There are ties that bind in Southern music circles, and then there is Col. Bruce Hampton, who seems to have had a hand in just about every great regional collaboration — and an influence that reaches far into what emerged from the HORDE-era jam scene and well beyond — since the original Aquarium Rescue Unit sparked to life in the mid-1980s. His legacy, of course, goes back decades earlier.
No surprise, then, that Hampton played a key role in the creation of Flannel Church, a new band that features Duane Trucks on drums, Kevin Scott on bass, Gregory “Wolf” Hodges on guitar and vocals and A.J. Ghent on pedal steel.
Duane, younger brother of Derek and nephew of Butch, and Scott have played with the Colonel for several years now in the Pharaoh Gummit, and New Orleans guitarist Hodges is veteran of many bands, including the Colonel-associated Codetalkers and also Blueground Undergrass. Ghent, son of sacred steel legend Aubrey Ghent, is the latest addition.
The band made its official debut in Jacksonville just after Christmas in 2010, on Duane’s 23rd birthday, and has since played sporadic gigs with Lee Boys steel ace Roosevelt Collier and guitarist Shane Pruitt. It’s the Ghent lineup that will make its first appearance in the Northeast this week, however, playing an after-Allmans show at New York’s Iridium on Friday, March 9, and an opening slot for Bobby Keys and the Sufferin’ Bastards at the Highline Ballroom on Sunday, March 11.
This is a funky, gospely, greasy, soul-nourishing unit that draws a little bit from all of its various members’ musical pedigrees. Based on their early buzz, you’re advised not to miss out, as Duane told us in a recent conversation.
HIDDEN TRACK: So tell me about how Flannel Church came together.
DUANE TRUCKS: Well, with most bands in this region, it seems like Col. Bruce is kind of the glue that pulls us all together, so you might as well just add us to that list — he was really the reason, man. About two years ago, we did a [Pharaoh Gummit] gig in New Orleans for JazzFest at the Howlin’ Wolf, and Wolf sat in on that. Wolf and I had known each other — I’ve known Bruce since I was four years old, and I’d always see all of his different bands when I was growing up so I’d first met Wolf when I was 13 or 14 and in middle school. He’d called me and Kevin up and said hey man, I’ve got some thing I want to try, so we did that, we jammed, and right off the bat, we were like, oh shit, there’s something happening here. So we said let’s take our time, and let’s make that something happen.
Everyone was down with it. Then we met A.J. Ghent, Aubrey’s son, and he’s kind of been the fourth piece we were looking for. It all came together real nice, and the musical chemistry is there. In January, we had done a trial run and Roosevelt wasn’t available, so we took Shane Pruitt with us at that time, but this is the first time we’re taking the band as it is now, out. It’s a band now. We’re all psyched and we’ve been trying to record and get some stuff down so we can bring some music up to New York and sell some CDs.
HIDDEN TRACK: How did you meet A.J.?
DUANE TRUCKS: Roosevelt had been telling us about him, but we knew of the family of course. When I was about 12, I think Derek was on the road and he had called my mom and dad up and said are you guys busy because there’s this guy, Aubrey Ghent, playing at a church in Gainesville tonight. We all jumped in a car and drove to Gainesville, and that was really one of my first very deep religious experiences with music — seeing A.J.’s dad. I talked to A.J. about it and he said he was was probably there, so maybe we did meet each other 12 or 13 years ago and just didn’t know it.
Anyway, Roosevelt told me about him and said my boy A.J. is moving to Atlanta, and he may be wanting to do some stuff. He showed up at a Col. Bruce gig in Tucker, Georgia, and from the first note, me and Kevin just about fell over. This dude is it. He’s a young cat — he’s a hungry young musician just playing well beyond his years. So we talked to him about getting together and the first time we all went in together and played a Tuesday night at the Five Spot in Atlanta. We told him we were going to be doing the band and working on a trip up to New York and other places and asked him if he wanted to do it and he said, hell yeah.
HIDDEN TRACK: So A.J. now is a member of the band?
DUANE TRUCKS: Oh yeah. We told him we want you to be in this band, and he said hell yeah.
HIDDEN TRACK: Good to hear it. Stepping back a little bit, it sounds like you’ve known the Colonel most of your life, but when was the first time you played with him? Tell me about that.
DUANE TRUCKS: My first gig with Bruce, and I’d known him since I was young, I was 17 and I sat in with him in Charleston. I moved to Atlanta after I graduated and I was playing with a band called Highly Kind. We hit the Alabama frat circuit pretty hard. Bruce’s band at the time, he had a band going and the drummer had had to bail at the last minute for a family emergency — this must have been August 2009 — and he asked me to come in and cover for him. I did three shows with him and then after the third show, he sat me down and said, we’ve been keeping an eye out for you the last few years, and do you want to join the band full time?
And I of course said yeah. Half the reason I moved to Atlanta was knowing that the Colonel was there. He was always in my life though. Even when I was young and listening to stuff like Blink-182 and not really thinking about serious music, I remember him coming and hanging out at Derek’s house. One time he brought a Bernard Purdie VHS with him. I remember Bruce saying to me, if you can play like him, you’ll work the rest of your life. That hit me hard: “Well, shit, let’s give it a shot,” and lo and behold, Purdie’s now a top three drummer of all time for me. But having Bruce around for my earliest memories of music — that was pretty entertaining for an 8-year-old.
HIDDEN TRACK: Have you always played drums?
DUANE TRUCKS: My mom told me that when I was like, two, I started pulling her pots and pans out, flipping them over and beating them with spoons. I got my first drumset for my third birthday. Later on, Derek was always letting me sit in with his band for club dates and letting me play Superstition with the band. When I was 14 or 15, Derek gave me A Love Supreme and Wayne Shorter’s Juju, and that’s about when I jumped in to really woodshedding and really starting to learn to play. I swear, man, I was a loser in high school because I didn’t go to parties or anything — I just wanted to woodshed!
HIDDEN TRACK: It seems like it paid off, though. There are four siblings in your family, right? Are all of you musical?
DUANE TRUCKS: No, just me and Derek. David is the middle brother, he’s 28, and the youngest, our little sister Lindsey, is 19. David and Lindsey, it’s funny, they both spent about a year playing alto sax and then decided music just wasn’t for them.
HIDDEN TRACK: Gotcha. Isn’t it funny that only two of the four of you went that way.
DUANE TRUCKS: Yeah, but we’ve always said we had to have some people in the family to keep us sane. Four musicians we’d all be out there!
HIDDEN TRACK: What’s your earliest memory of Derek as a musician?
DUANE TRUCKS: It was right about when I was born when Derek started playing out. He’s 9 years older than me and it was right about then when he stated going out to the clubs so it’s really hard to pinpoint what exactly the earliest memories are. One that sticks out to me: when I was in first grade, our parents took us out of school for two weeks and we went on a road trip to Colorado with Derek and his band and Jimmy Herring was with them at the time. I think it was the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon in Telluride. I remember being there when I was like 7 years old, and thinking, this is normal? To have your brother play in a band like this? You think it’s normal when it’s all you know, but then your brother gets known and starts winning Grammys and Jimmy Herring is asked to join the Grateful Dead, and I realized, shit, this is not normal!
HIDDEN TRACK: Did you ever doubt you’d pursue music?
DUANE TRUCKS: I really didn’t ever. When you’re in kindergarten, I mean, you want to be like an archaeologist and dig up dinosaur bones or something. But once I hit middle school, this was all I wanted to do. I moved to Atlanta about three months after I graduated high school and I never looked back.
HIDDEN TRACK: Will you continue to gig with Bruce in Pharaoh Gummit?
DUANE TRUCKS: We’re taking it as it comes. Bruce, he’s getting older now, and he’s playing more in-town stuff in and around Atlanta. We try to make the schedules work where we can play with Bruce as much as possible. But when you have the chemistry we’ve found with me, Wolf, Kevin and A.J., we don’t want to put it on hold. We just feel like it’s time for Flannel Church. Everyone in the band wants to do it and there’s been enough of a good response that we want to put a lot of time into it.
HIDDEN TRACK: You mentioned recorded music. Will you have a full album with you in New York?
DUANE TRUCKS: It’s not a full album. It was kind of a last minute idea; a month ago, I talked to Wolf and said if you want to come up a few weeks early we could try to record. Kevin has Giant Sounds in Atlanta, which is a studio built inside of an 1890s stone granite church. It’s a really cool place and it’s really perfect for this band and doing a lot of old school funk gospel shit. So we got about 10 tunes in the can and mixed 6 or 7 of them, so it’ll be like a 6 or 7 song demo we’ll have with us.
Everyone’s been really excited about the response, and that we’ve gotten onto Wanee and are doing these gigs are a sign people want to hear it. So we’re going to try to make it happen and do it right.
HIDDEN TRACK: Lot of the Trucks family in the Big Apple this week. Will you be sitting in with the Brothers while here?
DUANE TRUCKS: We’ll see, man. If Uncle Butch points at me, I won’t tell him no.