J. Roddy Walston on the Identity of the South

Courtesy of ATO Records
By Roy Kasten

Onstage -- his hair whipping like a battlefield banner, his piano splintering, his gnarled voice bellowing and his band crushing out something like rock, something like the blues -- J. Roddy Walston is surely a force, but not really a force of nature, as he is often deemed. His reckless music and wild delivery is the artful sum of the sounds he's always heard in his head: driving honky-tonk, Sun Records rockabilly, Stax singles and heavy classic rock. And he had to work at those sounds to translate them into music that struts off the stage and burns off a record.

Born and raised 30 miles east of Chattanooga in Cleveland, Tennessee (population 41,000), Walston is a son of the South and a son of a musical family, a songwriter's songwriter even if his lyrics are often no more discernible than the slurry phrasings of "Tumblin' Dice" and no less primal than major influences like Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis or, undeniably, Led Zeppelin. The stories in his songs are nothing if not meant to be felt in the music.

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