Somewhere Between Tokyo and Muscle Shoals
Southern Rock Allstars Bassist Charles Hart Speaks
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Brewton,Alabama. Brewton is a small town on the Florida border. I was raised about 10 miles north of there in the country. I claim Castleberry, Alabama as my home town since that is the closest town to where I lived and that is where I went to school.
When did you first decide you wanted to play?
I guess when I was born. I never really thought about it before. I remember things that made me yearn to play. I was singing when I was 5 or 6 years old. I always listened to the Grand Old Opry at night on the AM radio with my dad. That crept into my brain and made me want to be a part of what I heard. Also, don't laugh, but in 1973, I heard a song on the radio in my grandfather's car. I said,"Turn that up," He did but was reluctant about it. The song that captured my attention was a single release of Joni Mitchell's "Help Me." I loved that song. In fact,I still do.
I'm not laughing. That is a great tune! Was bass your first instrument?
No. I was a drummer. Then I switched to guitar and played that for 6 years. I didn't play bass in a band until I was in college. The only reason that I took it up was because the bass player in the jazz band quit and I was the only guy on campus who would(or could) do it. I was the guitar player in the jazz band so it was an easy switch.
What were some of the early musical things you did prior to Radio Tokyo?
I was in an FFA (Future Farmers of America) String Band in high school. We won several awards and even placed 4th in the state of Alabama my senior year. The cool thing was that my sister played bass and then rhythm guitar in those bands.
I was also in an award winning jazz band in college, J.D. Jazz. That was when I went to Jefferson Davis State. I played everything that had strings on it in that band and drums too. I learned a lot about arranging and using people on different instruments to produce certain sounds. It was a good learning experience.
Pegasus. I was their lead singer. I didn't play an instrument at all with them. They wanted to be a three piece with a singer. We were very heavy metal. I was bored not playing so I did the Roger Daltry mic-swinging thing. Club owners just loved me and so did the drunks that got to close to the stage. There ain't nothing like a SM- 58 flying by your head at 90 miles an hour.
I wish I had thought of that when we used to play the honky tonks in Spartanburg with my old country band back in the day. We needed some way to control the drunks who wanted to join us onstage! What did you do next?
I later formed Cruize Control with two other guys in the jazz band and also the guitarist from Pegasus. We just wanted to rock and used it for an outlet and we also made a little money at it. (Try and find that record!!!!!)
Tempra was the first band I joined when I came to North Alabama. We play around locally and opened for Richard Marx when he came through. He had the drummer from Heart in his band and that was way cool.
Adam's Housecat asked me to join in 1987 and I did. They were a college band but they were playing lots of shows and getting a lot of press.They were one of Musician magazine's top 10 unsigned bands of 1988. I was in the band during this time but I was not on the demo that got them the award. Two of those guys are now in the Drive by Truckers, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley.
Who were your strongest musical influences?
Tommy Bolin (just amazing!!!), KISS, Free, RUSH (Geddy Lee), YES ( Chris Squire, best bassist there is hands down), Blackfoot, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Humble Pie, Frank Zappa, Queen, Kim Mitchell. I listen to everything so all of it creeps in.
How and when did you join Radio Tokyo? Tell us about the band.
Jay (Johnson) was running sound for Adam's Housecat one night as a favor. They hired me like three days earlier, I had one rehearsal and got thrown into the fire. All original music, very few covers. I show up in my 80's glam rock clothes and everyone else was in jeans and Tshirts. (Laughs) I was a fish out of water.(Laughs) Yeah, it was all college music too. Jay asked if I was into what we were doing and I said I would rather be playing Kansas, Aerosmith, and Rush. I was soon auditioning for the Radio Tokyo bass spot. My first gig with Radio Tokyo was April 30,1988 as a sub. After the gig, everyone in the band and crew went on tour with the Rossington Band. I got the official word to join the band in a hotel room in Nashville,Tennessee on the last date of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour.
Radio Tokyo went through a lot of changes but every incarnation was a good band. We were always close to a deal but never quite got there. It amazes me how many people remember that band. Jay and myself freak out when people show up to SRA shows in Radio Tokyo T-shirts.
When did you first start engineering and doing studio work in Muscle Shoals? Please tell us all about your studio work.
I had been doing odd jobs at the studio since 1989. I got hired as an engineer in the spring of 1997. I got to work on a lot of records over the years. Some of the highlights were Skynyrd's "Southern by the Grace of God" as one of the Muscle Shoals Lynyrd Skynyrd Fan Singers, Skynyrd's " Twenty" record, I would come over to their room after I got through working in the B studio with an R+B band. I am listed in the thank you's on the CD. I worked with Gov't Mule, Lou Rawls, Melissa Etheridge, Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band, Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, and many more. One of the biggest thrills for me was working on the "Muppets in Space" Soundtrack. I grew up on the Muppets, man.
Lately, I have worked with Lee Roy Parnell and a new band called Ultraphonic from Atlanta, I think those are gonna be huge someday. Johnny Sandlin produced their record.
I have been fortunate to work with great artists and have been lucky enough to have been a part of a number-one blues album and a part of three albums nominated for Grammies in the last two years. I still do engineering work. Its fun and you got to keep your skills sharp. Jay, Jimmy Smith(SRA soundman), and myself, all engineer in our free time. It's just another creative outlet.
How did you come to join The Southern Rock Allstars?
I had played with Jay in Radio Tokyo for over 10 years. We opened for Jak and Dave's previous band. Both Jay and myself filled in as replacements for their players. It was only a matter of time before we al got together. It took them a year to leave the studio job but I really wanted back on the road and is this band.
Had you been a fan of Hatchet or Blackfoot before?
I was a big Blackfoot fan, "Strikes" just blew my mind. I still think that "No Reservations" and "Flying High" were the best.
I thought that Hatchets first two records were just killers. The three guitar attack and Danny Joe belting it out, they really rocked. By the way, Jimmy Farrar is still one of the greatest singers in rock.
How are you enjoying the road life with these veteran rockers?
I think that its great. I love to travel and how cool is it to ride around with people you grew up admiring.
Tell us about your band mates. Jakson?
Soul Brother. We are very alike in many ways. He is one of the greatest drummers and songwriters of our time. The heartbeat of SRA.
Blood Brother. We have been in bands together for 13 years now. Jay, like his dad Jimmy Johnson, is one of the greatest guitarist in the world.You want to talk about musician's musician, Jay Johnson. He can play any instrument he puts his hands on, sometimes two at once.
Big Brother. One of the funniest guys you could ever be around. He is always getting into something. He still rips through solos like a chain saw. Loud and between your eyes.
How about your sound man, Jimmy Smith?
Little Brother. Great Sound man, guitarist and all around good guy. Couldn't do without him.
Tell us about the new SRA album.
It rocks. I think that this record is more in line with what people think of when they hear the name Southern Rock Allstars. There are alot of rockers and a couple of surprises in store as well. Some people in the industry will be very surprised by the output of this album. I am truly proud to be a part of it.
Here are a few off the wall questions. How do you feel about the state of popular music in the 21st century?
I am a 70s child so I like the music from that period of time better than any other. There are, however, some cool things out there right now. There are bands with great melodies and great riffs like the old days just in a different package.
What is the greatest band in the history of Rock and Roll?
I don't know. I am going to take a stab at this from a non-bias view point. The Rolling Stones have been around and successful since 1962. I mean selling alot of records and live dates. They are truly unreal. How about Chicago? They have had a top 10 hit in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and if they have another that would be 5 decades of top 10 hits. That is impressive.
Definitely. What's the best album in your record collection?
Since I worked at a record store for ten years, I can't answer that. I will give you my top five. ( for this week!!)
Not in any order.
1. Blackfoot "Strikes"
2. Humble Pie " Rockin the Fillmore"
3. Kiss "Alive I"
4. Rush "Permanent Waves"
5. Kim Mitchell " Akimbo-Alogo"
What's the best book you ever read?
It's a tie between "Black Elk Speaks" and "The Guns of the South"
"Black Elk Speaks" is in my all-time top five! Cool! What's your all time favorite Movie?
What do you do when you are not performing or recording?
I went to college to get a double major in Commercial Music and Archeology. I still love Archeology and pursue it when I can. I also love studying Civil War History and Native American History. I have to say right now that Genealogy has become an obsession for me . It is really cool to learn about where you came from and where your roots really lie. You might be surprised what you find or don't find.
What is the most profound thing you can say at this point?
Hey Mike......let me hold a dollar........(Laughs)
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Photos courtesy Meg Geddes and Charles Hart.