Several years ago, fresh out of short relationship and fondling the idea of another, I was in Knoxville, Tennessee watching Lucero at The Valarium. It was a week where I would see seven concerts in seven nights and already, on day two, I was tired, but one of my favorites were playing and my brain had the rally cry pushing my body to move. Snuggled just towards the back, I found myself slow dancing with a beautiful young woman who had quite turned my fancy. As the evening progressed and with the boldness brought on by a few cocktails, I kissed her. Nights Like These reverberated through our bodies and forever aligned that song with that moment. Sometimes love feels like it comes in an instant. You hold your breath and hope to keep up. Years passed and time and distance and… hell, the whole thing fell apart, leaving a ragged discarded version of us scattered on the roadside and with it, a permanent reminder that, “Nights like these, the sad songs don’t help.”
My love affair with Lucero never waned however. Long trips back and forth across Tennessee were filled with their catalogue. In the not so distant past, they returned again to Knoxville to play The Bijou Theater. As the crowd pushed up against the stage, singing every word with all the emotion a body can muster, I watched the band come into their own. Sure the old parts that hooked me were still there, but something has changed. Horns and a vibrant new intensity showcase the amazing talent of this nationally touring favorite. Recently, bassist John Stubblefield took some time to tell us all about the new sound, the long and winding road, and his love of Tennessee.
The road started early for John. Music infected him at a young age and never quite let go. “I was always intrigued by it. My uncle was a drummer and my other uncle was a trumpet player and guitar player. 5th grade, the Memphis schools have a strings program, so I started playing upright bass because it was free. I started playing that so I could get out of class early on Tuesdays and Thursdays and (laughing) I never looked back. (Speaking to the formation of Lucero) I had known Brian (Venable) for years, going to matinee punk rock shows at this place called The Antenna. I was 12 and he was 15 or 16 at that point. That’s where we met our drummer Roy. I would see Brian and Roy at all different kinds of shows. Then Ben (Nichols) moved to town. Brian was the visionary of sorts, the one who got us all together. It worked out. All the different styles and genres were fans of comes out when we get together.”
Women and Work is a departure, a growth, from the bar room rock that has become a staple for the boys. With the addition of horns, they have reached new levels in versatility. The exciting expansion on their sound, takes the live show to the next level. “To a certain degree, every album is a chance to reinvent. On this one, more so than ever, is a renewed sense of regionalism. Were from Memphis, with Staxx and Sun Records, to Elvis Presely and Otis Redding. There are so many different influences here. Growing up, you rebel against everything. Everything your parents like and everything that gets shoved down your throat, which is essentially that whole music thing. As you get older, you start to appreciate it, to rediscover things. I think, for us, it was a coming of age and regional pride and literally rediscovering some of the music that is right around us and paying homage to that.
Memphis, nestled in the west corner of the state, is home to the blues and one of the birth places of rock and roll. Close to the dirty guitar sounds of northern Mississippi and just down the road from Nashville, the home of country music, the city allows for a flavor filled blend of styles. Somewhere in this conglomeration, Lucero is a muddied mixture of it all. “There is a Memphis country soul thing that happens. Back from the early days of Sam Phillips and Elvis and Jerry Lee and Roy Orbison and the way Staxx operated too, is an attitude about it of us against the world. Kind of not getting pigeon holed or told what to do. Not to tell you it’s a crazy, revolutionary thing that’s not definable, but it is cool to be called out by some of the older musicians and get some props from some of those cats.”
Lucero tours constantly, often 150-200 dates a year. Their love affair with the open road is a thing of notoriety. When the United States becomes too small, the jump into the international market place, where they are rocking now. London is waiting with open arms and the guys are ready to rock. “It’s been pretty amazing. In the states, the power of our record and going out and people knowing the lyrics and singing along, and that moment in time, at the end of the show when your get on a plane and ride for 12 hours is pretty awesome. I think we’ve played Knoxville at this point consistently a couple times a year for ten or twelve years. When you go over there, it’s like going over there for the first time. It’s re-energizing and reinvigorating to get out and play uncharted territories. Over here, were like, wow that building is 120 years old and over there they’re like, this building is 820 years old. (Speaking to life on the road) I love it. The road is my home. I was on the road before Lucero that toured quite a bit. I’ve been on the road since I was 18, literally half my life. At this point, I wouldn’t know what to do without it. That whole communal act of playing the live show, the interaction with the crowd and the moment in time is something that can’t be replaced. We make records, which is awesome. I love getting in the studio, but you can’t ever really capture the live show. I’ve always thought about it. People are like, why can’t albums be like your live show? It’s because there is no audience, just microphones. There is something to be said about the spontaneity and interaction with the audience. Our band really brings something that is pretty amazing. It’s a blessing to be a part of it.”
2012 is drawing close to an end. The end of the world is predicted and if that’s right, then time is short. If the Myans were wrong, then head up to Brooklyn and catch Lucero with The Hold Steady over the Christmas holidays. “We’ve been friends with them for a while. My cousin, Steve Selvidge, used to play in a band, Big Ass Truck, back in the day. He since joined the band (The Hold Steady), so there is even a little bit more of a Memphis connection. It’s just been something we’ve always talked about doing, even before he was in the band. So were definitely stocked and looking forward to that.”
The memories that define us that takes us back, the ones in our heads when a smile unexpectedly crosses our lips and holds. A lifetime full of these fills John’s head. “Having Jim Dickenson ask us to put his name in the hat to record Nobody’s Darling, was a pretty big moment for us. The fact that he reached out to us and said he wanted to work with us was pretty awesome. Getting to work with him and the whole process with that album was a very special time in my mind that I still look back very fondly on.”