Nashville-based roots singer/guitarist Beth Garner announces a February 24 release date for her new CD, Snake Farm, on The Music of Nashville imprint, via CEN/RED Distribution, a division of Sony Music. Snake Farm features mostly original songs written or co-written by Beth Garner, with the exception of the title track, authored by Texas country legend Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Beth Garner’s music on the new album showcases her soulful singing, with its roots firmly in blues, gospel and soul with rock ‘n roll flourishes, as well as her scintillating axe work that alternately smokes and sizzles on standard and slide guitar. Recorded mostly live at Slack Key Studios in Woodbine, Tennessee, Snake Farm was produced by Garner and Randy Kohrs. The backing band features Rory Hoffman (sax, keyboards and rhythm guitar), Wes Little (drums), Steve Forrest (bass) and Angela Primm and Gale Mayes (background vocals).
Beth Garner talked about the inspirations for the songs on her new CD. “The verses for ‘Alright by Me’ were just for fun and the music and groove is for the band. I liked the chord structure and once we added the background singers, the song became something playful, but still rooted in the blues. I love guitar solos, I wanted to bring them back, since they seem to be disappearing from songs. For that reason, I took two choruses.
“‘Backroads Freddie’ is a little ditty I came up with while literally taking the backroads. There are alleyways in my neighborhood and when I would take a short cut, the words popped in my head. I took the idea to Fred Koller (“Angel Eyes,” “Lord, I Want My Rib Back,” “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian”) and he gave me some words to fill out the verses. I wanted the music to depict driving, so under the solos you can actually feel the band switch gears, into a ZZ Top groove. I wanted this song to become something fun that people could cover and jam on. I initially wanted a guy to sing it, so I sang it low and put overdrive on the vocals to make it growl.”
The song, “Drop Down,” is kind of about the end of the world, she admits. “‘Drop Down’ can mean duck and cover or drop down can mean get down and dance. What will you do when ‘it’ happens? Are you going to finish your eggplant casserole or run to the store and stock up on milk and bullets? Co-written with Fred Koller. I love the background vocals in this song. The major third against the minor. Spooky. I wanted to keep in the roots of the blues and have the slide double the vocals.”
The song “Used to Be” is Beth’s tip of the hat to Hound Dog Taylor and Elmore James. “Every blues album has gotta have that E grinder shuffle,” she declares. “I call this Nashville Blues, because the words are so wordy. This song is about being in your 30s, wondering how you ended up where you are and you start looking for your old boyfriend forgetting there were issues, and maybe you would just settle for old time’s sake. But then you take a solo and remember it’s all just the blues.”
The song “Ramblin’ Man” is not a cover of The Allman Brothers Band classic, but rather an original “about a groupie who loves to follow Texas country bands around.
“‘Snake Farm,’ written by Ray Wylie Hubbard, is a story about the non-fictional snake farm located in Texas, just north of San Antonio on I-35. It’s a famous place if you drive that highway.
“‘Wish I Was’ is modern blues. Your radio gets stolen, too broke to replace it. You wanna be a rock star and smash the tele on tour while in London. Never quite happy, restless, the grass is always greener. Take me back to the good old days. There are about seven other verses, only included on live performances. A fun three-chord jam in the style of Hound Dog Taylor and Stevie Wonder.”
A Texas native, Beth Garner spent a number of years playing in the Austin music scene before relocating to Algood, Tennessee in 2007, not originally to play music, but “to build a blimp for the Department of Defense, “ she says. “I worked for my uncle in a warehouse with bad heating. In March 2007, I began a three-month US tour with Russian band The Red Elvises, where we played small sold-out venues from coast to coast. I gained a lot of fans and learned about our great country from the back of a van full of Russians.”
After the tour, Garner returned to Tennessee and started playing for tips in the biker bars that dotted the small byways around the small town of Cookeville area.
“The band leader used me to take the tip jar around like a stripper, “she admits. “By September of that year, I started to hear about Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville, which I soon moved to and started hanging out there, learning the ways of that small stretch downtown that housed a dozen or so bars, and bands that were top-quality, and some not so top quality.”
Garner soon picked up a gig with Broadway icon Shelly Bush and Broadband, solely on the fact she was a female lead guitar picker and didn’t have that much hard-core country experience. From there, she started playing the Full Moon Saloon in various country bands, eventually getting her own shift, gaining musical chops and showmanship and also picking up the slide guitar. All the time, she continued “paying her dues” as a musician and performer and learning the right way of doing things as a professional.
Beth Garner also started developing a fan base from around the world as Nashville tourists discovered her singing and playing, including some famous ones. “Once, while I was playing with my band the TN Twisters (my original band a la TX Tornados), Robin Zander from Cheap Trick came in, sat at the front bar and watched us for about two hours,” Garner recalls. “He introduced himself and went on and on about how much he loved the band, he even called me the female Jeff Beck. Later on that night, we dropped Robin off at his hotel and he sat there in my jeep, telling us how great we were. It was four in the morning and I had another gig at 2pm that next day and really needed to get some sleep, but it was very difficult to ask Robin Zander of Cheap Trick to get out of your car, while he tells you how much he loved your band. A highlight of my career for me.”
In 2015, Garner decided to get back into the blues. She frequented Carol Ann’s, a famous club in Nashville that keeps the blues and history of soul music in that town alive. It was there she was inspired to return to the blues, but this time Beth had paid her dues. And now it was time to release some new material. Fortunately, she had a true fan that wanted to make it happen, so in October, 2015, she recorded seven songs mostly live in a little home studio basement that is painted purple, Slack Key Studios. “With master musician and engineer Randy Kohrs at the helm, we co-produced these songs,” she says, “all with these rules: it has to be all heart and soul, no more than three or four chords, only A and B sections, and long guitar solos. I wanted to keep the album in line for the purists, but my age and experience let me put my own stamp on what the blues is to me. Muddy Waters says ‘Blues is the roots and music is the fruit.’ The blues to me is summed up in Snake Farm. I can’t describe it. You just have to listen to it, and hopefully feel something.”
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