MUSIC BOX: Sodapop’s Bottomless Well

By on April 7, 2015
Wyatt Lowe & the Mayhem Kings just returned from a run of shows in Chicago. (Photo credit: Zac Rosser.)

Wyatt Lowe & the Mayhem Kings just returned from a run of shows in Chicago. (Photo credit: Zac Rosser.)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Seventeen-year-old guitar slinger and rockabilly minstrel Wyatt Lowe has the goods of a seasoned musician that would lead you to believe he has been a performing bandleader for decades. The evidence is his debut studio release Wyatt Lowe: Songs From a Bottomless Well. It was co-produced by Lowe and The Mayhem Kings’ drummer, Scott Closson, with seven of the 11 tracks written by Lowe. The band will celebrate with an album release show this Saturday at The Rose.

With choice dark threads, Wayfarer shades and slicked-back hair, Lowe is a singer-songwriter that has the look of a 20-something Johnny Cash. It comes as no surprise then that the legacy of Cash and his inconceivably monstrous impact on country, blues and punk music fills a hefty portion of Lowe’s own bottomless well of influences.

“I actually wrote ‘Meet You in Heaven’ about [Johnny Cash] and his brother, the relationship they had,” said Lowe, whose musical uncle played with Merle Haggard and The Strangers for about 20 years. “I’d say Johnny was one of the biggest influences in writing this album and his music really shapes what we are doing now. He was the all-around American man and musician and he influenced so many different musicians [and genres] that came after him. My uncle would tell me stories about this all the time, saying, ‘Merle saw Johnny at San Quentin [State Prison] and then knew what he wanted to do.’ We’re just trying to pick up where Johnny left off.”

Beyond Cash, you can hear a variety of other influences throughout the album, especially in Lowe’s guitar playing. From surf to classic rockabilly (“Hot Rod Lincoln”) to straight-up-Stratocaster-wailing, Jimmy Vaughn-esque blues (“Howlin’”), and even slide guitar (“Meet You in Heaven”), there’s the perception that this kid is not only talented, but also highly ambitious. Still though, he’s 17, right? Naivety to the cruelties of the music business and to life’s struggles beyond the roof of one’s parents’ house is bliss. But, considering Songs From a Bottomless Well as an eponymous foundation, Lowe is poised to turn heads regardless of his age or the age of his audience. At moments, the album is comparable to JD McPherson’s retro release Signs & Signifiers, an era-specific, chart-topping rockabilly album recorded to sound exactly as if it had been recorded in 1956 at Chess, J&M, or Specialty records.

“McPherson’s bass player, Jimmy Sutton, I got to play with him a few times,” Lowe mentioned, nonchalantly. “He produced Signs & Signifiers in his attic studio in Chicago. That same old-time, raw sound that’s not overproduced is what we were going for. A buddy of mine in Austin has a reel-to-reel tape machine, so I gave him the digital tracks and he put it through the reel-to-reel. The difference was incredible, such a warmth. The way we recorded it was more of the traditional way with not much overdubbing, mostly live takes. We recorded at Jason Fritts’ studio and got such a great drum sound there.

“After we were done recording, we listened to it once and we were like ‘this isn’t it.’ We just didn’t feel it. We recorded almost the whole album over again. It took some time, but we went back in, wrote a couple more songs, threw in some of the more popular [covers] we do live, and we really like the flow now.”

Lowe is currently a homeschooled/online high school student in his junior year. With respect to his credit load, he’s ahead of the game. If all goes as planned, he will graduate this October or November, just weeks after his 18th birthday. While he has talented musicians next to him in The Mayhem Kings — Jason Fritts (sax), David Bundy/Marty Camino (bass), and Scott Closson (drums) — his future and his role in the music business is not set in stone.

“The way it’s looking right now, after I finish high school, I want go to the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles,” Lowe said. “A couple of my friends that are at Berklee [College of Music in Boston] right now are telling me, ‘I wish I had been playing music live like you are, that’s the one thing they don’t teach you. They teach you everything in between — the notes, the theory — but they don’t prepare you for what life on the road is like … booking and playing live shows, getting stiffed by venues.’

“I want to learn more about the industry and go from there. When I was a little kid I was like, ‘rock star or bust.’ Now that I’m older, I realize that the Institute is really for contemporary musicians and prepares you for the industry — the business side, the recording side, playing music for a living and touring. There’s no doubt I’ll be doing music for the rest of my life, [I’m] just not sure which direction.”

Best of luck, kid, you’re killing it.

Wyatt “Sodapop” Lowe & The Mayhem Kings’ album release, 10 p.m., Saturday at The Rose. Free. CDs will be available for $10. 733-1500.

Wyatt Lowe rides on with rising fame. (Photo credit: Zac Rosser.)

Wyatt Lowe rides on with rising fame. (Photo credit: Zac Rosser.)

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About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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