‘1000 Miles Away’ and Willie Stradlin’s still counting — on being your favorite country rock band.
Willie Stradlin with Hellcat Susie
Wormy Dog Saloon
311 E. Sheridan
Arkansas-based band Willie Stradlin makes no effort to hide its inspirations, taking its name from Guns N’ Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin and country music icon Willie Nelson. The act formed six years ago when front man Heath Molton was asked to pull a band together for a local fire department fundraiser.
Between the rehearsing and writing, the members discovered something special, going strong ever since.
They’ll play Friday night at Wormy Dog Saloon.
“I don’t think any of us in the beginning thought we were putting together a band to do what we’re doing now: touring and putting out records. It was more something fun to do and it ended up becoming something more,” Molton said.
Spurred by the fundraiser experience, Willie Stradlin entered the studio to record its 2008 self-titled debut with The Great Divide’s Mike McClure (Stoney LaRue, Cross Canadian Ragweed). It’s an intriguing amalgam that blends Southern rock, country, pop and bar-boogie rock into something lively and foot-tapping.
The group was ready to record the follow-up, “1000 Miles Away,” with McClure again when things went astray. Basically, McClure went to California to produce Cross Canadian Ragweed while the far smaller Willie Stradlin was switched to the back burner.
Impatient to move forward, the guys got in contact with Bobby Capps, a fellow Arkansas native and keyboardist for .38 Special. Capps has a studio in Tennessee with Three Doors Down’s Chris Henderson.
“It took us to a new level in terms of going in the studio and really doing things different, setting down and doing the best product that we could,” Molton said of the change. “But the biggest thing was we had more time to write. The first record was recorded at Dirty Bird Studio in Norman in five days. The new record, we spent three to four months on.”
The result is a crisper, more polished product whose tightness reflects the years the act has spent on the road.
With the exception of one replaced bassist, the lineup otherwise remains the same. Capps brings out more of the Southern and radio-rock aspects of Stradlin’s sound, and contributes keyboards as well, imbuing a swampy, greasy swagger to many songs.
Some of Capps’ old FM buddies make guest contributions, such as Night Ranger drummer Kelly Keagy and Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Mark “Sparky” Matejka.
The highlight may be the title track, originally written with McClure in mind.
“When McClure didn’t do it, it came sounding almost sounds like an old Doobie Brothers tune at the beginning,” Molton said, “but it turned out cool and I love The Doobie Brothers, so if that pays homage to a little Doobie Brothers in me, that’s cool.”
It’s still a little strange for Molton to be in front of the stage rather than holding down the back end, but he’s slowly getting used to it. Meanwhile, he seems immune to Lead Singer Disease, characterized by unbridled ego and sense of entitlement.
“I’m a little bit shy, I guess. I’m trying to be more outgoing. It’s something you have to learn and something you have to work on. That’s the way I’ve always been, but it isn’t bad — some people think it’s pretty humble,” he said. “It’s still weird to me. I’m not in my true comfort zone out front. I’m out there having a good time, and doing what I want to do, but am I totally comfortable with it? Not really. Not yet.”