Black Stone Cherry bridges the gap between the blue collar craftsmanship of dirty, bluesy, ballsy, pedal-to-the-metal hard rock steeped in the ancestral lineage of Southern rock and the warm, broad embrace of the rock radio mainstream. There’s enough boot-stomping, soulful meat-and-potatoes in the Kentucky band’s stew to invigorate Middle America, with the melodic chops to conquer the worldwide stage.
The Allman Brothers and Metallica meeting up, getting drunk, raising some hell and then crashing into a big brawl together, only to have Robert Johnson break it all up? That’s essentially the sound of Black Stone Cherry.
The Black Stone Cherry sound is as timeless as a backyard barbecue, a rundown farmhouse or a worn-in pair of Levi’s, but as forward thinking as anything generated by the millennial crowd in the modern age. 2014’s Magic Mountain carries the torch for the brightest moments of classic rock history, but it’s no throwback. The energy, enthusiasm and skill of today’s best rock 'n' rollers keeps one Black Stone Cherry boot planted in the future, even as they call upon the musical ghosts of the past.
The band’s substantial catalog has given birth to a bevy of rock radio staples like “White Trash Millionaire,” “In My Blood” and “Please Come In.” It’s all driven by the vocal charisma and vibrant lead guitar shred of Chris Robertson, the driving dynamic crunch of guitarist Ben Wells, the rhythmic pulse of bassist Jon Lawhon and the always-in-the-pocket groove of drummer John Fred Young, all of whom add their voices to Black Stone Cherry’s soaring melodies and instantly accessible vibe.
“It’s an honor for people to throw us in the same category as Lynyrd Skynrd, Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet, or the Marshall Tucker Band,” Wells concedes. “But we don’t act like we’re from the ‘70s. We never set out to be a Southern rock band. It just comes naturally. We couldn’t run from that if we wanted to. There is definitely heavy rock in our sound, but we can also go into something that’s country, or even funk. We bring a little bit of everything to the table. We don’t limit ourselves.”
Black Stone Cherry’s fourth full-length album arrives destined to add to their eight triumphant victories on the mainstream rock radio charts, kicking off with lead single “Me and Mary Jane,” with badass barnburners like the grimy “Dance Girl” and the slow boiling, ultimately explosive “Blow My Mind” all on tap.
The band took off several months in late 2012 to decompress from the victorious but exhaustive touring cycle behind 2011's Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea, the follow-up to their commercial breakthrough Folklore and Superstition (2008), which had delivered on the ambitious promise of their self-released, self-titled debut. Starting families, hanging out and being home helped recharge the BSC muse.
“We got to just settle in and be the good old boys from Kentucky that we are,” notes Robertson. “I did a lot of deer hunting. Spending time alone in the woods will do you good, man.” After they finished writing, they headed to California to record.
Black Stone Cherry’s producer partnerships read like a who’s-who of rock 'n' roll hitmakers. They made their second album with Bob Marlette (Ozzy Osbourne, Seether, Saliva) and the follow-up with Howard Benson (Daughtry, Creed, Three Days Grace). Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Soundgarden) came on board to help the band craft what will certainly be a watershed moment in their storied career.
“A lot of rock music today doesn’t have any soul. It’s all really bland,” observes Lawhon. “There’s no attitude. There’s no heart. We all grew up on ‘70s rock, Southern rock, country music and bluesmen like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. On this album, more so than ever, those elements are all in the forefront.”
“We went in feeling a real sense of freedom and confidence about what we wanted to be as a band and what we wanted this album to sound like,” explains Wells. “We wanted it to be something that would really go over with our fans live. That’s where we really sell ourselves. We wanted to showcase the heavy riffs and the melodies.”
The universal appeal and undeniable authenticity of Black Stone Cherry’s rock anthems and down-to-earth attitude has won them an increasingly diverse and international fanbase (as evidenced by the #1 debut of Folklore and Superstition on the UK’s rock charts), converting unbelievers while crossing the globe alongside rock royalty like Nickelback, Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Chickenfoot (featuring ex-members of Van Halen) and Alter Bridge.
“We’ve made our fanbase the old school way,” Wells notes. “Radio has supported us and we have really appreciated that, but it’s when people see us live that they really fall in love with us. We wanted that to come across with the sound of this album.”
Young notes that Magic Mountain represents a “full circle” moment for Black Stone Cherry’s career, as well. His father (Kentucky Headhunters guitarist Richard Young) had helped the band get a showcase for an Atlantic Records A&R man. A deal didn’t work out then, but thanks to the recent merger between Warner, Atlantic and Roadrunner, that same A&R guy is working closely with Black Stone Cherry after all.
“We didn’t want to make a cookie cutter record and our label team and producer were down with that vision,” says Young. “We wanted to come out with our balls out and blow everyone away, so that’s what we did this time. There’s no holding back.”
“Holding On…To Letting Go” opens the album with bravado. It’s a stand-up-and-take-notice heavy rock song certain to get fists pumping in the air at concerts around the globe. “Runaway” is probably the most mainstream song the band has ever written, but it maintains the heavy bite that is their signature. Barresi encouraged the band to let loose with the Ted Nugent meets Aerosmith vibe of “Fiesta Del Fuego,” a personal favorite for Wells. “At the end of the song, it goes into this jam thing we put together on the spot in the studio. It’s one of my favorite sections of anything on the album.”
Black Stone Cherry has maintained the same lineup since forming on Robertson’s 16th birthday: June 4, 2001. Robertson and Young have been buddies since kindergarten. “We’ve known Jon since we were 13,” Robertson explains. “We met Ben a couple of days before we started the band. A band should be more than a singer with some fill-in guys. It’s a group of people with a common goal. It’s like a marriage. You argue back and forth but at the end of the day, you love each other.”
It’s that chemistry, loyalty, brotherhood and charm their fans respond to the most.
“Most of our fans weren’t born with a silver spoon. They understand what it takes to achieve something in life. They have goals and ambitions, just like us,” says Lawhon. “We have picked up a lot of fans who understand and identify with us.”
Magic Mountain is about to spread that goodtime vibe even further ‘round the globe.