- ADAM SMITH
"We've definitely come into more of a band sound," says Cameron Williams, 32, guitarist and main singer of Athens, Ga., rock band Tishamingo. "I feel like our next album will be another step in that direction."
Williams and his bandmates -- guitarist/keyboardist Jess Franklin, drummer/percussionist Richard Proctor, and newly-initiated bassist Chuck Thomas -- celebrate the official release of their third and most cohesive studio album The Point (Magnatude) this month. The disc kicks up as much dust as any recent work by the likes of the Drive-By Truckers, Brute, Panic, or other stylish Georgia rock 'n' roll peaches. It also sets the band up for an unexpected musical detour.
Recorded with acclaimed studio engineer and producer John Kurzweg, The Point touches base with many of the key thrill points of classic rock: tight grooves, emotive vocal deliveries, from-the-gut-lyrics, wailing guitar solos, and smart song arrangements.
"We spent two months with John at his house studio at his place in Santa Fe," Williams says of the band's two trips to New Mexico last June and September. We had a blast ... it was like summer camp!"
Williams and his main-man timekeeper Proctor grew up together listening to rock, funk, and soul records in Tallahassee, Fla. They assembled their first rock band while in their early college years. In the mid-'90s, they formed the Black Creek Band, a popular panhandle blues-rock combo heavily modeled in style and vibe after the blues and boogie of Widespread Panic and Athens jammers Allgood Music Company.
After the band split, Williams and Proctor relocated to Athens in 2001 and met up with bassist Stephen Spivey (Athens' answer to the "Freddy Fender look") and singer-guitarist Jess Franklin -- both previously of another popular Tallahassee band called Jess Franklin & The Best Little Blues Band. The new quartet initially started playing around the Atlanta/Athens scene under the name Revival, but finally established themselves as Tishamingo with a gritty dual-guitar approach and a funky 4/4 backbeat.
"When we started, we were loving and were very influenced by the Allmans, the Dead, Skynyrd, and stuff like that," says Williams. "Lately, we've all been listening to more Tom Petty, The Band, Aerosmith, and that has to have influenced things a bit."
The band's last studio album, Wear N' Tear, recorded by Athens studio wiz Dave Barbe in 2004 and released in early '05. Compared to their self-titled, more acoustic-based 2003 debut (produced by the other big-name Athens studio guy, John Keane), Wear N' Tear rocked with a confident sense of purpose and edginess.
Over the last two years, Tishamingo toured heavily across the Southeast and shared stages with an impressive list of acts including Emmylou Harris, Panic, North Mississippi All-Stars, Gov't Mule, B.B. King, Robert Cray, and Galactic. This year, they continued to tour regionally and geared up for the release of the new collection at a hometown "CD Release" gig at the 40 Watt on Jan. 25 (the distributed disc hits stores nationwide on Feb. 20). While there's certainly a familiar jam-rock style and groove to most of the tunes, The Point is more song-based than some might expect.
"It's deliberate, but it's not canned," Williams explains. "We don't just decide to write songs to sound a certain way. We still don't know how we write songs [laughs]. We had a couple of new songs on this album that didn't quite fit in a way. Like 'Bad News' and 'Get on Back' ... Flagpole [the Athens weekly] said that 'This Time' sounded more like something by Bill Withers than anything else we've done! I'm not sure how we got that going.
"That's what was great about working with John Kurzweg on this one," he adds. "We were all on the same page. There is a little more 'jamming,' if you will, than on other albums because we had a little more time in the studio to relax and play. The stuff at the end on 'Hard Fall' was totally improvised. We meant to fade things out, so we just kept the tape rolling and jammed on the main riff. It wasn't forced and came naturally. Live, if we jam a bit on something, it's never planned. If magic happens, then great. But you can't just make magic happen, you know?"
Still a foursome, the band played around with the idea of expanding their lineup with additional keys and guitars. "We'd been thinking about adding a keys player, so we had numerous players fill in with us ... we had a great time and jammed with some great musicians, but no one ever really fit in with us," says Williams. "When Jess brought his keys in, it fit perfectly."
These days, Franklin switches between his electric and acoustic guitars and his Wurlitzer and various keyboards.
"That the biggest change for us recently -- Jess playing piano on stage," says the frontman. "He's always played piano, but only recently brought it into the mix. He started playing an old Fender Rhodes at home. He was writing songs on it, and brought up the idea of bringing it in. We were really excited by the idea. It added a whole new dimension. The shows are getting more fun and we're getting more excited about the songs we're writing ... we're just having a blast."