On the road with J. Roddy Walston

Baltimore-based rockers ring in the new year at Rams Head Live

  • Baltimore rockers J. Roddy Walston and the Business celebrate New Year's Eve with a show at Rams Head Live.
Baltimore rockers J. Roddy Walston and the Business celebrate… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
December 30, 2010|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

When it was time to record their second album, J. Roddy Walston and the Business flew west.

The four rock 'n' rollers left the Baltimore basement where they had cut their first album on a $600 home digital recorder and went to Sound City Studios in Los Angeles.

Walston said the upgraded digs were meant to polish their homespun sound for what was to be their record label debut. But in explaining the band's choice to record there, he also noted it was where Nirvana and Weezer had recorded their seminal "Nevermind" and "Pinkerton" albums. If he was hoping the studio would extend its magic touch to his album too, he succeeded.

After six years together, the Business has had a remarkable 2010. While it took the group nearly three years to sell 6,000 copies of its first album, the self-released "Hail Mega Boys," they've sold more than 4,000 copies of their new one since its release in February, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

The group has always toured extensively, but the success of the new album took them to more than 180 venues this year. Many were much larger than the small clubs where the band got its start, like Baltimore's Talking Head.

On Friday, the band will headline Rams Head Live's New Year's Eve party, where local rapper Mickey Free will also perform.

In the past, Walston would have had to balance touring with a day job. But in a small measure of success, that's not the case anymore. There isn't even time for a side gig.

"I've been gone with the band for the past year," he said. "You go out, and then you come back for a week or so. I haven't stopped in Baltimore enough to get a job."

Born in Walston's native Cleveland, Tenn., and refashioned in Baltimore in 2004 with regional musicians — Billy Gordon on guitar, Steve Colmus on drums and (later) Logan Davis on bass — the band's DNA has always been the same: old-fashioned rock 'n' roll.

Critics, sounding more like movie producers, routinely refer to the group's sound as a mixture of rock standard-bearers: Jerry Lee Lewis meets AC/DC, AC/DC meets Lynyrd Skynyrd, and so on.

Listen to "Don't Break the Needle," a song off the album that the group typically starts shows with, and you'll see why the comparisons exist. Walston kicks it off with a snappy boogie piano before breaking into the kind of wails Lewis was famous for.

The band makes no apologies for sounding like these guys, and in fact it invites the comparisons. It still travels by van, in a Ford Econoline that might be from 1997 but smells decades older. Walston, with his long, unruly hair and beard, looks like a Lynyrd Skynyrd groupie.

And, bucking the norm, the band recorded the new album on tape rather than digitally.

Though recording on tape is more expensive — it had to record this album in nine days for financial reasons — Walston credits it with the album's success. He said music fans like himself have gotten tired of all the wizardry used now to mask shlocky singing.

"New records sound lifeless," he said. "Everyone corrects defects. It's like magazine airbrushing."

Recording on tape is something of a badge of honor, a way to distinguish the band from all the others that sound too processed, too digitized, too neat.

"We decided to do a record that sounded like a group of guys in a room playing their instruments," blemishes and all, Walston said. For him, this authenticity has resonated with buyers.

Though the band says the album's sparse feel previews its live show, it's unlikely it'll even come close. That's for a couple of reasons. For one, the members like to play off the cuff — they never have a set list.

"We like to read the crowd," Walston said. "Instead of saying, 'You're getting what we want, no matter what,' it's more of an interaction."

But it's also because the Business has become well known for high-energy dance shows.

"We like to get the blood flowing," Walston said.

Sounds tailor-made for an end-of-the-decade party.

Get more information about Rams Head Live's New Year's Eve party, featuring J. Roddy Walston and the Business and rapper Mickey Free

erik.maza@baltsun.com

twitter.com/midnightsunblog

If you go

J. Roddy Walston and the Business and rapper Mickey Free perform Friday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Doors open at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.

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