Henry Paul An Outlaw to the End

By Jeb Wright
Photos by John Gellman

Henry Paul is smiling ear-to-ear when discussing the Outlaws live album, aptly titled Legacy Live.  And why not?  This sucker smokes.  The album is pure Southern Fried Rock that celebrates the band’s entire history—from those first three classics in the 1970s to the modern day.

The band has many fallen heroes, but this album stays true to the legacy of the band as the title suggests.  In the press release for the album, Paul states, “I want people to hear this album and see our show and realize that The Outlaws are still there.”

Legacy Live consists of two CDs and includes the classics “There Goes Another Love Song”, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”, “Green Grass & High Tides Forever” and “Freeborn Man” as well as more recent material like “It´s About Pride”, “Hidin' Out In Tennessee” and “So Long”.

In the interview that follows, Paul shares his take on the legacy of the band as well as what it was like to be signed by the legendary Clive Davis. 

Jeb: I’m so happy to see this live album come out and I was even happier when I heard it… even the package to the CD is cool!

Henry: We’re having this conversation on the day the cases of CDs arrived at the office.  The management called me up and said, “Henry, the record looks even more spectacular live than it did in pictures. So, at this late date, if we can’t do something that we absolutely love and believe in it wholeheartedly then we’re just jackin’ off!

Jeb: I see bands all the time and it’s the rarity anymore when a band has all the original members together. Of course, in the Outlaws’ case you can’t get everyone together even if you wanted to.  It’s kind of like Skynyrd. It just can’t happen. What are the challenges of getting a group of musicians together? You don’t want to copy the original band…  I mean, you can’t copy a spirit; you have to create a spirit. You know what I’m saying?

Henry: Musical minded people are fiercely passionate about what it is they’ve done, because it’s always a past tense bit of business because we don’t know about the future… but we know in very, very finite detail about the past. So when you’re lucky enough to put a musical personality out there that connects with an audience then you have the responsibility to maintain that.

The Outlaws released a studio record a couple of years ago. It was probably one of the best records we wrote and recorded since Hurry Sundown. And of course, the glory days are gone. The phenomena that was southern rock and the popularity that came with it has subsided. But here stands this really significant piece of work. The fans hear this new record, and of course they’re dubious at first. But as it slowly occurs to them, one fan at a time, that the band has written and recorded a record that is true to its musical personality; there’s a sense of affection and relief and appreciation that comes with understanding who you are and knowing what it is you represent.

This live album puts the more subtle dimensions of the band The Outlaws on musical display. And it’s done so in a way that is very true to the band’s musical personality. It enlarges upon the legacy that started in, for instance, in 1977 when the band released its first live album. It was a very powerful record… a very brutal, kind of powerful record. Whereas this record is a little bit different. It includes a different selection of songs. It doesn’t eclipse the earlier release, it adds to that and gives the real Outlaw fan a little dimension to his appreciation of that musical personality. Right now I’m working on writing another studio album, and every day, I’m sitting here thinking about that and putting ideas together for it, thinking about the future, next year coming with a new studio record.

Jeb: I can’t wait to hear it...

Henry: That’s what that live record means to me. It just means we get to reinforce the band’s musical personality and offer up songs that maybe wouldn’t have had a chance some years ago to be heard.

Who would have ever guessed that time would have allowed us to be ourselves? To really be ourselves and not give a flying shit whether people are standing on their chairs beating their heads up against the stage? It’s not always about that. So if you’re Billy Jones and you’re long gone and you sort of look down upon what’s being done and you say to yourself, “Well, Henry and Monte are really doing a good job. They took my songs and they put a beautiful musical face on it. There are things that I wrote that meant something to me that are still being played and heard and appreciated, and most importantly recorded and documented for posterity.” And that’s all that I can do for Hughie [Thomasson], or for Billy [Jones], or for Frank [O’Keefe]. That’s all you can do.

Jeb:  You were talking about that album you put out a few years ago. I’m glad to see you include “Hidin’ Out in Tennesee” from It’s All About Pride.  Great album…

Henry: Well, are you familiar with the record It’s About Pride in its entirety?

Jeb: Yeah. I’ve got it. I think it is as strong as anything you’ve ever done.

Henry: We feel that way. And this label, SPV, that’s putting out this live record, they’re going to put … It’s About Pride has never really been released. I can tell you this much, we have not sold more than two or maybe three thousand copies of It’s About Pride.

Jeb: That’s a shame.

Henry: It’s been sold to the fan base. Just for the dedicated fan base. So that record still has yet to be heard. I know that SPV will do themselves a big favor by putting that out some time down the road. They want a new studio record and I get that. But there will come a time for them and that record will get a chance and people are going to embrace it. Listen, you can take the prettiest girl in school and you can dress her up in overalls and a straw hat. But pretty is, and pretty is gonna shine through, you know?  Eventually people are going to recognize that in her and in this record and I know that it will get its time.

Jeb: I hope so, because it really is good. My buddies all know it because I kept putting it in the damn CD player. Everyone that I’ve played that CD for loves it.

Henry: Well, thanks. We knew that “Tomorrow Is Another Night” and the vocal intro and just the harmony vocals… just the whole damn thing... It stacks up right up there the first three records. It’s as good a record as Hurry Sundown.

Jeb: It really is.

Henry: I couldn't be more proud of it. But, you know, at this point we just try really hard to make sure that everything that we do, whether it’s the double live album or a new studio record coming, it’s about pride. The show every night… we put the best possible face on what it is we do. Otherwise, all we’re doing is pissing it away.

Jeb: There’s something in the press release that came that I really liked. I’ll just read it: “Now the Outlaws return with a new live album, a new focus, and an uncompromising new mission. It’s about a band of brothers bound together by history, harmony and the road.” I know you don’t write your own press releases but I think you could’ve written that!

Henry: Well, the guy who wrote the more appealing part of the end of that quote is a good friend of mine. He was my product manager at Arista and he’s a great writer. He helped craft some of that for our bio. It’s been extricated from our bio. But that’s kind of the record label using a quote from the bio and their own sort of impression of what it is this represents. And it’s pretty good!

Jeb: I like the fact that you’re concerned about the band’s legacy, but not just the hit “Green Grass and High Tides.” You know what I’m talking about?

Henry: Yes. Yes. Trust me, if you’re a music guy your affection for any artist goes deeper than the obvious. As a matter of fact, over the long run it’s the more obscure stuff that speaks to you.

Jeb: Sure! I relate to that. You can tell by talking to me. Yes, I’m that guy, you know!

Henry: You are that guy. You know, who’s the famous producer that produced Gregg Allman’s recent record? He produced Brother Where Art Thou. He’s just a genius producer. He has this famous quote, or famous to me. I always remembered this, “People that really love good music will always find it, and for everybody else there’s Top 40.” Not everybody loves music the same. Some people love it more.

Jeb: You might be referring to T Bone Burnett, as he produced Allman’s 2011 release and the soundtrack to that movie.  Now, when you listen to this album, you’re on it. You’re playing it and you have a history with it. It’s hard for you to step out and experience it the way I experience it… but are there moments where you can listen to this live album and kinda go, “Hot damn, this is good!”?

Henry: Well, to be honest with you, the closer it came to releasing it, and the artwork and just the nervousness and the tension and the anticipation, I would go back to the record and I would think to myself, “Damn, this better be good.” I’d listen to it in my truck going down the road and then I’d sit there in my car going down the highway and I’d think to myself, “It’s fuckin’ great!  It’s as good a record as the record cover!” I just am completely convinced that we’ve done a great thing as a band, and I mean as a band… everybody. I mean, the bass player’s performance on this record is nothing short of unbelievable. The guitar players get all the grease.

Jeb: Ha-ha, that’s true!

Henry: But everybody played and sang great on this record. Monte’s performance on this record is spectacular! It really takes the band and the fan base back to the beginning because the Outlaws were a one drummer band that sang three-part harmony. Now we have a six-piece group. We sing three-part harmony. The first five are singers so two are singing a high part, two are singing a low part, somebody is singing a melody and it is huge. It’s just huge. We’re not drinkin’ and druggin’ and being crazy. So the music takes a front seat.

Jeb: Everyone writes about the glory days and the crazy days, but you said something that I think is overlooked a lot. I don’t want to make you sound old, but when bands grow up, if you keep your shit together, you can maybe play better than you did back when you were partying!

Henry: Well undoubtedly, because back then it was more a matter of survival because they were pushing us in such exhausting directions. We would stay on the road for 320 out of 365 days.

Jeb: That’s amazing!

Henry: It’s crazy. You’d be stuck in front of a new audience every night that had never heard of you and you had forty-five minutes to make them love you. And alcohol was a lubricant socially and musically. You just got a buzz and you went out there and you rock and rolled and everybody just said, “Yeah!” They bought into it and that’s what it is.

Now we play for smaller audiences, we’re straight as an arrow, we drink water, we sing in tune, we play great, we play hard, nobody’s drunk and sloppy and loose, and we’re not being asked to do something we really shouldn’t be asked to do. So it’s a little more human these days.

Jeb: I want to talk a little bit about the actual concert. Is this a compilation over several nights?

Henry: It’s a compilation of probably three or four different nights. There were maybe fifteen, maybe twenty performances that we picked from and three or four of them were just clearly better. So it’s mostly from those three or four shows.

Jeb: Where is that image taken that is on the cover you’re talking about?

Henry: That’s a famous theater in Jacksonville. It’s called the Florida Theater. There’s images of Elvis backstage at the Florida Theater. It’s a beautiful venue and for my time and my money it’s a very majestic album cover for a bunch of redneck farm boys that play guitar and sing!

Jeb: Would you consider this like a book end to that first famous live album, or is this just another chapter in the story?

Henry: Well, I saw it that way. I mean, I saw it as a continuation of that. When it came time for me to be concerned about the overall quality of the project, I always -from a competitive standpoint- wanted to sound as good or better than the first live record… at least put a significant best foot forward with it and not to disappoint.

Jeb: And you did it.

Henry: Well, thanks. That makes me feel good to hear you say that.

Jeb: SPV is known more as a place for the metal genre. How did they get the Outlaws?

Henry: I think that they got us by default [laughs]. You know, they knew we were out and I think that they probably did their homework and saw that the band was consistently good. And I think that they took sort of a step off in direction rather than, you know… even the Lynyrd Skynyrd records that they’re known for are much harder than they were back when the band was relevant to the genre.

Jeb: You hinted that they’re gonna want a studio album and you want to write one. Has it begun yet?

Henry: Oh, yeah. I am all up in that. I am deep up in that. Yes sir.

Jeb: Any hints on when?

Henry: Well, no, because I’m not at a point where I can see the end. But they want it the first quarter of next year which means writing through November, December, January and February. It’s always going to be great, but sometimes it’s hard to fully understand how in the hell you’re going to get it there! [laughs]

Jeb: Those first three albums are so iconic. Do you ever, or have you ever played a ‘what-if’ game about ‘maybe if I hadn’t left what would’ve happened’?

Henry: Yes. I don’t think the band ever fully realized its potential nor did it take advantage of what was started. But I’m a firm believer, and I know it’s cliché to say, the way that things unfolded were the way they were meant to be.

Frank leaving the band was a big blow to the group, much more than we know or thought at the time. Me leaving the band was very difficult for the group. It wasn’t easy on me, but it was a good thing for me to go out and start The Henry Paul Band and get a deal with Atlantic and go out and write and record Grey Ghost. That was a very good thing. But I do think that the Outlaws have a chance now to finish what we started in a way that will forever put a very honorable and respectful conclusion to what started in 1972.

Jeb: I’m going to hit you with one more and it has nothing to do with the live album… my selfish question, Henry…

Henry: Go ahead.

Jeb: You guys got to be signed by the most legendary fucker in the music business, Clive Davis. I know just from being a rock nerd, if it’s true anyway, if the legend holds, a pretty famous guy was kind of pushing Clive to sign you. That was Ronnie Van Zandt. Is that true?

Henry: Yes. It is true. And it wasn’t just Clive he pushed. He just thought that the band was good enough to get a shot and a deal and go in and record. We always felt we were going to be signed by MCA because that was the label that Skynyrd was on. But again, not to go back to this cliché, but we wound up where we were supposed to be. And it was a great thing because Clive wanted the Outlaws to succeed… and, as you well know, in the business of music, money talks. He put it out there and we delivered on our end. We were able to get out of the bars and on to the big stage and it was right then and there. I mean a dream come true. Everything else since then has just been gravy.

Jeb: What was Sir Clive like? Do you remember meeting him back then?

Henry: Oh yeah. Well, you know, for me I got to go back to Arista and have multi-platinum success with Blackhawk.

Jeb: With Blackhawk… That’s right!

Henry: And I went through his book... I made his book. I was mentioned in his book by name. Of course the Outlaws were mentioned. He was always very gracious. He fancied himself as a musically minded guy and I was deeply appreciative. I couldn’t always buy into his vision, but I always bought into his commitment.

Jeb: Well that’s cool. What a long strange trip it’s been, as they say.

Henry: Yeah, and the ride still has a few spins left.