Melody Is Number One: A Conversation with Guster’s Brian Rosenworcel

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Guster has built a devoted following in a recording career spanning nearly 30 years. Band members Brian Rosenworcel, Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner met as freshmen at Boston’s Tufts University in 1991 and Luke Reynolds joined the fold in 2010. In addition to a steady stream of releases, tours and multiple television and film placements, the band is also known for its activist endeavors. On Tuesday, March 21, Guster will perform at the Lyric Theatre in a show presented by Code-R Productions. Recently, Rosenworcel spoke with us by phone as the band prepared to embark on its current tour.

Southern Stages: Brian, thanks for your time. Where are you right now?

Brian Rosenworcel: I’m home in Brooklyn, New York and the tour starts outside of Austin at Willie Nelson’s Luck Festival. We just got added to that, so we are starting there on March 16th and we’ll be up your way about a week later.

Southern Stages: Where are the band members based these days?

Rosenworcel: We’re spread out – I’m the only New Yorker. We met at college in Boston and spent eight years growing the band there, so we call ourselves a Boston band but though no one lives there anymore. The other guys are up in Vermont and Maine.

Southern Stages: With members living in different states, how does the tour rehearsal process work for Guster?

Rosenworcel: We are definitely at a stage in our career where we could show up, walk on stage and hit it out of the park. We know these songs and every night people in the crowd are disappointed we didn’t play their song. But we like to get together and add new material – maybe a cover – so it’s more interesting not just for them but for us. It remains to be seen how much prep we do for this run – this is just three weeks and it’s mostly focused on the South where we rarely focus.

Southern Stages: With a large catalog of material under your belt, how does the band comprise its set lists these days?

Rosenworcel: I’m the guy for this and it depends on the venue. If people are sitting down, that might take you one way. If it’s Friday night in a rock club, it might go in another direction. We have a lot of flexibility and versatility in what we can do, but the main thing I do is I look at what we played the last time we were in town. With us, it’s a lot of the same people coming out from the last time so I like to provide a totally different set list. If we play two nights somewhere, we don’t repeat a song. There are so many songs and they’re all pretty good – if we substitute one for another, then the night doesn’t suffer.

Southern Stages: How would you describe the band’s writing process? Is there a typical format or is it done on a song-by-song basis?

Rosenworcel: It definitely changes song-to-song with us and it always has. We have to deliberately get together for three days up at my friend’s place in Maine and jam. In those sessions, we’ll end up with a bunch of ideas we are excited about and then we’ll go home and put a melody on top of this or a lyric on top of that – whatever’s missing. They generally start from the band in the room, but sometimes Ryan will send in an idea – he’s our main melody guy and melody is our number one focus. It can be any direction – lyrics are always last. We are at a point where we’ve recorded enough over the pandemic period and honing in on an album and that’s exciting to us.

Southern Stages: When do you anticipate the next album will be released?

Rosenworcel: I think this year we’ll have new music. We have to get on the same page about which songs people are most excited about. If we don’t see eye-to-eye there, we’ve got to figure it out but usually we end up seeing eye-to-eye – the cream rises to the top. We’re in that stage now and that’s exciting. It’s been a fragmented process of recording – when we first started it was 2020 and Luke wasn’t comfortable getting into the studio with us right in the throws of Covid. We did a whole second batch just now and it came out really good, so we are excited to start introducing some of this to people.

Southern Stages: Some artists say this is a great time to be in your position given the easy access to listeners via Spotify, YouTube, satellite radio and other outlets. Others say the current climate fosters clutter and over-situation. How do you feel about the state of the industry?

Rosenworcel: This dates back to Napster and we were there when it pivoted from a record industry that sold physical albums to an Internet that was able to provide wider access. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of album sales we missed out on because of Napster, but we never really saw it that way. We always thought, “There’s now all these people that know our music who maybe otherwise wouldn’t and they might come to a show.” We never made any money from album sales and we were always in debt to our record company, so people that stole our music really didn’t affect our bottom line. So, we may as well have more people hearing our songs. We’ve always been focused on exposure, exposure, exposure. In the last few years when the live music industry was temporarily hit, that was a shock to our system because we didn’t have a recording business to fall back on. It’s good to be back out there and see people are still coming to shows. You can’t replace the feeling of being in the room.

Southern Stages: As a drummer, are you a “gear head”? Do you comb music stores while you are on tour?

Rosenworcel: I’m like the opposite of that [laughs]. In the studio, if I have an idea I’m just as likely to enjoy playing it on my suitcase or a drum. If it sounds unconventional or weird, that appeals to me more. I’m not super technical – I’m more creative.

Code-R Productions presents Guster with special guest Nicole Atkins at the Lyric Theatre on Tuesday, March 21. Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show are $28.50-$33.50 and can be purchased at

With Much Respect: A Conversation with Marc Broussard

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jeff Fasano

In a recording career spanning more than 20 years, Marc Broussard has made a steady habit of giving back via his S.O.S.: Save Our Soul philanthropic album series. On March 3, the Louisiana-based singer/songwriter released S.O.S. 4: Blues for your Soul. Released on famed guitarist’s Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping The Blues Alive label, the project finds Bonamassa and fellow Bluesman Josh Smith sharing production duties. Offering eleven cover versions by artists including Son House, Little Milton and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, the album finds Broussard reuniting and collaborating with longtime friend Calvin Turner on the original track “When Will I Let Her Go.” On Saturday, March 18, Broussard will perform at the Lyric Theatre in a show presented by Code-R Productions. Recently, Broussard spoke with us by phone from his Carencro, La. home.

Southern Stages: Marc, thanks for your time. We are enjoying S.O.S. 4.

Marc Broussard: Thanks so much. I’m really proud of it.

Southern Stages: How did you partner up with Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith?

Broussard: I reached out to my buddy, Calvin Turner, to talk to him about the project and pick his brain. Cal said, “I’ve been doing arrangement work for Joe Bonamassa for the past couple of years – you probably ought to reach out to him.” I had Joe’s number, but we were never really close. I said, “Cal, grease the wheels for me and I’ll reach out.” I did, assuming I’d get some help on the project. Before you knew it, Joe and Josh said, “We want to produce this thing for you and we want to play on it.” I told them it’s a charity record and they said, “No problem – we want in.” It was very organic and I love seeing a project come together between musicians.

Southern Stages: That’s a lot of talented hands on deck!

Broussard: I couldn’t be more pleased with it. I’ve known Cal for years – he started out with me 20 years ago as a sideman. To be back in the studio with Cal was a joy – it gave me a level of comfort that made my job very easy.

Southern Stages: If you will, talk about recording the album at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.

Broussard: In the lobby, there’s a jukebox of nothing but number one hits that were all recorded in the building.  Everybody from Fogelberg, [Prince’s] Purple Rain, Led Zeppelin and Foreigner – you name it. It’s all been done there.

Southern Stages: How did you select the 11 cover songs for the project?

Broussard: The same way we do it for every one of these albums. I basically ask all of the stakeholders – the guys in the band, the producers and management – to put some playlists together for me to listen to. I generally go through all of those playlists and cross-reference the [songs] that are in multiple playlists and we start whittling them down democratically from there. Management always wants more hit songs and the band always wants more obscure tunes. It’s a process, but ultimately I get the final say.

Southern Stages: When covering material, is there a challenge in retaining the integrity of the original songs while placing your own stamp on them?

Broussard: Initially, when we did S.O.S. 1, the intention was to capture lightning in a bottle and not deviate from the original arrangements at all and vocally pay as much homage as possible to the original creators so that I could introduce my young fans to the music that had shaped my life. Each project has kept a bit of that spirit. We’ve gotten away when we felt like we had the license to, but why try reinventing the wheel? Ultimately, it’s about paying the kind of respect that these songs are due. People have lived with these songs and have deep relationships with these songs – it behooves us to treat them with as much respect as possible.

Southern Stages: With a large catalog of material under your belt, how do you comprise your set lists these days?

Broussard: The last two years have been difficult because I’ve had such a different cast of characters coming in and out of the band. I was with the same group of guys for more than a decade and Covid put the kibosh on the whole deal. The guys ended up in other areas of life and the music business. I’ve had to stick to the same set list over the last two years, but I feel like I’ve got a really good set of guys right now and we’re in the process of reshaping everything. It’s a matter of getting guys up to speed when it comes to how deep the catalog is because a Saturday night crowd isn’t the same as a Tuesday night crowd and a club crowd isn’t the same as a theatre crowd.

Code-R Productions presents Marc Broussard at the Lyric Theatre on Saturday, March 18. Seth Walker will open the 8:00 p.m. show. Tickets are $29.50 – $44.50 and can be purchased at

The Artists Call The Shots: A Conversation with Brit Taylor

By Brent Thompson

Photo courtesy of the artist

Brit Taylor’s notion to take one step back in order to take two steps forward in the music industry paid off. Quitting her publishing deal in 2018, Taylor started a cleaning business and used the money she earned to self-release her 2020 debut album, Real Me. For her follow-up, the recently-released Kentucky Blue (Cut A Shine Records/Thirty Tigers), Taylor enlisted the aid of producers David Ferguson (Johnny Cash, John Prine, Del McCoury Band) and  singer/songwriter Sturgill Simpson. The result is a 10-track collection that will appeal to fans of Simpson, Margo Price and Tyler Childers. On Friday, February 24, Taylor will perform at Dave’s Pub. Recently, she spoke with us by phone from her Nashville area home.

Southern Stages: Brit, thanks for your time. We are enjoying Kentucky Blue. Are the songs on the album newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Brit Taylor: They were all written from 2018 to now. “Cabin in the Woods” was the oldest song. They were all written after or during the making of Real Me.

Southern Stages: The album has an incredible production team in David Ferguson and Sturgill Simpson. If you will, talk about the experience of working with them.

Taylor: It’s been a dream come true. I remember the first person that ever told me about Sturgill was a songwriter named Stephanie Smith. we were sitting in a writing room and Stephanie said, “Have you heard of this Sturgill Simpson guy?” I said, “No, but with a name like Sturgill he has to be from East Kentucky [laughs]” That day I went down the rabbit hole and listened to all of Sturgill’s music and got to know him as an artist. It’s just strange that I would remember a moment like that.

Southern Stages: Was David or Sturgill your initial contact regarding the project?

Taylor: I had a meeting with a producer that I didn’t want to make a record with one day and I was getting frustrated. David Ferguson popped in my head – he’d been a friend and mentor since 2018. I texted him and said, “What about me and you make a record together?” He texted me back immediately and said, “What about me and Sturgill doing it?” I thought I was going to wreck off the highway. Sturgill listened to the material and they asked me to send them 30 songs and they scheduled the session that day. It was [recorded in] three days of tracking and I did one day of vocals.

Southern Stages: It must have been nice to record it quickly and maintain the spontaneity.

Taylor: I think there are so many different ways to make music and I don’t think any of them are wrong – it’s whatever fits in the moment. I like it when it goes quick because there’s still human error and there’s a realness when you make a record that quick that I really like.

Southern Stages: Your career timing seems good as fellow artists  with traditional sounds like Sturgill, Margo Price and Tyler Childers are all having success.

Taylor: I think so. I think there are so many ways to find new music and I’m excited that the stuff I grew up on is making its way back around.

Southern Stages: Continuing your point about the ways to find new music, how do you view the current climate? Some artists say it’s a great time to reach listeners through modern outlets such as Spotify, Youtube and satellite radio. Others say the current climate makes it difficult to be found among the crowd.

Taylor: I think both of those things are really true, but you can’t focus on the bad. There are too many things that will tear you down as an artist and you just can’t focus on that. To me, the music industry right now is like the wild west – anything goes and the artists call the shots. The artists have more power than they’ve ever had. If this was the ’90s or ’80s, somebody like Tyler or Sturgill would’ve had to have a record deal to do what they did. We didn’t have Thirty Tigers, social media and Spotify. Your only option was getting a record deal and going to commercial radio. If you didn’t fit the box, it just wasn’t going to happen. Now, we have the power to say, “I don’t need your label or your resources – I’ll just do it on my own.” That’s really empowering. Is it easy? No! It would be easier to have all the money and promotion, but if it’s not there it’s not there. It’s more of a grind but at least it’s a possibility.

Brit Taylor will perform at Dave’s Pub on Friday, February 24. Admission is free. Dave’s Pub is located at 1128 20th Street South.

Concerts on Canvas

Craig Legg’s 300-painting exhibit chronicles Birmingham’s rock music history

By Brent Thompson

“Topper Price” by Craig Legg

If the names Telluride, Topper Price, Damon Johnson, Dave “Rockin'” Roddy and St. Paul & The Broken Bones ring familiar to you, then the CLegg Tiny Art Gallery is the place for you. Local artist Craig Legg is set to open his History of Birmingham Rock & Roll exhibit at his gallery located inside East Lake’s East Village Arts. Featuring 300 paintings and covering more than 60 years, Legg’s exhibit spotlights the artists, deejays, venues. and record stores that formed the city’s rich musical scene. The exhibit’s opening event will take place on January 28 and will run through March. Recently, Legg discussed the exhibit while giving us a guided tour.

Southern Stages: Craig, thanks for your time. We are excited about the History of Birmingham Rock & Roll exhibit. How long has the project been in the works?

Craig Legg: I worked on it for a year in 2019 and I finished in February 2020. I went out looking for a gallery to hang it in – I wasn’t with this gallery at that time – and then a month later the world shut down. So, it’s been in my living room for three years.

Southern Stages: How long will the exhibit be available for viewing?

Legg: Through March. We don’t have regular hours but I’m here every Saturday. On January 28, we’re having an initial showing.

Southern Stages: Not only is your exhibit an enjoyable visual trip down memory lane, you are educating attendees about the city’s musical history.

Legg: That’s right and it is a rich history. It has been written about (hands me a copy of the book Magic City Nights by Andre Millard) – it came out in 2017 and he’s a professor at UAB. It was an oral history project set up by Aaron Beam and they contacted and interviewed people from the old bands.

Southern Stages: Is there any chance the exhibit’s paintings will be compiled and published in book form?

Legg: It’s been mentioned several times. If someone wants to spearhead the project, I’d be okay with it but I’m not going to [laughs]. I just came off a book project that took three years.

“Telluride” by Craig Legg

Southern Stages: How would you sum up the exhibit?

Legg: I call it a “trading card” series – it’s not a hall of fame. People say, “This guy should be in there and that guy shouldn’t.” In a [baseball] trading card series, you don’t get them all – you may not get Mickey Mantle and you’re supposed to trade. I grew up collecting trading cards – you get [a photo of] the player with the bat and ball, so I just did that with the musicians. There are photos of them with their axes and so forth. In addition to the players, trading cards also have the manager and team photos, so there are variations on the theme. To that end, I did the infrastructure people like radio deejays, recording studio people, concert promoters, venues and record store owners because it takes all of that to make a good scene.

Southern Stages: Have you been painting for most of your life?

Legg: No, I was mainly a writer and a spoken-word person and I turned to painting about 10 years ago.

Southern Stages: How long did it typically take you to paint each piece in the exhibit?

Legg: Starting out, it took about two days. I’d work three or four hours and three or four hours the next. Now, I can do one in three to five hours if it’s a single image. The more people, you have the harder it gets. The bigger ones can take about 10 days and they are meant to highlight the venues.

History of Birmingham Rock & Roll will premier at CLeggArt Tiny Gallery – located inside of East Village Arts – on Saturday, January 28 from 1-5 p.m. The gallery will be open every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through March. East Village Arts is located in East Lake at 7611 1st Avenue North. For more information, visit 


Always Play That Song: A Conversation with Freedy Johnston

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Marla Norton

In a recording career spanning more than 30 years, Freedy Johnston has won the admiration of audiences and critics alike. In September, the singer/songwriter released his ninth album, Back on the Road to You (Forty Below Records), a 10-track collection that includes guest appearances by Susanna Hoffs, Aimee Mann and Susan Cowsill. On Tuesday, January 17, Johnston will perform at The Peoples Room in Mobile. Recently, he spoke with us by phone from Madison, WI.

Southern Stages: Freedy, thanks for your time. Where is your home base these days?

Freedy Johnston: Well my driver’s license says Joshua Tree, California so that’s where I am currently. I moved out there after Covid honestly because it was affordable. My friend [singer/songwriter] Victoria Williams has a ranch out there a basically a couple of houses and she rents me a room. It’s fantastic – it’s a good place to land.

Southern Stages: We are really enjoying Back on the Road to You. Are these songs newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Johnston: I put a record out in 2015, so it’s songs from the last seven years. In my method, all of the song ideas are at least 10 years old or 15 in some cases. They never got finished for certain reasons and they got recycled – that’s how it is for the new record. So, they pretty much are from the last seven years, but all from different notebook scraps from the past.

Southern Stages: You have guests on the album including Susanna Hoffs, Aimee Mann and Susan Cowsill. How do those collaborations come about? Did you write songs with them specifically in mind or hear their contributions after the songs were completed?

Johnston: We had the songs and they’re all friends. I thought, “It would be nice to hear Susanna here” and I called her up and she said, “Sure.” It was more just so I could. I hadn’t seen them in forever. The songs benefit from them, of course, but it’s not like I wrote them with them in mind.

Southern Stages: With such a large catalog of songs available to you, how do you comprise your set lists these days?

Johnston: It’s funny you should ask because I acknowledge that I’ve got a lot of songs. If I do the deep album cuts, people are just as happy. I’ve been trying to change the sets up a little bit as I go through the weeks. You do it to keep yourself interested. If you have a band, you figure out your 90-minute set, rehearse it for a week, do a couple of meaningless gigs and then go out and play just that set for a year. That makes total sense because you get so good  – the opposite of the Grateful Dead. For me, I’m so easily distracted and chatty that I change my set list every night and I’ll play the song I was just talking about. So who knows what will happen in Mobile. I’ll definitely be asking folks if they want to hear a song.

Southern Stages: It’s difficult to interview any artist these days without mentioning Covid and its effects on those that tour and interact with audiences for a living.

Johnston: Covid is like the elephant in the room – it had a huge effect and it’s still having a huge effect. In my case, I was having trouble getting a record done before Covid and it was getting me down on music in general. Covid came along and I sat there alone. I’m a hermit kind of guy anyway, but that experience made me want to be around people as much as I can. It also made me like music again. Every gig I’ve done (since Covid) has been like the best gig I’ve ever done. My songs really mean something to the fans and it moves me when I move them – I cry when they cry. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I really didn’t feel that way before Covid.

Southern Stages: You’ve performed some of your songs hundreds – even thousands – of times by now. How does an older song stay fresh and relevant to you?

Johnston: That’s a pretty good question because I hadn’t thought of it that way. I hear songs differently every day – they sound different every time I play them. If it’s a song I have played thousands of times, it’s because people like them and I enjoy playing it to get a reaction from the audience and making them happy. Songs sound different on different nights – I don’t know why that is. When I’d gotten successful, I was on the road with Sheryl Crow. I was saying something onstage about “Bad Reputation” – “Here’s my single, blah blah blah, this isn’t my best song” – just bullshit that nobody wants to hear. I remember Sheryl saying after my set, “Freedy, I feel the same way about my hit single, but I always say, ‘This is my favorite song” [laughs]. It should be – it got her a lot of success. That’s how I feel about “Bad Reputation” – I always play that song because I’m lucky to have one song that people know.

Freedy Johnston will perform at The Peoples Room in Mobile on Tuesday, January 17. Advance tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $25 and can be purchased at


Futurebirds Return to Saturn on December 9

By Brent Thompson

Photo courtesy of the artist

In a career spanning more than 13 years, Athens, Ga.-based Futurebirds has built a loyal following through incessant touring and a steady output of releases. On Friday, December 9, the septet – Carter King, Daniel Womack, Thomas Johnson, Brannen Miles, Spencer Thomas, Tom Myers and Kiffy Myers – will return to Birmingham for a performance at Saturn. My Morning Jacket guitarist and Futurebirds producer/collaborator Carl Broemel will open the 8:30 p.m. show. In September, Futurebirds released its second project with Broemel, the EP Bloomin’ Too (No Coincidence Records). Tickets to the 18+ show can be purchased at

South by Northwest: A Conversation with Reign LaFreniere of Bluphoria

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jena Yannone

With a recent relocation, two new singles making waves and its first holiday song (“When The Snow Falls”) available, it’s an exciting time to be Bluphoria. The Oregon-based quartet – Reign LaFreniere, Dakota Landrum, Rex Wolf and Dani Janae – now calls Nashville home and recently released the singles “Walk Through The Fire” and “Set Me Up” from its forthcoming full-length album on Edgeout Records. Produced by Mark Needham (Fleetwood Mac, Imagine Dragons, Mt. Joy, The 1975), the album finds the band effectively blending its pop, rock, psychedelic and blues influences into a unique style of its own. Recently, LaFreniere spoke with us by phone from his Nashville home.

Southern Stages: Reign, thanks for your time. We are enjoying “Walk Through The Fire” and we are looking forward to the full-length release in 2023. On the new album, how did the body of material take shape? Are these newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Reign LaFreniere: A majority of the songs were written a year before the recording except for “Set Me Up,” which was written a month or two before we went into the studio. Our next single coming out was written four or five years ago. I said, “I like this song – if I don’t put it on the album now, it’s never going to get on there.”

Southern Stages: When you record a song that was written several years ago, do you continually tweak it or does the recorded version stay true to the original version?

LaFreniere: There are a lot of tweaks. Originally, the song had a whole jam breakdown and it was six or seven minutes long. We just kind of cleaned it up a bit. A lot of our writing has been getting more concise over the years. We try to figure out how to make them concise but still fun and unpredictable.

Southern Stages: If you will, talk about working with Mark Needham and how that partnership was formed.

LaFreniere: We were looking for producers and our label was helping us shop around. He reached out to us and said he’d be interested in producing the record for us because he liked the demos on there. He was the fifth member in that whole production. He added this element of experience that none of us have. He was also great in the sense that he didn’t push for anything – he really let us put our ideas into the songs. It was great to have that freedom and support.

Southern Stages: How do you feel about the music industry climate in the age of Spotify, satellite radio, Youtube and TikTok?

LaFreniere: I think it’s a double-edge sword. You can get your music out easier, but it’s easier to be lost in the crowd. I’m just along for the ride and I’m excited to be able to tour. I just want to put my head down and do the work.

Southern Stages: We understand that Bluphoria has released a holiday song, “When The Snow Falls.” What can you tell us about it?

LaFreniere: We’re required to make a holiday track and the last couple of bands on the label covered one. In the middle of summer, I thought I might as well write a new song. I had this melody in my head and we put a classic blues swing thing on it and had fun with it. I even did an Elvis talking breakdown in the bridge [laughs].

Book Review: Sun Records Celebrates 70 Years in Style

By Brent Thompson

In the fast-and-furious age of iTunes, Spotify, SiriusXM, TikTok and Youtube, sometimes we need a reminder of where Rock’n’Roll began. Fortunately, that reminder comes in the form of The Birth of Rock’n’Roll: The Illustrated Story of Sun Records & the 70 Recordings that Changed the World, a hardcover treasure that Sun Records has delivered via Owen Weldon/Insight Editions (November 2022). Renowned journalists Peter Guralnick and Colin Escott have been charged with the honor – and responsibility – of being our tour guides on a 256-page journey through Sun’s legacy and importance. The first record label to record Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, Sun’s catalog includes “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “I Walk The Line” and “Breathless” among countless other classics. A foreword by the recently-deceased Lewis lends weight and emotion to the project. Will music completists learn anything new by reading this book? Maybe not, but it’s still a worthwhile return visit to the blocking-and-tackling of Rock’n’Roll. More importantly, The Birth of Rock’n’Roll will potentially turn a new generation onto Sun’s significance and influence on today’s music.