When Rod Abernethy gathers musical friends for a concert Sunday — a who's who of the Triangle music scene — it’ll be a celebration in more ways than one.
On the face of it, it’s a celebration of this week's release of “The Man I’m Supposed to Be,” Abernethy’s first solo album since his debut in 1975.
“The Man I’m Supposed to Be" is decades in the making. It’s a double album — one disc all instrumentals in Abernethy’s Leo Kottke-esque, beautifully intricate guitar style, and one disc of vocals — because 40 years after his first solo record, he felt he had plenty to say.
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Or, as he puts it, it “the experiences that I’ve had and the emotional content I’ve been able to get, about my parents, my family, where I live, who I love, how my heart has just gotten bigger over the years, and I have more to say and I have more to connect to people.”
Some big names in the Triangle music scene will join Abernethy Sunday, including many who contributed their talents to the album: Caitlin Cary of Whiskeytown, Tres Chicas, and Small Ponds; Chatham County Line’s John Teer; Abernethy’s Arrogance bandmate Robert Kirkland; Steve Howell of the Backsliders and Pinto; Caroline Mamoulides of Pinto; David Burney from Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4; Pattie Hopkins Kinlaw from Hank, Pattie and The Current; and more.
“They’re some of my favorite people, and I wanted it to be more of a group gathering,” Abernethy says.
Abernethy first started playing music as a kid and never really stopped. First, it was on a ukulele in third grade, and then guitar. He watched his older brother play Buddy Holly songs, itching to figure them out himself.
But the way he made a living in music changed a lot over the years.
After a childhood in Forest City, a town in Western North Carolina, he set out to study guitar in college at UNC. He didn’t survive the audition on that instrument, so instead he majored in piano — an instrument he’d learned less than a year before.
After college, Abernethy set out as a singer-songwriter, playing in clubs, including on one memorable night for that UNC guitar professor who had rejected him and who sheepishly told him he wished he hadn’t.
After releasing a solo album, next came stints with Raleigh-based bands Arrogance and Glass Moon, and then an attempt to ride the new wave of New Wave under the name Rod Dash.
Finally, he performed in front of the judges and the nation on ’80s TV talent show “Star Search” — and lost. And that was it, he thought.
“When you push for 10 years, you’re pushing and you have a vision of, ‘OK, I want to make a living playing live,'" he said. "I’m not talking ‘I want to be a rock and roll star,’ that wasn’t it. I just wanted to be a recording artist and make a living doing my music, or our music (with bands).
“ … After a while it just kind of wears you down and you’re tired of knocking on doors.”
An unexpected turn
He came back to Raleigh for good, accepting a job offer from a recording studio and composing jingles and music for corporate films, “which wasn’t that exciting,” he says, “but I was making money doing music.”
As often happens in life, one thing led to another, and Abernethy found he had a knack for a then-brand new place for music: video games.
Starting in the late 1990s, he composed music that set the mood and the pace for dozens of games, including “The Hobbit” and “Dead Space,” both of which earned him prestigious industry awards.
But as also happens in life, Abernethy started to feel like something was missing.
It was “like an alarm went off” for him three years ago, he says.
“I picked up my acoustic guitar one day and thought, ‘I am ready for this,'" he said.
“This” turned into monthly “Songs from Downstairs” shows at Raleigh’s Neptune’s Parlour, featuring Abernethy and other North Carolina acoustic musicians.
Even though he’d never stopped making a living in music, this felt like the start of something more.
“I was playing in front of people again, and people were reacting to what I was doing, and there’s just more soul to it,” he says.
That stirring of the soul generated some new songs, and a successful Kickstarter campaign raised more than $18,600, giving the album, “The Man I’m Supposed to Be,” its beginning.
It only makes sense then to have his album release party at the venue where he rediscovered his love for music, and to have those people who supported him take part in the show.
He wants to start things off by having those musical guests share some of their favorite songs, and then he’ll take the stage to share some of his — songs he wrote himself as well as a few covers that ended up on his album because he found them personally meaningful.
One cover is “Man I’m Supposed to Be,” a song by BJ Barham of Raleigh's American Aquarium that was such a favorite of Abernethy’s that it also became the album’s title.
It’s not hard to see why.
"I'll never be a sailor," the song starts, as the narrator lists several identities the narrator will never hold because of various personal failings.
Dancer, boxer and acrobat make the list as well.
And then the song concludes with this:
I guess I'll be a singer
Struggling to stay on key
That's the man I'm supposed to be.
Never first, never last
Just somewhere in between
That's the man I'm supposed to be.
What: Rod Abernethy's “The Man I’m Supposed to Be” Album Release Show
When: 7 p.m. April 8
Where: King’s, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh