At the amphitheatre behind the Peace Center, a hot August day was giving way to a cooler twilight. The band was finishing their sound check. People sat on the gracious lawn with barbeque and micro brews, and shrimp, grits and chardonnay thanks to the good folk at Larkin’s on the River serving food at the old brick carriage house. The river was Greenville’s Reedy, and the band was True Blues.
The night was unforgettable.
Called the ‘Upstate’s quintessential house band,’ True Blues has been enthusing audiences for twenty years. While they cover all sorts of blues and southern rock, and they’ve opened for the likes of Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers and The Atlanta Rhythm Section (and Delbert McClinton, John Hammond, The Marshall Tucker Band, Three Dog Night, Tinsley Ellis, The Nighthawks, John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers, and, you get the picture), it’s their original tunes that are featured on Past Due.
The band is tight—and hot. Joey Gunter usually sings lead vocals and plays lead guitar, Joe Cash puts the hurt on drums while brother Pete lays down a solid bass, and Bill Pappas fills in on guitar and lifts the whole sound on keys. And to think that as a kid he took piano lessons reluctantly.
There’s nothing reluctant about this record. In the opening song where Joey sings that they “want to play the blues for you,” you get the idea that they really mean it. Joey’s voice and some lead guitar licks, along with an organ solo give a taste of the feast to come. Gene Berger, owner and visionary of Horizon Records, sells real vinyl and knows everything about every band he sells. “[Past Due] rocks, struts, glides and greases to the max!” he said. True Blues, he said, is “Killer electric blues goodness.”
And they are. Their perfect playing grabs you, stands out. But the lyrics are deft and witty; they sneak up on you. “I’ve got piles of money, wear satins and silks/ if you want to please me, honey feed me cornbread and milk” says the protagonist with a daddy from the city and a mama from the country. The songs are full of zingers: “I’m gonna leave you baby, if you ever come back home,” is a great line. So is, “I never step in stuff that messes up my shoes/that’s why I never get the blues.”
They might not get the blues, but they like singing about them, often describing what they see with a tongue and cheek smile. They make great observations—from the woman deserving wide berth, like a hurricane, who’s got her walking shoes on, to the teenage girl who inspired Joe’s song “Nothin’ You Can Do About Love.”
He may be real good looking but he’s lazy and he’s not too bright,
no matter what her parents say, cause what do they know anyway?
She’s got it bad . . .there ain’t no doubt there’s nothing you can do about love.
There are forces no parent can control, only witness. Joey’s “Daddy’s Girl” nails it well: his daughter “loves Scarlett she loves Sylvia Plath; she loves Maya Angelou and Janis, too, she’s complicated like that.”
Maybe blues is a celebration of forces beyond our ultimate control. True Blues wants you to enjoy the ride, preferably while smiling. “Lazy Summer Afternoon” does that, makes you smile; it makes me hungry for watermelon and iced tea, too. “Walking Shoes” makes me glad that I never tangled with a woman like that—but that if you push her too hard, every woman is like that. And their only cover on this CD, Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” suggests that life is full of hard, lonely decisions. All the more reason to be thankful for today’s friends and blessings, like 14 great blues songs on one disc by four guys who, if they don’t know what they’re talking about, sound like they do.
And did I say they sound so, so good?
The final track, a live version of Joey’s “Handy Man,” gives you an idea of what they sound like on the stage, an idea of what they sounded like that August night at the amphitheatre behind the Peace Center on the banks of the Reedy River. The cops want outdoor venues in Greenville to keep it quiet after ten o’clock, but they didn’t pull the plug when the crowd—plenty of families, singles, and old hippies—insisted on a few more songs. Just a few more songs . . . people dancing up front, some philosophically looking off at the moon stealing into a hazy night sky, some of us singing along: “If I had a little money everything would be alright/ a little folding green in my pocket on a Saturday night.”
But it didn’t matter what was in our pocket, folding green or lint. True Blues was on stage and we were part of it, wide smiles all around, ground vibrating to a four-four beat underfoot, music electrifying the faint breeze.
After the music, there was the pulsing memory of it, a slight ringing in the ears and the lilting of distant laughter. As the music faded, the only song left was the sound of the Reedy, a sheet of glass heading steadily for the nearby falls.
Thank goodness that with Past Due you get to take the music home.
--- Matt Matthews
The band is:
Joey grew up in Columbia, SC and started playing guitar at 8 years old after seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Eric Clapton's work with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Cream in the 1960s was an epiphany, setting the tone and mood for Joey's playing for the future. Through the years Joey has pursued rock and blues, playing in various bands from high school to the present.
Heavily influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton, Albert King, Freddie King and Albert Collins, Joey combines a soulful voice and solid guitar work with a knack for turning phrases. Joey draws on his life experience to compose a large portion of the band's original material.
A diehard Fender fan, Joey's main instrument is a Fender Stratocaster through a Fender Super-Sonic amplifier.
Joey is happily married to his wife of 27 years, Robin. They have two daughters and a son, and live in Greenville, SC.
Inspired by his brother, Joe, and cousins Carey Jones and Greg Cheek, Pete began playing music at age six. He grew up in Anderson, SC, watching these older relatives learning to play their instruments and having fun performing with their local bands. Although his first instruments were six-string guitars, Pete soon developed an interest in bass. At age twelve, in response to Joe’s suggestion, “Why don’t you stop humming bass parts and just get yourself a bass?!”, Pete bought his first electric bass and began to focus his musical attention solely on learning to play that instrument.
As teenagers, Pete and his friends terrorized their parents and neighbors as they learned songs by the popular bands of their day, including The Beatles, Chicago, Rare Earth, The Allman Brothers, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Such garage band experiences were instrumental in motivating and encouraging Pete to practice, and in teaching him how to work with a group to make music.
Since his move to Greenville in 1979, Pete has had the good fortune to meet and perform alongside some of the area’s many talented musicians. When True Blues was formed in 1990, he began listening to recordings of the old blues masters, taking on a new appreciation of their contributions to American music. Now a true blues enthusiast, Pete continues to learn from the many great players, past and present, who have their musical roots in the blues.
Pete uses Fender basses and Yorkville amplifiers.
Joe's calling to play the drums began when he was barely old enough to pick up a pair of his father's sticks. Although he never had any formal drum training, he grew up listening to and emulating the jazz drummers of the big bands, including Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Dave Tough, and (especially) Gene Krupa.
Nothing else really caught his attention until the rock era hit with The Beatles, The Who, Cream, and the rest of the British invasion. Then came Butch Trucks and Jaimoe from The Allman Brothers Band, Danny Seraphine from Chicago, and the ever-present Jeff Porcaro from Boz Scaggs, Toto, Steely Dan, and many other studio projects.
With that tremendous variety of influences under his belt, Joe continued to develop the style he uses with True Blues today. After more than 45 years of playing, Joe swings and rocks the band with a big mixed bag of licks and tricks. Joe also writes and co-writes some of the band's original tunes.
Joe uses and endorses custom drums from Palmetto Music in Greenville, SC.
Bill reluctantly took piano lessons as a young boy, but it didn't take long for him to develop an affinity for stringed instruments. Like Joey, seeing and hearing The Beatles was all it took. The first band Bill ever played with included two brothers named Pete and Joe during the time they spent together at The Citadel.
Since then, Bill has played in too many bands to list. He continues to teach science at Cedar Shoals HS in Athens with his wife, Elaine.
For influence and inspiration, Bill continues to learn from Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather for guitar, and Billy Preston, Greg Allman, and Jimmy Smith for keyboards.
For his guitar work, Bill uses a Fender Strat and a Gibson Les Paul through Mesa/Boogie amplifiers; for keyboards, Bill currently relies on Nord keyboards (Stage & Wave) with Speakeasy Vintage Music, Motion Sound and Barbetta amplification.