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Golden Graham talks with the stars of country music

Eric Heatherly

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 debut.

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 music.

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 just phenomenal.”

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 you?

“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 on?

“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”

 I believe that the Roy Orbison publishing company hired you. How did that come about?  

“ 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 years.”

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 quit!”

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 the record.”

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 Tootsie’s?

“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 Tootsie’s.

“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 started.”

It would have meant taking a back seat.

 “Yeah 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 future?

“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!”

   

 

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