Etheridge will be doing a three night run with Leon Russell, which begins in Knoxville at The Bijou Theatre on November 17, 2014, and continues for two nights in Nashville at The City Winery. This will mark the second time these two have gotten together on tour.
“This is actually my second time being on the road with Leon, I’m happy to say. Last spring, Leon had a new record come out right about the time my new record, ‘The Straight and Narrow Way,’ came out.” Etheridge said. “His management folks and the people at Rock Ridge music, the label I’m on, knew each other and started talking, and we did twelve dates.
“We started in Ithaca, NY and ended up in Lacrosse, WI. We had a great time being on the road with him and when they asked us to do these three dates, we jumped at the chance to go back out with him. We feel like we’re going to have a bit of a reunion with the guys in the band,” he said.
“Even As We Fall” is one of the highlights of the album. The driving force of the horns and funky, swinging, dance feel will land you right in the middle of a street parade on a warm afternoon.
“That’s a New Orleans rhythm section and that’s a New Orleans horn section, so you’ve got good ears. You actually hit on what the key was for us,” Etheridge said. “I was working with my producer Wendell Tilley and co-producer Shane Theriot. When we were looking at the final set of songs that we had, we really started thinking about who would be the best rhythm sections for the way we heard the songs working out.
“We actually did some of the songs there in Tennessee, in Nashville. The stuff we felt that was more Memphis groove oriented, we tracked there in Nashville with Greg Morro, Michael Rhodes, you know, great Nashville rhythm section. We’re all from Louisiana originally. I’m from Baton Rouge, Wendell is from Baton Rouge, and Shane is from New Orleans. My two biggest records were predominantly done in New Orleans,” he said.
“We knew there were songs just like ‘Even As We Fall’ that we wanted to do in New Orleans, because we wanted that groove. There were a couple of the songs, like ‘She’s Only in New York’ and ‘Maze’ that we wanted something different on in particular,” Etheridge said. “We wanted, if we could get him, the legendary drummer, Jim Keltner (John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and The Traveling Wilburys to name a few.)
‘He has a very clean way he approaches songs. We made a list of party songs to take to him, knowing we’d probably only get him for one day. So we went to Los Angeles first, specifically to capture those songs with Keltner,” Etheridge said. “He just did an amazing job with everything we wanted. Then we came back to Nashville and New Orleans to finish it off. We built it around the rhythm sections is the short answer.”
Musicians always remember their first instrument, the thing that first got their feet wet. “It’s a heart breaking story. My Dad had a friend who worked for Fender. Before I could really play guitar I was a drummer. In 1974, he gave me a sunburst Fender Telecaster custom,” Etheridge said. “Back then it would cost you a couple hundred bucks. I couldn’t really play. I was in bands at that point, so some of the guitarists would show me things.
“Later on when I went through a Jimmy Buffett phase, I said I need an acoustic guitar. It was the worst financial decision of my life. I traded it for some no name acoustic that I don’t have anymore. Check out what the 1974 Fender customs are worth on the web now, $2,500-4,000, and what beautiful guitars they were. I probably owned it for five years before I made that fatefully bad decision. I couldn’t take an electric guitar to the beach and sing to the girls at Myrtle Beach. It seemed like a good move at seventeen,” he said.
“Many talented singer/songwriter/guitarists started on the drums, before switching to guitar and the front man position. When I was a little kid I loved what I heard of The Beatles and I loved that band, The Monkeys, a corny TV show, but they had some pretty cool songs. I wanted to be a drummer.
“ I don’t know what it was about Ringo that attracted me specifically to the drums. I got my first drum set and started taking lessons when I was nine or ten. I still play a lot. It’s not my first line of defense, but I play pretty regularly,” he said.
“I think you learn something rhythmically that can carry into anything. I do remember when I was learning to play guitar and my friends would struggle with strumming patterns, but I thought why is that hard? I think a lot of it would be the background you have rhythmically.”
When asked about his first time playing live, Etheridge said “I think it was playing ‘Little Drummer Boy’ at a Christmas pageant in Colombia, South Carolina.”
“The Straight and Narrow Way” was released March 18, 2014. It is full of falls from and rises to redemption, yet throughout it remains positive. “I think the positivity comes from a genuine place. I do feel fortunate in my life. I feel really fortunate to be making records. I feel fortunate to have two, almost grown, children,” Etheridge said. “We’ve all had our ups and downs, and I’ve definitely had my share. In my own personal life, I am at a place where I am grateful and feel fortunate. That specific song, I don’t write a lot of truly autobiographical stuff, but both my girlfriend and I have been through divorce and have been together seven years. That phrase, that we feel like we have a second chance, is something we both take seriously. I just do my best to not mess up.”
Getting to be on the road is always full of adventure. Strange and wonderful new things are always presenting themselves. “Musically, the first thing that comes to mind is if you do a YouTube search on Cayamo Cruise 2013, ‘The Weight.’ It’s a seven day Americana festival at sea on a Great Norwegian cruise line boat. On the last night they did a tribute to Levon Helm who had passed away,” he said. “In that tribute, I got to do ‘Ophelia,’ which was a rush to be a part of that, but then we closed that night with ‘The Weight.’ If you watch, there is everybody who participated that night, including Shawn Colvin, Richard Thompson, Joan Osborne, Sean and Sarah Watkins of Nickel Creek, all of who are some of my musical favorites. And there I am sharing the microphone, singing the choruses with them, and Sarah ended up on my record. I still look at that and think I can’t believe I was a part of that. And Levon was a drummer too, so there you go.”