With a voice that’s unmistakably Appalachian and skin covered in tattoos, Morgan Wade is one of the singer/songwriters that is part of a musical forefront that, in the past few years has taken over Nashville, Texas and other places alike. Honing a sound too gritty to be country, and carrying too much of a twang to be rock, I suppose you could say, Morgan Wade, falls somewhere in the Alt country side of things.
Born and raised in the small town of Floyd, VA in the heart of the Appalachian mountains, the town has a modest population of 442 people, with the main source of the town’s popularity being FloydFest, the yearly music festival right off the Blue Ridge Parkway that brings in just over 14,000 people each year to the town, which Morgan and her band played last year and will be playing again this year. Although she plays guitar and sings now, her first instrument surprisingly was the classical violin. She attended lesson’s for what she thought was going to be fiddle but, turned out to be a classical violin class at the age of 8 and played recitals for several years before making it known to her teacher and her mom that the violin was not for her and she wanted a guitar. Morgan remembers her teacher saying to her mom that “if she can’t stick with violin then it would be a waste to buy her a guitar”, so her mom listened to the teacher and didn’t buy her a guitar but, Morgan’s grandmother did. After that, she taught herself a few chords and would sing and write but not show anybody, due to the fact she thought she couldn’t sing. Throughout her teenage years, she would play and sing in her bedroom while nobody was home. It wasn’t until she met her now boyfriend and band member, Joe Link that anybody ever said to her “I bet you can sing can’t you?”, and she’s been singing, that is in front of people ever since.
Just like any good southern girl, she grew up with a slight obsession with Elvis Presley, he was one of her first influences when she started music and she still looks up to the king today. With her saying the week before we met and did this interview she was sick in bed for a few days and all she watched was Elvis documentary. Though she grew up with a strong bluegrass influence as well, Floyd is also known for their old-time country store where they host bluegrass jamborees every Friday where Morgan as a child would fall asleep in her grandfather’s lap listening to the music. But, still staying true to being born in the 90’s Morgan has a long relationship with the music of people like Shania Twain, not to mention her first concert were The Dixie Chicks.
Playing music for years, Morgan’s first show wasn’t until she was 19, at “Dogtown” in her hometown of Floyd, her first show with her current band Morgan Wade & The Stepbrothers was there as well. Since then she has played hundreds of shows, solo and with multiple different bands up and down the east coast. Forming the current lineup was a bit of a mashup of musicians and ways of finding them. Morgan already had Joe Link her boyfriend and piano/ mandolin player in the band but she went about finding her bass player in quite possibly not the safest way for a 19 yr old girl but, she found him through Craigslist. So Morgan and 2 of her friends went to a random guys house, headed down to the basement and heard Ed Mcgee play and recruited him for her now band, there was also a drummer and guitarist there as well, they all played a few shows together and then that fizzled out, But she kept Ed, the bassist. She eventually picked up her drummer, Bengy Wagner, and guitarist, Drew Sprinkle both of which had a punk rock background in music and formed Morgan Wade & The Stepbrothers. Since then, the band has been playing for roughly a year and a half and has released their first album “Puppets With My Heart” at the beginning of this year and are gearing up for a spring/summer tour to promote the record.
If you would like to catch one of Morgan Wade’s or Morgan Wade & Stepbrothers shows head on over to their website! You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with their latest releases and show dates!
Cliff Miller is the owner of SE Systems based out of Greensboro, NC. He has been doing the sound for countless musicians and been on tour with a few of them as well. Cliff, from an early age, has always been interested in music. In fact in Junior High when he had to write down what he wanted his profession to be, he put musical technician, which he jokingly said is now just a basic sound guy. With hopes of being a musical technician, he started playing guitar in a few different bands in high school and the setlist ranged to anything from Iron Butterfly to Eddie Floyd in the bands.Between his junior & senior year of high school, he attended technical school and got his Third, Second, and First Class Radio license, he was on his way to becoming a musical technician. At 19 Cliff started working at a local music store in Asheboro selling and
servicing instruments and other equipment, along with playing in multiple bands during the course of his high school years and into his 20s. During his time working at the music store and playing in different bands every weekend, he took on another side job, being a sound guy, mostly for small bluegrass festivals and it eventually became his full-time job for several years. Early on, at one of the bluegrass festivals where he was running sound, he had the chance to meet Merle Watson for the first time and later on in the day met Doc Watson and instantly hit it off. The next time Cliff would see the father/son duo would be at the same festival the next year where he was running sound for the second year. The Watson’s brought their newly formed band “Frosty Morn” and were already on the road touring. A few weeks after his second time seeing Merle and Doc and running sound for them he would get a call to be the full-time sound man on the road for the band. It was at this point Cliff quit at the music store and became an almost full-time sound man.
It was in ‘72 Cliff went on the road with the Watson’s and their band, touring the U.S. and
Canada. During this course of time, he became great friends with both of the music legends. With being a musician himself and hearing their set every other night, it wasn’t any wonder he knew every song, and how to play them too. This knowledge of all the songs came in handy at Bluegrass ‘77 in Toronto, Canada when Merle had injured his hand and couldn’t play. Doc asked Cliff to temporarily fill in for Merle on guitar and let Merle, with an injured hand run sound that night. One show turned into two and Cliff ended up being Doc’s guitar playing for 7 years. During Cliff’s time on the road with the Watson’s, at the age of 21, he started a small sound system business called SE Systems out of his parent’s back porch. in the year ‘73. The business at the time made sound systems and eventually in cabinet speakers. When he was touring, his parents were very supportive of him and his business and helped out with the early stages of SE Systems when he wasn’t there, The back porch business after time grew and expanded, to a new building that Cliff and his dad built a 2,500 sq ft from an old Hosiery mill building slab that Cliff’s father owned in Asheboro. This building is where he started working on PA equipment himself. SE Systems was growing and so was Merle and Doc Watson, with both on his plate Cliff managed to start and grow his new company while on the road. It wasn’t until He got married and had his daughter that he would cut back on his touring schedule and focus on SE Systems and his family, that would keep him closer to home for the time being. Now being off the road SE Systems was growing out of the small time backyard company outfit and into one of the biggest sound system companies on the east coast.
In ‘88 Cliff’s business was still steadily growing when he got a call from B. Townes, telling Cliff he wanted to start a memorial festival in Merle Watson’s honor and he needed sound. The memorial was far bigger than anyone imagined, they sold more tickets then they had seats in the auditorium, in which they moved the whole event to an old softball field and used a few flatbed trailers as the stage. Friends of Merle’s and Doc’s both volunteered to play, a few who volunteered were Chet Atkins, Earl Scruggs, Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Grandpa Jones and many more musicians came to give their time and talent in Merle’s honor and to raise money for The Garden of The Senses, a garden that had plaques that read in braille so the blind could read about the plants. After the event, Cliff got a call from a lady who attended and she was asking when the next “MerleFest” was. Now it has grown into a yearly festival put on in the mountains of North Carolina that SE System provides sound, lighting, video, and staging at the end of April each year.
In ‘92 S.E. Systems outgrew their building for the second time and changed their location to Greensboro, NC in a 10,000 sq ft building and then rented the building next to it which was 6,000 sq ft. They eventually ran out of space in those to building and moved to their current location 2000 to a 57,000 sq ft building, and at the time they bought it Cliff thought they would never be able to fill up, but now is overflowing with various production equipment, for SE Systems to use at jobs along with equipment in their showroom for their customers. One of the acts SE Systems met and would do sound for when they were in the area was Alison Krauss. In 2000 the movie “O’brother Where Art Thou” was released along with the famous soundtrack to the movie, that featured musicians like Alison Krauss herself, Emmylou Harris, The Stanley Brother, and many more notable people. The soundtrack was just as popular as the movie, almost all the musicians who were featured on the soundtrack of the movie agreed to a tour together called “Down From The Mountain”. Denise Stiff, who was Alison’s manager at the time called Cliff up and asked if they would be willing to run the sound for the ‘Down From The Mountain” tour, Cliff agreed and went on the road again, but this time with Alison Krauss and other Legendary bluegrass and traditional players. After This tour, Cliff became Alison’s Production manager and engineer while on her solo and/or band tours. They did that for a few years then a second tour for the “O’brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack got put in the works, this was “Great High Mountain” which was a variation of the “Down From the Mountain” tour. The last few years Cliff has gotten off the road due to health issues caused by kidney problems and was put on the donor list for a kidney transplant. In 2016, after countless friends got tested and turned down to be a donor, one of their friends was a match and in November underwent kidney transplant surgery with no complications.
Today SE Systems is still growing and doing jobs for all different types of events. They have the sales group where they handle all the sales in both the Greensboro and Charlotte stores, the production crew that does concerts and handle the sound, lighting, staging, video, and anything else that is needed at the event. Then they have what they call the installation side where for example last year they re-did all the interior speakers for the Bank of America stadium. Both of Cliff’s children work for the company now, along with 35 full-time employees and 30 part-time employees. His son is head of fabrication building all the road cases and anything else needed for a job. His daughter traveled with Cliff while on tour with Alison Krauss and would be Cliff’s go to for anything he needed. She mixes Front of House, Stage monitors, and mixes orchestras along with other shows and ball games as well.
James Vincent Carroll
Over a 2 year period of knowing James, there is no denying that this guy loves what he does for a living, and there is also no denying that it makes him very busy. With playing over 200 shows a year since 2014, when he became a full-time musician, he has played countless venues in and around NC as well as out of state and released 3 studio albums.
Even though James started his full-time music career in 2014, he has been playing guitar since age 15, thanks to his dad, who played guitar and introduced Blues/Rock music to James when he was just a kid. Growing up, the music his dad would play had a huge influence on him then, and even now as an adult it has the same effect. James first started out playing piano however, he gave it up very fast when he started playing with other people who were playing guitar. Not long after he started playing he was in his first rock band playing KISS and AC/DC covers, mainly for high school parties. The band was dubbed “Strip Poker”, which more than likely has a more interesting story behind it than the name or band itself.
After his first high school band James went on to play and record multiple different genres but, his heart has always been in rock, and since 2014 James has released 3 albums being “421 Take Me Home”, “The Book Of James: Chapter One”, and “The Book Of James: Chapter Two” which have all original songs written by James along with a few co-written songs with local NC songwriters.
As of future plans, James has a band James and Company that are playing at bigger venues and festival in and around the triad. He is also working on a solo acoustic album this winter, and plan on doing 2 full band albums very soon, one being full of original material by James and Company, and the other being a cover album of their favorite classic rock songs.
Here are a few questions to get to know James a bit better and what he’s all about.
Q. Musicians that influenced you early on
A. Bon Jovi and The Eagles
Q. Musicians that Influenced you now
A. The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin
Q. What’s currently on your playlist
A. The Eagles, Kaleo, and ZZ Top
Q. Your first concert
A. Kenny Rogers and Alabama
Q. The most memorable concert you’ve been to
A. John Mayer and The Eagles
Q. What do you love most about playing music
A. “Watching the reactions people have to it. It makes people happy, it brings people together, and it makes me feel like I have a purpose in general. I love seeing people make friends at one show, next thing you know they’re hanging out at another show and have more friends. You know you see people meet at your gig then the next year you’re playing at their wedding. It seems like it’s the one time nobody’s talking about politics, religion and the world events, everybody’s just there to sing, to listen, have drinks, and be together. Nobody’s really part when you’re playing music, everybody seems like they’re together”
Mark ‘BuddyRo’ Harrison
Mark Harrison or more commonly known as ‘BuddyRo’ (in which his drummer Chip ‘Memphis’ Click dubbed him) has been hanging around the Greensboro music scene since the early 80s. Born in Thomasville in ‘56 but now calls Greensboro his home Mark, is a well-known and respected guitarist and vocalist in the triad. Growing up in an environment that welcomed music with his dad being a manager of the radio station WTNC ever since he could remember, Mark was sure to do something involving music whether it be a radio broadcaster (which he tried his hand in at a young age and quickly deemed himself not radio broadcaster material for he didn’t think he had quite the voice for it) or a musician. The radio station is where he said helped formed most of his music taste. WTNC was not exactly a top 40s radio station Mark stated, they played hillbilly music before it was given the name ‘Country’ with a few hits of the day woven in there. Mark remembers bringing home demos of Van Morrison and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and listening to them.
Always having music present in his childhood he was not playing anything or singing until he was out of high school. When he got into high school he said he wasn’t hanging around with the best of crowds, being a musician was the last thing on his mind. It wasn’t until after he graduated he even considered being one. With all his party friends going off to college and getting a “higher education” as he put it he didn’t have much to do except get a job and even then he didn’t know what to do with his spare time. So he decided he was going to start messing around with the guitar given his history with music and it just being something he was interested in for years. So he went and bought himself a Yamaha F-G 125 that he still has years later now, with a hole in it, though it doesn’t sound quite as good as Willie’s “Trigger” it does have the same sentimental value. Playing along with records is where he honed his playing skills like many did back in the ‘70s. Some of the guys he delved into when learning how to play were musicians like Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, and Waylon Jennings. Focusing more on the country and outlaw side of music he didn’t start playing the more rocking stuff till a few years later when he got his first electric guitar. He named off a few of his favorite guitar slingers he looked up to when he was younger and they were the greats like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Duane Allman.
He eventually formed his first band which was called ‘South Road’ but it didn’t last too long, with them only playing 3 or 4 gigs. Mark then went on to a band out of Charlotte called ‘Magpie’ he described as a “folk-rock hippie bunch” but he didn’t stick with them for too long either. It wasn’t until after Mark moved to Greensboro in late ‘82 then in ‘85 he finally put together his own band and what is today known as ‘The Mighty Fairlanes’ but then was just ‘The Fairlanes’. Although the lineup has changed throughout their 30+ year span with a few female singers singing with them here and there the first solid lineup consisted of Mark on guitar, Chris Carroll on bass/vocals, Kevin Wilson on keys, and Gary Collins on drums along with a few others throughout the years. It wasn’t until about this time Mark started getting into the blues. Not that he was over the whole rock thing by any means, he just started discovering the music his favorite bands grew up on. He started listening to the famous bluesmen who inspired almost every band in the 60s/70s like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and started getting into to Texas swing, like Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, which he said had a huge influence on him. Then started to realize that all his friends in bands were just doing covers of Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top, which he was doing the same thing but he didn’t get into music for this. He did it for himself, he didn’t want to do covers of other people’s songs, that is when he decided to start writing his own music though he didn’t get serious about until about 5 years ago. Then The Fairlanes eventually settled into a three-piece in ‘92 that was made up of Mark on guitar, Chip ‘Memphis’ Click on drums/vocals, and Ken Graham on bass. This was the lineup that lasted for 24 years until Ken had some health issues that prevented him to perform on a regular schedule. The Fairlanes eventually found Glenn Bickel a keyboard player and a Philadelphia native that moved to the triad, then along with Colby Jack on Bass and Mark Vernon who occasionally comes to play bass, that is what now forms the current lineup of The Mighty Fairlanes.
The current lineup of The Mighty Fairlanes have been playing around the triad for the past year while working on their studio album over the summer set to release on October 7th. The album entitled ‘The Longer I Live’ will be the Mighty Fairlanes 2nd studio album among many other live recordings. All 12 songs on the record ‘The Longer I Live’ were written by Mark and when asked what to expect with the new album he said: “Don’t expect a blues record from me man”. There’s a couple of swing tunes and rock songs tinged with some blues, Mark and the band were struggling to put it in a genre of any kind stating that “It might just be in a genre of its own”. They’re not too concerned with what genre to put this record in though, they’re just happy to be making a record with music and people that they love to play with. Mark is playing all guitar and singing on the record, Chip ‘Memphis’ Click is on drums/vocals, Glenn Bickel on keys, and Colby Jack along with Chris Carroll who was part of the original band played on 3 songs during the summer before his passing in August.
Mark ‘BuddyRo’ Harrison has been around the Greensboro music scene for years and over the course of 35 of them has developed a name for himself playing the music he loves. If you would like to catch him and The Mighty Faitalnes next show follow them on facebook here. If you would like to get a CD The Mighty Fairlanes CD release party will be on October 7th at the Sawmill 2 in Greensboro, NC from 8pm-12Am, The Mighty Fairlanes will be playing throughout the night original songs off the record and much more.