This story played out locally all across the USA in the wake of the paradigm changing Beatles / British Invasion of 1964. Childhood friends Jimmy Stewart and Larry Farrar heard electric guitars and started a garage band, evolving into Rat Salad by 1970, Hit And Run after that, and finally the Tennessee River Crooks. The band name is taken from the cigar box roadie/manager Jerry Crouch used to stash cash in while working the door at countless gigs across Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois… like most regional working bands of the day these guys played crowd pleasing cover versions at live shows to pay the bills. However, they intended to do their own material from the very start. Originally issued as a private pressing in 1976, this rare LP is an unfiltered slice of real life in the Southern Rock genre. We are lucky some slick producer didn’t stumble across them and water it down with dollar signs in his eyes! This stuff is as pure as it gets! 



They say it concisely in the liner notes on the LP sleeve: “It is not produced by a major record label. It does not contain many of the tricks and gimmicks normally associated with such a production… what you hear is the band, with most of the rhythm tracks recorded live, just as they sound when you hear them live. The music is all original, the reproduction is realistic.” Yes folks, it is not merely a record, it is life itself! While the big Southern Rock bands like Skynyrd, Allmans, 38 Special, etc. are influences what you get here is akin to a secret glimpse behind the curtain into one of the myriad local scenes across America… in this case out of Paris, Tennessee. Recorded way out in the sticks at Sound Farm Studio in Puryear, Tennessee. Way beyond reach by the long arm of the record biz. One of the joys about discovering lost buried vinyl treasure like this is the superior power of a diamond in the rough over the polished stone. You get the real deal that tends to age best, the low budget “warts” become beauty marks across time because they breathe like real human beings having a blast!

The band on the LP are Jimmy Stewart on bass and lead vocals, his brother Ricky Stewart on drums, Larry Farrar and Ronnie Waters on guitars. Previous member Mike Hendrix returns for the sessions to add lead guitar. Jimmy and Mike wrote the songs. Some friends also help out including Dianne Davidson on backing vocals who made several LPs of her own and worked with Tracy Nelson of Mother Earth. Honey Combs also adds background vocals besides having the coolest name out of everyone involved. Kenneth D. Simmons adds steel guitar and Alan Raidt adds a bit of synth, Kenny Snow adds mandolin. It’s basically a no frills 2 guitars, bass, drums lineup with the extra instruments used very sparingly in inventive ways. The uncluttered directness of the recordings wears well as plenty of  space is left for your own head to fill in. The energy is not diluted by unnecessary elaboration. The guitars do tasty southern dual action at just the right moments. The vocals inhabit a space somewhere between Steve Miller and Ronnie Van Zandt without imitating them.

Bare bones equals long shelf life here in the vivid manner the guitar tracks are arranged, the loose but tight rhythm section below and the clear way the vocal harmonies are deployed with just the right balance. The harder rock elements and the country moves blend seamlessly supporting lyrics with little of the common southern iconography of the genre. Their concerns are more rooted in the moment than in the past. Life on the road, women, a friend’s death, living naturally… more an outdoors rural post-hippie new man vibe than a born to lose roadhouse brawler. Capable of bringing the two together on stage I am sure… the LP is song oriented but I bet they jammed the hell out of some of these tracks in the flesh. Nothing abstract or arty here, this is music made to reach people straight up.

The rare original LP was issued with two different sleeves, tragically. The first press from 1976 has a photo of the namesake Tennessee River Crooks cigar box on the front. The second press from 1977 has a photo of Ronnie Waters and is titled “To A Brother” in his memory as he passed away only months after the LP first came out. 1000 copies of each version were made and they pull hundreds of dollars on the collector scene nowadays. Larry Farrar passed away in 1994. Jimmy Stewart went on to write the 1991 Grammy nominated song “Brotherly Love” recorded by Earl Thomas Cooley and Keith Whitley, “A Little Less Talk” for Toby Keith and songs recorded by Shania Twain, Hank Williams Jr., Ricky Van Shelton and others.

The band reformed in 2011, still rocking after all these years. Although I dig a lot of the moves by classic famous Southern Rock artists and have heard other good obscure bands issued by major labels the real action is on the private pressings for me. Add this to the list… things like Southern Steel, Mad Jack, Mammoth take me much closer to the core of what appeals to me about this genre in the first place. These horses left the barn long before anybody had a chance to beat ’em to death! Now it’s your turn to ride ’em!

WAITING FOR A BETTER DAY uses a hypnotic yet tough rhythm guitar pattern to convey life on the road when you’re missing the lady back home, the kind of moment when you think you are gigging in Biloxi but actually it’s Jacksonville and the shows are all starting to blur together. The middle break is a tasty extended sequence with melodic lead fingerings shifting to aggressive gnarly licks and a bit of harmonica before a final verse. Concise here but I bet they jammed it out live.

SONG OF DAVID shifts gears into a vibrant but sombre folky melodic lament for a friend who died. The acoustic fingerpicking and mandolin shimmer with a trancy undercurrent on the intro and the elegant but organic flow has a post ’60s folkrock feel rather than any trad roots moves. Coulda been a folk pop top 40 hit with a terrific restrained fiddle break that is not country at all, it’s a bullseye pop hook maneuver. His friend was a painter who went off to college to study art and died. The steel guitar on the fadeout is dreamy. Poignant and heartfelt, cornpone-free zone here. The recording and mix are perfect, warm and inviting, no way a slick producer could have improved it. 

WE ARE ALL BROTHERS under the skin… no matter where we’re going or where we’ve been. This is the ‘we can make it if we try’ song acknowledging the empty darkness strangling our freedom but the light is right there if we treat each other right … an anti-racist message about live and let live. Smooth groove with a funky riff rock undercurrent in the verses alternating with a floaty refrain, gnarly licks, dual ascending guitar passage, hopeful but world weary as well. ARP synth and steel guitar tastefully add some color, especially on the fade out where a more acoustic coda unfolds as the central lyric is repeated. 

OLD MUSIC uses a delicious light jazzy acoustic shuffle with lyrical guitar and recorder solos, adding unexpected variety to the LP as a whole. With a message about how you’re not stuck dwelling in the past when old melodies take you back in time… just enjoy it because the only time is now no matter how you slice it. Listen to the old music tonight. Yesteryear is right here. Warm feelings from then live again. Added treat when it gets subtly strange at the end with the keyboard.

TENNESSEE LAND by turns rides a weavy riff and jangly rhythm guitar with countrified leads, it works as a companion to “We Are All Brothers” as it is about finding the peaceful life out in the country, planting seeds, growing the easy life… the reward for living free with integrity in harmony with your brothers and sisters, everybody getting close by leaving each other plenty of space. Plain spoken without a hint of corn… just warm sunlight on a beautiful day where the uptight city rat race becomes a distant fading nothing-burger. 

LIFE ON THE ROAD can be confusing, some cannot handle it… another solid rhythm guitar bed and relaxed but confident vocal make it clear the singer will get thru just fine. Dual guitar harmony on the intro and break, bookends the lyric on the opening track with a more resigned attitude. 

HOT BUSCH is the closer, an instrumental that unfolds with a plot line, going a lot of places in a short time. It is unassuming genius, flirts a tiny bit with prog rock in the offbeat chord changes, includes brief passages featuring the drums, bass and guitar, killer leads, terrific dual guitar passage leads to a total shift in structure for the final moment, like exiting through a hidden door that could not be anticipated…sweet move! 

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