Henry Paul became a member of The Outlaws circa 1971 and over the years, the guitarist and vocalist has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the band. But now he has a different take on his role.
Outlaws co-founder Hughie Thomasson died in 2007 and when he did, “the band was kind of laid in my lap,” said Paul as he discussed the band’s current release, Dixie Highway, their music, longevity and their upcoming appearance at the Rock, Ribs & Ridges Festival at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, June 28. “There were a number of naysayers and doubters. I’m a fan, too, and I understand the attraction to an original lineup and that there’s a place and time where you become emotionally attached to a group based on your affection for their music.”
Paul, who has also performed in the band Blackhawk and his own Henry Paul Band, said his goal with The Outlaws was “to bring the cohesive communal character of the original group before we were signed and we struggled and worked hard together to get where we wanted to go. I wanted to bring that band back to the stage and to the studio. And over 10 years, with a minor change of a couple of people, I’ve been able to keep this cohesive group together and put on consistent performances live and write and record three really good records — one double live and two studio. So for me, that gives me a sense of not just accomplishment but … of peace, because I was able to do what I set out to do. And slowly but surely, the fan base has, one at a time — one song at a time, one album at a time, one show at a time — they’ve come back to The Outlaws because the band today gives them what they gave them in 1976 and 1977. So for me, I do that for the spiritual and emotional heart and soul of the group. It’s kind of a gift.”
Paul is confident that the current lineup does a masterful job of recreating their earlier sound while bringing a fresh new experience to their current audiences and, in the process, not only maintaining the old guard but winning over new fans as well.
“Fans want new music, but only if it speaks to them,” he said. “I had a guy online the other day tell me that he listened to the new album and that he was almost in tears because it was so true to the quality and excitement of the original band and that the re-recording of ‘Heavenly Blues’ was so beautiful and so relevant and so much improved over the original record. So I don’t know, I think that if you’re an Outlaws fan and you buy a new record and put it on in the car or at home on the stereo and you listen to it and it melts your heart and fills you with excitement and hope, then it’s right there with It’s About Pride, Lady in Waiting, Hurry Sundown and the self-titled first record as a body of work.
“I have surrounded myself in this band with people that I’ve known for years in Nashville, people that I have made records with in Blackhawk and played on shows with in The Outlaws. I mean, Steve Grisham is a veteran of the band from the early ’80s, Dale Oliver is a veteran of the original Blackhawk studio and road band, Randy Threet I invited into The Outlaws in ’05 for the reunion tour and he has been there ever since, Dave Robbins was part of the ’05 reunion tour and (drummer) Jaron (Sorenson) came in when Monte (Yoho) had some health issues and has been doing a remarkable job. So this is a core group of people with a great deal of talent and the knowledge of how to make good records and I’m still a really good songwriter, so we still have what it takes to make good music.
“Listen, all the guys in the band have been compared to Hughie and Billy (Jones) or Chris Anderson and Billy Crain, and they’re there to make their mark and they’re there to win the fans over, and they’re there to make their declaration that ‘It’s my band now.’ Hughie is gone, I’m here. I’m out here every night. I’m writing and recording these songs and it’s my band now. I’m an Outlaw and I’m here for the long haul and we’re having fun and we’re gonna continue to write and record and we’re going to continue to tour and that’s it.”
He said the title of the Dixie Highway album is “kind of a metaphor for my life. The road runs in and out of Tampa, and any time we went anywhere in the world besides where we lived, we had to go up and down that road. And we’re a southern rock band and “Dixie” is the South. So it’s more of a metaphor for my life.”
He quoted some lyrics from the album’s title track:
There’s a road that runs before me
And it’s twisted and it turns
With miles of open highway
And bridges that we burned
With rowdy reputations, learning lessons of the heart
A recent revelation, I found a place to start
“You live your life out there in front of people and you’re lucky enough to live to tell about it, and that’s the perspective from which I wrote that song,” he said. “There’s also, ‘The road is unforgiving but we’re on it till the end/Because we believe that our salvation is just around the bend.’ There’s optimism every time we sit down to make a record or write a song. We want to make an impact with people and we want to connect with them and we want them to come away from it with a positive view, and so we believe that our salvation is just around the bend. It could be the next song we write, the next show we play, the next record we make, the next hand we shake.
“You know, if you want to sit down and arrange a six-minute song with three choruses, two verses and a bridge, and the rest is an instrumental passage, or if you wanna try and weigh in with Dickey Betts on ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,’ or you want to write your sort of version of what that is, or tip your hat to the guy for the lasting or indelible musical contribution that he made … those are the reasons that we still do what we do, and they’re damn good reasons.”
Rock, Ribs & Ridges is a two-day, weekend festival with acts such as Don Felder, the Pat Travers Band, Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, Blackfoot and more. The Outlaws will hit the stage on Sunday evening.
“There’s really only one way to play an Outlaws show, and we play it that way every night,” Paul said. “It’s 100 percent invested. All or nothing. You cannot go up there and throw up a casual impression of that music, because the music is not casual. It’s intense. And you have to match the intensity of that performance every single night.
For more about The Outlaws, visit outlawsmusic.com.
For more about Rock, Ribs & Ridges, visit rocksribsandridges.com.
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