The other day I was talking with Nick Choate, the head of the notorious Blue Smoke Mafia (a group of Funkytown musicians that all have ties to Nicks Blue Smoke Studios). He showed me the artwork promoting his new band, Choate Country, which looked suspiciously like a pack of cigarettes. I asked him if that meant the band needed a surgeon generals warning label.
Fine, He said, youre now the surgeon general of Choate country.
Thats how it goes around Nick: its hard to say no to the man. He denies the existence of any mafia, saying thats not a real thing, and Im just a guy who knows some people," but the web address bluesmokemafia.net redirects to his web page. People who know him cant help but get involved in his projects, and his latest undertaking is a classic country band with local heavy hitters Big Mike Richardson (guitar, keyboard, vocals), Chris Watson (bass), Brad Swiger (drums), and Roger Ray on pedal steel guitar. It was Big Mike that suggested the name Choate Country. They have a regular show on Mondays at The Wild Rooster, and this past Monday, I set out to see what powers and benefits my new title of surgeon general afforded me.
The answer turned out to be: not much." There apparently is no salary, and all attempts to persuade them that Sonny Terry counts as country because he played country blues were met with the order from Nick to his co-conspirators: Dont encourage him. You see, Ive never been a fan of country music.
But I am a fan of Big Mike and Nick Choate, and when I walked in, they were doing a first-rate cover of Looking For Love by Johnny Lee. The quality of musicianship was phenomenal, the harmonies were perfect, and the band seemed to genuinely be enjoying the show as much as the audience. For a Monday night, there was a pretty good crowd in the place, and they all seemed to be there to see Choate Country.
They did covers of many songs I recognized, even without being a country fan: Eddie Rabbit's Driving My Life Away, Willie Nelson's My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys and Angel Flying too Close to the Ground (done solo by Nick), Van Morrison's Into the Mystic, Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy and Roger Miller's King of the Road. All of these were perfectly executed and all were fun to listen to. In fact, a lot of these were crossover hits I heard on the radio growing up, and thats much of the fun of any kind of classic music.
As an added bonus, drummer Blaine Crews was there, taking a break from touring with Casey James; Blaine joined the band on stage for a couple of songs. He is an amazingly talented drummer who, until recently, could be found manning the kit for many of Funkytowns best acts. Now he spends most of his time on the road, and it was good to see him back home again.
Choate Country is more than just a cover band. The style of country music they play is nostalgic, and the musicianship is at times better than the original recordings. But at the same time they dont take themselves too seriously, and when you have a group this talented just playing music they love for the love of the music you cant help but enjoy it.