The “Dixie Highway” Leads Straight to “Rock, Ribs and Ridges”
“The Outlaws always turn in a great performance at that particular venue and that’s why they always ask us back.”
Guitarist and vocalist Henry Paul became a member of The Outlaws circa 1971 and over the years has had an on again off again relationship with the band but now he has a different take on his role as he discussed their current release, “Dixie Highway,” their music, longevity and an upcoming June 28 appearance at the Rock, Ribs & Ridges Festival in Sussex County, NJ.
“When Huey died the band was kind of laid in my lap; there were a number of naysayers and doubters,” he explained in deliberatetones. “I’m a fan too and I understand the attraction to an original line up and that there’s a place and time where you become emotionally attached to a group based on your affection for their music and I understand that because as I said, I’m a fan too. What I wanted to do was and I use the word prove but I wanted to bring the cohesive communal character of the original group before we were signed and we struggled and worked hard together to get where we wanted to go and I wanted to bring that band back to the stage and to the studio and over 10 years with a minor change of a couple of people I’ve been able to keep this cohesive group together and put on consistent performances live and write and record three really good records; one double live and two studio. So for me that gives me a sense of not just accomplishment but it gives me a sense of peace because I was able to do what I set out to do and slowly but surely, the fan base has one at a time, one song at a time, one album at a time, one show at a time; they’ve come back to The Outlaws because the band today gives them what they gave them in 1976 and 1977 and so for me I do that for the spiritual and emotional heart and soul of the group, it’s kind of a gift.”
The stage is theirs for the taking and one thing is certain, Paul never stops trying to maintain the level of excellence which Outlaws fans have become accustomed to through the years but for someone who has accomplished so much individually and with the group; what drives him to continue doing so?
“We stay busy and at this late date my motivation to write and record a new studio record for a band that’s been around as long as The Outlaws is done for what I see as being a good thing for The Outlaws; in other words for The Outlaws to prove themselves at this late date that they can still write and record a really good studio record after 45 or 50 years is a point that I try and prove when I set out to do this. I’ve heard this from a few fans and it’s a very endearing view of fans loving a band and getting new music from them where they kind of anticipate it and they’re excited about it and they run out to the mailbox and they pick it up and they put it on and they live with it literally for days or maybe a week or two and it’s so exciting to them; that’s endearing to me.”
“That’s why I do it, that’s why I write and record new music. I also want to perpetuate the brand; when you breathe life into the band with a new album it also breathes excitement into the fan base, it gives them something to hold in their hand and look at and listen to and say, this is still happening. This is not just a memory this is happening and it’s happening right now.”
Comparatively speaking, many fans will drift with age or discover new and different genres of music which may cause a departure from certain bands as tastes change; yet to see The Outlaws live is still worth the price of admission and they are often compared to days and sounds of their past. Paul is confident that the current line up does a masterful job of recreating their earlier sound while bringing a fresh new experience to their current audiences and in the process not only maintaining the old guard but winning over some new fans as well.
“Part of what you’re going on at an Outlaws concert is in your membrane, it’s a memory of the band. I don’t know how old you are but when you go out and see the band now, you look up there and you listen and you know what you’re hearing and you know whether it’s real, whether it’s good or great or just OK and you know the difference and if you come away from it saying, these guys sound really good; guess what? We do!”
“A lot of times, if you’re selling out Madison Square Garden and you’re the headliner or you’re The Outlaws it’s your moment, it’s your time; once that time has come and gone you come in through a theater and you sell 15 hundred or maybe 2,000 tickets and that’s a far cry from selling 15,000 seats at the Garden. So a band; their fans kind of abandon them, they give up on them, they give up on live music, they give up on going out, they give up on living, it stops being important. So again, I think that recording a really good record like this, what it does is give the core fan base a real relieving sense of hope that The Outlaws aren’t going to just disappear; that they’re engaged on a full time basis, that they’re going to write and record new music and the music has got to be great otherwise you’ve messed up or you made a mistake or you have failed at what you set out to do but if you write and record a really good record then you’ve done exactly what you have to do to keep them engaged and to give them hope for tomorrow for the band that they love because we are just one of many bands; it’s the only one that I’ve got. Fans want new music but only if it speaks to them. I had a guy online the other day tell me that he listened to the new album and that he was almost in tears because it was so true to the quality and excitement of the original band and that the re-recording of “Heavenly Blues” was so beautiful and so relevant and so much improved over the original record. So I don’t know, I think that if you’re an Outlaws fan and you buy a new record and put it on in the car or at home on the stereo and you listen to it and it melts your heart and fills you with excitement and hope then it’s right there with “It’s About Pride,” “Lady In Waiting,” “Hurry Sundown” and the self-titled first record as a body of work.”
“Well not to toot my horn but if you have the talent and the ability, whether you can still sing or whether you can still write a good song or make a good record; I have surrounded myself in this band with people that I’ve known for years in Nashville, people that I have made records with in Blackhawk and played on shows with in The Outlaws. I mean Steve Grisham is a veteran of the band from the early 80’s, Dale Oliver is a veteran of the original Blackhawk studio and road band, Randy Threet I invited into The Outlaws in ’05 for the reunion tour and he has been there ever since, Dave Robbins was part of the ’05 reunion tour and Jarron came in when Monte had some health issues and has been doing a remarkable job. So this is a core group of people with a great deal of talent and the knowledge on how to make good records and I’m still a really good songwriter so we still have what it takes to make good music. Listen, all the guys in the band have been compared to Hughie and Billy or Chris Anderson and Billy Crain and they’re there to make their mark and they’re there to win the fans over and they’re there to make their declaration that it’s my band now. Hughie is gone, I’m here, I’m out here every night, I’m writing and recording these songs and it’s my band now. I’m an Outlaw and I’m here for the long haul and we’re having fun and we’re gonna continue to write and record and we’re going to continue to tour and that’s it; that’s what they want out of this because they’ve invested heavily in themselves.”
So with that established; what about the new record? Why “Dixie Highway” and are there any other “Reasons” that come to mind for writing new material other than the aforementioned ones earlier?
“It’s kind of a metaphor for my life,” he started slowly seemingly gathering his thoughts. “The road runs in and out of Tampa and any time we went anywhere in the world besides where we lived we had to go up and down that road and we’re a southern rock band and Dixie is the south; so it’s more of a metaphor for my life. When you think about it from the lyrical perspective, “There’s a road that runs before me and it’s twisted in its turn with miles of open highway and bridges that we burned with rowdy reputations learning lessons of the heart. A recent revelation I found a place to start on Dixie Highway;” it sends you down that road and you live your life out there in front of people and you’re lucky enough to live to tell about it and that’s the perspective from which I wrote that song. There’s also, “The road is unforgiving but we’re on it ’til the end because we believe that our salvation is just around the bend;” there’s optimism every time we sit down to make a record or write song. We want to make an impact with people and we want to connect with them and we want them to come away from it with a positive view and so we believe that our salvation is just around the bend. It could be the next song we write, the next show we play, the next record we make, the next hand we shake; so there is that to the song title and it’s a nasty record, it’s a really, really good song and a great record that we made.”
“Ya’ know, if you want to sit down and arrange a six minute song with three choruses two verses and a bridge and the rest is an instrumental passage or if you wanna try and weigh-inwith Dickey Betts on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” or you want to write your sort of version of what that is or tip your hat to the guy for the lasting or indelible musical contribution that he made; those are the reasons that we still do what we do and they’re damn good reasons.”
Rock, Ribs & Ridges is a two day festival at the Sussex County Fairgrounds with acts such as Don Felder, the Pat Travers Band, Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, Blackfoot and more with The Outlaws hitting the stage on Sunday evening. Paul says the show will be part of what is always an ongoing tour as they hit the road to promote the new album and give it their all as they do every time they perform.
“Yes to all and everything; there’s always a tour. Sometimes it’s weekends but they’re usually always lengthy; we probably play more than 100 plus dates a year which takes us away from home for a really long time and our loved ones and families. It’s not as crazy as it used to be and musically it’s a lot more buttoned up; it’s a different time in our lives and we try and play every show like it’s our last because we don’t know. There’s really only one way to play an Outlaws show and we play it that way every night; it’s a hundred percent invested, all or nothing. You can not go up there and throw up a casual impression of that music because the music is not casual it’s intense and you have to match the intensity of that performance every single night. The band that I’m in, these guys are pre-disposed to know what that means and they get after it every single evening; there’s never a phoned in performance ever.”