“You know, I think I’ve got the one with the old rotary phone on the cover,” I said — trying to remember exactly which CD from Chuck Mead’s old country band, BR549, I had in my music collection.
“Oh yes, that one was our first one, our self-titled debut,” Meade laughed. I caught up with him in Portland, communicating over today’s non-rotary landline, which, by the way, works just fine.
I asked Meade to tell me about his new album, “Free State Serenade,” which I’m sure he’ll be drawing from for his upcoming Hood River show.
“I started writing these songs about growing up in Kansas, and it developed into making a long story out of a bunch of short stories. I think the songs are about legends that happened in true-life, out on the prairie, and things about me. It’s more of a personal record than I could have ever done with BR549,” Mead said.
His band, The Grassy Knoll Boys, was formed through connections Mead made with his old bands — people he’s known for 10 and 20 years, and the band is on tour with its electric hillbilly rockabilly show. “It’s an incredible group of musicians,” Mead said.
Meade brings a unique musical perspective to the band — he was involved in the production of the Broadway show “Million Dollar Quartet,” which is based on the one and only time Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash were in the same room, recording at Sun Records.
“There’s a very iconic photo that’s associated with that, and we put 10 months of things that happened into a show, complete with drama and a lot of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s been running in Chicago since 2008, and it’s been touring the country for three years. It’s been in New York, London, and now it’s going to be in Vegas. I learned a lot working in this different kind of show business,” Mead said.
Mead’s recent solo record, “Back at the Quonset Hut,” was recorded at Nashville’s legendary Quonset Hut Studio where music legends Patsy Cline, George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash cut some of country’s greatest tracks.
“I felt like I’m finally a country singer! It was a thrill to go in there with some of those guys who played on those records, and have them be on my session. When Bobby Bare came in to sing, it was just terrific,” Mead said.
Mead worked in Nashville for a few years for a songwriting publishing company, and he reflected on what was entailed in a day’s work.
“I made two or three songwriting appointments a week, where I would sit in a room with somebody I didn’t know, just to see what happens. It’s something that’s carried over to today, I make appointments with myself to sit down and write a song. Sometimes you come up with a part that you don’t think is that great, but somebody winds up using it for their album. You just never know,” Mead said.