Interview with Graham Lees
Born in Chattanooga, Eric Heatherly
was brought up on a diet of country music by his parents, truck diver
father Earl and postal worker Nola, with Eric being raised on weekly
trips to see country stars from Ernest Tubb to the Oakridge Boys. Eric
remembers that at the age of 4, his dad had a two-tone red and white `55
Chevy and the two of them would go out to the garage and sit together in
the car while his dad popped in a Hank Williams tape and sang along at
the top of his lungs. Eric says, “He was a star in my eyes!”
Now recognised as one of the finest
guitarists in country music, Eric’s first guitar was rescued from a
garbage dump by his dad. Earl taught his son his first three chords and
his first song, Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. By the age of
8, Eric had written his first song and at 13 was ready to make his stage
On his first visit of the UK, Eric
had a one-gig date at London’s Borderline in March and while he was
over here I had the opportunity to talk to Eric about himself and his
So how do like playing Europe.
“So far I’ve loved it. I’ve
always wanted to come over here, especially because of the historical
factor, you know! Just want to check out the history. My Heatherly name
is Scottish and I’ve always wanted to check out my background there.
We’ve seen the palaces here and the changing of the guards, it was
Now that you’ve had a taste of the
UK are we likely to see you do a more extensive tour.
“I would love to. This trip is to
come over and kinda build the foundation and next time we are going to
blow the roof off the house!”
Have you brought your own band with
“I’ve brought my band with me.
We did a two-day country music festival in Switzerland and Zurich and we
just popping over here to do some things and then we go back to
Nashville to get back into the studio and pick-up the rest of our tour.
The guys with me are having a great time.”
Your country music interest goes
back to an early age when you went to shows with your parents. Is there
anybody that you would say that you have styled your guitar technique
“Absolutely! What’s cool about
that question Graham is that a couple of British guys are huge
influences on me and they are Albert Lee and Ray Flack. They are two of
the masters of the guitar and I love listening to their records and the
stuff they do with Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris and all that. I’m just
a guitar nut! I just love guitar players. I just loved Link Ray, Duane
Eddie, The Ventures, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chet Atkins, Steve Wariner,
Vince Gill…it just goes on and on. It’s a great thing to be part of
the musical community”
believe that the Roy Orbison publishing company hired you. How did that
“ I was doing a one-night gig at
this place called Bogies at Nashville, which has closed and not even in
existence any more. I just did an acoustic version of 3 or 4 songs. Roy
Orbison’s assistant was in the audience and offered me a publishing
deal. I took the offer and wrote songs for Roy’s company for four
Your album (Swimming In Champagne)
has some excellent songs that you have written. Tell me a little about
your own songwriting.
“Well….a lot of these songs on
the record are about 7–8 years old and they are the songs that I could
not get a record deal with. It’s just crazy you know….I worked three
day jobs per day and I worked Tootsie’s 5-6 hours a night…sang till
my nose bled just trying to get a record deal. These songs are just blue
collar, heart and soul of struggling in Nashville and I’m just proud
of this collection.”
So you just kept chipping away at
it, until you made it!
“Yes…I had to, I had no choice.
They told me to pack-up and go home. I either had to get strong or
You have an excellent cover of Lew
Dewitt’s ‘Flowers On The Wall’, which goes back to the 60s. It was
doing very well on radio and CMT in the US last year and is picking up
interest over here now. How did you pick-up on that one?
“Well basically my dad….it is
another one of those songs that he had on a vinyl recording by the
Statler Brother….1965. We just used to sing all those old cool songs
together and when I got older and developed my own style, I just wanted
to hot-rod some of those cool old songs in my own way. Mercury Records
heard me doing ‘Flowers On The Wall’ at Tootsie’s and wanted it on
Keith Stegall produced Swimming In
Champagne, what brought you in contact with Keith?
“Keith had been to Tootsie’s to
see me as well. Luke Lewis, the president of Mercury wanted me to go in,
with my band and my songs and told me…don’t change your style or
your dress or anything, just be yourself. And that is what I had been
waiting for man, for ten years! Keith took us into the studio and
basically didn’t try to fabricate anything and just let us be
ourselves. He told us…you guys play like you do at Tootsie’s and
I’ll get it on tape…and that’s what we did.”
How did you come to be working at
“It was my last resort. I had
already knocked on every door in Nashville and nobody would sign me, so
I just said to heck with it, I’m just going to a place and start my
own gig and play for the fun of it and whatever happens, happens….
Then three years later all the labels were down there trying to sign me,
because all the people were lined-up two blocks down the road trying to
get in, you know! It was the first time that Tootsie’s had had an
electrified band. I came in there with my stand-up bass player, my
drummer, keyboard player and me on electric guitar and we just
electrified the place. People got up and danced on the bar and college
kids were coming in and singing every word. It just exploded into this
great musical scene.”
You backed Shania Twain on the CMA
Award Show in 1997, which led to her offering you a job in her road
band. Tell me why you turned the job down to go back to playing at
“That was just simply from
anxiety…and I’ll tell you. I was so honoured and flattered that she
asked me to do the gig with her and offered the tour to me. She was so
nice to me, but I tell you….I was just sweating bullets over it,
because I had already invested eight years in Nashville trying to get my
own music out and I just didn’t want to wait another day to get
It would have meant taking a back
it would. And if your going to do this with your heart and soul,
you’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize and stay focused.”
So what would you consider being the
most significant break in your career?
“I know two dreams that I had as a
kid have both come true in this last year. That is playing the Grand Ole
Opry and playing on Austin City Limits and I did both of those in the
last 6 months. That was just phenomenal.”
There is an element of young
artistes who are adopting a more traditional style and playing the Opry,
such as Brad Paisley and yourself. Do you feel the traditional style of
country music is returning?
“I think it is time to drop some
of this technical stuff that is going on. For people to understand and
respect roots music and where this all started. It is just important for
guys who are younger like myself to carry the torch and not let this
stuff be forgotten, but to modernise it in our own way.”
Looking at your photos, you dress is
a little in the style of the late 50s early 60s rock ‘n’ roll era.
Did rock ‘n’ roll have a big influence on you?
“It sure did. I’m a huge Eddie
Cochran - Gene Vincent fan. I just love the un-inhibited spontaneity
that those guys brought to music. Of course Orbison, Jerry Lee, Johnny
Cash….those guys stood for something and when they walked in the room,
they had a sort of class. Growing up on those old Opry stars, who
slicked their hair back and shined their shoes, I always said that I
wanted to carry that tradition on.”
Has any of the more established
artistes picking-up on any of your songs.
“Some of the artistes are picking
up on some of the song that I don’t record, that aren’t my style.
John Anderson has just recorded one for his new record. It is entitled
‘The Call’ and it’s a great song. Several other artistes are
starting top develop interest in my writing, so that’s a good thing.
The Dixie Chicks are interested, it’s just a good feeling.”
So what can we expect for the
“More of the same! I’m going to keep writing songs in the same vain and still try to expand and experiment musically and just keep trying really.”
Just to finish off. Tell me a little about the technical side of your music. Guitar players who read our magazine will be interested in the type of amp and guitars that you play.
“That’s right. I play two Fender
Twins, two amps live in stereo, and then I have foot pedals for
different effects, like delays and blues driver distortion pedal. I use
my 1987 Fender Stratacaster as my main workhorse guitar and I have a 76
Telecaster, a 56 Gretch and a 76 Gretch that I love.”
It sounds like you put on a pretty
exciting show; hopefully we will see you again doing a larger tour over
here in the not too distant future. Over Easter of next year there is to
be a big country festival at Wembley, similar to those in the 70s &
80s, it would be great to see you on there.
“Hey, that would be fun.”
Well thanks for your time; it has been a pleasure talking to you
“ Hey Graham, thank you, sounds good!”