From being a member of The Ugli Stick to his solo performances, singer-songwriter Dale Drinkard Jr. spent countless nights performing for locals at venues across Mobile and Baldwin counties and beyond.
Several years ago, the love of his life received a job opportunity in Chattanooga, Tenn., which led to his relocation. Since then, Drinkard has been lending his guitar skills to the party band Fly-By Radio and working as a guitar tech for Thompson Square.
He has also taken time to independently record and release his first solo effort, “Brother Ray’s Bar-B-Q Honky Tonk Juke Joint Social Club,” which is a furious collection of blues-rock.
Now, he is preparing for the December release of a second effort and provided a preview with the blue-eyed soul single “Crazy Crazy.” Lagniappe’s Steven Centanni caught up with Drinkard to see what drove him to start releasing his solo material and when his hometown crowd will get a live taste.
Steve Centanni: So, what made you want to relocate?
Dale Drinkard: The truth is that Rachel got a job up here. I talked about wanting to retire from here. My grandmother is from just down the road in Dalton, Georgia. I just love this part of the country. An opportunity came for her to work up here, and she said, “Hey, we’re gonna move.” And I said, “OK.”
Centanni: You mentioned retirement. Are you performing up there?
Drinkard: Actually, no, I’m not performing up here at all. Since we moved up here four years ago, I spent two years on the road as a guitar tech and stagehand for Thompson Square. Work kinda slacked up there and now, I’m playing with Fly-By Radio out of Birmingham doing weddings and stuff. I’ve played two gigs in Chattanooga since I’ve been here.
Centanni: Oh, yeah? What’s the scene like?
Drinkard: I don’t know. Because we moved, it takes a long time to build up the places you play and get trust in people and build an audience. When I moved, I knew that I couldn’t pay bills starting almost completely over and doing open mics. The Thompson Square gig came along and it was a job, so I took it. That kept me gone on all the weekends. As that work slowed down, I needed to pay bills. So, I took a gig playing parties and weddings across the Southeast. I haven’t had the time here to go out.
I don’t think people realize what an anomaly Mobile is. There’s not many cities in the country that have music seven nights a week. Coming up there, I could work four or five days a week if I wanted to. Up here, there’s one or two acoustic gigs on Wednesdays, and everything else is Friday and Saturday.
Centanni: In spite of all that, you’ve released new, original music this year. Let’s talk about the EP, “Brother Ray’s Bar-B-Q Honky Tonk Juke Joint Social Club.” What made you want to lay down those tracks?
Drinkard: I love Billy Gibbons [of ZZ Top]. I’ve also been working on a record that’s coming out in December and have released a single for that one, but I just wanted to do a test run. As a solo artist, this was the first time that I’ve ever independently put any music out.
I wanted to see all the hoops that I needed to jump through to get this stuff out. I was clueless. Right around the time, I decided to do that, the COVID thing started. So, I had time on my hands. I was playing this [Gibson] SG that I have through an amp. Man, it sounded like early ZZ Top, even if you don’t want it to. I thought that I would write some songs that would give me something to work with and practice mixing and learn how to master. I really wrote it just to learn.
Centanni: That album definitely is a mix between ZZ Top, Eric Sardinas and a little Joe Walsh.
Drinkard: Yeah, with a tinge of Deep Purple in there with a Ritchie Blackmore lick here and there. With them, it was mainly the organ. I’ve always loved the organ player from Deep Purple. He always got the biggest, coolest organ sounds for rock music. It’s just a B3 and a Leslie, but he uses it; it’s so good.
Centanni: So, you’re the only person on the album?
Drinkard: Yeah, there’s no one on the record but me. Unfortunately, I wish I would’ve had the money, and I would’ve had several people on it. It’s all me and Logic Pro X.
Centanni: With that said, what did you think of doing everything on your own?
Drinkard: Honestly, I hope that I win the lottery, so I never have to do it again. For the most part, I’m like two different people when it comes to performing music. There’s a part of me that just loves live music. That’s the part of me that started playing gigs out when I was 17 years old. I also like the technical side of the studio and getting to create things and alter tones and move stuff around. The most enjoyment that I’ve had this year is learning how to mix and being a bass player.
Centanni: You mentioned the new single, “Crazy Crazy,” and there’s some contrast there. With that, you’re delving into blue-eyed soul.
Drinkard: So, “Brother Ray’s” was literally me trying to write and record like Billy Gibbons. Ever since watching the documentary [“ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas”] and talking to a couple of people who know Billy, I think that he D-tunes his guitar when he takes a solo, or he just plays and records a solo not perfectly in tune, because nobody is that bluesy. That guy is slightly flat in the most musical way possible. Sometimes, he’s sharp on the solos. Billy is altering parts, especially on “Cheap Sunglasses.”
If you listen real close, one chord is just a block minor chord and one is another minor. The way they mix it, it’s like one guitar, but you’re getting seven tones out of a six-string instrument. So, how is he doing that? Getting to sit down and figure that out and copy that was a dream come true. It was so much fun.
The record that’s coming out now, I don’t have a title for it. The working title is “Second Album.” It was actually supposed to be my first solo record. I wanted to catch all the influences that made me want to be a musician and a songwriter. That song is a very blue-eyed soul take on Motown. I’ve got a song that’s a mix of 65-66 first-wave ska and rockabilly. If you change the drum and bass part to the early ska stuff, you have a rockabilly or country tune. It really is the rhythm section that makes that music sound so different.
I wrote a song that meshes those two things together. I’ve also got some John Mayer-sounding stuff, but I see it more as Jeff Healey with a smooth singer. There’s a song or two on there that has sounds and influences that the first record has. My hope is that every record that I do has the same influence as the previous record but moves forward.
Centanni: When are you going to come down to Mobile and give the hometown crowd a taste of all this?
Drinkard: Man, I’m hoping as soon as we get to where we can have gigs and have people out. I’m hoping the second record will already be out and put together a band and showcase the songs from both records. I’d love to come back home and play them. I do know that Mark Willis called and there’s going to be a songwriter thing at Bluegill in December, but the dates aren’t confirmed for that.
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