Interviews,  Music

Black Stone Cherry’s Ben Wells Discusses ‘Black To Blues 2’, PBR And Kentucky

Kentucky is the home or birthplace of some of the best musicians to ever grace this planet. That’s not hyperbole. That’s fact.

Allow me to site some examples of some names you may recognize. Loretta Lynn, Chris Stapleton, Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, The Judds, Sturgill Simpson, Dwight Yoakam, Tyler Childers, Cage The Elephant, My Morning Jacket, Roscoe Holcomb, The Kentucky Headhunters, Patty Loveless, Bryson Tiller, John Michael Montgomery, Dillon Carmichael, Knocked Loose, Emarosa, Nappy Roots, Carly Pearce, Montgomery Gentry, Exile, White Reaper, Days Of The New, Tantric, John Conlee…should I go on?

What you’ll notice about that list is it is a wide variety of music. There’s bluegrass, country, rock, metal, rap and about any other genre you could think of.

One band that I didn’t list is Edmonton, Kentucky’s Black Stone Cherry (BSC). If you’re a reader of this site, you’ll know that I’ve known these fellas for many years. I’ve championed them through their Roadrunner Records days to their new home at Mascot. I’ve seen these young men grow as musicians, men, husbands and Dads.

These Kentuckians have known who they are and who they want to be musically, since a very young age. They’ve toured the world, played with some of the biggest acts from several generations and they’ve played some of the biggest stages the world has to offer.

The first show I remember well, was way back in the day at the old A1A in Lexington, Kentucky. Their debut album hadn’t dropped yet, but they played a lot of it that night and I remember thinking how good these guys were and how I couldn’t wait to hear that album.

Then, they hit me with a cover of a song that I had never heard. They performed a version of “Evil” that was closely related to the Cactus version. I was standing side stage and I remember the tremendous power under my feet. Then came the song that launched their career, “Lonely Train.” I immediately knew that these young men were about to embark on an incredible career and they’ve certainly proven that tenfold.

Over the years, the band introduced me to several blues artists that I didn’t know much about being a young man from Southeastern Kentucky. It seemed that every show I saw, I was hit with another cover that blew me away and I’ve been forever grateful for that.

Once Black Stone Cherry were unleashed from their Roadrunner contract, the band blossomed even more. Expanding their sound by adding an organ, some percussion and all the bells and whistles that their music had long deserved.

With every album came growth, but the band also planted a foot firmly in the past. Harkening back to the foundations of all rock and roll music, these young men revitalized, reinterpreted, and unleashed classic blues songs that somehow still felt original.

Having said that, in 2017 when BSC released ‘Black To Blues’, I could not wait to hear these fellas embrace their roots. I was given early access to review the album and have a nice chat with my buddy, guitarist and mega Elvis
Presley fan, Mr. Ben Wells.

Welcome home to Capture Kentucky, Ben. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. I think we’ve hit upon something special here and I truly appreciate your guys support of this crazy idea.

So let’s jump right in here.

Capture Kentucky (CKy):’Black To Blues 2′ is the second collection of reworked blues classics. What’s the process of choosing songs l to record when you have such a vast amount of material to choose from?

Ben Wells (BW):It’s actually not that easy! We love and appreciate so many different blues artists and narrowing it down can be tough. We usually each pick a song and then collectively decide on the remaining two (since we do 6 on the EP). Ultimately we try to find songs that we can adapt and make our own.

CKy: “All Your Love” is the current single from ‘Black to Blues 2’ and it happens to be my favorite track from the album. The recently released video touches on two things I want to discuss.

So here’s the first question in this two-parter. As a band you guys have really embraced the power of great photos as the video is absolutely beautiful and a great example of that power. I also happen to know that Mr. Chris Robertson and Jon Lawhon have been bitten by the photo bug.

As a photographer myself, I truly appreciate that embrace. I feel that a large part of the success of Capture Kentucky comes from that same power.

Was that a conscious decision creatively or did you simply look back and say, these are too dang good to not put out there?

BW: We are surrounded by great photographers on the road! Our camp has several. Yes, it’s amazing to look back on them and look at these memories and great photos.

CKy: The second question is about some of the scenes in the video. Mr. Jon Lawhon has opened his new recording studio (Monocle Studio) and you guys recorded this record there. Correct me if I’m wrong, Chris mixed the record. Jon designed the cover and the majority of your merch.

That’s a whole lot of hands on work and it’s kind of unprecedented when working with a label. So tell us a bit about the process of making this record and the freedom that Mascot has given you.

BW: We try to do things as much in house as possible. Jon has the studio, Chris mixes, we all write, we own our merch, and Mascot has been very kind in agreeing to letting us do what we do, how we do it. We like to be as hands on as possible.

CKy: You guys have never shied away from wearing your influences on your sleeves and I totally respect that. As you guys have grown over the years, you’ve slowly began expanding the band, adding organ and percussion and even some harmonica. I sense a definite shift in your performances into a jam band ala Gov’t Mule or say The Allman Brothers Band. I personally feel that you guys are simply being what you always wanted to be. Has their been any pushback from the fans or do they share my sentiment?

BW: So far our fans seem to dig it! We aren’t fully transitioning into something different, because we are and will always be a raw rock n roll band at our core. But, we love to experiment and open our minds musically and that has transitioned into the live show, which we feel has only gotten better since adding these elements!

CKy: I totally agree about the live show you guys leave it all on the stage every single night. I got to thinking about all the different venues I’ve been blessed to witness you guys in. I’ve seen ya in a 500 capacity club, a small convention hall, Rupp Arena, on the EKU campus, the Plaza Theater, the state fair, in a cave in Tennessee, a festival in Ohio and so on. For me, my favorite show was at the Madison Theater in Covington where you opened for Black Label Society. Y’all were on FIRE that night! Although supporting Skynyrd in Corbin ranks way up there too. Name a couple of your favorite Kentucky shows and tell us what made them special to you.

BW: We love playing Kentucky! The state fair shows are always fun! But I’d say our favorites are when we play the Plaza in Glasgow around Christmas. It’s just such a fun and exciting atmosphere and we love giving back to charities!

CKy: I assure you that your kindness does not go unnoticed here.

Recently you guys announced a partnership with PBR, the rodeo not the beer. You recorded one of three versions of the track “Be Cowboy.” That was a definite surprise to me. How did that opportunity come about?

BW: It was to us too! PBR selected us as the rock band they wanted and we were honored. They are an amazing organization and they treat their animals with so much respect, which means more to us than anything. They sent us the song and told us to do what we do..make it BSC. The song was already great, so we just put our spin on it! Very excited about this partnership!

CKy: I usually like to end on a random question, but I’m starting a new tradition with you guys. As I’m interviewing Kentuckians, I want to ask them all the same question. What does being a Kentuckian mean to you?

BW: It means home, number 1. But beyond that, it’s pride. We love our state, we love living there, we love the people, the beauty, the history, the tradition..the list goes on. We really are proud Kentuckians!

Well, us Kentuckians are really proud of you. Thanks again for always being supportive. I truly appreciate that.