This concert could be considered one of the shining moments of the 92 ZEW’s ongoing 30th birthday celebration. The crowd needs to prepare to watch the local scene come full-circle with performances from reunited Mobile music legends Will & the Bushmen and future legends Willie Sugarcapps. Will Kimbrough serves as the one constant in these two groups. In 1984, Will & the Bushmen (along with the ZEW) were just beginning a successful run in the college rock scene. Three decades later, Kimbrough is serving up Americana sounds with Willie Sugarcapps. Kimbrough provided Lagniappe with some insight into the local scene, both past and present.
SC: As far as bands go, especially local bands, I never would’ve expected for Will & the Bushmen to get back together. What made you guys decide to reunite for this special event?
WK: Mainly, it was the folks at the ZEW. They asked Willie Sugarcapps to play, and they said three weeks ago, ‘Hey, we need somebody else to be on the bill.’ So, I asked Mark (Pfaff) and Sam (Baylor). They said that it sounded like a good idea. I asked them, and they said that they would like to play. When 92 ZEW started in ‘84, my first experience with them is that they promoted a show that we did. I can’t remember exactly what show it was, but it was 1984. So, my relationship with the 92 ZEW literally starts in 1984 with Will & the Bushmen. Once we talked about it, it made a lot of sense. It makes sense to play a show every once in awhile too.
SC: Like you said, Sam and Mark will be joining you for the reunion. Who else will be in the line up?
WK: We asked John Milham to play drums. Our very first original drummer passed away. The drummer that played a bulk of the time is not available. So, we decided to ask somebody from down there.
SC: Have you guys got together and rehearsed yet?
WK: No, we haven’t yet, but we’re going to the week of the show. I know how to play those tunes, and I still play some of them sometimes when I play solo shows or with my band. It’s great, and I love those songs. The last shows that we played when were actually together were over 20 years ago, but I’ve played every day since then. All I do is play music. I’m excited about playing, and of course, I’m excited about playing with Willie Sugarcapps, because that’s one of the main things I do now. So, it’s nice to do a little bookend in a way.
SC: One thing about Will & the Bushmen is that you guys were doing your thing back when the alternative college rock scene was taking place. How would you describe the scene back in early days?
WK: The bands before Will & the Bushmen were Ground Zero and the short-lived band The Inverted O’s. That’s when I started playing with Mark, and that’s what band turned into the Bushmen, which was with Sam and Woody Pollard and me and Richard Gallo, which was Ground Zero. I started playing with Rat (Mike Connell) on drums and Mark on bass and Theodore Arthur on saxophone and sometimes Tim Camp from 92 ZEW playing keyboards. Sam had been in the last version of Ground Zero. Sam and I had been writing songs, and I got turned onto blues, some jazz stuff, R&B and rockabilly through Pfaff and Theodore Arthur. I was also much more interested in writing songs. What I was writing was definitely alt. rock/college rock kind of songs. So, we branched off and formed the Bushmen. It was November of 1984 when we played our first show.
Back then, you had to have a PA system and carry around at all times. Every time you set up somewhere, you had to set it up. There was the old cover band system of playing three or four sets a night, which we still played long shows, but it was like, “You guys are gonna play four sets and take 15 minute breaks, right?” It’s a lot looser now and based around people writing their own songs. The reason it’s like that now is because all of us bands back then did it and started to draw a crowd. We put out cassettes and 45s and 12-inch LPs, and people started to know our songs too. It was what it’s all about. It’s what keeps it going. It’s people knowing how to play classic music but also knowing how to write a good song and having your own thing to say with guitar licks and all that goes along with it.
When we went to Atlanta and played at 688, they had a whole scene going on and had it going on for years. It took awhile for it to get down to where we were. People had gotten used to every time they heard a band, they were playing songs they knew, unless it was Wet Willie, and they weren’t living in Mobile. In one way or another, all the people who went out on a limb and played their own music paved the way for everybody now. A lot of people on the Gulf Coast are playing their own music, which is beautiful. When people get to do that a lot, they get better at it. So, there’s a lot of good people writing their own songs.
SC: When Willie Sugarcapps began, I thought it was just an interesting project for all the people involved to mess around and collaborate. You guys have definitely proven that this project is here to stay. What’s it been like watching it grow?
WK: Watching from the inside, the only perspective I have is that we communicate daily, and it’s like other bands that I’ve been in. I’ve only been in bands with my friends. I’ve never auditioned for a band, except for Emmylou Harris. It’s always been groups of friends getting together. We only decided to do it when somebody booked us for a festival and asked what our name was. There’s planning about gigs and songs that get passed around. We’re all people who have been in bands for a long, long time in different configurations, and it’s been really nice. Everybody stays out of each other’s way and tries to be really cooperative. It’s also has grown really fast and turned into a good thing.
SC: What other projects are you working on? Are you still doing the solo thing?
WK: Oh yeah, I’m always working on that. I write songs all the time. I’ve got a whole batch of songs and a couple of different directions they could go in. Willie Sugarcapps has a bunch of songs that are already recorded, so that may be the next thing that comes out is Willie Sugarcapps second album. I’m just trying to get all my songs together and look at them and see which ones want to be together. I have a whole bunch of songs that I’ve never released. I just need to look at them all.
92 ZEW’s 30th Anniversary Concert featuring Will & the Bushmen and Willie Sugarcapps
Date: Friday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m.
Venue: Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St., www.mobilesaenger.com
Tickets: $17.50-$29.50 through Ticketmaster and the Saenger Box Office