Honesty is always refreshing...so here goes -
The Arizona Rustics is the result of a bucket-list promise that I made to myself to write and record a full length CD of original songs before the age of 40. I'm now 38 so I feel the heat of that promise bearing down on me.
Though I am an artist - oil painter by trade, I have written songs all my life. The musical side of my artistic efforts began on a day in 1987 when I was twelve years old. My grandfather, David Walters had recently passed away after a diagnosis of stomach cancer. My grandmother Shirley knew that one of the things I loved most in the entire world was my grandpa's Yamaha guitar, so she gave it to me. He had never had a chance to teach me to play, so I made horrible sounds with that nice guitar for a couple of years until I got my act together and managed to teach myself.
I was a devout metalhead in my younger days - and was fortunate to become friends with local guitar god Brian Williams, of Elkin, NC. He was in a band called Overlord and I was his guitar tech for a brief time. Though I eventually went back to my acoustic guitar and love of more mellow music, Brian was a great friend and great influence, and still is.
I went to Lenoir-Rhyne College (now university) when I was 17, and began to write songs with a singer friend I met named Levi Brown. Levi encouraged us to write our own stuff, and when we played at college coffeehouses we often played songs we'd written. On one particular night we played a song I wrote called "Innocent Goodbye." And something special happened the following day...all that day people were stopping me asking me "Who does that second song you guys did?" (They were assuming it was a cover song of some kind, but they didn't know the band who did it) and I said "I wrote it." And I got some very weird looks. Those looks did a lot to give me the courage to keep writing down song ideas.
Later I played music with friends Chad Kehrley singing and Frank Vittoe on guitar. We entertained our friends almost every Friday and Saturday night with beers and renditions of songs by the Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Boston, KISS, and a few of the contemporary bands like the Gin Blossoms - who I loved very much.
After graduating college there was a long gap - post 1997 where I strummed and played on my own, but wrote very little. It was only around 2009 or so that I got a notebook and started jotting down song ideas. More and more came like a torrent, and I'm a good way through that notebook already.
One thing I think of somewhat ironically is that I don't really consider myself a singer. I have always been happy to write songs or play on songs that other people sang on. But a strange thing happened when I began to write music for the Arizona Rustics…I heard the songs in my own voice ( i.e., in my mind I heard them that way). So I decided to try to get the best out of my asthmatic voice - and my early experiences singing have shown me that with a few takes I felt I could get something that would pass a low bar for acceptable. I never have had the disease where every guitarist thinks he is a singer. Most of what I care about is the song and the words - and I have only tried to get enough out of my own voice to do the song justice.
I think if a person is a good artist they must do what Neal Cassady said and "Write as if nobody has ever written before." And I follow that rule in painting and music. I blank my mind as much as possible, and try to simply answer what it is I would do with a song.
However if compelled to name influences I would say that I am most moved by songwriters like Jason Isbell and Justin Rutledge. I also love The Civil Wars, The Decembrists, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Low Anthem, Kathleen Edwards, and Caleb Stine, as well as classical composers such as Beethoven and the great violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini. My favorite female vocalist is someone I'm proud to call a friend - the incomparable Deanna Johnston, who blew crowds away on Rockstar INXS in 2005. I have also been fortunate to have some personal contacts with those who inspire me. I twice met Jason Isbell in Tucson - and spent a cold night behind Club Congress in Tucson talking about life and music in the dark by the railroad tracks with him. I've also carried on a long distance friendship, chatting occasionally with Justin Rutlege - who is a stellar guy, and a great poetic-writer in his own right.
So the Arizona Rustics is nothing more than a promise I made to myself. I hope to make good on it...to honor those who have inspired me, and to give an outlet to that voice inside my mind that has always heard tunes that didn't yet exist.