by Baker Maultsby

Big Talent, Big Fun Found at Perry Road?

Perry Road's bio says, "We play oldgrass, nu-grass, and not so bluegrass...folkabilly."
[Photo: John Featherston]

In music, those with the greatest ambition and business acumen don't necessarily carry around the greatest amount of talent. Consider, for example, the recent proliferation of samish acoustic pop bands. Most have aggressive management, well-marketed merchandise, and demo recordings supposedly being shopped to record labels. Few have striking instrumental ability or songwriting creativity.

Then consider Perry Road, a group of decidedly good-time, but fiercely talented Spartanburg musicians who play a predominantly acoustic, rootsified combination of covers and original tunes.

I recently caught up with Matt and Annabelle Ranck, co-founders of Perry Road. I wanted them to tell me about their music and about their laid-back, community-oriented approach to the business. But first, I wanted to know how, since moving to Spartanburg from Florida in 1992, the couple brought together arguably the most talented collection of musicians in town.

I had known several of the band's members for years, and they comprise some of Spartanburg's best-respected instrumentalists. Bari Smith has had a glowing reputation for his prowess as a steel guitarist and has collaborated in the studio with Tim Lawter, of the modern-day Marshall Tucker band. Dobro and lead acoustic guitar picker Bob Hinch works at Smith Music, fixing all kinds of instruments and playing most with near mastery. Don McGraw is generally considered to be the dean of Spartanburg bassists, playing in numerous party and showbands and, most notably, with Spartanburg rocker and songwriting giant Matthew Knights. I didn't know Donnie Durham, but have heard rave reviews of his banjo and dobro picking.

Annabelle tried to explain Perry Road's pull on the talented foursome. "First of all, there's me. I cook," she said, half-chuckling. "All I can say is we're blessed. I'm convinced we're here in Spartanburg for a reason, and that we're playing with these guys for a reason. I'm convinced that the Lord blessed us by putting them with us to play music. If there's a human thing, I think it's that we have fun. It's a group of people that's easy to love. It's like a big fat marriage."

Matt, who runs his own computer consulting business, Running Time, concurred, adding that he and his wife enjoyed going out and making friends in Spartanburg's music scene from the time they hit town.

"I think Bari, for instance, realized how disconnected we were from the industry standpoint," he said. "I've got kids, insurance bills. Any attorney in any other profession would say you're a fool to sign a record contract because they have the cards so stacked against you. So, we're not in this thing for the money. We want to have fun, and I think Bari and the other guys were attracted to that.

"It's like if you have a 12-year old, and you love him, and you go to every baseball game he plays. You're involved in his life," Matt continued. "Music is like that for us."

Indeed, Matt and Annabelle are involved on a grassroots level with promoting the music scene in Spartanburg. Recently, they brought back to town former Dawggone regular Robbie Roberson, who now resides in Atlanta, for a Saturday night show at Dooley's in Boiling Springs. And Annabelle regularly does publicity work for John Featherston's Greenfield Excursion Music Camp.

But once or twice a week in a room behind their home, and a couple times a month onstage, the Rancks and the other members of Perry Road focus on making their own music. The creative approach of the band is simple: if the music is good and is fun to play, go for it. That means they filter everything from the Band and the Byrds to Alanis Morissette and Green Day through the group's acoustic foundation and Annabelle's sincere vocals. Most of the original songs were written by Matt, and, while most are rootsy, they're also tinged by his love of the Talking Heads and other new wave bands of his high school and college years.

The band's bio says, "We play oldgrass, nu-grass, and not so bluegrass...folkabilly."

"I've been calling our sound 'folkabilly' since about 1988," Matt told me. "And I take great umbrage that Nanci Griffith was given the title of 'Queen of Folkabilly.' I defy you to find an earlier reference to that term than mine. Bill Monroe says he invented bluegrass. I say I invented folkabilly. That ought to give me the right to determine who the queen of folkabilly is."

Matt's folkabilly queen, then, would be Annabelle, who grew up harmonizing on the front porch of her eastern Kentucky childhood home with her mother and sisters. The family home was at the end of a street called Perry Road. Annabelle and Matt have been playing under the Perry Road name since the late 80s and plan to continue playing until retirement, when they claim they're going to set out in an RV, touring the country and, Annabelle said, "playing for our dinner."

More immediate plans include a home-recorded CD project, engineered by Matt with modern computer recording software. Most of the album's 13 or 14 songs will be Matt's. But, through Bari Smith's freindship with the late Toy Caldwell and his widow, Perry Road has also received the blessing to record a song the Marshall Tucker great wrote just before his death.

While legions of less talented groups are putting their energy toward acquiring professional management, booking, and record deals, the excitement of a home-recording project, the fun of hanging out with good friends, and the satisfaction of playing with some of the Upstate's hottest pickers is what drives the members of Perry Road. As Annabelle put it, "I call it successful to play here at our home twice a week, to get onstage twice a month with people I like."


Copyright ?1999 Creative Loafing Greenville, Inc. - | Published June 12, 1999 |