Black Stone Cherry
Seven years ago, a 15-year-old Ben Wells had one goal in mind: to play music for a living. Now, with two albums to his credit as guitarist/vocalist for Black Stone Cherry, Wells’ dream has become reality. “We’re still trying to find ways to climb that ladder, and what keeps us together is that we haven’t lost the fire yet,” he says.
“We” includes vocalist/guitarist Chris Robertson, bassist/vocalist John Lawhon and drummer/vocalist John Fred Young, who are touring their second and latest release, Folklore and Superstition. Now past legal age, their shows are a far cry from the days when the teenaged band would play for free just to land bar gigs. “Several times we had to hide in broom closets when the police would come in,” Wells recalls. “We played any place we could, from concert venues to our favorite Mexican restaurant. We did whatever we had to do to be able to play.”
Ink 19 spoke with Ben Wells as he looked back, looked ahead, and looked out of the window of a tour bus.
How big a part did your producer, Bob Marlette, play in the making of Folklore and Superstition, and what made him the right producer for Black Stone Cherry?
He was like an extra set of ears and an extra band member. It was important to us that someone come in and not mess up our sound or jeopardize our careers. Bob liked the fact that we’re from Kentucky and the vibe we have. We picked him because he understood us as people and as musicians. He brought a lot out of us that we never knew we had.
Do you believe that this band goes against the grain of what’s popular in today’s music, and if so, is there a risk in taking that road?
Sometimes, yes, I think we do. But we’re not going to mold ourselves to go with any trends, because trends come and go, but the things that are true stay around forever. We’re not dependent upon radio and television for our success, the way a lot of other bands are. We do what we do and we’ll keep it that way until the day we die. We’re risk takers. We stand on our own legs and say, “This is who we are.”
What do you think makes it possible to take those risks and still build a loyal fan base? Has the internet played a part in getting your name out?
MySpace and Facebook have helped get our music out all over the world. The internet has definitely helped us prevail through word of mouth. But our live show is fun, it’s energetic, and we give people their money’s worth. We meet and greet every night, no matter the venue size, and fans appreciate that. They pay money to see you play, but they don’t expect you to hang out. I think a lot of that has contributed to why they keep coming back and supporting us.
Is there a rule that the band lives by when it comes to recording and performing? Are you in any way limited in the scope of those risks?
Absolutely not. We’ll try anything. The beauty of this band is that we can do whatever we want to. When we play the songs live, we keep them the way people are used to hearing them, but we extend some parts. We stick with a blueprint, but we step outside the lines once in a while.
As a guitarist, are you dedicated to one particular instrument or do you experiment?
We use Peavey amps and different guitars. Gibson, Gretsch, Fender — if it sounds right, it will be used. I hear plenty of players say, “I can’t play that [line of guitars].” That’s insane! It takes away the freedom of music. You’re cutting your own throat.
Do you feel that you are always rediscovering your instrument?
Constantly, and I hope I never stop feeling that way. It’s constantly moving for all of us. You can never say that you’ve learned all there is to learn about your instrument. You’re cutting yourself short if that’s the way you think. I’m listening to stuff that’s a new world of playing to me so that I can better my skills, because there’s always room to grow. Right now I’m listening to Chet Atkins. I love it. His music is very hard; I have my work cut out for me!
In retrospect, what has changed since the band first got together?
Not much, really, other than we’re older and have longer hair. From then to now, the band has grown in great ways, as we thought we would, but we’re constantly fighting the grind. We’re looking forward to doing this when we’re 40 and looking back at who we were at 23.
Black Stone Cherry: www.blackstonecherry.com