By Jeb Wright
lPhoto Credit: John Gellman
When guitarist Hughie Thomasson passed away in 2007 most Outlaw fans figured the band had died with him. After all, Hughie was the largest driving force in the band’s history.
The music, it turned out, wasn’t meant to die with him, as the band reunited with original member Henry Paul back in the fold.
Other than Lynyrd Skynyd, few bands have had more losses than the Outlaws. Three members have passed away. Most would assume that under the circumstances the band would simply ride into the sunset playing the classic hits and being a quasi-tribute to the original. Most would be wrong.
Out of nowhere Henry Paul and his band of southern rock brothers have released a simply amazing album titled “It’s About Pride.” The songs on the album have the spirit, attitude and musicianship of the original band.
Paul was very involved in the songwriting and production of the album as he wanted to craft his vision and prove his worth as one of the leaders of the band. He accomplished what he set out to do.
In the interview that follows Paul openly discusses the new album, the ‘lost’ album featuring Hughie that has yet to be released and some of the band’s early days and how they came to be signed by the legendary Clive Davis.
Read this one and then do yourself a favor and order the album, “It’s About Pride” from the link at the bottom of this article. This is southern fried rock at its best with tons of harmony vocals and guitars, tons of solos and ton of attitude.
Jeb: As an Outlaw fan, I loved Hughie Thomasson. When I heard you were putting this album out I was worried that it may not work without him. I don’t know how you did it, but this album is amazing.
Henry: First of all, our songwriting and singing chops have improved over time, which helps a lot. Writing songs is a craft that needs time. I surrounded myself with people who understood the musical personality of the Outlaws was something that would give the band the classic, indelible personality from the first three albums. I thought it would give it a chance to recreate that musical sort of moment in a new group of songs that were relative to where we are at today, in our lives.
Jeb: As soon as I heard those guitar harmonies and vocal harmonies I was floored. Southern Rock tends to be about albums more than singles and this is a solid album that must be played all the way through.
Henry: I wrote this with Billy Crain. We got some help from Chris Anderson, Dave Robbins and Randy Threet, but it is very fair to say that Billy and I worked very hard as co-writers on this album.
Billy is a very patient co-writer. He really took a lot of time to make the story and the music come together and it really paid off. The songs weren’t overly laborious, they happened rapidly and pretty painlessly. We sat down, for instance, to write “Trouble Rides a Fast Horse.” We wrote that with a good friend of mine who is a very talented songwriter named Billy Montana.
The imagery of the lyric was very important to us. It was very important to create an Outlaws record that substantiated the imagery of the musical legacy. It was a delight and a joy to write these songs and take the songs into the studio with the band and see them turn them into an Outlaws album.
Jeb: The record really sounds fresh.
Henry: It is a very spirited performance. The record has youth, life, energy and vitality. There is nothing lethargic or mundane about the record, in my opinion. I am very happy with how it turned out. It is very vibrant. For guys that have been around for thirty, or forty years, that is an accomplishment.
Jeb: A vibrant song on the album is “Hiding Out in Tennessee.” The guitar at the end is fantastic. You’ve taken a genre that a lot of people have written off and brought it back to life with a swift kick in the ass.
Henry: The first Outlaws record, the first Henry Paul Band record and even the first Blackhawk record each had a personality that this album possesses. This band, although it’s the Outlaws, sort of sits side by side with those other groups in that it is a unique, original musical entity, in and of itself, and has a cast of characters that have never recorded together.
Jeb: You produced the album as well.
Henry: One of the reasons I wanted to produce the album was because the song selection was critical. Over the years, producers, while they were helpful a lot of times, they were also counterproductive a lot of the time. They would create a record more in their image than ours. I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss that Hurry Sundown type personality. I wanted to make sure we wrote songs like “Hiding Out In Tennessee” and that we crafted that storyline to match our life and then crafted the music to match the personality of the Outlaws. It is a very uniquely familiar part of the Outlaw musical legacy.
Jeb: On the flipside you have “So Long” that is an old song that you really made come alive with this version.
Henry: I wanted this band to put its musical stamp on that song. As much as I love the record we cut in 1979, I knew that we would cut a higher octane version of it because of Chris and Billy’s involvement in it. That song emerged, over time, as one of my most popular songs, so I included it on there sort of as a mile marker. I’m very proud of the record.
I have known Randy Threet since the late ‘90’s and he has been a studio quality musician since the day I met him. He is an incredible musician and singer. Dave is a great keyboard player and while his keyboards are not featured a lot on this record, they have sort of an anonymous quality and it fills the sound up and gives the Outlaws, sonically, a lot of weight. Billy and Chris’ guitar playing is amazing.
I am saving the best for last, as Monte Yoho came in and turned in the performance of his career. When we tracked the record, we did it over a three day period in a small recording studio. The room was big enough to get us all in the room together and we sort of formed a semi-circle around Monte. We cut those tracks like that and that is why the record is so energetic. We really pushed these dynamic buttons that created those peaks and valleys in those songs and it really translated to the finished record. I can’t say enough about how great Monte was on this album.
Jeb: When you record and write music it is hard to be objective. Did you know you had a great album in the making?
Henry: My instincts, over the entire course of my career, have been the one thing I could always count on. I knew, without any shadow of a doubt, that we had a great album. I was so excited about it and still am.
My co-producer on the album is my partner in my production company. He travels with us and is the band’s front of house engineer on the road. He put a lot of energy into this album.
Bill Szymczyk, who produced Hurry Sundown, and I had been in touch and Bill expressed an interest in producing the record. I was very excited at that opportunity, but it would have meant we would have had to go to North Carolina and spend a few weeks living in a motel.
I had my studio downstairs and we had this tracking room in Nashville and it got to the point with me that I wanted to do this album at home. I knew if we did that then we could spend whatever time it took in order to make it great. I didn’t have any pressure to deliver a performance doing it in-house and I think that was a wise decision.
Jeb: I love the lyrics to “Nothing Main About Main Street.”
Henry: In high school there was this social, communal agenda where kids congregated in public places. God only knows how we decided where to hang out, but someone would go somewhere and someone would join them and the next thing you know all of your friends were hanging out together. It was either at the town square or at a drive-in hamburger joint. Those Friday and Saturday nights were a way to meet and interact and learn about girls, fighting and racing your car. It was the centerpiece to my growing up, socially. It is not as much the case these days. I was saddened by that.
When you walk the streets of the town you grew up in and it looks like a ghost town and has no soul…it is almost like a home without children. I don’t know what kids do or how they meet and learn about one and other these days, but it is not like it used to be. I went back and there was nothing left to see.
The musical outro, the beautiful melody that Billy did is great. Billy played that and Chris put his harmony to it and brought the Outlaws into that song.
Jeb: “It’s About Pride” is another amazing song.
Henry: That song went through two lyrical approaches. The chorus was the same, originally, but the storyline was different.
We were involved in a very distracting and hurtful lawsuit over trademark issues. We had our character called into questions as songwriters. One day I said to Billy, “Let’s do this: Let’s write a song about you and me and about what we loved and about where we came from.” We sat down and wrote a new first verse and it just came. “I’m proud to be a part of something that started long ago.” It is such an honest song.
Jeb: Are you playing a lot of this album live? When you do these new songs I bet no one is going to the beer line or the bathroom.
Henry: We often put seven or more songs in the set when we play live. It does not happen that people walk away during the new songs.
People ask me why we made this record and I tell them that I did it because creativity is all about what we do. We wanted to put our musical stamp on the Outlaws brand with the people in the band. This is where we’ve been and where we’ve arrived at, in our life.
The Outlaws, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top have all recently come out with albums. There is a flood of new music from this genre. I am happy where our album falls in with what they have done. If you like the record, then I really like it. If you love it, then I really love it.
Jeb: I am telling you that I love this album. You kicked it up a notch. When you see the hardcore fans light up when you play live and trot out these new songs it must be great. You didn’t rehash old ideas, you struck gold. I don’t mean to be kissing your ass but this is good stuff.
Henry: You have said that five or six times and I can tell you really mean it. Every time you say that it makes me smile. I think the fans out there, as much as they love the old songs that are deeply connected to their life, are on their feet when we hit the last notes of “Hiding Out in Tennessee.” You can tell they are as excited about the Outlaws having new music that’s worth a shit as we are. They embrace it like, “Fuck me, you’ve kicked my ass. I can’t believe I am cheering for new music.”
Jeb: You could have sold “Hiding Out In Tennessee” to a country star and made a ton of money.
Henry: I think the Outlaws should have a hit on country radio. I have had ten or twelve hits on my own in country music, so I think my voice would sound familiar on the radio.
Country music, today, doesn’t hold as much credibility as the album It’s About Pride does. It is sad how country music has become so contrived. If I was riding down the road and heard that shit come on then I would be pulling the car over to the side of the road.
Jeb: Is it frustrating that if a young country stud sang it and had the promotion machine behind him it would be a hit but because it is the Outlaws you will have a much tougher time.
Henry: I didn’t write that for some other guy to sing it. I wouldn’t be the least bit opposed to anyone doing it but I know they wouldn’t have made the great version that we made.
It is a little frustrating because you know you have a great piece of work and it is hard to get it out there for people to hear. Maybe what I love doesn’t translate, but I really don’t think that’s the case. As people get wind of this record then it will grow. You can see things starting to happen with it. It could become one of those Cult Classic success stories.
Jeb: There is an Outlaws album that was recorded with Hughie Thomasson on it. It is still in the can. You were not on that one though.
Henry: Having been vilified in small but vocal corners…they like to give me more credit than I have coming in regard to control. I have heard that album and there are some good songs on it. No one in the band, aside from those who played on the record, has had any control, or any input, or say, in its life or death. We’ve just been spectators to this sad sort of series of events that have led to it not being released.
In my mind, I know that someday that record will come out. It could have come out years ago. We voiced our support for the record. I made it clear that I would work up some songs off the record and take it on the road and support it fully. I think it is the right thing to do. I think it is important for the Outlaw fans and most importantly for Hughie.
The people who do control that…it is part of his estate and from what I gather there is some muddy water in that realm. It has nothing to do with us; it has more to do with someone else. I don’t want to overstep my bounds here because it is really none of my business.
In the musical realm there are often non-musical forces that stand in the way of good, decent and honest work. Unfortunately, there is a business connected to music and sometimes that can stop things in their tracks.
There have been problems trying to get that record out and I feel bad for Hughie’s sisters and mom who want to see his work out there. I feel bad for the guys who put such a really memorable performance together.
I know it is referred to as Hughie’s last record but Monte, Dave, Chris and Randy put a lot of themselves into that record to make that record what it was. All of their work, for the moment, is for nothing. I am very optimistic that the record will find its way out there in a way that’s fair. If I didn’t think that then I wouldn’t say it. I don’t think it’s that far off either. Hughie’s blood family is committed to making that happen and we support it. I think it is essential to release that album because where would the body of work of the band be without it?
Jeb: Were you and Hughie like brothers who fight a lot?
Henry: That is a tough subject for me because I always put one hundred percent of my capabilities into the group – I’m going back to the very beginning. Being forced from the band in 1977 was very hurtful, embarrassing and disappointing to me. To rebound from that with the Henry Paul Band was a testament to my resilience, work ethic and commitment. There was a repeat performance of that in the ‘80’after Soldier of Fortune. I formed Blackhawk and I enjoyed that band and still do.
My affection for Hughie, Frank, Billy and Monte is something that I know we all shared. There was never animosity to one and other to the point where it over road our affection for one and other.
The rock and roll band business, by nature, is a very tough game. Some of the stories, whether it be John and Paul, or Don Henley and Bernie Leadon…it is a tough marriage. To make it really work and work well is difficult and very rare.
At the end of the day, I hold on to my good memories. I feel bad for Hughie, Billy [Jones] and Frank [O’Keefe] and it is unbelievable to me that they are not here. I focus my positive energy and thankfulness that Monte is still here and that I am still able to do what I do. I am thankful to everyone in this band that they care enough about this music to invest what they have in it.
Trust me when I tell you this…we go out and do this in large part for the love of what it is. This is not some highly rewarding financial equation. We work to improve ourselves financially but we also take a lot of pride in how we go out and play.
Jeb: The Outlaws were one of the first Southern bands ever. You had guitar harmonies but you also had the three part vocal harmonies.
Henry: We were not a blues rock band. We were more melodic. I didn’t play lead guitar and I never got any ink on that end, so I guess I was trying to prove myself with my writing. I think I did have a significant part in who the Outlaws were. I am trying to finish what I started and I am trying to prove myself in the eyes of the fan base.
I remember what it was like before we got well known and I remember how we got to where we were. It wasn’t one person’s vision or journey, it was a group effort. I am glad that Billy, Monte, Chris and all of us can share that under the same sun.
Jeb: Did Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd introduce you to Clive Davis who signed you to Arista?
Henry: Ronnie didn’t introduce us to Clive, but he did introduce us to his manager. His manager was involved with a band that was on its way up. This manager had influence and power to bring the recording industry to our door. Ronnie’s role in getting us noticed was paramount; it kind of snowballed. There was another individual from England who was a tour director for Bad Company who brought the A&R director for Arista Records through Ronnie’s praises.
The music industry, at the label level, is always listening to see who the next big band will be. We were kind of a buzz at that time. Clive sent Bob Feiden to see us. We were doing a show with Lynyrd Skynyrd in the old Sportatorium in Orlando. It was an old metal building that you could probably put 3000 people in. It was the typical Outlaw opening set. We had 45 minutes and it was “Green Grass and High Tides,” “Knoxville Girl” and other songs. It was a lot of energy and vibrato. The guy went back to New York and said that we were star material.
Clive flew down to Columbus, Georgia where we were playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Remember, we were not a signed band and we were playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd in pretty good sized buildings. We were already hitting a pretty good lick. We had friends in very influential places thanks to Ronnie’s endorsement.
Clive came backstage after the show and he said, “What I’ve heard about you is true and I’m going to sign you to Arista Records.” That was a big moment. We had been telling our friends back home that we were going to get a recording contract and we didn’t want to show ourselves to be liars, so we were off the hook at that point.
Jeb: It must be hard to look back and know that three of the people there are gone.
Henry: I love Hughie. I miss him; we all do. I loved Billy and I especially miss Frank. Being a bass player in a rock group you are sort of down on the list. The Duane Allman’s and Dickie Betts’ of the world get more notoriety but Frank was a very important part of our group—everyone was. Everyone did something uniquely their own to make it a success.
Jeb: What was in the water in Florida at the time?
Henry: It was a very creative place, musically. There were a lot of places to play. It was a very hot Sunbelt part of the world and people were outside congregating. It wasn’t like New Jersey where you were in a little township and isolated. It was very open and bands could gain a foothold on a regional level if they demonstrated exceptional qualities.
It was a very vibrant. It was the southeastern version of the California scene. There was a lot of pop culture activity, on a musical level. It was really fast and by that I mean it was constantly changing. Bands went from being Beatle cover bands to Allman Brothers type bands in a moment. It was weird. It happened from 1970 to 1975. You know how quick five years goes by.
It was really a complete reflection of the Allman Brothers rise to popularity. Even though Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t sound like the Allman Brothers, they had their own thing that was a little bit tougher. They had that musical personality that transcended street fighters. Lynyrd Skynyrd really were fighters. They would fight, fight, fight and it was like, “Fuck you.” The Allman Brothers were like a freaking acid trip. Somewhere in the middle were the Outlaws. We sang like the Eagles and played like the Allman Brothers.
Jeb: Let’s wrap up the interview about the album and the tour.
Henry: This record will very easily carry us into next year. I am expecting 2013 to be a very pivotal year for the Outlaws, in terms of visibility and popularity. We are going to shut down for the year in the third week of November but we are going to come right back after the first of the year and hit it hard.
I am putting a film together on the title song, “It’s About Pride.” It is going to be a great documentary of our friends from the past and the present. It is going to be a very exciting seven and a half minute piece of work. It is going to be a very strong reminder of where we come from and where we are. I am going to use footage from performances from all of the great bands of our genre and if I do it right then it will get noticed.
I am hoping it may be the catalyst for the coming together of some of these people and going out there and rediscovering what it was that got us out there in the first place. I look forward to playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels…that would be something I would love to do again.
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