Displaying items by tag: artist

  • Published in Music

Fair-Weather Kings – Weathering Bowling Green’s Rolling Musical Seas

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/22/13)—Hearing it from the proverbial “horse’s mouth” makes it official: “energetic” ranks highest among the descriptors fans use to define the sound and feel of Bowling Green, KY’s beloved five-piece band, the Fair-Weather Kings. And it’s a fact that is duly justifiable. Comparison-wise, many say the quintet’s unique style is akin to the vibrant, nationally-acclaimed indie sounds of The Strokes and The Arctic Monkeys.

Yet, once you start trying to dial in their insightful works any further—to do their sound justice through words, so to speak—the process of classification becomes much deeper and, perhaps, more metaphysical. That being said, here’s my personal take: the Fair-Weather Kings strike hard on the head of modernity’s pop-rock stake, while remaining punctual, compositionally edgy, fun, and experimental in a not-too-abstract way. Their lyrical originality, atmospheric grooves, and consistently frantic, multi-layered live performances—which come courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Wesley Stone, guitarist Zach Barton, bassist Jason Williams, keyboard/synth player Craig Brown, and drummer Marcus Long— mix together well, producing a seemingly perfect storm amidst an electric and inspirational musical climate.

While the Fair-Weather Kings have yet to gain a large-scale, national following, they have received a wealth of veneration from all corners of our region and beyond. In fact, the respect the Fair-Weather Kings have deservedly garnered from their peers since forming just under two years ago is evidenced by the fact that they have remained afloat, relevant, and well-loved in the virtual sea of talent found in Bowling Green.

So how do the Fair-Weather Kings maintain their prowess in such a saturated musical market? What’s their origin story and creative process? And what is their ultimate goal with music? To find out the answers to these questions and much more, I recently got the chance to speak with FWK frontman and guitarist, Wesley Stone, who informed me that weathering west Kentucky’s blooming and inspirational entertainment scene isn’t always an easy task to master.

Who are the members of the Fair-Weather Kings, where is each member from, what are your ages, and what instrument(s) do each of you play?

I’m Wesley Stone and I’m on lead vocals and guitar. Zach Barton plays guitar, Jason Williams is our bassist, Craig Brown plays keys/synth, and Marcus Long is our drummer. Zach, Marcus and I grew up in Hopkins County, KY. Craig and Jason grew up in Bowling Green. We all currently live in Bowling Green. We are all in our late 20’s, with the exception of Marcus, who is in his early 30’s.

How and when did the band first form?

We first formed in October of 2011 with Zach and I just sort of jamming around on occasion and presenting songs to each other. After a bit, we tracked down a drummer and bass player to sort of feel out the whole band thing. After a couple months, we had worked out a few songs, but our drummer and bass player at the time weren’t really a good fit with the type of music we were writing, so that’s when Marcus joined, along with another friend of ours, Will Kronenberger, who played bass. Shortly after they joined, we picked up Rory Willis to play keys, who was Will’s roommate at the time and the owner and operator of Greyskull Recordings. We all wrote and worked on the songs that would end up on our debut, self-titled EP and played our first show in January of 2012.

Where did the name of the band originate and how does it fit with the music or “feel” of the band?

The name sort of became a formality at a certain point. We knew we had to call ourselves something, so we just started throwing out a bunch of ideas over the course of a week or so. Ultimately, “The Fair-Weather Kings” came about when we combined two of our favorite names that we had come up with. I can’t really remember what those were, though. Fair-Weather….something and something…Kings. There isn’t really any intended significance as far as the name representing our music or style. I’m sure I could dig up some philosophical meaning to it, but, really, it was just the first name that we all agreed upon that remotely sounded cool.

What influences do you all draw inspiration from both musically and in life?

We have a wide variety of musical influences—too many to even begin listing them—but we all draw from some variety of rock or pop music, and we all have our own favorite singer-songwriters. We also get inspiration from the many great bands we hang out with and play with around Bowling Green. Mainly, our songs are inspired by love, life, and the universe, and revolve around observations within each.

How has the band changed over time?

The biggest change that has occurred for us has been losing and gaining members. Will and Rory got busy with their jobs and other projects, and that is when Jason and Craig stepped in. They both came in with completely different styles than Will and Rory, which ultimately changed our sound. But it was for the better. Each previously written song has since evolved into something that is, in many ways, completely different from what you hear in our recordings, which were all done with Will and Rory. Again, this evolution has been for the better. The songs have gotten tighter and even experimental at times, which make them fun and different every time we play them live. You will very rarely hear the exact same version of a song from show to show.

How do you all define the sound of the Fair-Weather Kings?

That’s always a hard question to answer, and I usually just refer to what others have compared it to or said. The most common word used to describe our music is “energetic,” and we have been compared to The Strokes and The Artic Monkeys.

Like you just said, a good deal of the Fair-Weather Kings’ music is highly energetic and, at times, feverishly frantic, which comes across well during your live shows. By the same token, you all seem to be very tightly-knit as a multi-piece band. That being said, how do you approach the creative process? Do songs come together spontaneously or is it more of an intensive, day-by-day process?

The majority of our songs were songs that I had already written or were nearly complete ideas that I then presented to the entire band. From there, everyone just sort of filled in the gaps with each of us giving the others input and experimenting with various ways to approach them. However, we have also written several songs that blossomed out of a jam session during practice.

While the band’s sound is ultimately rooted in rock, you all also incorporate a variety of electronic, synthesized sounds in your music through guitar effects and keys/synthesized sounds. Do you think it’s important to remain open to different sonic avenues in the modern age for the sake of creativity?

We keep ourselves open to various sounds and even various styles for the sake of creativity. I think if we confined ourselves to a specific sound, or tried to write songs that adhere to a specific style or sound, it would hinder us creatively. We are constantly picking up things from other bands and each other, which steers each new song or idea in a slightly different direction.

You guys hail from one of the region’s most vibrant music scenes—Bowling Green, KY. How much of an effect has that environment had on the band’s approach and creative evolution?

It has its positives and negatives. On one hand, all the bands are learning, supporting, and challenging each other to become better. On the other hand, it’s a constant struggle to keep from getting lost in the mix of all these great bands and musicians in the area. Either way, we are proud to call Bowling Green home and love being associated with its rising music scene.

You all played at the inaugural Mad Flavor Arts & Music Festival in Madisonville this past June. Why did you all decide to play the festival and what was your overall take on the event?

It sounded like a fun time. Again, Zach, Marcus, and I grew up in the area and still have friends and family there, so it seemed like a great opportunity to not only play our music to some different faces, but to also visit with some familiar ones. We had a great time and got some great feedback on our set.

If I’m not mistaken, your self-titled EP and single, “Satellite Galaxies”, were both recorded at Greyskull Recordings in Bowling Green. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like recording there.

During those recording sessions, Rory Willis was still our keyboard player. We recorded all the tracks on the EP in a “live” fashion where everyone was being recorded at the same time, minus the vocals, so, really, it was just like a more structured and professional practice—except we played every song a dozen times. We did “tracking” for Satellite Galaxies, meaning we each recorded our parts individually. That process is slightly boring, but produces a much higher quality end product. It also allows for changes, and gave Rory the ability to piece together the best parts of each take.

Are you guys working on any new music at the moment?

Yes. We have two new songs that we have been playing live for a while that haven’t been recorded, and we are currently working through some ideas for at least three more. We are taking our time with the new material—screening it so to speak. The first album was composed of literally every song that was presented. This time around, we are being a bit pickier and are presenting lots of ideas that will be narrowed down to a few songs at a time.

From your perspective, why is it important for area citizens to get out and support local musicians and artists?

Because most of those local musicians and artists want to be national musicians and artists, and the road to that outcome is paved by every single person’s support.

Over the years, what’s been one of the band’s favorite shows and/or biggest accomplishments?

One of our best shows was a house-show at a place dubbed The Manor. It is right next to Greyskull—which is where we rehearsed at the time—in the basement of this old Civil War hospital that is now a private residence. There were a ton of people all giving us as much energy as we were giving them. Those are the best types of crowds. I’ll take a crowd of 20 people that are all getting into the music over 2,000 motionless bodies any day, and that’s when we put on the best show, too. It’s a give and take relationship when it comes to our performances, and we were getting and giving quite a bit at The Manor that night.

What is the end goal for the Fair-Weather Kings?

Ultimately, we want to reach as many people as possible with our music. So, short answer: major label support.

Where and how can people check you out and purchase your music?

We have a ReverbNation profile, as well as a Bandcamp profile. We don’t really charge for digital downloads, and both places have all of our recorded material for free. We have physical copies of our debut EP, which we have re-released with “Satellite Galaxies” for sale on our Bandcamp page. We have stickers and t-shirts for sale there as well. Of course, you can pick up any of those things at our shows, too.

In closing, feel free to give any shout-outs you want.

All of our fellow BG Sceners…
Canago, Buffalo Rodeo, Morning Teleportation, Schools, Chris Rutledge, Sleeper/Agent, Cage the Elephant, Opossum Holler, The Reneaus, The Beech Benders, Plastic Visions, The Black Shades, Lost River Cavemen, Fat Box, The Hungry Ears, Technology vs Horse, and others…

Also…
D93 WDNS, Revolution 91.7 WWHR, Spencer’s Coffee House, and Greyskull Recordings.


____________________________________________________________________

Want to hear the Fair-Weather Kings right now? Check out the ReverbNation player attached below this article. Want to support the band by downloading some Fair-Weather Kings tracks or purchasing some merchandise? Visit the official FWK BandCamp page by clicking here.

For more information on the Fair-Weather Kings, such as upcoming shows and updated news, visit their official Facebook page by clicking here.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photos by Jessi Smith

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  • Published in Art

Kristian Rowland – Confronting Existence

"credit" Jessi SmithHOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/21/13) – Famous abstract expressionist Philip Guston once said, “Painting is an illusion, a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see.” While one may capture a moment or emotion in a photograph, a painter is left to convey their feelings on an entirely different plane. A painter creates a work of art out of nothing more than emotional intention and a self-determined method of displaying it. One of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th Century, Pablo Picasso, described painting as a blind man’s profession, “He paints not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.” The same may be said of local artist and Hopkins County resident, Kristian Rowland. Rowland’s work seems to outwardly express his inner struggles with life and his need to find his purpose within that existence.

"credit" Jessi Smith
The Sugg Street Post had an opportunity to sit down with Kristian Rowland and really delve into who he is, as well as the reasons he creates such brilliantly-colored and oftentimes abstract pieces of artwork.

What inspires Rowland’s creativity? It all boils down to his passion for humanity and the intensity of his expressive endeavors to uncover the secrets of human existence.

“Emotion, real life situations, and struggle inspire me,” explains Rowland. “Struggle is a big inspiration for me. Anger inspires me. The human form inspires me. I think the human body is, literally, perfect, and I think faces are fascinating. I feel like people put on masks every day. We have to adapt to what we are doing during the day and it’s hard to be yourself. I find myself constantly trying to cope with real life and trying to understand the limitations we have. Why does everything seem to be working against us? Why do we live in such a messed up place that is so beautiful at the same time? It’s a double-edged sword.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Kristian Rowland was born in Madisonville, KY and has lived in Hopkins County his entire life.

“I had a really cool childhood. It was pretty adventurous,” says Rowland. “When I was young, I used to play out in the woods all day. I was always building forts, drawing, and painting. It was a lot of fun. I played sports growing up, but I was always ‘in my head’ instead of ‘in the real world.’ I was always reading comic books and stuff.”

Reading comic books is what actually influenced Rowland to start drawing at an early age.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I taught myself to draw by tracing comic books. My favorite comic book growing up was probably Spider-man. Then, when I got older, I was more into Batman. Eventually, I got into stuff like Spawn and Daredevil. It got darker as I got older,” laughs Rowland.

In time, Rowland started to develop a passion for drawing the human form.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I just really admire the human form,” says Rowland. “The human body is like a machine. It does whatever it wants to do.  It cleans itself and heals itself. It can regenerate new skin cells. It’s really wild when you really think scientifically about all the things the human body can do.”

Although he had been participating heavily in them, Rowland started to realize that school sports weren’t really his passion near the end of elementary school. He began putting more time and effort into his drawings, and by the time he’d reached his sophomore year at Hopkins County Central High School, he decided it was time to take art more seriously.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I felt like this is what I was supposed to be doing,” says Rowland. “I just knew that was what I needed to do with my life. I had some really cool art teachers at Central. Mrs. Evans and Mr. Crabtree really helped me out. I took every art class I could.”

Rowland was always experimenting with new ideas during the creation process. He was never satisfied working within the strict confines of someone else’s ideas.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“You know how sometimes you can bust the head of a pen open and it drips everywhere? I would do that on purpose,” laughs Rowland. “I really like the drippy, Ralph Steadman look [most commonly associated with the works of iconic author and journalist, Hunter S. Thompson].”

Eventually, Rowland started branching out into new and different mediums, all the while experimenting with varying processes to achieve a final product he could be proud of.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I started using charcoal, spray paint, acrylic, and oil,” says Rowland. “I like to use more than two mediums when I paint. I feel like I get more out of it. I feel like it’s more expressive. I use a little bit of everything.”

A new endeavor Rowland is toying with is the creation of his own clothing line.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I would like to start my own clothing line, but it seems too business-like for me. I’m trying to beat the system and it’s beating me,” laughs Rowland. “I’d really like to mess with some graphics and put them on t-shirts and stuff.”

And while Rowland says he respects pop art by artists such as Andy Warhol, he ultimately feels like pop art is hit and miss when it comes to his personal tastes.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I love street artists like Shepard Fairey,” shares Rowland. “I think street art is probably what the future of art will be, honestly. I really respect street art. I actually want to do street art. I really love Banksy. Banksy is the man right now.”

One of Rowland’s favorite things to paint is faces. However, he enjoys put ting his own spin on them.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I find myself painting a lot of faces,” says Rowland. “I like taking an idea for a face and just distorting it. I also love painting the human form. The human body invokes so much emotion in people. Let’s say you painted a picture of a nude prostitute, made it really huge, and people saw that in a gallery. They are either going to be pissed off and think it’s nasty, or they are going to love it. You’re going to get something out of it, and that’s the point of art. Artists are trying to conjure up a wealth of human emotions.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Rowland says that he utilizes a range of colors in his works to both voluntarily and involuntarily symbolize differing emotions as well.

“For me, blues are more mellowed out, while reds are more angry,” explains Rowland. “Sometimes I pre-plan it and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s just random and I won’t even understand it. A lot of people believe that creating art is like a communication between your conscious and your unconscious mind. To me, it makes sense. Sometimes when I’m painting, I’ll get this really weird feeling in my gut. It basically tells me to do something and then it turns out awesome. Then, my rational mind will be like, ‘Why did you do that?’”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Even though creative spurts will arise intermittently, inspiring him to create when emotions are high, Rowland says he much prefers planning a painting out before starting on it.

“I actually like to plan it out a little bit,” says Rowland. “I really like to sketch out an idea first. I’m at that point now where I feel like my technical skill isn’t really where I want it to be. So, I’m thinking about going to art school. I got accepted into an art school in Chicago, but I’m still trying to figure out if that’s what I want to do or not. I’d like to graduate school first and get that out of the way. I’d like to make a living off of my art. One day, I’d like to open my own gallery and help people out by teaching workshops. I’d like to help people learn to express themselves. I’d like to give them a place - an outlet - to express themselves. I don’t ever want to get comfortable with my art. I want to keep getting better and never stop experimenting with new things and ideas. It may be my ego talking, but I really want to leave my mark on the world. I want to inspire people to do what they love. I would love to have a group of artists transform this whole community. That’s what I’d like to do.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
In addition to the possibility of honing his craft on a grander scale through continued education, Rowland says he also draws inspiration from sharing ideas with and enjoying the works of other like-minded artists.

“Other people’s work really inspires me. It makes me feel good knowing that there are other people who might understand what I’m going through. I don’t know why creative people are so crazy but they are,” laughs Rowland. “I like reading biographies about the lives of famous artists. That really inspires me.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
So, who are Rowland’s favorite artists?

“I think that Vincent Van Gogh is the greatest artist of all time,” says Rowland. “Starry Starry Night is a landscape, abstract, and expressionism all in one. Seeing that painting in person was amazing. I actually touched it, too. I got yelled at, but I was like, ‘Forget it. I’m here. This is mine now. I touched it.’ Van Gogh is my number one. I’m also a big fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was big in the ‘80s. I really like Pablo Picasso’s African period as well. Egon Schiele was a really big figure artist in the 1800's and I like his work. I also really like Marc Chagall. I like all artists, really. But my big three are Van Gogh, Basquiat, and Egon Schiele.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Why, specifically, is art so important to Rowland, though? Ultimately, he says that he utilizes art as a form of therapy.

“It gives me an outlet,” shares Rowland. “It lets me step outside the box and make sense of all this. Art is my therapy, man. All art is therapy. Why else would you want to make something? You have to have the emotional drive to make it, or some kind of need to make it. That’s therapy. You are helping yourself out. On the surface, it helps me cope. It helps me deal with the daily struggle. It helps me make sense of all this. It helps me deal with the stress at work, stress with other people, and the stress of my environment.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
 “I want people to know that it’s ok to be weird and creative. It’s not a bad thing,” adds Rowland. “People are blessed with this ability to create. Whatever you believe in—creationism, the big bang, or that we’re all just randomly here—we’re all creative creatures and we need that. It helps us all out. It helps me understand myself better. It’s a visual journal to look back at paintings you did in the past. It allows you to see where you were at during that point in time.”

And Rowland believes that everyone is truly a creative person from birth.

“I feel like artists take their ability for granted. We’re blessed,” says Rowland. “I think all people are creative, they just don’t know it. That’s why all little kids like to draw. They stop drawing when they get older. They just stop doing it. They have to grow up, get a job, and work on 'Maggie’s Farm.'”

"credit" Jessi Smith
In Rowland’s opinion, art allows the community to look at itself with a different perspective.

“I feel like art and creativity helps the human race grow,” says Rowland. “Without creativity, Steve Jobs never would have made any of this. There would be no architecture. There would be no colors, no blue shirts, none of this stuff at all—whatever all this is—without this creativity. I think it expands our environment and it expands us. It helps us to understand things in a different perspective, really. It allows us to see things in new ways and it helps us expand whether we want to or not. It can even expand our minds subconsciously. I think the universe is constantly expanding and I think it might be infinite. One day, the day I leave this body, I will find out, whether I accept it or not. That’s the cool thing about death, I suppose. Death is the ultimate answer. And that’s another reason why I’m thankful for my ability to paint. Whenever I’m dead and gone, that painting [motioning towards a nearby painting] will still be somewhere. I’ve never seen anybody throw a painting away. If I ever see a really good drawing in the trash or anything—I don’t know why I’m digging through trash; I'm just speaking hypothetically—I’m taking it.”

"credit" Kristian Rowland
Another interesting thing about Rowland’s work is that many of his pieces don’t necessarily get titled.

“I don’t know what to call a lot of them,” says Rowland. “I like what Jackson Pollack said about titles. He feels like titles take away from the work, because then the person looking at it expects something. If I paint a face weeping and I call it ‘Sorrow,’ then people will be like, ‘Oh. This makes me sad.’ What if I call it ‘Salvation' or something’ Then you’ve got a completely different outcome. Whatever it is, that’s what it is.”

Finding the time to pour into one's craft can be hard to do. With that in mind, Rowland forces himself to make the time even though he works a third shift job, because otherwise he feels like he’s just spinning his wheels.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“Whenever I’m not painting or drawing, I feel like I’m wasting my life,” shares Rowland. “I try to paint or draw a little bit every day. Honestly, I just want to paint all day, every day. That’s all I want to do. I don’t want to go work some stupid job that I hate. I don’t want to work on 'Maggie’s Farm.' I work a third shift job at Bremner in Princeton [Kentucky], so I can’t really paint as much as I want to. I’ve just got so much passion for what I do and I don’t want my job to define me. When I tell people I work at a cookie factory, I don’t want them to think that’s all I will ever do with my life. I want to be recognized as an artist, because I am an artist. That’s what I want my mark to be.”

All in all, Kristian Rowland’s abstract work challenges and confronts you. The brilliant colors in his work arouse the emotions and heighten the senses. It’s very easy to get lost in his paintings as you wrestle with his—and perhaps your own—inner struggles visually.

To follow Kristian Rowland’s work, keep an eye on kristianrowland.carbonmade.com/, his Instagram account @kristian_rowland, and his Facebook page.

Now that you've had a chance to see some photographs taken by Sugg Street Post photographer Jessi Smith, scroll below to see some photographs taken by Kristian Rowland of other pieces he has created.

"credit" Kristian Rowland"credit" Kristian Rowland"credit" Kristian Rowland"credit" Kristian Rowland"credit" Kristian Rowland"credit" Kristian Rowland"credit" Kristian Rowland"credit" Kristian Rowland"credit" Kristian RowlandSugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey
Photos by Jessi Smith and Kristian Rowland

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  • Published in Art

Barbie Hunt - Living Out Loud

"credit" Jeff HarpHOPKINS COUNTY, KY (5/28/13) – If you live in or around Madisonville, then you’ve probably heard the name Barbie Hunt, which has become synonymous with creativity, spirituality, and brilliant color. Barbie has been embellishing the world with her distinctive artistic flair her entire life, of which, timeframe-wise, she refuses to release specific information about.

“If a woman tells you her age, she’ll tell you anything,” laughs Barbie.

Well-known in Hopkins County for her unique and imaginative style, Barbie is a staple in our area. In turn, many follow her work and any new projects she becomes involved in. Barbie’s art is becoming highly sought after and collected both locally and around the world.

Some of the unique treasures Barbie brings into existence include ceramic pottery, brightly painted silk scarves, collage work, mixed media pieces, and paintings of all mediums. Aside from her studio, which is located at 37 South Main Street in downtown Madisonville, you can see Barbie’s work in various places around town, such as McCoy & McCoy Laboratories and The Crowded House/Green Dragon Tavern.

"credit" Jeff Harp
I was introduced to Barbie Hunt at a young age by my grandmother, Beverly Dockrey, who belonged to a book club that Barbie was a part of. My grandmother, knowing my love of art and painting, took me into Barbie’s studio where we were introduced. It wasn’t long before I was completely inspired by this woman, her unbelievable talents, and her friendly disposition.

Since then, I have kept up with Barbie’s work and recently had the pleasure of sitting down with her in her studio to talk about her life, her great accomplishments thus far, and her hopes for the future.

Barbie grew up in Barlow, KY, a small town on the west side of Ballard County. Her father, Gayle Perry, was an agriculture teacher at the local high school; her mother, Adeline Perry, was a stay-at-home-mom, as were many others at that time.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“My parents were World War II people,” explains Barbie. “I think my mother was a frustrated artist. She was a very creative person. We always had projects going on around the house. Later in her life, she took some classes and she became a very good painter. I have a few of her paintings. My mother wanted to be creative, but the culture was to stay at home and take care of your kids. I have a brother and a sister, so there were three of us. I’m the middle child. We lived in a nice neighborhood and we had the run of the town. We rode our bikes and walked everywhere. It was a very, I guess, common childhood for people who grew up in small towns like that. There were lots of thriving small towns at that time.”

Barbie’s father was a talented musician from Dawson Springs who also put his creative talents on hold while he provided for his family and focused on family life.

“My dad played all kinds of instruments. He could play the fiddle, guitar, banjo, anything,” says Barbie. “He sort of set that aside, however, because he didn’t think that was very important. He played in a band and stuff like that during the war, but, afterwards, I would say that generation—when they got home—really settled into family life in a way that we don’t really see now. They put aside things that they shouldn’t have, like my mother who spoke two languages. We’re Americans and we don’t speak German. Of course, German wouldn’t have been a good language to speak at that time. My mother’s parents came over from Germany and my mother grew up in North Dakota. Her mother was from Denmark. She had a working knowledge of both German and Dutch, but none of that was something that carried down to us kids.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Barbie says that her father’s musical career really started taking off as she grew older.

“I was around 10 or 12 when he really started getting into it because of new worship songs that were coming out. That’s when ‘How Great Thou Art’ was a new song,” laughs Barbie. “These songs started coming out with guitar, which was brand new to the church. Well, he got into that and started to learn all these songs. He just loved playing worship music on his guitar. In fact, before he died of cancer, he planned his own funeral and he invited all these friends of his that he’d been pickin’ with in different worship settings. We had like eight guitarists in this traditional Methodist church doing all this music that these people had never really heard. Are you familiar with the Great Banquet in Madisonville? Well, we helped to start it. We also helped to start the Walk to Emmaus in Murray, KY. My dad got involved in that and that’s when his musical talents really started showing up. After we were teenagers, he really started enjoying music and pickin’ with other people.”

Barbie’s father tried showing her how to play the guitar, but she claims her left-handed approach made it difficult for him to teach her. She got frustrated with it early on and, although she says she isn’t musically talented, she does have a dulcimer that a friend, Warren May,  made for her that she wants to learn how to play.

"credit" Jeff Harp
Although Barbie’s father’s musical talents weren’t directly passed on to her, her mother’s creative edge influenced her greatly.

“I got to paint a lot as a kid,” says Barbie. “Other kids would come to my house because we had stuff and that wasn’t normal. The schools didn’t teach art at all. Even the high schools didn’t have art classes. So, I got to do stuff with my mom at home. We did lots of paint by numbers. I learned a lot about color doing paint by numbers, which was, I think, a really good base for learning.”

Barbie’s childhood was spent roaming around in woods near her house, playing in mud, and helping her mother in a big garden outside the home. She thought, growing up, that she’d end up becoming an elementary teacher or a nurse.

“I really thought those were the only two things you could be when you grew up,” laughs Barbie. “Then I went to college at Murray State University and found out that you could study art as a subject. I took one class and I was hooked. I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, and I’m sure I won’t ever make any money at it, but I’ve got to do it.’ Then I took a pottery class and realized that you could really do something. I used to make mud pies as a kid and here I was making real, professional mud pies. So it kind of evolved really. I can’t say that I always wanted to be an artist and I really never even knew one. I mean, it wasn’t until I left home that my mother really started painting.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Barbie left Murray State University with more than an education. It was there that she met her husband, Rush Hunt.

“We got married and then Rush went to law school in Louisville,” says Barbie. “I finished college there at Spaulding University. Spaulding had a great program at that time. You could take classes at any school in the city and get credit at Spaulding, so I took a pottery class under Tom Marsh. He was a great potter and teacher at that time at the University of Louisville. After that, we moved to Madisonville and Rush started practicing law here.”

Upon moving to Hopkins County, Barbie started dabbling in commercial art. She designed logos for businesses, painted, and raised Lee and Lara, their two children.

“I really wanted to go back to school,” says Barbie. “I thought that if I could really learn to make pots then that would be a legitimate way to make income as an artist. Plus, I really liked making pots. So, I went to the University of Evansville and they allowed me in the master’s program even though I’d only had one class in clay and really didn’t have a background in it. They kind of took me in on a tentative basis to see how I did.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Barbie did very well in the program and came away from the University of Evansville with a master’s in ceramics.

“I did most of my master work in gas-fired kilns and developed a lot of glazes. All the glazes I have, I’ve made myself,” says Barbie. “When I finished that, I started working as a fulltime production potter. At that time, Martha Layne Collins was governor. During that era, there was a lot of support for the Kentucky craft market. Well, I got involved in the crafts market and I eventually had about 15 ‘mom and pop’ craft shops and gift shops in the state carrying my pottery. I really got into production works. I did that for about eight years and, at the same time, I started teaching part-time at the college.”

Barbie taught art history, studio classes, and developmental English classes at Madisonville Community College (MCC). In an attempt to score a fulltime teaching job at MCC, Barbie commuted to Murray State University until she acquired a master’s degree in English literature.

"credit" Jeff Harp
“I really enjoyed it. I had a couple of professors that were just wonderful,” says Barbie. “Plus, I love reading, which is another family pastime. We had lots of books and we were always reading, so I had already read a lot of the classics. I was particularly interested in the early part of the 20th Century in America and England—T.S. Elliot and that whole group of guys.”

Although Barbie obtained her master’s in English literature and was working towards her PHD, she was denied a fulltime position with the college. She says it was a definite turning point in her life. She wondered whether or not teaching was the path she was supposed to be on. She resigned from her part-time teaching job and turned to her art, deciding once again to try making art her fulltime job.

“The craft market changed a lot, quickly. It was hard, solitary work, and I really prefer to be with people. I was really disappointed when I didn’t get the fulltime teaching job, because I had been given a lot of ‘green lights’ on it. I thought I had been doing everything to get myself into the right position to land that job.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Shortly after resigning from her teaching position, Barbie received a phone call from the president of MCC offering her a much different job on campus. She was offered the position of director over the newly built Glema Mahr Center for the Arts, which, at that time, was called the Madisonville Fine Arts Center.

“Rush had been on the Community Improvement Foundation for years and years,” says Barbie. “We had watched the building go up. It had been a hard building to build because it had been completed in phases as they had the money. I wasn’t involved in any of it. I saw it all go up as I was driving back and forth teaching all the time. The president wanted me to consider being the first director of this new thing. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, no! I’m not the least bit interested in that,’” laughs Barbie. “It just looked like a lot of work. So we talked a lot about what his vision was and what his hopes were. It was the first performing arts center on a community college campus in Kentucky. It broke a lot of ground in many areas. I didn’t want to just say no if it was something I was supposed to do, but gosh, it didn’t seem like something I was supposed to do.”

Although she wasn’t very interested in taking on such a large project, she decided to ask if she could see the inside of the building and was quickly taken on a tour of the new facility.

“I’d never even seen the inside of it,” says Barbie. “They had a ribbon cutting ceremony at one point and then they closed it up. They couldn’t leave it open unless they had a person running it, so it was just locked up. It was finished, unfinished really, but finished as far as what they’d had the money for. So we walked through the building. It had seats, no curtains, no lighting, and a very small sound system. There wasn’t any furniture in the office. It had a great big coatroom and a little bitty box office. It had dressing rooms with nothing in them at all—just concrete block rooms. It had another concrete block room that was supposed to be a green room someday. It had a sound booth with absolutely nothing in it except a counter, and it had no money. It had no operating money whatsoever. They had set aside a small budgeted amount to run it and they had gotten approval from the community college system to hire a director and a secretary.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Barbie was shocked at what it truly could be and what an outrageous amount of work would have to go into it. Yet, it was in that empty building that she had an epiphany that would change not only her life, but the lives of so many others in our community.

“I knew all these wonderful women who had dreamed and raised money for 20 years to build this thing,” explains Barbie. “I saw that it was either lemon or lemonade, and right now it was just this great big lemon. These women had dreamed a really big dream and some crazy person needed to dream just as big to pull it off. Then I realized that I was that crazy person.”

Even though Barbie knew nothing about performing arts leadership, she accepted the position and was immediately overwhelmed by the project she had taken on.

“It was an insane job. God was really with me,” says Barbie. “They already had 30 events booked in a building with no lights, no sound, no money, no desk, no computer, and no paperclips. I started meeting with all these guys, because there was a punch list and all this unfinished work. One of them told me about a man named Larry Teal who lived outside of Chicago. Larry had a performing arts center very similar to mine. He told me I needed to get to know him. Well, I called him up. I was desperate. I needed help.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

Barbie made fast friends with Larry Teal. He had taken on the job of running a performing arts center on a community college campus and had already plowed the same ground that Barbie had just set foot on.

“Every detail, from getting a very structured system to adjust to the arts, maintenance, cutting a check for an artist, intermission—stuff that had never ever been done before,” says Barbie. “Larry took me under his wing. I met him at a presenters booking conference. He got me in with William Morris and some of the big boys. I got to sit in on booking meetings with all the big presenters from Florida. They treated me like one of the guys, and here I was, a young mom that didn’t know what I was doing.”

With help from her newfound friends, Barbie was able to book incredible artists right off the bat and continued to do so season after season. Barbie was also able to develop a volunteer program quickly.

“We had over 100 people within a year helping to do everything from sound and lights to seating,” says Barbie. “Larry came and helped me to develop a ticketing program as well.”

For ten years, Barbie kept the ball rolling at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts. It was during that time she says she realized that, while she loves starting projects, she really doesn’t think she is good at maintaining them.

"credit" Jessi Smith

“I loved setting it all up,” says Barbie. “When I left, they were in good shape financially, had a large endowment, and I had gotten Glema’s name on the building, which was a dream of mine. And then, I realized it was just work. It had become work. It wasn’t a challenge anymore. I missed making art and a lot of things had changed in our lives. Our kids were in law school and they were grown. We had bought this building, Rush’s law office was in here, and we had been renting out the other side and decided not to rent it anymore. So, I started renovating it to be a little pottery shop. In 1999, I moved in and started making pots.”

Both of Barbie’s children, Lara and Lee, eventually became attorneys and moved off to fulfill their dreams. Neither was particularly into creating art, but Barbie says they both appreciate art and that they are by far her biggest fans.

“We had the most fun this past December. Our son and his wife, Kristi, finally got their dream home in Santé Fe, New Mexico. They’ve lived in Santé Fe for over ten years and they recently bought this new, huge, awesome house there. They’re both amazing people, but they have not one decorating gene between them,” laughs Barbie. “They have no interest in that, so they asked Lara and I to come to New Mexico to help them. They bought our plane tickets to come and spend the week decorating their house. We spent 15 hours the first day shopping and then we had all the furniture trucked in. We decorated the whole house in five days. It was amazing.”

During the home makeover, Barbie produced a large painting to place on a wall of the house. She was inspired early one morning while watching the sun rise up over Santé Fe. Barbie wanted to paint it, so she did.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“It got me thinking about working big," says Barbie. “I live in this little studio and it keeps me from thinking big, but in New Mexico, everything is so big. The sky is so big. So anyways, I came home and I was inspired. I could do it. I wanted to work big.”

Barbie has recently completed several large-scale pieces that are currently on display at The Crowded House restaurant in Madisonville. Up to this point, she has been creating art on a much smaller scale, but she has found her creative energies renewed after stepping outside of her usual comfort levels and working big.

Some of her most popular sellers, however, are her hand-painted silks, which she learned to do with a friend.

“We’d get together and play—make art together. She’s a wonderful painter,” says Barbie. “She painted silk for fun, so we’d get together and do silk. It became a great way for me to do color studies. The color you put on it is what stays. And mixing colors and seeing what happens when they run together and all of that helped. I really got to where I liked doing silk more than I liked doing watercolor. I still do watercolor every once in a while. I have some girlfriends and we used to go to Maine and paint landscapes. I love taking watercolors and doing that, but I don’t really see myself as a watercolor painter. It’s very structured. I’m not structured enough to be a good water colorist. You’ve got to like order and staying within the lines that you’ve created. I always want to bust out of my own lines.”

Painting silk became such a fun creative outlet for Barbie that she even developed her own method for working with silk.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“Most silk painters stretch their silks and it’s a wonderful way to work. It’s very structured,” says Barbie. “I lay out plastic on the floor or on a table. I use the real thin, almost drycleaner plastic that you get your clothes in, scrunch it, and then put the silk on that. The silk picks up all these things that are going on in the plastic underneath it. So you can control where it goes and what it does with water, dye, salt, and even sugar. Salt and sugar create texture in the dye. Do all that, lay it out flat, and let it sit. I am doing the same thing with acrylics—building up color, letting it run, stopping, seeing where it ends, going back, and layering more color on. Of course, the difference with silk would be that silk is transparent. The colors are all transparent, so you can’t totally get rid of something. With acrylics, you can just go ahead and start over if it’s a terrible painting,” laughs Barbie. “But with silk, it’s only a piece of silk. How bad could it be?”

Like most artists, Barbie is often inspired by a certain medium, running with it until she discovers something else that pulls her in a different direction. In turn, her artwork is usually made in phases.

Barbie says she is just now getting back into making pots, which she hasn’t done over the past seven years.

“My kiln died and I didn’t get a new one,” says Barbie. “Life got busy and Rush and I opened the [Main Street] Prayer Center [aka, Healing Rooms of Hopkins County] in the middle of all that. With painting, you can paint and then come back to it a week later and pick up where you left off. Pots don’t give you that freedom. I wasn’t sure I would go back to making clay, but a friend has loaned me her kiln. I’ll probably buy a new one now, but I have a kiln that I’m using and its firing fine. So, I got all my glazes back out. In the midst of all that, this wonderful young woman, Bree Jene Campbell, came to help me and she’s interested in becoming a potter. Bree is apprenticing. Having somebody here to help me do some of the work, Facebook it, and help with marketing has invigorated me to get excited about clay again. The same thing has happened with the large scale work. To have done that in New Mexico—I enjoyed the process and finished three paintings in a day. That kind of got me going, ‘Oh my gosh. I can do this. This is fun.’”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Another style of art that Barbie has an affinity for is collage. Collage is a technique where the artwork is made from an assemblage of different forms, which create a new piece altogether. She is very well known for her collage pieces.

“I really love doing collage,” says Barbie. “I think you have to have a respect for it to purchase it, so it’s been a harder sell. Regardless, I’ve sold a lot of work and I have people now who collect my work and really appreciate it. I’m very grateful for that. Collage is a slower process. I’ve been doing it for a long time now and it’s been a very good way to force me to deal with design, color, texture, and all the areas that you might kind of become lazy with. Working small with collage has been really good. So, I’m taking some of the things I’ve been doing small and kind of blowing them up. I’ve done some larger scale pieces with collected metal and wood. I’ve sold quite a few. I have quite a few right now that I’m working on. I just collect parts, get ideas, and put them together. They come together pretty quickly once I have all the parts. There is a show in Henderson [Kentucky] that I participate in every other year. It’s a recycled art exhibit. So that’s always a goal of mine, to get a bunch of new works done for the exhibit. It’s coming up this fall, so I’m gearing up and thinking through new ideas. I used to do a lot of shows. I don’t do that many anymore. It’s a lot of trouble to haul your stuff around. But the recycled art exhibit, I really enjoy doing that one.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

Barbie considers one of her greatest artistic accomplishments a collage series that she created for McCoy & McCoy Laboratories, Inc. She was commissioned to create the series by Barclay McCoy, the president and owner of the company.

“It was such a fun project,” gushes Barbie. “The project was to do these pieces of collage using leaves and construction pieces from their old site and their new site when they were building their new building. I developed all these works that were going to be given as gifts to all the different contract companies that participated in the construction of the building. Then, I went out with Barclay and we picked out the colors for the interior of the new building. We chose all these primary colors and I just happened to be working with all these primary colors in my collages as well. When they were all finished, Barclay liked them so much she decided to keep them. So now, they are on the wall inside of the building honoring all of these companies who worked together to create it. I love that McCoy & McCoy, a local company, supports local artists. I would love to see other local businesses really take local art seriously.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

For the most part, Barbie thinks that Madisonville and Hopkins County are moving in the right direction when it comes to appreciating the arts and surrounding ourselves with it.

“I’m always striving for excellence, so there is always more to improve upon, but I think we’re doing great,” says Barbie. “What Sugg Street Post is doing is awesome. We’re getting an art gallery open on Sugg Street and Amanda’s on Main is doing well. We had our fourth Gallery Hop this year, which is amazing. That’s starting to build up steam. At the first one I didn’t sell hardly anything. The second one I sold more. The third one I sold a lot. I think it’s because people started coming expecting to buy. They saw it as what it is intended to be. Not just to go look at art, but to come, shop, and to find work that catches your heart and that you want to live with. I was in a home recently and the couple that lived there was displaying one of my pieces. It is really exciting to see people starting to own and appreciate work by local artists. I think the desire that we have to see the Dulin and Woolworth buildings become important, active buildings in the downtown is significant. I love the idea of having upstairs apartments throughout the downtown area, because it puts people living in the downtown district. Those are the people that are going to be a part of whatever scene is going on. Those are the people who will help make our downtown area an active arts community. Hopefully, we can even put studios or businesses in those buildings that will support the arts or become part of the arts scene. It would be awesome to bring other artists to live and work here. I think that is the goal that we’re moving towards and I think that’s wonderful. I think we’re going there.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

Barbie not only has a passion for art, but she also has a passion for prayer. Barbie and her husband Rush are responsible for opening the Main Street Prayer Center which is located at 35 North Main Street in downtown Madisonville.

“Rush had been at a conference learning about Healing Rooms Ministries and it was clear that God wanted us to open a prayer center,” says Barbie. “So we started one in my shop where Rush’s office space used to be before he moved to a new location, and we continued to run it in this building for almost two years. We had two prayer rooms, an intersession room, and a reception area. However, this space just wasn’t really big enough for the ministry, which grew quickly. We had more and more people coming for prayer and they had to wait a long time. We needed a bigger building, and we had a lot of wonderful, prophetic people telling us that God had a bigger plan and for us. They told us to keep our eyes open. So we got the building that we have now at an auction and moved the prayer center down the street next to Ferrell’s. We moved in May of 2011.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
The prayer center does not offer Sunday services. Barbie tells me that the center isn’t a church either; it’s a ministry.

“Healing Rooms is an international association. There are over 2,500 in the world and, since we’ve opened ours, there are now ten in Kentucky. It’s just bringing Christians together to pray, primarily for the sick, but for people that have needs of all kinds. We are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have had some pretty amazing things happen. Lots of people have gotten healed. We have gotten reports recently that four different people we have been praying over are now cancer free. We see God heal people on a regular basis. It’s a cool ministry.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Recently, the ministry created a kids healing team and have received a very good response.

“After we started our healing room, the kids wanted to pray for the sick because they had been in experiences where they had seen God heal people,” says Barbie. “So we put a structure together, tried it, and that next year the lead administrator of Healing Rooms came to Madisonville and held a conference with us. They got to see what our kids were doing and how it was progressing. Shortly after that they invited us to come and talk about it at a conference in Spokane [Washington]. So I put a manual together and that has put us in the frontline of being the go-to people if you want to have a kids’ team. Recently, we received a grant from the National Christian Foundation to help us build a website and to develop our material. So that’s something I’ve been involved in lately.”

Something else that has been consuming Barbie’s thoughts lately has been the Dulin and Woolworth buildings, which are located right next to her art studio. The buildings have been a hot topic of conversation around town as their ultimate fates are uncertain at this point in time.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I’m really hoping that the building next door gets taken good care of, because it’s scary right now not knowing what the outcome will be,” says Barbie. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the big looming buildings next door. If they get torn down, I don’t know what will happen to my studio. At one point, we were asked if we would sell our building. I can’t say that I want to, but if that would improve the downtown, and if I could find a good alternate space, I would consider it. But, I’ve spent a lot of years moving in here and it’s hard to set up a studio. It’s a lot of work. I want to make art, I don’t want to move or renovate. I’m happy where I am.”

Barbie and I also talked about her favorite themes, colors, and symbols that frequently appear in her work.

“Over the last ten years, I have worked on this series on the cross. It’ll probably be a book at some point, because I’ve written devotions that go with each piece,” says Barbie. “I was honing in on two concepts with this series. There is obviously the cross that Jesus died on, which is the central image of the Christian faith, but then Jesus said, ‘Pick up your cross,’ so there’s more to it than the obvious image. So I did my own in-depth study of that, and so many of my collages have come out of that study. I always keep going back to that, because it’s still an ongoing observation in my life.”

“Leaves are another theme I’m drawn to,” says Barbie. “I honed in on the scripture in revelations that says that the leaves of the trees are going to heal nations and that leaves had some significance in the kingdom of God as a symbol of healing. So leaves became, for me, a symbol of healing and a Christian symbol. I have used leaves a lot. I believe that God is calling Christians to pray for the nations, not against them, and to believe that God wants to heal not just individuals, but nations.”

"credit" Jeff Harp

“Now I’ve got this new series, which is based on a concept that I’m really just starting to explore, and that is that the atmosphere that we see is only part of the atmosphere that we live in,” explains Barbie. “There is a spiritual atmosphere and it parallels, because God is a creator and he loves all of it. He loves the stars, he loves nature, and he loves diversity. He’s big. He created big. So I’m working with this series that’s big for me, but also big in concept, because I have to have something that I can see way out there. It keeps me motivated, like the cross. The more I know about it, the more I want to know and there’s more depth to it—vertical and horizontal. Our lives are supposed to be vertical and horizontal, not one way or another. But the new series is about the atmosphere. We’re under atmospheric pressure that we can’t see. Some days you just feel like there’s this cloud over you, like the Pink Panther. Well, there really is. It’s an atmospheric thing. There is pressure on you that you didn’t create. It isn’t you. You feel guilty or your feel bad about yourself or whatever—well, that wasn’t you. That’s something that happened that’s going on around you and we joke about the full moon, but there are atmospheric things that are natural and that are supernatural. So I’m pursuing that right now.”

“As far as favorite colors go, I don’t really have a favorite,” admits Barbie. “I go in stages of color. I love the river. I love fire. I love all the warm colors. I love all the cool colors. I had a black and white phase for a while. I am also fascinated by colors I can’t create. There are colors that I can’t make. We don’t have the spectrum for it. Ultimately, it’s really what God is doing in me and around me that motivates me. I wish I was more motivated by money, but I’m not. [laughs] I am motivated by these things that I see that God shows me—things that I can’t really articulate in words. I want to visually articulate them.”

Every piece that Barbie creates also has its own write up. Barbie likes to write about the piece, what inspired her to create it, and what it means to her.

“People are interested,” says Barbie. “They don’t need to know it and you can’t really say that art is something people need, but I believe your spirit needs art. I think people really enjoy knowing what was in the brain that caused you to do what you did, especially with work that is like mine. I mean, I can paint very realistically, but I just don’t want to. I value the camera. I studied photography a whole lot in college. I value the camera as a way to create art. So why would I want to do something it can do? I really value photo realistic painters and I have friends that are amazing at it. That just isn’t who I am. I don’t think like that. I just think in a different direction. So, my work has become more and more abstract, but it has meaning. It isn’t just throwing paint on a canvas. I want to communicate meaning in the process of what I’m doing. If there is anything happening in the 21st Century it’s that people are living out loud. Language is becoming a medium of communication in a new way, and so the written language is valuable to people. That’s how we are communicating. It’s not necessarily a good thing, because you can’t tell if I really like you by how I text you. You could tell by looking at me, but you have to add hugs, a smiley face, or ‘lol’ so that someone else takes it right. As an artist, I see artists as prophets on paper. We’re giving road signs of what’s going on around us and maybe reflecting culture as much as we’re directing it.”

"credit" Jeff Harp

Barbie is helping to direct the future of Madisonville in a variety of ways. She stays heavily involved with the city, although she admits that she wasn’t always a participating activist.

“As far as the city goes, I wasn’t involved,” says Barbie. “I attended a meeting where they were presenting the new city’s book. I was invited because I was on the Madisonville Historic District Commission. I was helping them start that, but I wasn’t involved in anything. I was trying to make art and helping with grandkids. It was another true epiphany in my life, honestly. I was sitting in that meeting and I was president of the Community Improvement Foundation [CIF], but CIF was not particularly involved in the community at that time. I saw that I needed to be actively involved in the community. There is so much potential for Hopkins County and this community. I decided that I wouldn’t be passive any longer. I became an activist. I do believe the Margaret Mead quote, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ I believe that. I know that’s true and, as a Christian, I know that’s true as well. That’s how Christianity grew. So, I became actively involved. CIF became actively involved. I’m not involved with the CIF anymore, but I am involved in the Downtown Turnaround Project.”

In the midst of all of that, Barbie became like family to the late community leader and local visionary, Glema Mahr.

“I had a great loss in my life. I felt like I lost my mother again when she passed away. I buried my mother and then Glema died,” says Barbie. “I became trustee of her estate and spent a year going through all of her things, having an auction, and doing all of that. Now we’re on the verge of turning her land into a real park, and it is incredible land. There are 260 acres of gorgeous rolling hills. Her and Merle dreamed of it being a city park, and my job is to do everything I can to help carry out their vision within the constraints of an economy that has shifted and all it takes to make that happen.”

Barbie and Glema dreamed about what would happen with that land quite a bit. They shared ideas and concepts together and had a great shared vision for what it would someday become.

"credit" Jeff Harp
“At one point, I thought she was going to get involved in doing it and we discussed it,” says Barbie, “but she didn’t like looking back. She was a wonderful visionary person that just enjoyed life and living fully today—living in the present. That is why she was able to live so long. For Glema, to talk about the park and to start planning it was really more like looking at your own mortality a little too much. I, of course, understood that completely. We had a lot of things cooking and then we just sat them on the table and stopped. So, now we’re moving in that direction. The Mahr Park Planning Committee is very committed to carrying out her wishes. The city leadership right now is doing a good job of working towards carrying it out and doing it very methodically. We can’t open the park until you have an entrance and a parking lot. So, the park isn’t open. I know it looks like we’re doing nothing, but the biggest thing that will ever happen to that park will be the entrance and the parking lot. We can’t have a park without it. It’s still going to be awhile, but it will be an awesome park when we get it open.”

But what is in the cards for Barbie and what is she planning for the future? How does this highly successful local artist measure her success?

“How would you know if you were successful? What would be the ultimate success measure? To have a piece in a museum of modern art or something? I am on a mission. I want to see a community of artists and craftsman that I want to be a part of created—a community of artists and craftsman who work together to create good work and support ourselves financially. To me, success is really that people value what you do at any level. Ultimately, that would mean that they would value it so much that they would be willing to pay a fair price for it. To me, success is when people start to value what you do, and not just what you’re doing, but why. It happens when they value the heart behind it, because they got it—whatever it is, whether it’s a pot, painting, or silk. I sell a lot of silk, and that has been one of the things that has encouraged me the most. People will come in wanting to buy one for a sick friend, because we name them and we pray over them. They value the meaning. They value that it’s created out of worship and out of the environment that we have here. That is success. I am very successful,” laughs Barbie. “You know what I mean? I’m not looking at the check book. I have money in the check book. I’m not making tons of money, but, as an artist, I feel successful because I’m getting to do meaningful work and there are a lot of people finding it meaningful.”

Barbie would like to find more local galleries interested in carrying her work, but, right now, she says she is very focused on her city.

"credit" Jeff Harp
“I believe in my city and I’m not one of those people that think the big city is better. I chose to live in Madisonville. We had opportunities to leave, but we chose not to. We chose to stay here, not just because it’s Rush’s hometown, but because we believe this is a good town and we’re going to invest our lives here. Part of being hugely successful is that we all make money doing what we love doing, and I think we’re headed in the right direction. We are making our downtown a destination. You can come, eat, shop, be challenged, get a tattoo, and get prayer,” laughs Barbie. “You can do it all.”

How does Barbie tie the importance of art in her life and her love of community together? Quite simply, she wants to create work that reflects her relationship with God.

“When I started growing as an artist, I didn’t even know of any other Christian artists. I was not trained that way,” says Barbie. “I know that God really loves places and I believe he wants to see cities thrive and everybody in them thrive. I think, as a Christian, I want to see transformed cities where everybody is working good jobs, living in nice homes, and doing valuable work while loving their families. I believe that everything you do to improve a city moves you toward that, and I believe the arts help, because I think God is a creative God. When we value creativity, we’re valuing him in us. It is all really out of my core belief that God said, ‘Stay in Madisonville. I’m going to use you here.’ That means every part of everything. Be involved in everything that you can make a difference in. I love starting stuff. I love working with people and seeing creative people working together. If committed people start believing in their city and start caring about their corner, then we will have a city that people will come to see. If we believe in our city and we believe that this is a good place to live—we have great schools, good jobs, and a wonderful environment—if we start inviting people to come and be a part of something wonderful, they will. That’s how people get to different cities after all.”

“Community matters. People matter. Rush and I want to know people. I want to know my neighbors and I want to know people. I want to care about people. That’s really why we started our ministry. We just want to make a place for that and I think small towns are the perfect set-up. I think that people are looking for that in a high-tech world, and we have it. We have a great city and it’s getting better.”

For more information about Barbie Hunt and her artwork visit her website at http://www.barbiehunt.com/.

For more information about Main Street Prayer Center visit their website at http://www.mainstreetprayer.org/.

You can also find Barbie Hunt Studios on Facebook

Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey
Photos by Jessi Smith and Jeff Harp

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  • Published in Music

Ray Ligon—Touchin’ Folks with Music

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (5/8/13)—Over 40 years of musicianship ain’t too shabby. Add in a compassionate approach to creating and performing inspiring, original songs—as well as some comedy at times—and you’ve got local singer-songwriter and country music mainstay, Ray Ligon.

Distinguished by his powerful vocal talents and articulate acoustic tones on a catalog of both original work and covers, Ray has amassed quite the following in western Kentucky over the years—and he has no intentions of throwing in the towel anytime soon. What’s more, his musical mantra, “It’s all about touchin’ folks with the music,” is alive and well in the music he crafts and the responses he receives from devoted fans.

Want proof? Simply check out any of Ray’s live concert dates, which include a spot at Madisonville’s upcoming Mad Flavor Arts and Music Festival on June 15th.

Yet, what most might not know is that Ray is a military veteran who once sang one of Kentucky’s most well-known tunes—the “Happy Birthday” song—to a Korean teenager and her family while stationed overseas; that he’s a rigorous, longtime supporter of both area civic organizations and charitable events such as the Madisonville Lions Club and WPSD’s annual Telethon of the Stars fundraiser; that he traveled to Atlanta, Georgia earlier this year to audition for NBC’s singing-based series, The Voice; and that he is currently working toward achieving a life-long dream of making a fulltime living from playing his music all over the country, and possibly the world.

Fortunately, myself and area photographer Jeff Harp got the chance to talk with the seasoned performer a couple months ago about the aforementioned facts and much, much more.

Who is Ray Ligon? Where do his passions lie? What does he think about the local music scene? And what does he have in-store for the future? The answers, as well as a few additional photos, can be found below. 

Luke Short: Where are you originally from?

Ray Ligon: I’m originally from Cuba…uh, I mean Miami, Florida. [laughs] I was born in Miami and raised in Hialeah, Florida.

LS: Was this before or after the Cuban Missile Crisis? [laughs]

RL: This was after. I’m not that old! [laughs] I remember it all, though.

LS: When did your relationship with music really begin and how did it develop over time?

RL: My daddy bought me my first guitar when I was 13-years-old. It was an old Sears Silvertone guitar. I wish I still had it, but it got all tore up. I started teaching myself and, at first, I was going from string to string—you know, that silly “Mary had a Little Lamb” stuff. [laughs] Finally, I said to myself, “I need to start using chords,” so that’s what I did. A lot of the other stuff I learned came from other musicians that I knew or liked over the years. Then, from there, I started to develop a style all my own.

LS: Did you ask your dad to get you a guitar or did he just kind of get it for you out of the blue?

RL: I think I was kind of like, “Hey dad, can I get that?” Back then, the Silvertone was like $36 or something like that, you know? So he got it for me and he’s been supportive of my music ever since then.

LS: What’s your dad’s name?

RL: His name is Lowell. I have the same first name actually. Ray is my middle name—Lowell Ray Ligon. My dad was Lowell Dewayne Ligon.

LS: Was there a reason you wanted a guitar? Was there a band that you really liked that made you want to play?

RL: Back then, I was listening to John Denver, James Taylor, and other stuff like that. My dad always had country albums and played country music. I grew up singing in the choirs at church, too. I wanted a guitar because I liked to sing and I wanted to accompany myself.

LS: When was the first time you really ever played in front of people?

RL: I was used to singing in the youth choir, but the first time I ever really played for people was in high school. I was a sophomore and I signed up for the talent show. Before the talent show came up, I was also involved with Campus Life: Youth for Christ. Long story short, I broke this pinky [points to pinky finger on left hand] during one of our events. Well, that’s my chording hand. They drilled two pins through the bone, so I came walking out on the stage for this talent show in high school with a big bandage around my pinky finger. As you can imagine, the whole audience in the auditorium just laughed. I got up there and won first place, though. As a matter of fact, I won first place all three years in high school, so that’s where I started playing in front of people and getting used to it a little bit. Then, right out of high school, I went into the Army. I continued the adventure with music in the Army and continued learning while I was just hanging out.

LS: So you took your guitar with you in the military?

RL: Oh yeah. If I go somewhere, especially if I’m going to be out of town for a little while, the guitar is going with me. It has to.

LS: I’m guessing that you were singing during the talent shows, too?

RL: Yeah, definitely.

LS: So singing is just something that’s always came along with your playing?

RL: For sure. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments over the years. People say they love my guitar playing and what I can do on the instrument, but when I sit back and watch somebody really tear a guitar up, I feel like a rookie—especially the guys that play lead and all that stuff. I don’t do that.

LS: You have more of a singer-songwriter type approach. It’s almost like folk or Americana in a sense.

RL: Yeah, and that’s what I work on. It’s my own style. When I’m playing covers, I try to emulate the original version to do it justice, but I also put a little of my own style on it. As a performer, I couldn’t make it on just my guitar playing. I’d have to be backing someone up or have them backing me up. I also play a 12-string, a couple six-string acoustics, and a six-string electric.

LS: What kind of guitars are they?

RL: My main guitar is a vintage six-string acoustic-electric Alvarez Yairi. I also have a Santa Fe Takamine, another smaller Takamine, a 12-string Ovation, a six-string Sunlight guitar—which is a “learner” but sounds really good—and I have an Epiphone Les Paul electric guitar.

LS: At the end of the day, what do you consider your style of music?

RL: I play country, inspirational country, folk—it’s kind of a James Taylor meets Garth Brooks meets George Strait meets John Denver. It’s my own kind of thing really. People ask me who I sound like and I just have to tell them, “I sound like Ray Ligon.” I mean, I don’t want to sound exactly like someone else. There are too many people out there trying to be just like somebody else right now. I don’t want to do that. I want to be who I am. I want to pursue the dream. Why would I want to sound exactly like another artist? Now, on some songs I might sound similar to another artist. When I play Trace Adkins tunes, I can do it justice; I can sound similar to him. It’s still me, though.

LS: What do you really want to do with music when it comes down to it?

RL: I just turned 55, but I’m still trying to pursue the dream. I’m not necessarily trying to look for a major label or anything like that, but if that happens and it’s all good, I would consider going that route. But I really just want to play music fulltime. I want to run all over the country doing what I love. I’d like to go overseas with the USO to show support for the troops. I would love to give back to the military, because I’m a six-year Army veteran myself.

LS: Where all did you go when you were in the military?

RL: I started out in Fort Knox, KY for my training, went to Fort Lewis in Washington, and from there went to Camp Casey in Korea. Then I came back to Fort Knox, got out for a few months, went back in, and ended up at Fort Bliss in Texas. I’ve been a few different places through the military, including Germany for some exercises. It was cool, too.

LS: I can imagine that you might have picked up some music-related stories along the way, too.

RL: When I was stationed in Korea, President [Jimmy] Carter was in office—it was back in ‘79. I have a vivid memory from back then.

From basic training on, you never forget the sound of your drill sergeant’s cadence, and this particular day, while I’m in Korea, I’m the staff-duty driver, so I’m driving all over the place doing different things. Then, I hear that cadence, and I’m like, “Oh, dang!” Well, I went and looked and there’s drill sergeant Rhoden—he’s not a drill sergeant at this point—but he’s marching troops back to this outfit and I followed him back. I went in there and we talked. We were cracking up. He was a really cool dude. That was the year that South Korean President Park Chung-hee was assassinated and we were on full alert status. I was stationed at Camp Casey, which is about 15 or 20 miles south of the DMZ [demilitarized zone]. So, when they put us on full alert status, I was in armor—the 1st and 72nd Armor over there—and our tanks were fully combat-loaded. All the main gun ammunitions stayed on the tanks. When we got the alert, we had to take the machine guns and mount them, we would grab machine gun ammunition, and we would carry .45 caliber pistols as our sidearms. So, we’re at a DEFCON 3 alert status and we can’t leave; we have to stay in our units. Well, a battalion commander approaches me and another guy who were jamming out down at the recreation center, and he says, “Y’all will be entertaining out troops at the EM Club.” We were like, “Yeah, no problem.” [laughs] We did that and played some other shows, too.

Also, it seems like every unit over there had a Korean photographer running around taking photos and selling them. Well, in my case, the guy’s name was Mr. Kim, and he invited me to his home for his daughter’s 18th birthday party. To me, that was a real honor. He was the only person I could communicate with that was there. [laughs] He told me to bring my guitar and I sang “Happy Birthday” to her in English. Then I just hung out, jammed a little more, and everyone was smiling and shaking hands. It was a pretty cool experience.

LS: Locally speaking, you’re a staple in the music scene. Lots of people know and respect your music. How do you respond to that?

RL: I feel blessed and honored that people dig what I do, and I feel that, as more time goes on, the fan base is building. Last time I played The Crowded House, we had a really good crowd. I play at Rockford’s Place in Greenville from time-to-time, too.

LS: You recorded the album Live at Rockford’s Place there.

RL: That’s a pretty cool album. It was recorded there. They have a sound booth upstairs with recording equipment and they gave me what they had recorded from my set. Then I took that and edited it down. The album came out really cool.

LS: Who are some of the people in the area that you respect and draw influence from musically?

RL: There are so many talented singer-songwriters around this area that I like and respect that it’s hard to mention them all—people like Pat Ballard, James Michael Harris, and Johnny Keyz just to name a few. There are just too many to mention here and in the surrounding counties. I find myself inspired by them because they’re out doing what they love to do. You know, some of them might be getting out a little more than I am, but with me, I’m also trying to find work. That’s why I’d like to be a fulltime musician. Id’ rather be worn out from doing what I love than doing anything else. A job gets in the way of the music, but I’ve got to pay the bills, you know?

LS: What kind of stuff have you been working on lately?

RL: Back in October of 2012, I went down to Beaird Music Group in Nashville, Tennessee and recorded a new song. But let me back up a little bit. My cousin [and country musician] John Berry was down in Nashville for the Inspirational Country Music Awards week and called me up and told me that all the people down there were really cool. He said that I needed to come down there and hang out. At the time, I was still working, so I took a couple of days off and went down there. One of the guys who was there came up to this jam session they were having on the roof of their hotel and he asked me if I was John Berry’s cousin. I told him I was, and he was like, “Well, get up there and play a song.” So I played some of my music and he comes up to me afterwards and says, “I’d like for you to send me some CDs.” I told him, “I ain’t gonna send you squat. I’ll go down to my truck and get some for you right now.” [laughs] Then he emails me a few days later and says that they’re working on a compilation CD and that John’s going to be on it. He said, “Wouldn’t it be a hoot if you were on there with your cousin?” I told him yeah, but I didn’t have a studio-quality track. So, in talking to John, I got hooked up with Beaird Music Group and wound up recording one of my songs called “Into Her Love” with them. I’m really proud of the way it came out. Around Thanksgiving, they sent the compilation CDs out to about 1,200 inspirational country music radio stations. As a result, my music has been played all over the country.

LS: What is “Into Her Love” all about?

RL: I used to live in Nashville years ago and I was running around near the South Loop, which is near the on-ramp to the freeway. Well, there’s a guy that usually stands there with a cardboard sign. Then, this particular day, this guy had written on the sign, “I want beer. Why lie?” That’s all he had on there. [laughs] I got to thinking about that, though. I was wondering what kind of journey the guy had been on and where he was going, and when I tell this story when I’m playing out somewhere people kind of giggle, but it’s a serious song. It’s a song of hope, of love, and of faith. The guy is trying to turn his life around and the family and kids are praying for him. It’s a really cool song when you look at the meaning and message.

LS: Is that a song you recently wrote?

RL: No, I’ve been playing it out for a while. I’ve played it at most of my recent shows. I don’t know how many years ago I wrote. It was probably around 15 years ago or so that I saw this guy and had the inspiration.

LS: What are you looking at for the future of your music? Are you looking to get a new album together?

RL: Well, I would love to have a benefactor. If I could find a benefactor or benefactors to help me follow the dream, I would love to record a full, 10-12 song album.

LS: Throughout your years of playing, what’s been one of your most memorable experiences?

RL: I’ve had a memorable experience that’s been going on for nine years now. As of last November, I’ve been playing for WPSD’s Chanel 6 Telethon of Stars out of Paducah, KY for nine years. It’s in support of the Lions Club and the Easter Seals. The funds they raise go to four different centers that aid those in the four surrounding states [Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee] with special needs. To me, that’s my holiday every year, just hanging out at the telethon. They pick a location, bring in some kids and adults with special needs, and the artists will go in—mostly the headliner and the co-headliners—and they’ll go around signing programs and whatnot. It’s like Christmas to most of them. It’s very humbling. I feel privileged and honored to be a part of it each year. Charlie Katterjohn, who’s a talent producer, saw me performing over at the Kentucky Opry over in Draffenville, KY a little over nine years ago and asked me if I wanted to be part of it. I’ve participated in the telethon every year since, for nine years straight. There’s just something about hanging out with the special needs folks that’s so great. They’re so appreciative and they stay for the entire 15 hours most of the time. You can go to Telethonofstars.org to find out more information. When we went off the air this last time, we were under $400,000, but more money was pledged—and more money always comes in than what was pledged—so now they’re up over $412,000 in the bank. Seeing that is amazing.

There’s a young lady there that I talk to who’s named Tammy Harris that I’ve adopted as my sister, and she calls me her big brother. I always run around during the event meeting people and networking, and a few years back, four or five years ago, right when they had moved the telethon over to the Carson Center, Tammy came up to me—and this was second year I’d seen her—and she hands me this envelope. It was a “Thank You” card with a photo in it of me and her at the autograph session. It was a great card. And here’s the thing—you never know how you’re going to touch somebody’s life just by talking to them. Well, when Tammy and I were talking, she was telling me that one of her close family members, like a godfather to her, had passed away. He was in the military, so I shared some of my Army experiences with her and we talked about how rough of a time it was for her. Then she told me, “When you talk to me, it’s like the weight of the world is lifted off my shoulders.” Heck, that’s the kind of thing that gets you right there. So, afterwards, I went back to the dressing room—and this was the year I was co-headlining—and I passed the card around to the guys who were jamming with me at the time and said, “This is what it’s all about.” There’s actually a song I wrote called “Touchin’ Folks with the Music.”

LS: That’s your mantra too, isn’t it?

RL: Yep, that’s my mantra; touchin’ folks with the music is what it’s really all about. And that situation with Tammy was just one of many where that concept applies. I’m a member of the Kentucky Country Music Association and, about two years ago, I competed in their statewide competition and went on to the nationals over in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I did a couple songs there and one of them was called “Mother Dear,” which is a song I wrote about Alzheimer’s disease. When I was finished and had come back out, this couple who I had been talking to before followed me. Well, the girl had tears just streaming down her face because her daddy had just passed away three weeks earlier because of Alzheimer’s, so I gave them a CD and talked with them. It’s just times like that, you know, what can you say? If I talk about it too much more I’m going to start crying, because I just get choked up. To me, I just want to share the gift I’ve been given—it’s what I love to do and that’s what I want to do all the time.

LS: Is that ultimately what music is all about to you?

RL: Yes, it’s really all about touching people. You know, some people have their own genres that really work for them, but for me it’s about country, inspirational country, some gospel, and other stuff like that. To me, that’s where it’s at. When I listen to music, I want to understand and connect with what’s being said. Not being able to understand what’s being said is a pet peeve of mine. There are even headliners out there in the country world right now and you can’t understand a doggone thing they’re saying. Or, you go to concert and it’s so loud that you can’t understand what’s being said. I don’t want to do that. When I do a concert, I want to be just loud enough. I want my voice to be out there and I want the music to compliment that. I want it all to work together, but it seems like there are so many artists out there that aren’t doing that. So, when I do have an opportunity to go out and play, that’s one of the things I want to do. I want to make sure the people right off the stage are enjoying the music and that the people in the back can hear it. I want to make sure that nobody’s getting their eardrums blasted out.

LS: When you sit down to write a song, what’s your process?

RL: It’s really different for every song. I have lost so many song ideas over the years because I didn’t write them down. [laughs] I had another song idea the other day, but I didn’t write it down. It was so simple, but now I can’t remember. I can kind of remember little things, but I’d have to really sit down and focus on it. There were times back when I was living in Texas when I got out of the Army and was working as a machinist that I would hear a rhythm in the punching machines. I don’t remember which song it was, but I used that beat to back up the lyrics I wrote. There are other times that I’ll get a tune in my head and I’ll go home and try to find it on the guitar. There are times that it all comes together at the same time, too. I’ve had people give me poems that I’ll see if I can turn into a song sometimes. “Heart of Thunder” is a song that was originally a poem written by a friend, and there was a particular piece of music I’d been working on that fit with it pretty well. I didn’t have to change much at all. I haven’t sat down and written a lot lately, but it comes in spurts.

LS: Over the years, I’m sure you’ve accumulated a lot of song ideas. I bet you have a little stockpile somewhere.

RL: I’m an only child, but there have been plenty of families that I’ve been “adopted” into, and I had a “brother” that passed away down in Florida. I got to go down and see him one more time before he passed and I wrote a song for him. I played it out at the Lions Club here in Madisonville, which I’m a member of, and I think I may have played it out at a couple of other places, but I never looked at it as being finished. Well, while I was getting ready for my [NBC’s] The Voice audition in Atlanta, Georgia, I kind of pulled his song out to look over it. For starters, I don’t like doing acapella performances, but that’s what I had to do at the first round at the audition. So, I was trying to gear myself up to put the same amount of feeling into that kind of performance as I do when I have my guitar. So, after I started playing that song that I wrote for my brother and, after I had changed the arrangement a little, I felt like I could really feel the emotion behind it.

LS: How did your attempt at gaining a lasting spot on The Voice come about?

RL: There’s a young lady that lives down in the Nashville area whose name is Wynston Presley. She’s a pretty cool gal. I met her down there one time at my luthier’s shop—the guy who does all my guitar work—and she came in there, we started talking, and she sang some acapella stuff. She’s got a really powerful voice and we became pretty good friends. So, in trying to encourage me, her and her manager both said that I should try to go down to Atlanta and audition together. That’s how that came about. We all went together.

LS: What do you think are some of the positive aspects of the local music scene and how do you think it could be improved upon?

RL: A positive aspect is that we have a mess of awesome artists, awesome performers, and awesome songwriters. That is the positive thing. I would like to see more of the smaller venues around Madisonville and the general region opening up their doors to the singer-songwriter crew. It would be nice to do a larger scale show together every so often. A few years ago, I hosted a showcase of regional musicians at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts and that was really cool. I would like to do that again sometime.

LS: And that was set up where people could come in and play and sing whatever they wanted?

RL: Right. I’m going to talk to Brad Downall about doing that again sometime soon. I love working with and mentoring younger musicians, too. I’ve played with Savana Poole here in town. She’s an awesome young lady and her mom and dad are very supportive of her. We played a show together at the Hillside Villa and at the Veteran’s Center in Hanson, where her grandfather was, in the same day around Christmas last year. I like doing stuff like that. I like giving back when I can.

LS: I’ve seen you play at the Lions Club a few times, too.

RL: I’ve played a mess of funerals, weddings, city events, and this, that, and the other over the years. I’ve had weddings where I’ve written a song for a specific theme.

Back when the Acoustic Café used to be open in Madisonville, I was a regular there. There was a lady named Marsha Coke from the Glema Center who came out and she brought her mom and dad. Her dad was suffering from Alzheimer’s and rarely left the rest home at the time, but he came to the show and I did “House of the Rising Sun.” After I got done playing that song, her dad came up to me and shook my hand and didn’t want to let go. Finally, they came and got him and went back to the table. Well, eventually, he passed away. So, they asked me to play at his funeral, and one of the songs they wanted me to do—because he had a really good time seeing me play it before and it was, as they said, the happiest he’d been in years—was the “House of the Rising Sun.” I played that and “Amazing Grace,” but that was probably the strangest song I’ve ever played at a funeral. I explained it to the people working with the funeral home and they understood, because it was special to his kids and his wife. It was just the last time he’d been able to have a really, really good time, so that made me feel really good. I do those kind of things for my heart, not for money.

There’s this song on Shenandoah’s 2000 album called “The Booger Song”, and it’s not something you’d want to play at a restaurant. [laughs] Well, I’m what you'd call a fulltime part-timer at the Glema Mahr Center, and one year a few years back, I was helping out with the Summer Arts Academy. So, this one day, they asked me to bring my guitar and play a few songs for the kids. I was like, “No problem.” Then, the next day, they’re all sitting there on the stage, I get up on a stool and I’m singing all these songs, and then I do “The Booger Song.” You get three different reactions here: one is “Huh?” another is “Ewww!” and another is laughter. [laughs] Most of them were cracking up, though. Then we went out front for pizza and one of the young men came up to me and said, “Mr. Ray-Ray,” which is one of my nicknames, “that booger song was inappropriate.” [laughs] It was funny, man. There are a lot of little things like that that have happened over the years that make it fun.

LS: So, what’s in the future for Ray Ligon?

RL: I would like to get to a point that I’m so busy with music that I don’t have to worry about a day job; a place where I can more than pay my bills. I want to be so fulltime that I can travel. I want to get a band pulled together eventually or some session players that I can get a schedule worked out with. I’d love to get a tour going where I can open up for someone, but it’s got to be right. I kind of feel like I’m in between a rock and a hard place, because I want it all so bad, but I’m so covered up with life and work and a job and this, that, and the other, that the music can sometimes seem like it's only a small portion of my life. It truly makes the music suffer. There are a lot of times you come home and are ready to sit back and relax instead of writing and practicing, you know? Then, on the other hand, I think about the success stories of other artists I’ve heard over the years: “Yeah, I moved to Nashville and lived in the back of my car for a month, but now I’ve made it.” Then I think that I have no room to complain. It’s a two-sided thing. I praise God for what I have, the talent he’s given me, and the desire I have to do it, but I just want more opportunities to get out and do it. I’d like to have three of four things every week, or more if I could. I’d like to branch out all over the world. I’d like to get to a point where I’m doing so well with music that I can help others, whether it’s in their dream of pursuing music or in their personal life. I’d like to be able to help the Lions Club out more, especially with their civic pursuits.

Locally, I’d like to see smaller venues opening up to entertainers during the week—not just on the weekend. Another thing I’d like to see are more family-oriented venues opening up. Places can still sell alcohol, while remaining family-friendly, like the Crowded House for example.

LS: In closing, feel free to say anything else you’d like.

RL: Well, I just want to say “Thank You” to all the fans who support what each and every performer around here likes to do. I’m just one of many in this area. We have a mess of great musicians and artists out here that deserve respect and support. All of us should have the respect and support here in our hometown. There’s a lot of great talent out there. I’d like to see that happen more and I’d like to be doing even more with music. I just want to live my life playing music.

To learn more about Ray Ligon and his music, visit his official site at www.RayLigon.com. You can also find Ray on Facebook.

To hear Ray’s music, click the ReverbNation player attached below this video or follow one of the following track links:

“Touchin’ Folks with the Music”
“It Feels Right”
“Mother Dear”

Sugg Street Post
Writing/Interview by Luke Short
Photos by Jeff Harp and Jessi Smith

 

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Jessi Smith—Life Behind the Lens

"credit" Jessi SmithHOPKINS COUNTY, KY (5/2/13)—When looking at life through a camera lens, the world offers an entirely new perspective on the possibilities and treasures existence actually holds. A photographer has the ability to capture and create moments in time that can be reflected on for an eternity. These moments might conjure up thoughts of grief, delight, confusion, solitude, or brilliance—the possibilities are endless and they are brought into existence by the artist manipulating the shutter and playing with the light.

Photos inspire, and local photographer Jessi Smith, who recently joined the Sugg Street Post team, is inspired by the likes of acclaimed rock photographers Autumn de Wilde and Jo McCaughey. De Wilde’s work has been featured on the cover of Spin Magazine, and in the pages of Rolling Stone, Filter Nylon, Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times. McCaughey is the house photographer for Third Man Records, which was founded by the eclectic White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather rocker—and now solo performer—Jack White.

You might have noticed Jessi’s photos cropping up on the Sugg Street Post recently, both in articles and as our ‘Daily Shot from the Street.’ But who is Jessi Smith and how did the Sugg Street Post come across her and her work? Allow me to enlighten you.

"credit" Jessi Smith
Jessi Smith was born in Madisonville, KY in 1980, but grew up living in Nebo, KY surrounded warmly by immediate and extended family.

“My immediate family was just me, my brother, and my mom, but I have a massive extended family. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ with all my cousins and had a ton of aunts and uncles. It was always really hectic,” laughs Jessi, “but it was fun.”

Early in life, Jessi recognized her creative leanings and honed her skills in any way that she could. As early as second grade, she was discovering new and fascinating means to amuse herself while creating a solid artistic foundation that would serve her for many years to come. A large part of her time growing up was spent trying to expose her niche.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I used to make art out of crayon shavings. I would sharpen crayons and I’d make little pictures out of the shavings and sell them to my classmates,” remembers Jessi. “Anything creative, I loved to do it. I was never very good at drawing, though. I was pretty good at music. I took guitar lessons and things like that. At first, in terms of creative stuff, I was good at a lot of things, but I never really mastered any one thing. I never found that one thing that I could just latch onto and do really well at until I started taking pictures. But yeah, I loved creative things. It might have just been because everything else seemed so boring.”

Jessi took classes at Nebo Elementary School, went to West Hopkins School for a year, and then attended Hopkins County Central High School where she was among some of the first students to ever take classes.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I took art classes at Central, but I wasn’t able to take photography class,” says Jessi. “I tried. I remember being so jealous, because they had that brand new cool dark room and I never got to use it. I’ve never gotten an opportunity to do traditional stuff in a dark room, although, I have all the supplies I need with the exception of an enlarger. One year, for my birthday, everybody got me chemicals, photo paper, tongs, and trays. I think I could make a darkroom pretty easily. Even though there aren’t a lot of artists in my family, my support system is fantastic. All my friends and family support everything I do.”

Jessi’s family continued to support her as she strove to find her calling after high school. Once she’d graduated in 1998, Jessi, not fully knowing what direction she wanted to go in career-wise, became a full-time nanny.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I was babysitting every day, all day. That’s what got me started taking pictures. You get bored and just try to do something to keep your brain from turning into mush from watching kids’ shows all day,” laughs Jessi. “I just started taking pictures and I always had willing models with the kiddos. Plus, the parents loved their pictures. I took a lot of Christmas card pictures and stuff like that.”

At that time, Jessi was using an old point-and-shoot Nikon brand camera her aunt had given to her.

“That was before digital had really taken off. Digital was still really expensive,” says Jessi. “Regardless, I was spending a ton of money just developing pictures.”

It wasn’t until Jessi turned 18 that she got her first digital camera. That is when her love of photography was taken to a whole new level.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“My first digital camera was an Epson,” says Jessi. “They didn’t even tell you how many megapixels it was. They just went by the dimensions of the pictures. I loved it so much. It was so cheap. I could take hundreds of pictures and just pick out the ones I liked. It was so much fun. It was with that camera that I started really realizing that photography was what I wanted to do with my life.”

Realizing her love of photography was an exhilarating point in Jessi’s life, but, at the same time, she felt as if her goals would be impossible to reach. The life of an artist is by no means an easy one, and the pressure society puts on you to accept regularly paying blue-collar jobs is ever-present.

“At that point, it was kind of a pipe dream. Deciding to take an art career on is intimidating. You feel like you need to be a nurse or something—something steady,” Jessi admits.

"credit" Jessi Smith
In the meantime, Jessi was subscribing to a variety of photography catalogs and magazines. One of her favorites was called Exposures.

“It was like a Pottery Barn for picture frames and displays,” explains Jessi. “They had a section where you could submit your pictures to the magazine. Then, they would put your pictures in the frames and displays, and they would put them in the catalogs. One day, I finally submitted about ten pictures of the kids that I’d taken. I remember wanting that so bad. That was going to be my sign. If I can just get them to pick one picture, then maybe I can actually make a living doing photography. That can be my sign. If I get one picture in, I can be a photographer.”

If one of your photos was selected to be in the magazine, Exposures would send you five dollars by mail. The photo would then be placed in an archive, and if it got used in an issue of the magazine they would then send you 50 dollars for being chosen.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I got an envelope one day in the mail with five dollars in it,” says Jessi. “They picked one of my pictures. A week later, they sent me a big envelope with a catalog in it and a fifty dollar check. My picture was in the magazine! I was so excited I just cried. I had only asked for one picture and they used one. That was my sign. I did it! One of my uncles told me, ‘Well, you’ve been paid for your services. You’re actually a photographer now.’ That was the first time I’d ever been paid for a picture.”

After receiving her “sign” from the great beyond, it was still a few more years before Jessi seriously looked into photography school. The kids Jessi had been watching were getting older and, for a short stint, Jessi considered going into political science at Berea College, although she now admits she isn’t certain why.

“I don’t know where that came from or where that went,” laughs Jessi. “I was going to be President or something. Maybe I’ll just be the presidential photographer. How cool would that be?”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Eventually, in 2008, after doing plenty of research online, Jessi came across the Academy of Art University, which was founded in San Francisco, CA in 1929. It was an accredited online art school that she could work easily into her schedule.

“My main thing was that I wanted an accredited school where I could get an actual degree. I didn’t want something that was obtainable purely by profit. You have to make the grades, or else you fail and get the boot,” says Jessi. “I wanted a real school, and that was the best one that I could find. At first, the Academy of Art seemed out of reach too, because it’s fairly expensive, but they have a good financial aid program, which made it feasible.”

The Academy of Art ultimately changed Jessi’s life and photography style.

"credit" Jessi Smith
For years, she had wanted to veer away from doing only family portraits and senior pictures. She was looking to amp up the artistic side of her style so that she could grow and flourish more as a visual artist. At that time, Jessi was taking four classes each semester so she would still have time to work her third-shift job at a local hotel chain. Each week she was challenged to complete photo assignments and weekly quizzes.

“It was the best thing ever. I loved it. I was exposed to new ideas and it completely changed my style,” says Jessi. “You would log in, get your assignments, and then you’d go take your pictures. You would submit your pictures and the instructor would look at it, critique it, and you would get audio-visual feedback. It was like watching a movie. The instructor would pull your photo up and he would point out areas that needed improvement. An area in a photo might be underexposed. Composition on one side might need to be a little less symmetrical. It was like you were getting one-on-one time with the professor. You also had to participate in discussions and interact with your classmates. You were required to critique other people’s work and I always hated that. I hated telling people what I thought about their pictures. You want to be honest, but you don’t want to discourage another photographer. That was a big aspect of the online classes. You had to critique everyone’s work because it helps you in the end. If you see what you don’t like in pictures, that, in turn, helps you with yours.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
The Academy of Art provided Jessi with the Adobe Creative Suite, Lightroom, and Photoshop—necessary computer programs for the modern photographer.

“I was so happy to get Photoshop, because it is so expensive. The Academy of Art also requires you to get a Mac, which turned me into an Apple freak, so I appreciate that as well,” laughs Jessi.

While talking to Jessi about her experiences in school, she humorously recounted a couple stories regarding some of her first photography assignments at the University.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“In the fundamentals class, the first thing they make you do is take pictures of strangers,” laughs Jessi. “You would have to go out and take pictures of ten strangers, and I hated that assignment. It was so embarrassing. I’m still shy now, but I was super shy then. It was awful. Half of my photographs looked like ‘stalker pics’ because they didn’t know I was photographing them—like paparazzi stuff.”

“Since graduating in May last year, I have really missed having assignments,” admits Jessi. “I don’t have someone telling me what to take pictures of. Before, it was like having a license to go take weird pictures. Otherwise, if I’m just going to take weird pictures, that’s all me. I don’t have any excuses. Nobody is making me take pictures of my friends in their underwear covered in blood,” laughs Jessi. “That’s how I actually made friends with some of the people I hang out with now. I started working at the hotel and I ended up asking one of my coworkers if I could take his picture for an assignment. I barely knew him and there he was, in his underwear, dripping in Karo syrup.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Throughout school, Jessi made excellent grades and did well at the Academy. She thoroughly enjoyed her theory class as well, which focused a lot on painting with light (using light to illuminate what you are photographing). Her theory class wasn’t as assignment-heavy as her fundamentals classes, but she was able to learn about the classics, the masters, and the history of photography. Street photographers, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Diane Arbus, were among some of her favorites, as well as the widely popular Annie Leibovitz.

“I just really like the rock photographer scene,” says Jessi. “I love Annie Leibovitz’s old, rock star, Rolling Stone stuff. I really love her old stuff. I love rock star pictures. That’s my favorite genre right now. That’s what I want to do—concert photography, album covers, band promos, and other stuff like that. But my goal right now is just to try to marry moneymaking and what I want to take pictures of, because that has been a tough one.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
“That’s been one of the frustrating parts since graduating,” says Jessi. “You are conditioned to think you go to college, you graduate, and you get a job. That just isn’t the case with art careers.”

Right now, Jessi is simply trying to turn her passion into something that can sustain her living so that she has the time to keep doing what she loves. Thus is the plight of the artist.

Meanwhile, Jessi has been receiving recognition for her photography on multiple fronts. For one of her school assignments, she snuck her camera into a Black Keys concert and got some stunning shots of singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney that ended up going viral on the internet.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“You’re not allowed to take professional-grade cameras to rock concerts. That whole ‘detachable lens thing’ has screwed me out of so many pictures. Up to this point, I haven’t been able to get passes as a freelancer, so I have smuggled my cameras in—in my pants,” laughs Jessi. “It’s uncomfortable, because I wait in line for a long time so I can get close to the stage if possible.”

“With the Black Keys pictures, the Black Keys were starting to get famous, but they weren’t near the level they are at now,” says Jessi. “I snuck my camera in and it was so weird, because I had bought a fast-pass and we just walked right in. We passed the whole line and just walked right in there. We stood there, right against the barrier, right in the middle. I just took pictures through the whole concert. Nobody tried to stop me. Nobody cared. Security didn’t ever try to stand in front of me or anything. It was so satisfying. You take all the pictures and then you go home and you get to look at them. I just loved them all.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

“So, I sent some of my photos to a music blog—one of the Black Keys fan lounges that are our there—and they really liked them. They used a couple of them. They used them for their mast head and they got me in touch with another girl out of Ohio who runs some music blogs. She’s actually friends with Dan Auerbach’s uncle. She had me write a review of the concert and told me she would help me get passes at their next concert, but the next concert I saw them at was a music festival they couldn’t get passes for. At festivals, the bands don’t have as much say-so when it comes to media passes. Right after that, they blew up and got so famous that there was no way I could get passes. So, now I’ve got to start from the bottom and claw my way up. At one point, I was on Tumblr and I saw my pictures on there, but I hadn’t posted them. It was just so neat seeing my work. I screen capped it.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Jessi’s enthusiasm for photography and music was apparent from the first moment I met her. I actually met Jessi Smith during the interview for this article. A mutual friend and talented local painter, Travis Shanks, introduced us because he thought that she was an insanely talented artist from the area that deserved more recognition for her work. Quite frankly, the Sugg Street Post couldn’t have agreed more.

"credit" Jessi Smith
We ended up developing a friendship and, after seeing her collection of work, asked her if she would like to help the Sugg Street Post out with a few photo shoots with the promise that we could definitely get her some rock photography opportunities in the area.

For Jessie’s first Sugg Street Post adventure, I took her with me to interview Kaitlyn Maue, a young emerging artist from Madisonville, KY.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“Doing photo shoots for Sugg Street Post has been fun. I’ve never done that sort of photojournalism before, so it’s been really interesting. It’s new territory for me. When we did the Kaitlyn Maue shoot, I was really nervous because it was the first one, and I was going into a stranger’s house and setting up. In that kind of situation, sometimes I do really well on the spot and sometimes I blank. I don’t know what to do and I forget how to work my camera,” laughs Jessi. “But she was sweet and I could tell she was kind of shy too, so that put me at ease. Sometimes, going into a photo shoot blind messes me up, because I already have a certain vision in mind. Then I walk in and it’ll look completely different from what I thought it was going to. That’s when I have to go with a different game plan.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I think that’s what happened when we did the shoot with [local musician] James Michael Harris. In my head, when you said cabin with no running water, I was thinking of an old, bluesy, wooden cabin on the river. So that’s what I had in my head. I had him all reared back in a rocking chair with his leg kicked up, you know? So I had to re-plan that whole thing when we got there and that wasn’t the case,” laughs Jessi. “The easiest one, was the second one with [local musician] J.T. Oglesby. I had actually wanted to take pictures at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts for a while. Even with that one, I had a slightly different vision in my head. I had the spotlight, dark theatre, just him, and all the empty chairs around him. It was still fun. I enjoyed that one a lot. That was the coolest situation—the way he just sang the whole time—because that’s what I envision it would be like taking pictures of rock stars. They are just doing their thing and you get to hear them play this music, this version that nobody else gets to hear. You become part of that world and I think that’s what’s so appealing, because I just love music so much.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Above all, art is an escape for Jessi. Without photography, her creative outlet, she feels confined by all that is around her. For Jessi, capturing life on film opens the world up in new and exciting ways.

“I think it [art] just keeps me from feeling trapped,” explains Jessi. “We’re in a small town. We’re in a good location, potentially to be a hub. We’re so close to Nashville and all that stuff.  When you look at a picture, listen to a piece of music, or gaze at a painting, you’re there. You’re out. It’s like reading books—you just don’t feel like you’re here. Or, you make it more bearable to be wherever you are. You’re making it prettier. I hate being bored. If I’m bored, I can go take pictures. Having that escape keeps me sane. Otherwise, life would feel so routine. You have to wake up, you have to go to work, you have to clean your house, you have to do laundry, you have to go to sleep, and then you have to wake up, you have to go to work, and clean your house, and do laundry. I would absolutely go mad. I don’t do well with normal things and normal jobs. It’s been risky, especially financially. I took the insurance off my car to put insurance on my camera. As soon as I took the insurance off my car, I hit a deer with it,” laughs Jessi. “Priorities. My camera is safe, but I have to bum a ride now. That part is challenging, but I think it’s worth it because I have the potential to make a career out of something that I love. Not a lot of people get to do that, to find the job they like. That’s my goal. I just want to be happy at my job. I don’t want to have to ever feel like I want to kill myself because I’m stuck at a job just because it pays my insurance or something. I just don’t want that.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Why does Jessi think art is important to the community? She believes it keeps the community alive.

“Art gives life vibrancy. Otherwise, you get all these mopey people going through the motions. You’ve got to throw a little spark and a splash of color in there and just keep people alert,” says Jessi. “Art exposes you to new ideas, and I think it promotes intelligence and tolerance. You don’t get a lot of close-minded artists. It just opens you up to all these ideas and you become accepting to everybody, and I just think it makes you a better person. You don’t judge people as an artist, because you don’t want that to come back to you, that negativity. Good art can help you work through dark things inside yourself. You can use it to make you happy. If there was more art, it would be a better place, easily. In prisons, if they would teach them to paint instead of lift weights all they time, maybe they wouldn’t be so violent.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
You can follow Jessi’s work by keeping up with her here on the Sugg Street Post.

To see some more of Jessi’s work, click the article links below:

Emerging Artist Hits the Scene

James Michael Harris – Old Songs Can Set You Free

Gear Guide—J.T. Oglesby’s Historic ‘Playtime’

Creating Community with Electric Synergy

Bowl For Kids’ Sake Fundraiser—Little Hands Give Big

Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey
Photos by Jessi Smith

Read more...
  • Published in Music

Country Strong - More Than a Name

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (12/28/12) – It’s no surprise that Murray, Kentucky-based metal band, Country Strong, has been turning heads all across western Kentucky over the last year-and-a-half. The reason? Their weighty, fast-paced sound rips you out from the inside and leaves you wanting more.

One thing that sets them apart from the rest is their moniker. While the name Country Strong might conjure up visions of a country music group twanging away in a honky tonk, the second you see the band live, or hear their music, that image quickly disappears, and you're left facing a wall of heavy-hitting, all out metal.

And the music is what it's all about for the band. The powerful drumbeats, intricate guitar riffs, dark bass licks, and intense vocals quickly get your head banging in time. The energy that this group emits from the stage during a performance is a commanding force to be reckoned with. Although the group only plays original songs, they treated a 70-plus person audience at Elite Tattoo Lounge to a Backstreet Boys cover that turned the house upside down. Who would have thought that “I Want it That Way” would have ever sounded so severely epic?

The Sugg Street Post sat down and talked with the group after the aforementioned performance at Elite Tattoo Lounge in Madisonville, Kentucky on December 22nd. The results are as follows.


Luke – So, what’s everybody’s name, and what do you each bring to Country Strong?

Jantzen – I’m Jantzen Litchfield, vocals.

Craig – I’m Craig Rogers and I play rhythm guitar.

Luke – How do you spell your name?

Jantzen – G – A – Y. [everyone laughs]

Brett – I’m Brett Bellmyer and I play drums.

Michael – I’m Michael Lowe, but you already know me. I play bass.

Andy – I’m Andy Hicks and I play guitar, sort of.

Jess – Michael, the real question is, do you always play bass with your shoes off?

Michael – Most of the time. [everyone laughs]

Luke – How long have you guys been playing together?

Jantzen – Close to a year-and-a-half now.

Luke – Where are you guys from?

Jantzen – Andy, Craig, and I are from Murray, Kentucky.

Brett – I’m from Houston, Texas.

Michael – I was born in Detroit, Michigan, but I lived in Madisonville for awhile.

Luke – How’d you guys all get together?

Jantzen – Well, I played in a different band with some other guys. Andy and Brett played in another band, and we played a lot of shows together.

Andy – Brett and Craig were in a band before me and Brett actually. I was like their roadie, so that’s how I knew them. Eventually, they actually let me start playing with them, because I’d been carrying all their stuff for so long. [everyone laughs]

Jantzen – Actually, in our old band, Andy used to message us telling us he’d play bass for us, but we didn’t like him. [everyone laughs] He wasn’t good, so we weren’t going to let him play with us. But then, both bands split up. These guys were trying to get something going, and they needed a vocalist. I used to play drums, but I wanted to try vocals, so I gave them a call.

Luke – So, are you all students at Murray State University?

Brett – I am.

Michael – I am.

Andy – I’m enrolled. [everyone laughs] I took the ACT, passed it, got enrolled, and didn’t do my FAFSA in time.

Jess – What are you guys studying?

Michael – I’m a philosophy major.

Brett – Journalism.

Andy – I was just going to take all the basic courses, like math and stuff, get it over with, hate my life for a year, get past it, and then decide what the hell I’m going to do.

Luke – So, why the name Country Strong? The first time I heard the name I assumed you all played country music, until I listened to it.

Jantzen – It actually started out as a joke. We were trying to think of a band name, and Andy texted me…

Andy – Pure Country! [laughs]

Jantzen – It went about 15 different ways. Andy texted me Country Strong and I laughed about it. We all laughed, actually.

Andy – We actually came up with it before Craig was in. After he was in, he threw out the ideas Cooking With Fire, or Sh***in’ and Gettin’. [everyone laughs] Those were his band name choices. So anyways, we went with Country Strong.

Jantzen – I thought it’d be funny, and then I thought more about it. We don’t want people to think of our music as what it is. We want you to hear it and respect it, not because of the name. People have got awesome names, like "I Wrestled a Bear Once," and they suck terribly. [everyone laughs]

Michael – But their name is awesome!

Jantzen – Yea, it makes me want to see them just because of their name!


Luke – So, you want to be good because you play good music, right?

Jantzen – Yeah.

Andy – A lot of the time, we’ll catch people off-guard. They come to see us because they think we are going to be a country band, and then they like us anyway, so boom, the name just worked.

Luke – It’s almost a joke, the irony of it.

Jantzen – And then, we won this contest, and we went down to Mississippi and recorded a CD. We were supposed to have won $15,000 worth of recording time. Well, we went through a lot of crap, and in the end we got screwed over. Seriously though, it made us way stronger as a band.

Jess – How many rounds did you go through at the competition?

Brett – Three.

Jantzen – The competition was an "emerging artist’s" challenge at the Big Apple [Café] in Murray. We were the only metal band there. We did it just for a show, thinking it would be a joke; we thought that we’d lose the first round. We were all so trashed for that first round, too. [everyone laughs]

Andy – I got unbelievable wasted.

Jantzen – We won the first round; we just blew it away. They got us back for the second round. We won the second round, too. For the third round, we played against all the winners and runners-up from each of the 16 weeks of the competition. For the first two rounds, the winning bands were determined by how many poker chips you had. They gave everybody a poker chip. The more drinks you bought, the more poker chips you got. You got one poker chip per drink.

Andy – So whoever friggin’ drinks the most wins. [everyone laughs]

Jantzen – Yea, that was the first two rounds. They actually had judges for the third round. Murray is not a metal scene by any means, so we had no intents of winning at all. What we did do is put on a show.

Brett – We had the biggest crowd. People were screaming. It was awesome.

Luke – Tell us about the new recording?

Jantzen – We went back to the guy who recorded our demos, Jason Schaffstein, who's with All Audio Recording Production in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Usually he charges us $200 a song, but he heard about what we went through in Mississippi, so he only charged us $100 a song. The studio is in his house.

Andy – We recorded all the drums in one day, all the guitar and bass in one day, went down there one more time, and did all the vocals in one day.

Jantzen – It took us three days to get two songs drum tracked in Mississippi. It took us one day to drum track all ten songs with this other guy.


Jess – Where do you guys usually rehearse?

Jantzen – We practice at my mom’s house.

Jess – Do you get any flack from the neighbors?

Jantzen – No. Actually, we have a couple times, but that was a long time ago. I was in a punk band and we’d play in the front yard just to see if we could get the cops called on us.

Luke – I could hear some punk in there man, some Pennywise influence maybe.

Jantzen – That’s what we listen to.

Jess – What genre do you consider yourself?

Jantzen – We argue about this at practice. [laughs] It’s not an argument between us, but about what other people label us as.

Andy – People always call us metalcore.

Jantzen – Yeah, but we’re not metalcore.

Brett – We all listen to different stuff, so we’re a unique genre. We’re influenced by hardcore, metalcore, punk, post-hardcore, whatever.

Jantzen – Hundredth is my favorite band.

Jess – What about you, Mister Quiet? [everyone laughs] What are your musical influences? Are you always this quiet?

Jantzen – Craig is like Meg, from [the animated seriesFamily Guy.

Andy – He’s just kind of here. [laughs]

Craig – My influences are death metal, some black metal, and a lot of stuff that most people won’t get into, because it scares them away, but I understand it.

Luke – Like some Venom and stuff?

Craig – Yea, something like that.


Jess – What are your favorite bands?

Craig – Dimmu Borgir is my favorite. I like Enslaved too.

Jantzen – Britney Spears. [everyone laughs]

Jess – Well, somebody likes the Backstreet Boys. [everyone laughs]

Luke – Yeah, that question is coming here in a second.

Jess – Talk about improving a song. [laughs]

Jantzen – I listen to stuff from the 90s, but there is a huge range that I like. I try to keep my genres open. I don’t like to judge music because of the category it falls in.

Brett – My favorite band of all time is Incubus. I like 311, Mars Volta, At the Drive-in, Modest Mouse, post-hardcore, all kinds of stuff. Anything really, not metal though, I don’t really do a lot of metal.

Luke – Have you heard One Day as a Lion? It’s the former drummer from Mars Volta and Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine.

Michael – Yea, they’re badass!

Brett – Have you heard of As Tall as Lions? They are fantastic!

Jess – What are your musical influences, Michael?

Michael – Lots. Everything influences me, basically. I’d say my bass ones would be Glassjaw, The Beatles, The Chariot, and the Deftones.

Craig - He listens to dubstep. [everyone laughs]

Mike – No, and I don’t like hip-hop or country.

Andy – I think dubstep is the stupidest thing ever; it’s techno.


Luke
– What about you, Andy?

Andy – Cher.

Jantzen – You would listen to Cher.

Andy – Just her face, not her music. [everyone laughs] It inspires me. No, my favorite band of all time is As I Lay Dying. They are my favorite band mostly because they haven’t ever changed. They maintain their sound.

Jess – What do you want to do with your music?

Luke – Yeah, what are your goals?

Jantzen – Everybody wants to “make it big”. My point of view is that you can’t expect to make it, so what I want to do with my music, as far as lyrics goes, is just get people interested in our genre. Not a lot of people are big fans of it. It’s never been a catchy trend. With my lyrics, I just want to, I don’t know, change the world. I mean, we’re not The Beatles.

Michael - We’re not trying to write mean stuff like "f*** your mom" or anything. [laughs] Usually, metal is scary, devils words, and stuff.

Jantzen – We just want people to know that we’re real guys. We go out and party, we drink and have a good time.

Jess – Jantzen, why is art via music important to you as an individual?

Jantzen – Music just gets me away from a lot of things. I never had the easiest life. I didn’t get everything handed to me. If I can do something to make people happy, then that makes me happy. There is no better feeling than being on stage. We all hate practice. You have to go to practice, though. It’s something that has to be done, but once you get on stage it’s the greatest feeling in the world. You can’t compare it to anything, not even the first time you have sex. It’s impossible. It’s better than that. If there is energy in the crowd, I probably won’t be able to move my neck the next day. My neck hurts already. [laughs] But if there is energy, it pumps us up because we know we’re making these people happy. To me, there’s no greater feeling then just to make somebody else happy for 30 minutes, and to enjoy some good music. I mean, a lot of people might not like us, but then they respect us because of the point of view we try to make. If we got our point of view across, maybe we can help something. [laughs]

Jess – Why is art via music important to the community at large? Why is it important to all the people in Murray, to all the people in Hopkins County?

Jantzen – In Murray, our hometown, there is not a whole lot to do. I’m not a big country fan, but people play country in bars, and I appreciate that because they are making people happy. I think, and this probably sounds like a Beatles quote or something, but music could change the world if everybody would just pay attention. Even Mennonites like music. I know a couple Mennonites that break some houses, and I know they listen to music.

Brett – And they only listen to Primus. [everybody laughs]

Jantzen - Music is the only thing that everybody in the world loves. There is a genre of music for everyone.

Luke – It goes beyond language, in a way.

Jeff – Do you guys get out and support other bands?

Brett – Oh yeah, we go to local shows that we’re not playing at all the time to support other bands.

Jess – It’s important to do that kind of stuff. People need that feedback.

Jantzen – The guys that played before us tonight play a genre I’m not necessarily into, but you know what, I’ll stand up there and clap. They are a tight group. They are great musicians. I’ll stand in front of almost every show we play, with every band, and support them. I’m not starting a mosh pit for them, but I like to clap to support people because I know the feeling that I get when I see people in the crowd enjoying themselves.


Jess – Mister Quiet, why is art via music important to you, as an individual?

Craig – I think music has more power to it than people realize a lot of the time. Like, if you are going through something, sometimes all it takes is to turn on just the right song. It can completely change your mood and bring you back to normal.

Andy - Limp Bizkit. [everyone laughs]

Jantzen – Hell yeah. [laughs]

Jeff – Dude, it is crazy that you just said that. I just said that exact same thing to Luke about an hour ago. [everyone laughs]

Craig – I don’t know, there is just something to it.

Andy - If you can windmill to it, Craig’s into it. [everyone laughs]

Craig – Exactly.

Jess – Why is it important to the community?

Craig – As far as live music goes, people get together at these places, and I think it kind of bonds everyone together.

Jantzen – I know for a fact it does, because we played at The Apple [Cafe], which isn't a metal venue in a metal town, and there were people cheering for us that we would have never thought would.

Andy – There was well over a hundred people there.

Jantzen - It brings a lot of people together. There were acoustic bands playing, us, rappers, and everybody was having a good time. This guy might like rap, this other guy metal, but they were all into it.

Brett – It was actually the only show we ever played where people moshed.

Jess – It’s hard to get people to mosh at a show!

Brett – It’s a retirement community man.

Andy – People were getting drunk enough to throw down I guess.

Jess – How about you Brett? Why is art via music important?

Brett – Number one, it keeps me out of trouble. [everyone laughs]

Mike – Yeah. [laughs]

Brett - Number two, drumming is my life. I’m all about reaching our full potential and seeing what all we can do, and how far we can go. Winning that competition, that just opens up a whole lot more possibilities.

Jantzen – He goes to school. [everyone laughs]

Jess – Why is it important to the community, art via music?

Brett – Music brings people together. A lot of kids that listen to metal are troublemakers a lot of the time. When we play live for them, no matter where we go, we try to reach out to them. Jantzen brought the positive vibe and we all go with it. But when these kids come out to shows, they could be out doing other stuff, but we’re keeping them out of trouble as well. If we can get a music scene going to where everybody isn’t going to talk crap about each other, and be strong, and be friends, then that would keep…

Andy – A family, instead of a competition.

Jess – Exactly, as it should be.

Brett – I mean, that’s it.

Jess – How about you Michael? Why is music an important art form to you?

Michael – It’s expression. It's being able to vent in a positive way. There are so many negative ways you can let out your energy. I have a lot of discontent for what’s going on in our society, and the best way to do it, besides getting into trouble, as Brett said, or beating people up, or all these other redneck things, you can play music. It helps to get rid of your anger. When we play places, I won’t be angry for weeks. But when we haven’t played in awhile, it’s like I haven’t had sex in days. What is going on? What is going on? [everyone laughs] It’s just a positive way to vent. It’s good for the community, because it brings people together. We hang out with a lot of different people, and a lot of people have supported us that I never thought would have supported us.

Jantzen – Yeah, we have met a lot of awesome, really nice people.

Jess – How about you, Andy? Why is it important to you?

Andy – I just like to move it, move it, you know? [everyone laughs]

Jantzen – He’s a liar. [everyone laughs] Don’t listen to anything he says.

Andy – Kind of like Mike said, it’s just a creative outlet in which I can be positive and not get pissed. If I’d never learned to play music, I would probably rage and break stuff all the time. The funny thing is, I never would have started playing the guitar if it wasn’t for Craig. He got a guitar and he lived up the road from me. I just thought it was so cool that he had a guitar.

Craig – Yeah, we were neighbors for 13 years.

Jantzen – They slept in the same bed for, like, ever. [everyone laughs] They’d sing lullabies to each other.

Luke – It’s important to the bonding process, man.

Andy – Growing up, I always looked up to Craig and Brett.

Michael – I’m brand new to the situation.

Jantzen – That’s another awesome thing, we met Mike through music.


Jess – How did you guys meet him?

Michael – I was looking for work. I was looking to be involved in something that was just energetic, like punk, whatever. Then I ran into these guys.

Andy – What’s funny about that is my brother lived around the corner from him. He told me he hears these guys playing all the time. So we decided to go check them out. So we went and we checked out what they were playing, and then they let us play.

Michael – I was in, yeah. [everyone laughs] I’m down, see you next week. [laughs]

Jantzen – One of the hardest things in the world, and I don’t know about anywhere else, but in Murray, KY, you can’t find bass players. A million people play guitar, a million people play drums, and I'm not saying their all good, but there are no bass players. Mike came in and he’s like, “I can learn that easy,” and he’s good at it. It wasn’t a hard decision. He was in.

Jess – You guys seem to really mesh well together. It’s hard to find people sometimes that do mesh in a band-type situation.

Jantzen – We make fun of Craig a lot. [everyone laughs]

Brett – Craig is pretty much the whipping boy.

Andy - He’s the black sheep, you know? We just try to ignore him because he’s the black metal kid.

Jantzen – We like to rip on each other and have a good time.

Luke – So when will your new album be coming out?
 
Jantzen – It should be out by the first of the year.

Luke – Do you have a name for it?

Jantzen – We haven’t come up with a name for it yet. We’re working on that. There are 10 original songs, and there is an intro.

Andy – Well, and the Backstreet Boys cover, but… [everyone laughs]

Jantzen – Yeah, the Backstreet Boys cover.

Jess – Yeah, how did that come about?

Andy – Jantzen threw that idea out there.

Jantzen – I was the drummer in the past three bands I’ve been in. I wanted to cover famous songs, but I don’t like doing the same ones that every other band does. I’ve always been into the '90s stuff, and I heard the Backstreet Boys and thought, “That’s a good one.” I asked the band about doing it, and they were down.

Jess – How old are you guys?

Jantzen – 25.

Craig – 24.

Brett – 24.

Michael – 28.

Andy – I’m 73. [everyone laughs]


Jess – Do you guys have a Facebook page?

Brett – We have Facebook, ReverbNation, and YouTube.

Jess – How do you guys think the show went tonight?

Jantzen – It was fun.

Andy – I missed a few notes. [laughs] I knocked Jantzen over.

Jantzen – I ran into Andy and then hit the drums.

Andy – At the very end, I forgot the lyrics to one of the songs and I was like, ugh.

Jess – You’re supposed to say, “It was epic, and awesome. We did fabulous.” [laughs]

Andy – It was!

Jantzen – We had fun. We know when we mess up because we’ve played these songs a million times at practice.

Andy – Oh yea, I’m not afraid to admit when I mess up. I like criticism.

Jantzen – We criticize each other.

Andy – I want it to be as good as it can be. I don’t like bands that don’t sound as good as they do on their CD live.

Jess – Do you all have any shows coming up in the near future?

Craig – There actually is a show we’ve been thinking about doing.

Andy – One of our really good friends passed away. He used to play shows with us. We want to do a memorial show because he was a big part of the scene.

Jantzen – Yeah, his name was Thomas Smotherman.

Jess – How old was he?

Jantzen - He was 27.

Jess – Why did he pass away?

Jantzen – They didn’t know what caused it.

Andy – He died in his sleep.

Michael – He fell asleep and never woke up.

Jantzen – His little brother died seven or eight years ago in the same way. He fell asleep and never woke up. His mom only had two kids and she’s had to bury them both. I gave her an old band shirt from when we played in a band together. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever had to do in my life, giving her that shirt. I’ll write a song for him, definitely.

Michael – We were thinking about doing that and maybe dedicating the album to him.

Luke – How many original songs do you guys have?

Jantzen – They are all original. Except the Backstreet Boys song, which is obviously not original.

Brett – We rewrote the Backstreet Boys song, so technically that is also original. [laughs]

Andy – I wrote all the guitar parts to that.

Jantzen – The lyrics are obviously the same but that’s it. I don’t foresee Nick Lachey doing any screaming over it.

Brett – Nick Lachey, he’s not even in the Backstreet Boys!

Jantzen – Wait, he’s from 98 Degrees, isn’t he? There is a Nick in that band isn’t there?

Michael – There is always a Nick in these bands!

Brett – Nick Carter.

Luke – Jess used to be a fan of the Backstreet Boys. [laughs]

Jess – Busting me out, huh? I even saw them in concert.

Brett – I was a fan too, when I was like nine.

Jantzen – I knew there was a Nick in there somewhere.

Luke – I like the Spice Girls.

Jantzen – Yes!

Brett – Andy and I saw Nickleback back in the day.

Andy - When they used to be good.

Brett - Before anybody knew who they were, they were actually a decent alternate rock band. 

Luke – It’s radio rock today.


Jess – If you do the tribute concert for your friend, what are the plans for that?

Jantzen – We’d probably do it in Murray. The other band that he played in, we’re really good friends with those guys. It would be a great thing to do a show together. The only thing I can think is just to make money and raise it for his mom. I just can’t imagine what she’s going through. The younger one had a heart disease or something, fell asleep, and just never woke back up. Thomas, they never figured out what happened.

Brett – It makes me think of Nightmare on Elm Street dude.

Jantzen – One of my real good friends hasn’t been able to sleep in like three days. He’s afraid to go to sleep now.

Luke – Hasn’t been able to sleep in three days? Dude, if you make it through four days, you are supposedly clinically insane.

Jantzen – He is insane! [laughs] That’s the problem.

Jess – Luke is doing this “Gear Guide” thing for Sugg Street Post. Would you all be interested in doing something like that?

Luke – Yea, we should do that sometimes. The “Gear Guide” focuses on the instruments, specs, and stuff like that.

Brett – Yeah, definitely.

Jantzen – You’ll want to get my “guns” in there. [everyone laughs] You’ll want to get this in there too. I have a tattoo on my arm, a hotdog that says, “Smile, you’ve got French’s.”

Luke –That’s awesome! [laughs]

Jantzen – That was my second tattoo ever. Yeah, I’ve got a better one than that. BAM! It’s a bottle of Surge.

Jess – Surge? Shut up dude! [laughs]

Luke – Yellow 5 man! [everyone laughs] Do you all have a favorite show that you’ve played?

Brett – Madison Square Garden. [everyone laughs] No, this was one of the best shows we’ve played, believe it or not.

Jantzen – Yeah.

Jess – We hope you all will come back!

Michael – We definitely will!

Jess – How did you guys get hooked up with the Elite Tattoo Lounge show tonight?

Michael – My dad is good friends, basically family, with Keith, that owns the custom wheel shop next door. I guess he owns this building, too. He said he’d check next door for us because he knew that Chappy was looking for some bands. I came over here and talked to Colton [Williams] and pretty much worked it out from there.

Jess – Is there anything else you guys can think of that you’d like for us to include?

Jantzen – Andy is gay. He likes men.

Brett – He admitted that at midnight on December 21st.

Jantzen – Yeah, because he thought the world was ending. [everyone laughs]

Michael – So, 24 hours ago.

Brett – He was like, “Craig, I’ve been in love with you for so long.” [everyone laughs]

Michael – That’s why Craig has long hair.

Jess – Craig’s got great hair.

Jantzen – Yeah, he knows. He gets all the ladies.

Craig – Garnier Fructis.

Luke – Hey, Suave dude.

Brett – Dude, my hair used to be past my shoulders. I’m growing it back.

Jantzen – I used to do the long, swoop thing. I had the longest rat tail in history. It almost touched my butt.

Luke – I had a mullet in 5th grade. I was like, “Billy Ray Cyrus, yeah!” [everyone laughs]

Jantzen – My hair grew in a natural rat tail. I’m naturally white trash.

Michael – If we ever go on tour, I’ll rock a mullet.

To check out more from Country Strong, visit their official Facebook page or check out the ReverbNation player attached below.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey and Luke Short
Photos by Jeff Harp

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  • Published in Art

The Anchor Holds

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (12/27/12) –“Sailor” Jerry Swallow’s 53-year mark on the international world of tattooing, with especial regard to his work in the realm of American traditional style, is undeniable, timeless, and—quite literally—indelible.

Guided and taught by old-school tattooing legends like Huck Spaulding, Paul Rogers, Cap Coleman, and childhood mentor Charlie Snow, as well as Japanese master Kazua Ogori (Hori Hide) via overseas correspondence, Swallow’s knowledge and understanding of classic tattoo design is enviably vast—a fact evidenced by his astounding, decades-long collection of work. And while he’s aware of his following and the impact he’s had on artists the world over, fame is his last concern. In fact, he remains humble about his craft and has done what he can to catalogue and honor those who have helped to shape America’s historic tattooing landscape.

But what does this legendary artist have to do with Hopkins County, KY?

An inspiration to many, and a true friend to most who meet him, the Nova Scotia native has spent the last two weeks in Madisonville, KY with close friend and nationally recognized tattoo artist, Jack Hinton, inking new tattoos and meeting new people.

A member of Mainstream Body Art on South Kentucky Avenue, Hinton carries the enduring flame of traditional American design into the modern age. And, in paying homage to one of his biggest influences, Hinton recently featured his work alongside some of the nation’s most recognized tattooers in a high-quality art publication, Homeward Bound at Last, which celebrates Jerry Swallow’s 50-year impact on the world of traditional American tattoo art.

With this in mind, it’s really no surprise that the renowned 67-year-old took the time to visit Hinton in Kentucky for the holiday season. What’s more, it seems that time spent in Kentucky has made a positive impression on the staple artist.

So who is Sailor Jerry Swallow and what is his fabled story? To find out the answer to these questions and more, Sugg Street Post contributor, Landon Miller, was able to talk with the venerated and personable artist within the confines of Mainstream Body Art’s smoky, art-filled VIP room. The result of their conversation is as follows.

Landon Miller: Alright Jerry, first things first. What brought you to Madisonville, KY?

Sailor Jerry Swallow: Eh, more than anything, just to hang out with Jack [Hinton] for a while.

LM: How did you get to know Jack?

SJS: I met him on the internet first, and then I met him in person in St. Louis while we were at a tattoo convention. He invited me to come down after the holidays to come hang out and do some tattooing, so I made an early trip instead.

LM: What do you think about Kentucky so far?

SJS: I like it. It reminds me of home.

LM: And your home is?

SJS: Nova Scotia

LM: You have been working in tattoo shops since the age of 12 or 13. Is that correct?

SJS: Yeah.

LM: At age 16, you started tattooing. What attracted you to the art at such a young age, and what has kept you going for 53 years?

SJS: I used to go to downtown Halifax, and my dad was a bus driver, so I would take a ride downtown with him after school, and one of the stops was in front of one of the old tattoo shops down there. I'd get out there and look at the flash in the window. It was different. There was just something different about the place. In those days, anything to do with tattooing was magical. So, I just used to go down there and hang around, and if the old man [Charlie Snow] was sitting out in front, he would get me to run errands for him. You know, get him a newspaper or something like that. He didn’t let me inside the shop for a long time. Then, one day, he just started letting me inside to sweep the floor, run errands, and stuff like that. After a while, he started getting old and was looking for someone to tattoo. He told me to come down and he'd teach me how to do it. I went down on the day he told me to go in and was tattooing the same day.

LM: For our readers who aren't familiar with your story, explain how you received the title “Sailor” Jerry Swallow?

SJS: They used to call me “sailor” when I was a kid because I used to wear little a sailor hat all the time, and it just stuck. Everybody tattooing back then had a nickname, so the old man [Charlie Snow] just called me the same name. He said “There's another Sailor Jerry, but f**k 'em.”

LM: Throughout your 53 year career as a tattooer, what is the one time in your career you would like to revisit, or what is your biggest accomplishment?

SJS: I think it would be changing the style of the tattoo design a little bit. Everybody, at one time, did almost the same thing. [Cap] Coleman, [Paul] Rogers, and Huck Spaulding, they were doing something different. I used to see everybody's tattoos where I was at. I was lucky, because I was young, and I gave Huck a call, and he was really f***ing good to me, and he said, “If you ever get down here [Albany, New York], just come down to the tattoo shop.” A week later, I was there. If you want to learn somebody's style, you’ve got to be with them. That was probably about the best time in my career—hanging around Huck and [Paul] Rogers.

LM: I also read that in 1971 you started communicating through post mail with Japanese master Kazua Ogori (Hori Hide). As I understand it, he tutored you in the form of Japanese art through these correspondences. Could you give me a little insight on that?

SJS: Yeah, I got a hold of him first. I wrote him a couple of letters and he wrote right back. For me, being interested in what he was doing, it was, well, it was different. I would ask him things and he would tell me right away. When I started drawing Japanese style art, I would send it over to him. It would be just like a teacher marking your grades. There would be red “X”s all over everything. That went on until about 1980 before he gave me one of the “Hori” names.

LM: So you finally received a title from him?

SJS: Yeah.

LM: Could you tell us what that title is?

SJS: Hori Ryu.

LM: And what does that name translate to?

SJS: That means “master tattoo artist dragon.” He titled me this name with a number behind it, which is pretty common for them to do, like number one, or number two. I can remember in some of his letters he would be like, “I'm going to show you how to do this, but you’ve got to promise me that this is the way you will always do it.” In fact, all these years later, we still write back and forth.

LM: Does he still tattoo?

SJS: Yeah. He's about 85-years-old now and he still does 'em.

LM: In the past few years, there has been a resurgence of traditional tattooing. It has received a lot of pop culture attention. Tell me your opinions on this, both good and bad.

SJS: Well, I think it's good. It's made me feel like less of a dinosaur in the business.

LM: More relevant, right?

SJS: Yeah. It's nice to see people taking an interest in it and doing it the right way. A lot of people that are doing it, though, it's really nice artwork, but it's just not done right.

LM: Are there any negatives that you have seen come out of the resurgence of traditional tattooing?

SJS: Well, you've got too many people doing it that shouldn't be doing it. That's pretty much it. In my opinion, anybody that doesn’t know a little bit of history about tattooing shouldn't even be in the business as far as I'm concerned. There's quite a few of them who don't even care, and they don’t even want to learn.

LM: Why do you think there has been such a big resurgence?

SJS: Jesus, you know, it's really hard to say. For so many years now, everything’s been “realistic” this, “realistic” that. Everybody you see has got it on them. Now, you see a game that’s 40-years-old coming back again, and how bold it is. It looks different. And, in my opinion, it [traditional style] looks better, and it stays. To me, you can't beat that old, simple, traditional style of tattooing. I can see what it is from 20 feet away.

LM: Who were some of your major influences during your formative years as a tattooer?

SJS: I've still got to say Huck Spaulding and Paul Rogers. Same goes back to that [Cap] Coleman style. They had it, and that's what I wanted to do. They showed me how to do it, and I stuck right to it. I tried to change into the realistic style a little bit in the late ‘80s, but I couldn't do it, so I just went back to what I always did.

LM: In the past few years, I guess you have seen people gain a whole new respect for what you do, because for a while there was all the Guy Aitchison stuff. Was there a lull in your career during the “hay day” of biomechanical style, bioorganic style, etcetera?

SJS: Yeah, that was a real downer for quite a few years.

LM: Could you name some of the up-and-coming traditional tattooers out now that you think have something to say?

SJS: I'm not saying this because Jack [Hinton] is here, but he's one of 'em. You've got Clifton Boggs in Canton Ohio, and he's a Kentucky boy, too. Actually, there's quite a few, but not a lot really stand out. Jack's got a really unique style on it. Clifton has a different style totally, but it's all the same kind of traditional stuff. It's really beautiful work. As far as I'm concerned, if there’s anyone who can do realistic and traditional, Jack does it. I've seen the stuff he does. It's amazing. I couldn’t do it; there’s just no way. I'm just stuck in that old stuff, and that's it.

LM: And it has served you well. Here are some random questions. Tell me some of the music you have been listening to lately.

SJS: I like the blues. That's pretty much all I really listen to. Old Mississippi delta blues, John Lee Hooker, and rock and roll from the ‘50s and ‘60s. I throw a little bit of that in once in a while. My kids were all brought up on that music and that’s all they listen to.

LM: By the way, how many kids do you have?

SJS: I have nine.

LM: Do they have a respect for tattooing?

SJS: They do. In fact, two of my boys can tattoo pretty good, but they don't want anything to do with it. One of them likes to do security stuff. The other one likes to cook.

LM: What is your favorite food?

SJS: I was brought up to eat anything, as long as it was dead. Whatever you put down, I can pretty much eat it. When I was growing up, I remember a bowl of peas would be our main meal, or porridge for dinner. Stuff like that. I was 12 or 13-years-old before I ate a piece of chicken. The first real milk I drank, I remember I was 13. Before that, everything was powdered milk, you know, powdered potatoes. We never had a lot of money, so whatever they put on the table, we ate it.

LM: Any art form demands a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Can you give any advice on sustaining longevity?

SJS: Well, you’ve got to keep drawing. You’ve got to be drawing all the time. That's what I've found. Everything you do, when you look at it, you’ve got to say to yourself, “The next one's going to be better.” You’ve got to keep that in mind, because if you do something that's perfect, then you kind of get a big head and you don't try anymore. Jack [Hinton] and Clifton [Boggs] are great people, but you’ve got to go talk to them. If they like you, they're going to tell you anything you ask them. That's the way to do it. All these guys that “know everything” really don't. I can sit down and watch Jack [Hinton] tattoo and walk away learning three or four new things, and I've been tattooing my whole f***ing life.

LM: So keep learning....

SJS: Keep learning, yeah.

LM: What would you tell a young person that doesn't tattoo, but wants to start?

SJS: Well, there are way too many people tattooing now. So don't do it. It ain't as easy as it looks, and it's the hardest life you will ever get into. It'll wear you down. Tattoo is a mean f***ing boss; it'll kick your ass one day, and then give you a hug the next. If you get somebody that's really dedicated, you know, they'll hang in. I went through some of the toughest times; you wouldn't even believe it. If it wasn’t for guys like me…You know, a lot of them guys are dead now, and they should get a lot of respect for keeping tattooing alive. It [tattooing] would have f***ing collapsed. When I first started, you couldn't make enough money to eat sometimes, but we kept going. By the way, I hope you don't mind me cursing on here. I don't even realize I'm swearing sometimes.

LM: F**k it, we'll keep going. Your work with watercolor is prolific, to say the least. If you had to give an estimate of how many watercolor pieces you’ve done, what would you say?

SJS: We were talking about that about two weeks ago. We came up with an estimate of at least 10,000.

LM: Wow!

SJS: The first 25 or 30 years in this business, I would change my flash in the shop every year. I would rip it all down and do it all over again. Not at once, but I would be doing four, five, or six sheets a day, and I’d pull down six. Then I’d put up six new ones. My walls always had like 300 sheets up. Then I would do sheets for other tattooers. I've done sheets for tattoo supply companies at a rate of 500 to 600 sheets a time.

LM: Did you ever see any money out of that?

SJS: No. I never took money from them because these guys were always good to me. I can't remember the last time I had to buy ink or anything. It just goes around.

LM: The bartering system, basically?

SJS: Yeah, but there's not a whole lot of that around anymore. It ain't like it used to be. I wouldn't take any money from Huck Spaulding. I worked for three months down there [Albany, NY] doing his catalog up for him. He was determined to give me money, but there was no way I was going to take it. He was just too good to me, you know? So his deal was like, “You can have anything on my property except my old lady,” but I never felt right about doing it. Same thing goes for asking for stuff, too.

LM: What does the term “flash” mean and from where did it originate?

SJS: A sheet of tattoo designs that you have on your wall where your customer can come in and pick one of them is flash. They were always so bright, and it makes the shop look—as they used to call it—flashy. So that's where the word came from.

LM: Do you think you will ever come back to Kentucky?

SJS: Yeah. I would like to come back again. I've been here before. I was here about 18-years ago visiting a buddy of mine in southern Illinois, and he's pretty close to Paducah. So we were down that way quite a bit. At that time, there weren’t a lot of shops down here, but I’ve drove around [Kentucky] and it looks so much like back home. You really feel comfortable here right away. The people are nice here, too.

LM: Well, from a tattoo enthusiast to a tattoo legend, I want to say it has been an honor to interview you.

SJS: I appreciate you talking to me. I've been all over the world. I can walk into a shop in Holland and be recognized—not that I'm looking for someone to bow down to me, because I find that embarrassing—but I've walked into shops that I’ve never been in and they knew me. The States are even better. Here, I can go into any shop and they know who I am. They treat me really nice, but in my own country, I can go into a shop there, stand around all day, and they act like they don't even want to say “Hi” to you. Back home, it's like, “Who gives a f**k?”

And while the biblical adage of Luke seems to fit quite well here - "No prophet is accepted in his own country" - Sailor Jerry Swallow's deeply rooted anchor holds firm, it endures, and it will continue to inspire traditional tattoo artists the world over for generations to come. Thank you, Jerry. 

Sugg Street Post
Written and edited by Luke Short
Interview by Landon Miller
Photos by Jeff Harp

 

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