Published on March 26th, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Double Duty: Wallace Mullinax and the Dead 27’s Hit Spring Jam and the Pour House
As one of the more in-demand guitarists in the Charleston scene, Wallace Mullinax knows how to stay busy in a healthy way. Over the last two years or so, he’s been able to concentrate most of his efforts on two main projects and one main venue.
He’s worked in local studios and stage and on the road as the guitarist with singer/songwriter Elise Testone’s post American Idol band, and he’s collaborated with bandmates as the guitarist and co-songwriter in blues/soul/rock quintet the Dead 27’s. Mullinax also sets aside various dates to host and perform at special events at the Pour House on James Island.
This week, the Dead 27’s will hit the Village Stage at the annual Spring Jam Music Fest. An outdoor music festival sponsored by local radio station the Bridge 105.5 FM, the Spring Jam concert will return to Brittlebank Park along the Ashley River on Sat. March 29 with a roster featuring Augustana, the Wild Feathers, Saints of Valory, Kopecky Family Band, Brave Baby, the Weeks, Space Capone, Possum Jenkins, and Death of Paris.
Mullinax, his Dead 27’s bandmates, and several special guests will perform a post-Spring Jam jam session at the Pour House late in the evening on Sat. March 29 as well.
All of this commotion leads into the forthcoming independent release of the Dead’s 27’s new studio album, Chase Your Devils Down — a gritty, soulful, rockin’ collection of five new originals and two renditions.
“Our development toward original material started when we started getting gigs at venues that were original-focused,” Mullinax remembers. “It was out of necessity, really.”
The Dead 27’s had a comfortable, organic beginning. Mullinax and two colleagues from the Freeloaders — bassist Oliver Goldstein and drummer Daniel Crider — hooked up with guitarist Will Evans (also of Stereo Reform) and singer/guitarist Trey Francis. The Freeloaders regularly played around town with Testone stepping in as lead singer on many occasions. While the Freeloaders skillfully handled a mix of old-school funk, classic rock, jammy blues, and soul, the Dead 27’s gradually blossomed into a songwriting effort.
“We weren’t really sure how things were going to work when we first started the Dead 27’s,” Mullinax says. “The first thing big show we did was a Pour House show where we played a Hendrix set. The reason we did that was because we didn’t have enough originals for a full show.”
“We wanted to try to do something new — something to promote that captured people’s attention,” he says. “But we also looked to that [Jimi Hendrix] Experience sound where you had [drummer] Mitch Mitchell going totally crazy, letting the beat go, free-time like a jazz odyssey … that crazy, finesse-y late-’60s London thing that a whole generation of drummers used to have. We needed the bass to anchor down the whole hurricane of crazy guitar and drum sounds.”
While the Dead 27’s were exploring their wilder, more riffy side last year, Mullinax and Crider split their time between that and duties with Testone’s recording sessions and shows. They contributed greatly to the 10 tracks on Testone’s newly released studio album In This Life, and backed her at the big album release show at the Charleston Music Hall on Feb. 13.
“The material that’s on Elise’s album was a really cool, collaborative process to be involved in,” Mullinax says. “The guitar parts on that record are definitely some of my babies. I put a lot of time and energy into those, and I’m proud of them.”
“This scene is so cool, and it just wants to welcome people and what they bring to the table,” he adds. “I can’t think of a project I’ve done where I felt that my input was wasn’t appreciated or wanted.”
In 2012, the Dead 27’s started booking shows around town to test out new originals and jam out some iconic classic rock.
“We realized that if we were going to play the kinds of shows we wanted to play, we’d need some good original tunes,” Mullinax says. “We started getting together for one-night sessions at my house where we’d just pound out song ideas all night and end up with two or three original songs. We did that several times, and we got a pretty good response from them. We figured, ‘Hey, maybe we’re okay at writing tunes, and maybe we should pursue it a little harder.’ There’s such an art to doing original stuff that when you’re getting lucky and doing well, you certainly don’t want to get in the way of it.”
The Dead 27’s tracked seven-songs at two local facilities. They laid down five songs at Truphonic Recording in West Ashley with engineer/producer Majeed Fick and two songs at Ocean Industries on James Island with engineers/producers Eric Rickert and Jeff Leonard.
“We initially did some stuff with Eric and Jeff at Ocean almost two years ago, and we were able to go back to the two songs from those sessions that made sense with the newer stuff we did at Truphonic. We had a small set of administrative obstacles to deal with because of other gigs, but we were able to book the right shows to celebrate the release of the EP this spring.”
Special guest performers on the mini-album include sax player Michael Quinn, trumpeter Patrick Marzett, organist/pianist Whitt Algar, and backing vocalists Ivory Collins and Young-Mi Feldsott (of Old You).
Some of the new recordings display a love for vintage soul-rock, while some blaze with the chops of a sizzling-hot bluesy jam band. Overall, it’s a bit more song-oriented than some fans might expect.
“I don’t know if it’s regional or something, but with Charleston’s music scene, things seem much more focused on songwriting than they were a few years ago,” Mullinax says. “Songs are definitely what matter to a lot of people playing around here right now. If you’re going to do a big guitar solo, it better mean something to the song. You can’t just get away with blowing your chops out. I love that about the scene.”
“When it comes to it, you can lay it down right or wrong with cover tunes,” he says. “You don’t have that luxury with original tunes. There can be a little friction in there. There can be differences of opinion over what to do, and you really have to hash it out. It can be frustrating, but that’s what makes it so much fun, too.”
Lead singer Trey Francis shared much if the lyric writing chores with Mullinax.
“Both Trey and Will live in Greenville, so it’s a challenge to get together to work on lyrics and arrangements. But when we do get together, we try to put the pedal down and get results. We want to continue to do that kind of collaboration, although it’s tricky to make it happen.”
“The Pour House is part jam session, part family reunion,” Mullinax says. “I like to have some of the great players from our scene come lead a core rhythm section through a few tunes. I’ve been in bands with a lot of the guys that come out, and it’s always really fun to kick the dust off those tunes we haven’t played together in a while.”
The lineup at the Pour House this Saturday will feature all five 27’s (Mullinax, Francis, Crider, Goldstein, and Evans) alongside Ivory Collins, Whitt Algar, Campbell Brown, Ryan Bonner, Mike Quinn, Reid Stone, and Zandrina Dunning. “There are always last minute additions, though,” Mullinax says. “I’m usually surprised who shows up.”
The Dead 27s will release Chase Your Devils Down at an in-store performance at Monster Music & Movies in West Ashley on Sat. April 19 during the shop’s Record Store Day events. The official album release show is set for Sun. May 25 at the Pour House.
“That Pour House show will feature some of the guest musicians who helped on the album in an effort to authentically perform what we recorded,” Mullinax says.
The Dead 27’s will perform at 6 p.m. at the Spring Jam Music Fest in Brittlebank Park in downtown Charleston on Sat. March 29. Visit springjammusicfest.com for more.
The band will hit the Pour House stage as part of the WAMJAM show at 10 p.m. on Sat. March 29. Admission is $7 at the door, $5 in advance, and $5 with a Spring Jam wristband. Check out charlestonpourhouse.com and dead27s.com for more.
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