Published on March 4th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
After 25 Years, Athens, Ga.’s Bloodkin Still Loves the Hustle
Daniel Hutchens, a founding member of Athens, Ga.-based rock band Bloodkin, spent a good chunk of 2012 looking back on his musical career. “A lot of our history is very happenstance; there’s never been a big plan about anything,” he says. “It’s just turned out really well.”
Last winter, Hutchens and longtime bandmate Eric Carter made a goal to compile their finest deep cuts and unreleased gems. They sifted and rummaged through stacks of old tapes and discs — many of which date back to the late 1980s and early ’90s — and picked dozens of their favorite finds to assemble as their first-ever Bloodkin box set, a five-disc/88-track collection titled One Long Hustle.
The collection features much of the band’s classic repertoire and plenty of unreleased material recorded between 1987 and the present. Both Hutchens and Carter enjoyed the nostalgic trip through the archives and vaults. Now, with One Long Hustle officially released, the duo is eager to look forward to the next musical adventure.
“It was a really fun experience going back through old tapes, reels, and CDs, finding forgotten recordings and weird songs,” Hutchens says. “Some of the stuff we found in the archives sounded horrible, and some of it was just great. Some of the tunes are among my all-time favorites. It’s cool to compile the best of it in a collection like this. Now that it’s complete, we’re looking ahead to doing something good. We want to keep trying to beat our best.”
Hutchens and Carter have been the foundation of Bloodkin for 25 years. Their own musical partnership goes back even farther to when they were eight-year-olds in rural West Virginia.
“Our guitar work has always been a huge part of the Bloodkin sound,” Hutchens says. “The original setup of the band was my singing and lyrics and Eric’s guitar playing. That interaction was the basic foundation and starting point. It bleeds over as Eric writes songs and sings and as I play guitar, but that’s still the main relationship that we have, musically.”
Since forming in Athens in 1987, Bloodkin maintained a raw, blues-rock/Southern soul style and a twangy, emotive tone from their 1994 debut album Good Luck Charm through their most recent studio release, 2009’s 10-song Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again. There’s deep richness to Bloodkin’s rock ‘n’ roll that never changes.
“At some point, the whole thing about being in a band and writing songs became an integrated lifestyle thing — more than just a career or hobby,” Hutchens says. “When you’re 20 years old, you write about different experiences than when you’re 40. You have experiences. You have friends who die. You go through the good and the bad as you go along. Those are things you don’t fully understand when you’re young. If there was a certain theme or tone to the songs that developed, it wasn’t a conscious effort. It just happened naturally.”
Over the years, the guitar-strumming frontmen collaborated with various colleagues from the Atlanta and Athens scenes, including members of hometown pals Widespread Panic and their offshoots (Panic still performs several Bloodkin tunes, including “Can’t Get High,” “Makes Sense to Me,” and “Henry Parsons Died”). The Bloodkin lineups have changed, but the textured guitar interplay and soulful singing have been consistent throughout.
“There have always been all sorts of styles in the band’s sound, and to me, that’s simply rock ‘n’ roll,” Hutchens says. “If you really dissect it, there’s a whole lot of stuff swirling around in my favorite rock music. With Bloodkin, there is a lot of good-timey rock ‘n’ roll stuff, but some songs lean more toward old Southern gospel music — spirituals and things like that. In a way, the music is the closest thing to church for me. It’s not literal, but there is a spiritual thing. We tended to gravitate toward that over the years.”
Unfortunately, Bloodkin’s spirits weren’t so high during a lull in 2005. Burned out from recording, touring, and partying hard, the band nearly came to complete halt. “Before we started making the  album Last Night Out, I was at a personal low point, and neither of us were in good shape — physically, mentally, or emotionally,” remembers Hutchens. “Bloodkin was essentially broken up. The guys in the rhythm section had moved away, and we weren’t really playing together. There was a lot of disinterest, and there was a lot of substance abuse going on. All sorts of sad stories. But our friend David Barbe [of Chase Park Transduction studio] called us up and encouraged us to put some ideas together with a new rhythm section.”
As veteran Athens musician and studio producer, Barbe was close to the Bloodkin guys, and he was determined to spark some new action for them. He enlisted bassist Jon Mills (of Barbara Cue) and powerhouse drummer Kyle Spence (previously of Harvey Milk, the Martians) to back Hutchens and Carter at sessions at his Chase Park Transduction facility on the edge of town. Barbe’s diligence and insistence nudged Bloodkin back on track and probably saved the band from breaking up for good.
“It was like David knew we needed to be assigned a project,” Hutchens says. “He knew we needed something to do. Otherwise, we were just hanging around Athens, drinking ourselves into oblivion. We weren’t on the road, and we had no plans. Jon and Kyle were so great in the studio, it encouraged us to get back to what we did best.”
Mills signed on as their permanent bassist. Soon thereafter, the lineup solidified with the addition of drummer Aaron Phillips (previously of the Skinpops, Liquor Cabinet, Wide Receivers). Longtime Athens multi-instrumentalist and songsmith William Tonks (of Barbara Cue) stepped in to handle extra guitar and dobro.
“Playing with the musicians we play with now might be the most fun Eric and I’ve had in years — and that’s really saying something,” Hutchens says. “Everything fell into place over the last few years. When we made Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again with David in 2009, I really think it was the best version of Bloodkin. I couldn’t be happier with the sound and chemistry of the band right now.”
Bloodkin headlined their One Long Hustle CD release party at Athens music hall the Georgia Theatre in December. Their set featured a hefty repertoire of fan favorites and new original material. The show will featured guest vocalists, musicians, and former Bloodkin players, including Barbe, Dodd Ferrelle, Betsy Franck, Todd Nance, Sunny Ortiz, Shawna Tucker, David Nickel, Bentley Rhodes, Eric Martin, and others.
The CD release show followed in the steps of the the annual “Bloodkin & Friends” concert series, which initially began in 2000 as casual jam sessions, memorials, and fundraisers shortly after the passing of close friend and band manager Zac Weil.
“We started doing shows like this in the spring season,” Hutchens says. “The first one was in tribute to Zac. It morphed into an annual thing where a lot of friends and guests got involved. One year, it was billed as an Athens canine rescue benefit. Other shows were more like holiday family reunions. We never plan to do it the same way each year. It just happens. That’s how it evolved into a fun way to close out the year and look ahead.”
It’s hard to say whether Bloodkin’s long-running hustle will carry on for another quarter-century, but Hutchens and his crew aren’t the least bit worried about moving ahead. “There’s no way we can say we’ll being doing this for another 25 years because, man, that’s a long time,” he says. “I know that right now, with finishing this box set and going back through all of the old, classic material, I’m totally up for making another record and playing more shows. It’s a lot of fun right now, and I’m up for anything.”
Bloodkin’s 25th anniversary celebration and “Box Set Release Party” is solid for Sat. March 9 at 9 p.m. at the Pour House. Tickets are available for $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Visit bloodkin.net for more.
Top photo by Ian Rawn.
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