On Friday night, two must-see events are taking place in Tuscaloosa in the Bama Theatre’s Acoustic Night with Blaine Duncan, The Bear, and Some Dark Holler followed by a Green Bar performance by Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires. I wanted to write about this, but I feel that my own rambling sort of eliminates a bit of what bonds Lee and Blaine as artists and friends. So I decided to simply ask them about this, as well as Caleb Johnson, a dear writer from the area. Here are some excerpts from those conversations.
1. When did you meet Lee?
You know, I don’t remember the exact date other than to say it was a summer evening at Bottletree. I was there for the Duquette Johnston show and Sweetdog introduced me to Lee. Lee and I often talk about the first time that he and I met because Sweetdog introduced us and said, “Lee plays music, Blaine. Y’all talk.” And that was it. We were left standing in the back of Bottletree by ourselves. And, buddy, did we talk. We talked Dexateens (a lot; this was before Lee joined them). I think we may have even talked about how we always wanted to write that one great song about our grandfathers. Now, I had never met Lee, and I had certainly not seen his band, Arkadelphia. He mentioned that he was wanting to play Tuscaloosa, and I told him that he could play Egan’s with us, no problem! I would’ve let him play with us anywhere — and this is me telling him that before ever seeing his band — because he was just the most genuine person that I had ever met. He was the kind of person who listened to what you had to say.
So, they come down and open for us at Egan’s one rowdy night, and I knew then that this super cool, open, friendly guy named Lee Bains was a pretty damn good singer and picker.
2. Tell me what sort of bonded you and Lee to become friends.
I guess that August show in Egan’s sort of did it. I saw that Lee was fantastic, really brought the house down. It was a time, too, when I was thinking that the Lookers were hot shit and there weren’t but a band or two who could really rip Egan’s like we had. This was all drunken, dumb thinking, but it’s what I believed. Then Lee comes along with a stand-in bass player and just amazes us. Kevin Halbrook said that Lee looked like Greg Dulli. Mikey leaned in to me and said, “He’s good.” We all knew it.
After that, we just talked more and became friends. You’ll have to ask Lee when it was an official friendship. Sometime in there, we may have exchanged numbers? Hell, I don’t know. I know we were communicating online a lot, messaging on myspace. It was quite the love affair.
Yeah, ask Lee. I don’t know how it escalated.
3. Did you hear his music before becoming close friends?
Not one lick. After I met him at Bottletree, I went to his myspace page and listened to the two or three songs there. I liked them quite a lot.
4. What’s your opinion on the new album?
It blows me away. I think he went in there to separate the songs from how they sound live, to let them live a separate life when they’re not on stage. I think the album works and is produced very well because of the approach to all the songs. Just because a line is hollered on stage doesn’t mean it can’t calm down and find its other meaning. I like how there’s a certain haunted feeling to it. It’s good. I can’t even pick a favorite from it. I love the artwork, everything. It’s the album I wish I would’ve made.
5. If there are any standout moments between you guys and Lee, what are they?
I have too many. Well, if narrowed down, maybe one was going down to Roger’s Lounge in Selma, Alabama and singing karaoke with Lee and C.R. Lee always looked after me, and he didn’t have to do that.
Really, Lee and his music pulled me out of a dark place one Sunday evening. He knows about it, so we’ll just leave it at that. He means a lot to me and it shows through his music how meaningful he is. ‘Cause, as you’ve probably guessed, Lee’s a special person to a whole lot of people. He has that ability to really listen to you and make you feel like you are just as important as he is. And I appreciate that. I try to learn from that. I really like him and his music is just a mirror into him, I suspect.
But, you may have to ask him that.
Lee Bains III
1. Tell me about your friendship with Blaine Duncan and Caleb Johnson. Any great stories?
Caleb and my old band Arkadelphia went on a trip one time to New York around 2008. It was about four of us in a station wagon which was leaking oil the whole time. The shows that we played were just really bizarre and we stayed in some weird places. It was a great trip.
We all kind of met through the Dexateens guys. Sweetdog introduced me to Blaine at the Bottletree one night in Birmingham. And Caleb and I met in Athens, Georgia. I took to them both immediately. They’re just such great guys. I’ve really enjoyed being friends with them over the years not just because they’re good dudes, but they also challenge, inform, and inspire what I do artistically. I hope I can pull my weight in that regard. It’s just really special to have friendships like that.
2. Blaine said that your band’s music helped him through a rough time in his life. He seemed cryptic about it on purpose, but talk about that without divulging too many personal details.
Blaine has told me that before and that means about as much to me as anything that anyone could say regarding my music. I just really strive to make honest music. There were records and musicians that have definitely done that for me. When I first heard Townes Van Zandt, I was pretty troubled at that time of my life. I think if I hadn’t heard him put to words in this beautiful way the feelings that I was experiencing, I don’t know if I would’ve made it through that time. I really value art that is honest and raw emotionally and that’s why I feel a kinship with Blaine’s songs and Caleb’s fiction. Caleb can really lay something bare. Blaine has this really great wit that sort of cuts at honesty.
(Writer’s Note: My questions for Caleb were the same as those sent to Blaine.)
1. I met Lee Bains in Athens, Ga. He’d come down from NYC to see the Dexateens play a show at the 40 Watt Club and I’d ridden over with them from Tuscaloosa for the weekend.
2. It was just instant. I knew right away that this was somebody who would be my friend, a part of my life, for a very long time.
As I get older, I’ve stopped trying to put a name to things like this so as not to spoil them. There’s more power to living that way, I think.
3. When I returned to Tuscaloosa from Athens, I listened to some demos online that Lee had recorded with an early version of his former band, Arkadelphia.
Honestly, when we met, I hadn’t thought too much about Lee’s music. He was humble about it when he told me he had a band. We talked about so many other things besides music.
The first song I heard was called “Walker County Loathing.” I’ll never forget it.
4. THERE IS A BOMB IN GILEAD is everything Southern art should be; it has soul. Pure and simple. You know soul when you see it. If you don’t, well, you probably would prefer something more watered-down than these songs. Maybe something cleaned-up, packaged and sold by carpetbaggers so the rest of the country won’t get its feathers too ruffled by what they hear or feel or are forced to face when reckoning with something made of, in and from the South.
I remember when Lee was writing the songs that appear on this album. We lived together in a falling-down house in Birmingham, Ala. They’ll always be special to me, and I have loved watching them become special to other people as the album released and the band played more and more shows. This is nothing but the beginning though. And, damn, what a beginning.
5. Singing together at the Arley Chittlin Supper. Standing on the bank of the mighty Mississippi River in Vicksburg. Swallowing some pride, along with a plate of greasy Mexican food, near Green Springs Ave. in Birmingham. Driving into Philadelphia at sunrise and not a bit of sleep. Listening to The Louvin Brothers’ version of “Knoxville Girl” in east Tennessee. Eating fried chicken together in Atlanta.
Hope this assists you in telling a story. Best of luck.