommend getting their Goose Is Loose live album. It’s the next best thing to being there. It, as well as most all of their back catalog, is readily available from their Web site at http://www.goosecreeksymphony.com.