Otis is a band out of Kentucky bringing Southern Rock, old school Blues and great musicianship into the modern age. The band consists of Boone Froggett on Vocals and Guitar, Steve Jewell Jr. on Guitar, John Seeley on Bass and Andrew Gilpin on Drums.
Knowing that Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters worked on the album with the boys, I asked him for a few words on the band:
“First off, I’m not a producer by industry standards, I’m almost embarrassed to put my name in that category. The artist produces the music, a good producer encourages, directs and helps the music flow organically. From working with The HeadHunters and Delaney Bramlett, I’ve learned that the more you stay out of the way, the better the music is. I do know what’s real, and sometimes what’s real, isn’t the most commercially viable thing. I’ve been lucky to have played in a band that made it on their own terms and stayed away from the “Flavor Of The Month” club. It isn’t always easy, and sometimes it’s been downright hard.
Besides The HeadHunters, where we collectively produce our CD’s, I’ve done a few outside projects. I’ve co-produced and played on Taildragger, Jimmy Hall & The Muscle Shoals Collective, Mighty Jeremiahs, Rufus Huff, and Ronnie McDowell CD’s. Another important factor in the “John Brim” project is David Barrick, who co-produced the project with Dean Smith & me. David has a great ear for tones, and music. David hung in there with us to the end, hats off to him! In fact, most of the projects were with David Barrick. For me to get involved with a project, I have to totally believe in where it’s going musically. With Otis, I could see an honesty in their music, and in their long term goals as a group. These guys aren’t aiming for the top of the charts, although any of us would welcome a top 10 record on our own terms, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Boone, Steve, John Mark & Andrew have the talent, they are a diamond in the rough. They did a great job on the “John Brim” project, and with more gigs, writing and studio experience under their belts, they are going to be the next generation of “Southern Music.” I look forward to working with the guys on the next go round, we’re going to have some fun!” – Greg Martin
I was lucky enough to sit down with the two guitarists, Boone Froggett and Steve Jewell Jr and talk about the new album, guitars, influences and all that good stuff!
What can you tell us about your new album, “Tough Times – Tribute To John Brim”?
Boone Froggett: It’s a tribute album to Chicago blues legend John Brim who was born in my home state of Kentucky . the arrangements were written by us as a band and of course the lyrics belong to Mr. Brim. It was basically all tracked live with vintage guitars and amps we really tried to capture the rawness of Brim’s Chess and JOB recordings. Produced by my dear friend and mentor Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters and Dean Smith (Supafuzz,Rufus Huff) and features the harp playing of Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie/Jeff Beck).
Steve Jewell: We’re really excited and proud of the John Brim album. We hope we bring him more respect, recognition as awareness to the state of Kentucky for fine Blues music. We’re really influenced by Blues Music and love a great deal of Blues Music. So it’s nice to have a whole album featuring our “Blues” side of Otis. The album is a raw and electric album. There is no gimmicks. Straight forward honest music. We did NOT track this album. We wrote our own music arrangements to each song. The lyrics of course were wrote by John Brim. We came in to the studio, played every song live, as well as guitar solos. We did not over dub solos or anything. The whole album is completely live. We only used vintage gear on the record. The album was recorded at Barricks Studio in Glasgow KY. Produced by David Barrick, Greg Martin, and Dean Smith. Featuring Greg Martin on guitar and Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie, Jeff Beck, and Hank Jr Band on harmonica.
What was it like working with Greg Martin?
Boone: Working with Greg was truly a blessing for the band and he has a way of guiding the session without changing the direction of the arrangement or the vibe his producing style is to enhance whats already there rather than changing it’ he spent a lot of time listening to us develop the songs and gave the band a lot of meaningful direction. Greg is a living encyclopedia of the blues he encouraged us to study the blues as an art form and a culture not just a form of music not to mention the killer gear he was kind enough to let us use. we look forward to working with Greg on our next record as well.
Steve: It was great working with Greg. Greg has always been a close friend to us and has always been there for us when ever we’ve had questions or to help guide us in the right direction. We took way more from working with Greg than just music. He’s taught us many valuable life long lessons. “You can never go wrong by doing the right thing.” Is one quote from Greg that he told us that I’ll never forget and has always stuck with me. I really admire Greg not for just his playing but how great of a person he is. Greg’s outlook on music and life is so inspiring and contagious. He’s really taught us a great deal on how to not only strive and push ourselves to be better musicians, but better and honest people in this not so honest business. And my favorite honest part about Greg is he plugs an old 1958 Gibson Les Paul straight into an old 1968 100 watt Marshall Plexi. No pedals. Just a guitar, an amp, and some soul. That’s as honest as it gets. I’m forever grateful for Greg Martin what he has done for us. He has helped make Boone and I believers of plugging straight in and letting your fingers, your heart and your soul do the testifying when playing guitar.
How did you decide on honoring John Brim?
Boone: It all started at big moose’s bbq when Greg asked if i had ever heard of John Brim unfortunately i hadn’t and then he told me John Brim’s story that he was from Kentucky, recorded on chess was a more or less unsung hero of Chicago blues . he mentioned Otis possibly doing a song or two as a tribute if it felt right and sent me home with a stack of cd’s and vinyl . I was really taken back by the rawness and vibe of his recordings his blues had such unique spirit about it . the rawness was really something I could relate with his approach was more about emotion than making everything sound clean and perfect. of course a big driving force was the Kentucky element in his story . Kentucky is well-known for bluegrass and country music but also has a deep history in blues with people like John Brim and Sylvester Weaver who made the first slide guitar recording ever documented. we have hope of educating people on Kentucky blues as well as creating as resurgence in John Brims music.
Steve: The project concept was Greg Martin’s idea. He stated he has been wanting to do a tribute record to him for a while now. For whatever reason, Greg thought that we was fit to help honor John Brim. Greg gave us 5 songs. We wrote our arrangements to the 5 songs and went in the studio and recorded them with Greg, David Barrick, and Dean Smith producing. David Barrick was really great to work with. He had a lot of great ideas and really helped us pull things together. He’s the Wizard of capturing warm Marshall Tones! We initially was going to only release 5 songs as a EP and Tribute. But we got to thinking that 5 songs just didn’t seem enough. So Otis did some digging on our own and found 5 more songs and wrote our arrangements to them and went back to the studio. All the songs were wrote by John Brim. Therefore, we recorded 10 songs and released a full length album. Having Jimmy Hall play on this record was a blessing. We’re big Wet Willie fans which is the band he fronts as well as had done some work with Jeff Beck who we love. I’ll never forget what Jimmy Hall said after playing on about 2 or 3 of the songs in the studio. He said, “Man you guys are listening to and playing stuff that Greg and I both grew up listening to. Not only are you listening to it but your playing it and getting it right.” That may not be exactly how he said it but I remember him saying that we was listening to the same stuff he and Greg grew up on and we was playing the Blues and getting it right. Such a big compliment.
What gear did each of you use on the new album?
Boone: We had a blast recording the guitars on this album we really wanted that “Nasty” tone that you hear on the early chess stuff . as far as amps go for me we chained a 50’s Fender tweed deluxe with a 50’s Gibson GA-8 Gibsonette amp with no pedals and it was beautiful I ended up buying the GA-8 last week. we recorded in an old warehouse that was once an auction barn and to isolate my amps we stuck them in an old bathroom and the tone just resonated in there it was really great sound for the album. I used a lot of guitars on this album for open D and E tuning I used a 1963 les paul SG, Open C I used a late 60’s Epiphone Rivera prototype with staple pick ups and in standard i used a 55′ Gibson les paul Goldtop with P-90’s that particular guitar nailed the chess sound we were going for… again a big thanks to Greg for making that gear accessible to us.
Steve: I used a 1958 Gibson Les Paul, a 1963 Gibson Les Paul SG, 1954 Les Paul Special, 1963 Red Gibson 335, 1975 Fender Telecaster, 1973, 1973 Teisco Del Ray, 1955 Gibson Goldtop. A 1948 Fender TV amp on the first session. Then on the second session I changed an early 1940s Fender TV amp to the 1948 Fender TV amp.
Who were some of the guitarists you were listening to when you first started playing?
Boone: B.B King , Duane Allman , Johnny Winter . Chet Atkins , Roy Nichols
Steve: My first and biggest inspiration for guitar and always will be is my dad. He lit the fire in me to play guitar and still does. He has taught me so much and I’m forever grateful. When I really started studying well-known guitarists, Steve Gaines from Lynyrd Skynyrd was a big influence. It’s kind of crazy how things work out. Steve’s more roots influenced than anyone in the band in my opinion. He really loved a great deal of Blues, Soul and Funk Music. I really like his stuff he did in the early 70’s with the Detroit Wheels with singer Rusty Day of Cactus. Listening to more music I discovered Billy Gibbons. The Rev Willy G. Billy sure knows how to testify! Simple, straight to the point tasteful Blues. Warren Haynes quickly became a favorite of mine. I love Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and early Clapton in his The Cream days and Derek and The Dominos. Johnny Winter is such an amazing player and big influence on Boone and I both. I love the 3 Kings. BB, Albert and Freddie. Muddy’s amazing approach to slide playing and just his over all playing. I LOVE Hound Dog Taylor. Such an amazing unique slide player he was. Such amazing sound. He is living proof that it’s all in the hands! His accompany on guitar was Brewer Philips. Two guitars and a drummer. No Bass Guitar. Brewer played the bass guitar parts on a Fender Telecaster plugged into an old Fender amp. Such amazing sound and vibe they had. I love Merle Travis. Being from Kentucky, I love our roots of thumb picking here. Greg Martin of course is a big influence on guitar as well as thumb picking. Greg is a really great and tasteful thumb picker. Derek Trucks and Jack Pearson are simply amazing. There are no works to explain how amazing their talent is. The first concert I remember simply being moved to the point of crying was a Tedeschi Trucks show in Nashville TN in July 2013 with our brother Andrew Gilpin, drummer for Otis. Jack is arguably the greatest guitarist alive today. There is so many to name but my all time FAVORITE guitarist who I can go on and on about is Duane Allman. If anyone has ever really heard a live Otis show I think could tell how much Boone and I are influenced by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. What a pair those to where. Dickey is such a great guitarist and musician. Duane has lit a fire under people who has heard him play that is still burning in them today. I’ll never forget hearing the Pink Capricorn release, “Live at The Filmore” album on vinyl for the first time. Whenever I need inspiration, I put on a Allman Brothers record with Duane, Derek and the Dominos or anything with Duane Allman playing on it. There are not enough words to begin to explain how special Duane was and how great he was. I admire him so much because he wanted a BAND. An honest BROTHERHOOD. He could have very easily started a 3 piece power rock group like Hendrix Experience and Cream but he wanted a band with brotherhood. He wanted to play with musicians that was just as great as he was. The band was not all about Duane and he would make it a point to tell people how great Dickey Betts was and how he’s just as good as anybody. I really love that and respect that. There is so many great musicians out there. Anyone out there doing it and doing it right and testifying and that has something to say is an inspiration to me.
In a day and age when there are so many bands that can throw together an album, yet can’t cut it live or worse yet, have never played out! That being said, you guys KILL live! How long have you been performing?
Boone: This line up has been playing out live for almost three years now, There’s a lot chemistry between the four of us on stage, guitar wise Steve and i can really pull the best out of each other, we play off of one another constantly. the moments where we jam in a live setting you never know where its gonna end up musically its a journey. Which makes every show different and that’s something refreshing for the both the band and the audience to experience especially in the rock & Blues genre.
Steve: I’m the latest addition to the band. The band itself has been going around 10 years I believe with Boone and the bass player John Seeley keeping things going. About four years ago, they added Andrew Gilpin on drums. Andrew is very special. Such an amazing drummer and music scholar. I was asked to join the band a little over two years ago now. So this line up of Otis has only been together a little over two years. What’s the secret? Practice, practice, practice. Woodshed and write as much as possible. We have many all day jams starting around 10 AM and ending around 11 PM. Listening to music is equally if not more important than actually playing. I know myself personally, I spend around seventy percent of my time just listening to music and thirty percent actually playing guitar. We like to jam for a little while, put on some records on the turn table, jam some more and repeat!
Any plans on hitting more of the country on tour?
Steve: We sure hope to! We’re trying our hardest to branch out. It’s just so hard in this day and age. So many bands and seems like not enough places to play. Sure, a band may have a decent sound. But, it really doesn’t matter how good you are. What seems to matter is how many people you can pull to a show on a random day of the week like a Tuesday and play around midnight when everyone has to work the next morning for a few bucks. You better love what you’re doing and the music in this business! Haha… We really, really want to get out there and play anywhere and everywhere we can for anyone willing to give us a listen.
Boone: Yeah man! I think its gonna happen in the very near future, it a strange thing the farther we get away from home the more people seem to dig us. We want to get out and play much as possible and become a better band. Hopefully we will get the chance to branch out and take our Kentucky blues mojo to more people and places
What’s the best music advice anyone has ever given you?
Boone: Probably came from our producer/Mentor Greg Martin, as we were in the early stages of making our album he told us “You can’t go wrong doing the right thing” and that saying has really stuck with the band as a whole. Being a young band you get a lot of advice thrown at you we are very fortunate to have someone like Greg that’s older , wiser and has seen it all, to help guide us and keep us in line
Steve: You can never go wrong by doing the right thing. Greg Martin to us that and it’s always stuck with me and forever will. God bless Greg for everything he’s done and all the great wisdom he’s instilled in us. We’ve took more from his wisdom than just a musically stand point. But most importantly how to be a good and honest person in a not so honest world and business.
We’ve touched on your influences, who are some of the newer guitarists that you each dig?
Steve: Derek Trucks hands down. Boone and I both could go on and on about Derek. We love Derek. Lord have mercy I pray and ask god above everyday to help me to be able to testify and touch people like Derek does. No, I don’t want to play or sound like Derek, but to testify like he does. I’ve seen Derek live twice now and it’s the most incredible experience I’ve ever been apart of in a live show. I’m not going to go see a band or an artist just be cause they’re good. I want to be moved. I want to take something away from the show when I leave. I’ve seen none believers in the crowd around me who mostly likely didn’t have anything to do and their buddy had an extra ticket so they tagged along just to get out of the house. Then as soon as Derek starts to testify, I’ve seen them cry like they’re at a church tent revival and the preacher is preaching hell hot! That has got to be the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed. My first time seeing Derek live I cried myself because I felt so moved. Both times seeing Derek I’ve witnessed a lot of people around me crying because they feel so moved. I can’t explain it. Go see Derek Trucks play live is all I can say and you’ll understand. I really like Seasick Steve and his Hill Country Mississippi Delta slide approach to the guitar. I really like Kenny Hohman from Super 400. Really dig Charlie Starr from BlackBerry Smoke. Very great player. Needless to say, Derek Trucks is feeding my Soul haha.
Boone: I really can’t say enough about guys like Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, who are carrying to torch for organic blues & Rock guitar playing. It seems that my generation has lost the art of speaking through guitar playing, guys my age are more into having over grown pedal boards and playing every lick they know in five minutes.I wish more cats would sit down and listen to B.B king’s “Blues is King”LP and humble themselves and learn to hit on people emotions, for me that’s where it’s at. Also I have a lot of love for Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson of Blackberry Smoke I love the way they play together its the real deal.
What’s in the future for Otis?
Boone: Man we’ve had a really great but busy year as a band. I’m really looking forward to the next couple of winter months we have plans to just write and woodshed and rebuild our mojo for next year ! It’s really imperative as a band to keep growing and writing new tunes as well as just listening to music together we all four have big vinyl collections to draw from. But this upcoming year I think some good things will happen for Otis and hopefully we will get to branch and play more shows and continue to grow and learn from those better than us !
Steve: A lot of writing, woodshedding, live shows and put out as many records as we can! We love music. Everything great about it. Music is a universal language. We believe music has healing powers. Duane Allman said it best by saying Music is the purest form of communication that there is. It’s a wonderful thing, a grace. We still have more growing to do but I whole heartedly believe that all four of know what we want to do, and what kind and type of music we want to play. We strive to write and create positive music. You never know how it may affect someone. There is so much negative music out today that it’s heart breaking. So many people are looking for answers and inspiration and turn to music to find answers and to express themselves. Can you imagine turning on the radio in this day and age seeking for inspiration or a song to speak to you. I’m 23 years young and it’s troubling to think kids younger than me turning on the radio to listen to music to what they might hear. If I could tell anyone band, artist or musician anything, it would be to listen to the Allman Brothers. Don’t be afraid to jam and write positive honest music from the heart. It’s ok to jam. I could careless about writing a 2 or 3 minute radio friendly length song. Or adding modern twists to it so it’ll sale. That’s not what music is about. All my favorites like the Allmans, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, etc had something to say and they where going to say it. Didn’t matter how long it took them. Whether it was 3 minutes or 27 minutes. If you write a song, and it’s from the heart and the soul and it’s over 3 minutes, how can you be wrong? Speak from the Soul Brothers and Sisters. Don’t let anyone else deprive you from telling your story. Put aside fame and fortune. Be honest by telling your story. In this day and age I believe no one really has anything to say anymore. No one is really testifying with an exception of a few. I know Otis would like to testify. We have something to say. Come see us and let us speak to all of our brothers and sisters out there what we have on our hearts!