Look up the show schedule for Raleighs Pour House Music Hall, and youll see Saturdays listing as Six String Drag. And yes, Kenny Roby, Rob Keller and friends will be onstage harmonizing together as Six String Drag one of the great underrated bands in local music history for the first time since 2005.
As to the nature of what happens beyond Saturday night, or whether this really qualifies as a reunion at all, thats all a bit murkier. Theres actually a record in the works, which Roby and company will begin recording in two weeks at Mitch Easters Fidelitorium. But for now, theyre not spending much time or energy worrying about what it will be called.
We are not making, per se, a planned Six String Drag album, Roby explains. But I do have a bunch of new songs that, through some weird mind-bending and manipulation, turned out to be the kind of songs the Six String Drag guys are perfect for. Keller and I were talking about recording together, kicking ideas around, and it all just sort of came together. So were gonna run in and do it. Just get together, arrange everything real fast and then play. Which is not a way anybody makes records anymore.
Roby says he has about two dozen new songs ready to go, written very fast, in about as much time as they take to play. Whatever winds up happening, its been a long time coming. During Raleighs mid-90s alternative-country heyday, Six String Drag was one of the best live bands in town which is to say one of the best bands in the country, especially the shows with a horn section.
High Hat a high mark
On-record, Six String Drag also made one of the great long lost classics of that era, 1997s High Hat. Co-produced by Steve Earle and released on his E Squared Records, High Hat was a genius blend of twangy pop sense, bar-band fire and high lonesome vocal harmonies from Keller and Roby, who sounded like the Louvin Brothers backed up by a heavy-metal soul band.
Alas, High Hat didnt break through and Six String Drag dissolved in the late 1990s with little fanfare. The breakup was as amicable as breakups ever are, with all the principles frequently turning up on each others records. Theyve also done one-off reunions twice, for benefit shows in 2003 and 2005.
While theyve all had some fine individual moments (especially Robys 2003 solo album Rather Not Know, and Kellers current band Welfare Liners), none of them have approached the heights of High Hat. Strange to say, however, that Roby is not among that albums bigger fans.
As much as people love that record, we sang those songs a lot better live than whats on the record, Roby says. Its not my imagination, Ive heard recordings. But (the producers) were really adamant about first takes and not fixing or overdubbing anything, almost like it was a matter of principle. It was warts and all, which I think kind of backfired.
Roby pauses to laugh.
Yeah, everybody hates their own records, looking in the mirror, he sighs. I could write a book about it, but Id sound bitter and some good things came out of it. My disappointment in High Hat was that it wouldve been so much better if wed just taken a little more time to focus the energy on how well Rob and I could sing together. Make everything else real live, but get the best vocal performance without being told move on.
Like kids again
One reason Roby is of a mind to rock again is Memories & Birds, his 2013 solo album. Its quite fine, but also hushed, measured and restrained almost to a fault. Getting every sound just so was an arduous process. After a long stretch of laborious detail work, Roby is ready to let the feedback fly.
It just seems like a good time to get together with old friends and play, Roby says. There were no big issues when we broke up, just different directions in everybodys lives. Rob and I are still the best friends in the world, Ray (Duffey) is one of my best buddies. And I got together with Scott (Miller) the other day and it was so fun none of the (expletive) from touring, just playing music. Playing with those guys is like riding a bike and I was almost giddy, laughing at how easy it was. The muscle memorys all there. It was jaded and innocent at the same time. Wiser, I guess, a little childlike. Maybe were getting so old and feeble that were like kids again.
Menconi: 919-829-4759 or www.newsobserver.com/OnTheBeat