When you see J. Roddy Walston attack his piano at live shows with his band The Business, you have to wonder what intense childhood experiences or wild and crazy influences fostered this nearly insane yet fabulously wonderful performance style. Or maybe it was just grandma.
“My grandmother had a [piano] at her house,” Walston said. “She was this really great gospel-slash-country piano player so she would teach us to play. I sat for hours with her trying to learn to play old gospel tunes like ‘Will The Circle Go Unbroken’ and stuff like that. She was on the gospel circuit in the South for a long time. I remember my grandfather loading up the old Town Car with her and her sisters and traveling to churches to play.”
So credit his granny for instilling a love for an instrument that became an important cog in the success of Walston and his band, who just released their third record “Essential Tremors.” The album’s title alludes to a nervous-system disorder that makes Walston’s hands shake periodically. As far as shaking on the piano, or his guitar for that matter, I mean, just watching Walston attack songs as his churning bandmates throw down a powerful Southern-based dirty rock groove makes you feel that good ol’ kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll remains alive and well. Think Followill-esque vocals with a harder edge to the band than KOL.
So as far as the ivories, who are Walston’s piano heroes? Well, the “Killer” is in there of course, but so is another piano pioneer.
“I love Jerry Lee, but I think song-wise my favorite piano guy is Fats Domino ‘cuz I think he kinda slays it as far as arrangements and just his vibe,” Walston said from the road. “Performance-wise he and Jerry are it. They’re performing for people, but they’re both lost inside some weird spirit-slash-animal place or something. I don’t know what it is that happens to those guys or that it’s anything like what happens to me or us onstage. You kinda feel that people are there but you’re kinda more working out somethin’ on your own, ya know?”
And for a band like Walston’s Business, 11 years of relentless touring is part and parcel of their hard-fought success. It’s where the rubber meets the road, literally and figuratively.
“Touring has basically been what our band is. If we stop touring, people stop talking about us. And when you’re a band that’s trying to get over the hump, you can’t have people stop talking about you,” Walston said. “We did five years of almost non-stop touring, and by the end of that we were definitely ready to be off the road. But then we were off the road for about a year writing this new record, and by the end of that, everybody was confused. We were like, ‘What are we? Are we still a band?’ Touring is sort of in our DNA so it was confusing for a lot of us. It was strange for us not to sit in each other’s stink for eight hours a day.”
Walston’s Tennessee roots naturally throw him and his band into a Southern music category of sorts, but that certainly doesn’t limit them to sounding like Southern rockers.
“This (new) record overall may be a little less ‘Southern-y’, but to me, rock ‘n’ roll is from the South,” Walston said. “People say Southern Rock and mainly think of the Allman Brothers, but James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Stax, Big Star — all of them are ‘the South,’ they’re no less Southern as far as I’m concerned.”
The reckless abandon that Walston exhibits in his live shows makes every performance special. Overall you feel like you’re seeing a band on the brink of breaking out in a huge way, a band that has paid its dues and deserves the rewards that come from a tried-and-true rock ‘n’ roll tradition: working their collective asses off.
“We had a very long time to figure out what it is that we do and to continue to keep it fresh,” Walston said. “We don’t even travel with a sound guy or anything like that, so every night is different. At this point, I’ve never had a moment when we’re walking on stage and I’m like, ‘I hope we can figure out what to do.’ I always feel that we are ready.”
[This article was originally posted on Steve Houk’s blog, Midlife Rocker]