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Bloodkin's One Long Hustle (Part 3)

By James Calemine



"You got nothing left to show Cos you're good time is over and done..."
--"Good Time Over And Done"

Eric successfully completed rehabilitation program and hasn't touched booze in four years. Like the most hopeful rehab stories, Eric’s sobriety created a new focus. He executed un-wrecking courage when handling late night scenes, dealing with drunks and playing music without taking one sip or one snort. He was forced to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, to carry on his trade. He did it. The Bloodkin duo had new lives - Eric in his sobriety and Danny in the grounding power of his family. They were ready to record new songs.

Much had changed for Bloodkin since Last Night Out, and for the first time since the early days the changes were largely positive. Not only did the band have a renewed sense of purpose, the Internet leveled the playing fields for bands that didn’t have a big record label in their corner. Bloodkin’s music that had previously only been available to a select few could be found in a couple of computer clicks. Also, a new generation of southern-tinged rock bands led by the Drive-by Truckers had assembled a powerful audience ready made for our heroes. When they went to David Barbe's to record Baby They Told Us We Would Rise Again, there was a finally plan in place.

With a strong push from the Truckers’ camp to their formidable fan base and press following, Bloodkin's Baby They Told Us We Would Rise Again earned glowing reviews in mainline magazines like Rolling Stone and important indie music sites like Pitchfork. The Truckers had lent their musical talents on the record and Patterson wrote extensive liner notes about Bloodkin’s journey that put the band into context for a new generation of fans and listeners. He penned this for the Rise Again album liner notes:

...I've seen Bloodkin go through many changes. They have endured trials and tribulations that would have ended most bands. I've played with my partner for 23 years but Danny and Eric actually have a couple of years on us. They moved down to Athens, GA together from West Virginia with then and now drummer Aaron Phillips) years before I moved here and have remained a fixture through thick and thin. Honestly, mostly thin, as they have never received anywhere near the recognition they deserved. Ever. Sometimes the blame could be placed squarely at their feet, as like most artists they can and have been sometimes their own worst enemy. Some of their trials were thrust upon them but through them all they have persevered.

I have to admit that it was somewhat irritating to someone like me who has spent over twenty plus years in close proximity to the band and their work to now see them begin receiving the credit they long ago deserved. Yet, it made me proud of them to see the hipsters finally acknowledging their talent. David Barbe stands as an integral player in the Bloodkin saga during the later years. In some ways, he kept the band together by overseeing their recordings.

Baby They Told Us We Would Rise Again unleashed newer songs like "The Viper", "Ghost Runner" and "My Name Is Alice", while "Wait Forever" emerged from two decades before. After all the years of playing they finally started to get a little recognition and respect. They now possessed a formidable catalog they could rely on, and keep things interesting. Eric's playing was sharper than ever. In 2010, Danny co-wrote another song with Widespread Panic called "True To My Nature" on the album Dirty Side Down. Like old hookers, politicians, and buildings, they were respectable now.


"Two years later Lancaster was rolling through Montgomery on a Sunday/He couldn't find no black place to eat/So he made a picnic down by the river/Ran into some Baptists washing each other's feet."

"God's Bar"

The band worked on One Long Hustle for about seven years. It's a 5-CD collection of their first 25 years as a group. The box set is a handsome package that was designed by the same lady who designed several of the Atlanta label Dust To Digital's timeless releases. Most of the music on the box set is being heard for the first time, but it also serves as a musical guide for the entire Bloodkin history. I can only hope that the new fans seek this collection out and then follow the trail back to the entire catalog. The One Long Hustle box set really puts things in perspective. Bloodkin’s work aged like wine. They've lived all the rock & roll craziness and patrolled the edge so long that now they can just play and deliver songs. They are indeed seasoned players. The core band now, Danny, Eric, William Tonks, Jon Mills, Eric Martinez and Aaron Phillips all stand as experienced veterans.

Bloodkin just keeps working. Their story proves, no matter what you do--there's no glory in the work itself but only the results. All the hours when no one was around or cared about what songs they were writing did not deter them. It's not pretty and it's not easy to do what they've done--just from a songwriting perspective--much less all the other things to keep a band together 25 years when the money is not rolling in. Rock & Roll is not proving you’re a star, getting up in people's faces in bar and trying to convince everyone you're a badass...it's the music. Just like people who believe getting drunk or high and hang out in bars makes them an artist. It's not an act or an image...especially in these days. The music industry isn't about rock stars anymore...it's about those who see it as a trade. Bloodkin falls in a tradition with musicians like Muddy Waters, Townes Van Zandt, Blind Willie McTell and Hank Williams. Bloodkin prove to be a formidable rock & roll group, and their songs transcend time.

William Burroughs’ quote about Jack Kerouac and a writer's life captures the spirit of Bloodkin whose career serves as a stalking monument to the insight of Mr. Burroughs:

Jack Kerouac was a writer. That is, he wrote. Many people who call themselves writers and have their names on books aren’t writers and can’t write—the difference being a bullfighter who fights a bull is different than a bullshitter who makes passes with no bull there. The writer has been there or he can’t write about it. And going there he risks being gored. To write they must go there and submit to conditions they may not have bargained for. The only real thing about a writer is what he has written, and not his so-called life.

In everything I write I always try to leave myself out of it. In the case of Bloodkin, I cannot tell their story without telling my own. We all know the other's wisdom, triumphs, obstacles and wherewithal, but at the end of the day, I know they appreciate my work and soul no matter what. Likewise. Since Danny got married and I got divorced six years ago, we've entered into a phase where the Hutchens home is a sanctuary to me. The old friendship ties through the years proved life saving to me.

During the time Widspread Panic asked me to write their induction into The Georgia Music Hall of Fame, drummer Todd Nance, a long time friend of Bloodkin, told me how I fit into the scheme of things around Athens.  It was humbling for me as he explained his perspective on my writing and the way it emanated from my brotherhood with Bloodkin:

James, you've been writing about Athens music as long as I've been here. You've got to see a whole generation of Athens bands come up. You've been around long enough where you can see the children of musicians you grew up with playing music. When you read some of these music publications you can tell the writers have about five years of history. Your depth goes way beyond that. Your background is very heavy.... You can't fake your perspective. Or try to write like you...

In December of 2011, sax player Bobby Keys played a show with Bloodkin at the newly rebuilt Georgia Theatre. Keys played with the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Leon Russell and a long list of others. The evening was titled "Exile On Lumpkin Street", a play upon the Stones’ greatest album and the address of the Theatre. It's no accident the Stones longtime horn player gravitated to Bloodkin. Bloodkin know the Stones material as well as anyone and have certainly lived as close to the same edge where the Stones lived during Exile On Main Street.

The rehearsal the evening before the show was even more triumphant for me than the actual show. To see Bobby Keys aggressively leading the band through rehearsal in Widespread Panic's practice space was unforgettable. At one point, Danny and I were outside talking and I heard the band playing that jam part of the Stones song "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'"--where Bobby plays that memorable horn part--and I said to Danny (who is playing with the Stones longtime horn player!) like a kid--who has heard Sticky Fingers thousands of times--"Man, I gotta go hear this," and I ran back inside to stand eight feet away from Bobby Keys playing one of his trademark licks. I was quite proud of them...

In liner notes for One Long Hustle, Danny wrote about his songwriting after all these years:

All the heartbreak and horseplay in the Bloodkin songs--the erotically supernatural crazy women, the drugs n booze--these are all just details in the larger story. They're characters in the play. They're vehicles of temptation--and I rode those vehicles hard. It was all experimentation, testing the envelope, fishing for glimpses of truth. The songs were really just gospel songs, documenting the search, the pitfalls, seductions, distractions and detours, the questions that always led to more and more questions...

This all brings things back to the present, December 2012. All the folks begin to drift into the Georgia Theatre now for the One Long Hustle and 25th Anniversary show. Everyone came to pay his respects. A documentary about the band is currently underway. More recordings and gigs linger on the horizon. It all revolves around Eric's guitar sound, and I can say that Danny Hutchens stands as this generation's best barroom rock & roll poet even when there are almost 20 people on the stage. It was a glorious night and an enduring sound that swirled around that building.

Many changes transpire in 25 years. As writers, musicians, roommates and soul brothers we’ve seen bad business deals, death, marriage, divorce, near deaths, addictions, depressions, shallow loyalty, jailings, behind-the-curtain secrets, heroic fun, unfiltered hilarity, professional & personal peaks & valleys, betrayals, unforgettable influences and glorious work in various forms. In the end, we’re all still here forging onward. As friends, we're more like family now; Danny and his wife Kristy provide a home for me when I visit Athens. As artists, Bloodkin's survival shines more than a glimmer of hope for me--or anyone--to pursue art without compromise.

Walking out of the Georgia Theatre that December night with my ears ringing, I felt like I'd been baptized with redemption.



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