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Bass - Black Stone Cherry
    Exclusive Interview!
Jon Lawhon

There are many new bands out there trying to be heard.  Black Stone Cherry is a band that deserves to be heard.  With a growing fan base, BSC is taking America by storm.  Currently on tour with Hinder, these talented musicians really know how to tear it up.  With songs like Hell and High Water and Lonely Train you can really feel what this band is about.  If I had to sum up this band with one word, the word would be 'Powerful'.  From the thundering drums the bluesy guitar riffs BSC can dish out a full helping of heavy rock n roll and still maintain a taste of reverence to all their influences.  Detroit Music Notes Online was able to talk to Black Stone Cherry's bassist, Jon Lawhon, and get a real feel for how these Kentucky boy's came to be.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present Jon Lawhon....  


DMN – Hey Jon, how are you doing?

JL – I’m doing great.  I am just enjoying the last couple day’s home before heading to Europe.

DMN – What’s going on with Black Stone Cherry; how is the tour going?

JL – The tour is going great, man.  We started touring in May of last year with Saliva.  That was the first actual tour.  It was cool because all the guys in Saliva are from Memphis.  And since we are from Kentucky, it was just a bunch of country boys going out and doing a rock tour.  It was a really cool start.  Then right from Saliva, we ran with Buckcherry.  Those guys are awesome.  Honestly, we don’t have any horror stories from the road yet.  Everybody we’ve met has been great to us and has been good people so we haven’t run into any major problems with conflicts between bands.

DMN – What’s new with Black Stone Cherry?

JL – Well, we are getting ready to do this Hinder European thing and when we get back, we have some huge offers for different things.  But there is nothing really confirmed yet.  ‘Rain Wizard’ was just released on March 6th to be our third single and it’s been doing really well so far.  We’re getting some good things out of that so we are just going to ride it out and see where it goes.  Rain Wizard is an interesting song.  It definitely takes its own path.  Most people don’t know what a rain wizard is.  In Kentucky, it’s folklore that there is a group of people that travel separately from county to county when a town is experiencing a drought.  Nobody really knows what they do, but they conjure up rain to help a community out.  They help the gardens grow and all that.  The number one crop for Kentucky is tobacco and Kentucky has farms covered all over it. 

DMN – Describe your current setup: Guitars, Amps and such.

JL – I’ve been using a SVT Classic Head and HBC A10 Cabinets.  It has 2 coaxial 10’s and 6 sub 10’s.  I use Fender and Carvin bass guitars.  With the Carvins, they have honestly the best neck I’ve ever played in my life.  And then the Fender is the all time classic.  You can’t go wrong with a Fender bass.  I just got a new Fender Jaguar.  It’s incredible.  It’s like a jazz bass on crack!  It has jazz pickups in it with on/off switches for both pickups and separate volume control for each pickup and separate mid control for each pickup.  You can throw each pickup in or out of phase and it has active or passive electronics.  So you can do anything you want with it.  It is amazing.  The majority of our stuff is tuned down to ‘D’, but we tune the whole guitar down ½ step and on a few songs like our first single, Lonely Train, it’s a full step down.  We have a couple songs that are tuned in standard like our second single ‘Hell or High Water’ but it’s still ½ step down.  It’s just D Sharp.

DMN – Black Stone Cherry has some great southern influences.  Coming from
Kentucky, you have great southern rock legends like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers and Molly Hatchet. 

JL – You just can’t escape it.  If you look back in history, a lot of what happened with Detroit and that area was people from the hazard area of Kentucky.  People trying to get away from the coal mines.  Everybody was starting to get black lung so a huge chunk of eastern Kentucky started moving north and stopped near the Detroit area.  It’s crazy how many people we meet when we play in Detroit that tell us that their grandparents were from Hazzard and it’s cool.  We started scratching out heads about that. 

DMN – I have read that you have a direct connection with the members of The Kentucky Headhunters.

JL – Our drummer, John Fred’s dad is the rhythm guitar player in the Kentucky Headhunters.  Those guy’s are great and they are still kicking it!

DMN – They have been a pretty good support for you then.

JL – Oh absolutely.  Richard has always been the guy who sits off to the side and doesn’t mess with what is going on.  But if he sees us starting to walk toward a pitfall, he grabs us and sets us back on the right track.  It’s great to have somebody around who has been doing this for so long to point you in the right direction and it never hurts to have a Grammy award winner sitting right behind your back!

DMN – How have they reflected in your music and how have you kept such an original sound?

JL – Back in the 70’s, the Headhunters were a rock band called ‘The Itchy Brothers’.   It was much like The Allman Brothers meet Led Zeppelin.  You can’t let what the world knows about the Kentucky Headhunters fool you because deep down inside every one of those guys are rockers.  Big time!  When I was 15, Richard introduced me to The Trapeze and Glen Hughes.  He definitely digs deep into old school rock n roll which is where we pull ninety percent of our influences from.  One of my favorite bass players, for example, is James Jamerson.  Not many 24 year old bass players even know who James Jamerson is.  That is all thanks to having parents who made me listen to the ‘light’ channels because they had all the Motown and old school blues.  They knew.  At a very young age, I was playing everything I could get my hands on.  They knew that I was going to try to do something with it later in life and they wanted to make sure that I had the right upbringing.  And the same thing goes with Chris, Ben and especially John Fred.  John Fred’s dad has been doing the Headhunter thing forever and Itchy Brother since the 70’s.  By the time John Fred was 3 or 4 years old, his dad would sit him down in front of the CD player or record player (whatever they had back then) and had him sing along with Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding or something and try to teach him to sing.  Then he tried to teach him guitar.  When the guitar didn’t work, Fred dove into the drums.  John Fred’s uncle is the drummer for the Headhunters.  Who better to stand beside you while you are trying to learn the drums than Fred Young of the Kentucky Headhunters!

DMN – How do you describe your success for being such a young band?

JL – We are very, very fortunate.  We’ve been together since June 4th 2001 and we’ve worked really hard.  That day was the first day all four of us sat together in the practice house and wrote a song.  That night we decided this was it, just the four of us.  No more and no less.  When we first got together, Ben was 15 years old I believe and we were still all in high school.  Everyday we would get out of school around 3pm.  By 3:10pm, we were at the practice house all plugged in and going.  We would practice from ten after 3 until ten or eleven o’clock at night every night during the week and on weekends we would get down there around ten or eleven in the morning and just go all day until the wee hours of the morning.  This is how we did it for five years before we started getting out and touring and everything.  We absolutely have killed ourselves on making sure that we know how to play and that we were writing songs that were meant to be written by us.   A lot of it has to do with hard work and a lot has to do with being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time for things to happen.  It’s a shame that It’s like that, to that degree that you have to be lucky and that you have to be playing the right bar or club when the right guy walks in but that’s all up to God.  No matter which way you look at it.  God is going to put you in the right place to make things happen.

DMN – Creatively, how do you approach songwriting and what is your process for writing songs?

JL – All four of us write equally in the band.  Ben comes up with a first riff for a song then comes down to the practice house.  Then we would all start collaborating and come up with a chorus for it.  One of us would sit down with the legal pad and pen and start writing lyrics out.  Whichever one that is would get to a point and say “hey this is what I have”.  Then the next one will say “that’s cool, let’s work on this part”.  And then everyone starts throwing stuff in.  That is the cool thing about being in this band.  There isn’t one or two guys that will say “No, I write all the lyrics”.  You have all four of us.  So when you listen to us, you have four musicians, four singers and four writers.  So it’s coming from all of us.  Our band is one huge heartbeat and nothing will ever kill it and this is how we work.

DMN – What are some hobbies of yours?

JL – Personally, when I get home off the bus, I pretty much run straight to my garage.  I work with wood a lot.  The last time I was home, I built a TV stand for myself.  When I was 12 years old, my uncle started showing me how to frame walls and stuff like that.  By the time I was 15 or 16 years old, I fell in love with finish work, building furniture.  Eventually when I have some spare time, I’m going to buy all the proper tools to build myself my own bass guitar which I think would be really cool.  I just haven’t had time to do it yet.

DMN - What is your favorite song to play?

JL – Honestly, it is probably ‘Rain Wizard’.  ‘Rain Wizard’ has been the first song of our set since we started touring because of the dramatic intro.  The guitar and drums at the front of it is such a pump.  It builds you up so much then it kicks in.  Plus being the first song of the set, it gives us that first chance to win people over by the first shot.  I personally thrive for that because you have the opportunity to blow peoples minds in a thirty second block.  You have to snatch all their heads around and make them pay attention from the get go and in my opinion, ‘Rain Maker’ is the song that does that.  That’s what I like about playing live, because you have the opportunity to do that and ninety percent of the time it does it’s job. 

DMN – Obviously as the opening band right now, you are going to have some people that may not know your material.  What is the audience’s reaction after they see you perform live?

JL – It’s always different especially being on this tour.  The Saliva tour was doing like 500 seat clubs or somewhere around there.  It went well because it gave us time to find ourselves musically in a live setting.  The crowds were always great because Saliva, like I said before, are a Memphis band, a southern band, so they draw real people.  With the Buckcherry guys, their music is so much ‘Party and have a good time’ that our music went over well with that audience too.  Our music is pretty much a heavier southern blues outlook from what theirs is.  There isn’t a song on our record that doesn’t make you smile and realize the better things in life by the end of the song.  Then we went out with Staind, Three Days Grace and Hinder, which is where we met the Hinder guys originally.  That tour was amazing.  It would go from four to five thousand seat venues to twelve thousand seat venues everyday.  That was the first time that we played for crowds that size everyday.  We’ve played radio shows and what not, but, when we played in Kansas City, there were thirty three thousand people there.  That was insane.  That was when we were out with Buckcherry.  There is nothing more incredible than walking up on stage and having thirty three thousand people jumping into the air and hitting the ground at the same time.  I swear to God the stage moves. 

DMN – What is your all time favorite song?

JL – Phew, that’s a hard one, man.  Lately, I’d have to say “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band.  Because that’s all I do!

DMN – What was your first guitar and what or who was your inspiration?

JL – Very first bass guitar was a Wasburn Lyon Series Precision, it was a copy.  Very shortly after that, I got a 1973 Guild B-301.  That Washburn kind of hit the closet!  My inspiration, of course, is my parents.  They have stood
behind me through the entire thing.  They still stand behind me and hold me up and help me get through.  James Jamerson is my all time favorite bass player because he is the only man that ever lived that could play any bass line imaginable with only his index finger and make it look so easy.  Glen Hughes is one of my top favorites because not only can the man completely destroy a bass, he sings better than anyone that is out today.  I would have to say my number 3 favorite would have to be John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin).  He is probably the most under appreciated bass players.  Normally when you think about Led Zeppelin, you hear Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.  The driving force behind Led Zeppelin, of course, is John Bonham. He was the guy that made it all click.   It was his incredibly strange time signatures and where he would play behind the beat or in front of the beat that made the song feel the way it felt.  The amazing thing about John Paul Jones is that no matter where John Bohnam was playing, John Paul Jones was playing exactly with him or exactly against him.  That is what always made Led Zeppelin click.

DMN – What were some of the first songs that you mastered?

JL – Well, that’s a good one too.  I’ve been playing a good while now.  One of the first real, honest to goodness bass lines that I learned to play was ‘Nowhere Man” by the Beatles.  I wanted to learn that because Paul McCartney was singing and playing that bass line.  Let me tell you that it’s not the easiest thing.  I learned to play it before I learned how to sing and play it but, I eventually got a hold of it. 

DMN – How did you guy’s come up with the name Black Stone Cherry?

JL – That’s a funny story, actually.  A very long time ago, we had been together for maybe two months.  We were all down at the practice house and at the time, I was the only one legal to buy tobacco products, I was the only one that was eighteen years old.  We thought, Ok, let’s go get some cigars.  So I rode with a friend of ours into town and we started looking at cigars.  I saw swisher sweets and all of that, we thought no.  Then I saw Black Stone Cigars cherry flavored.  My grandpa, back years and years and years ago who is passed away now, he would always smoke those cigars when I was little and sitting out on his porch playing with matchbox cars.  The smell would always remind me of him, so I bought those particular cigars for that reason.  So I took them back to the practice house and we smoked all the cigars that were there except for two.  We were working on a song that night and I’m about 90 percent sure it was ‘Shooting Star’.  By the way, ‘Shooting Star’ is the oldest song on our record.  We wrote that pretty much when we first got together.  Chris and I went back to my house to work on that song.  John Fred and Ben went back to their houses to work on the same song so we could come back and collaborate on it the next day.  The next day I woke up when Ben had called.  He had asked me “how do you like the name ‘Black Stone Cherry’ for the band name?”  We all thought that it sounded pretty awesome.  We all started digging deeper into the name and what it would mean and he said “well, we have a band name and a website now!”  That night John Fred and Ben stayed up most the night and built a whole website for us.  In a matter of two hours while coming up with a name, they developed an entire website.  After really thinking about the name, Black Stone Cherry, it describes us perfectly.  You have ‘Black’ which would describe our black roots going back to Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy and the whole blues era from Robert Johnson on up to the Motown thing with The Funk Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.  “Stone” describes that we are undeniably a rock band.  Yes we have tons of southern influences ranging from Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings to The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Our live performance is not a country show.  We are bringing long hair back for a reason!  It’s a very tense show.  We are a very heavy southern rock band.  It’s a new take on southern rock.  So, the ‘Stone’, is perfect because right from the get go it let’s people know that we are a rock band.  Yes, we are a southern rock band.  Yes we are a blues rock band, but ultimately, the rock never leaves.  And then the Cherry was perfect because we ABSOLUTELY love women! 

DMN - What is your favorite ‘On The Road’ story?

JL – It was at the end of the Buckcherry tour.  They came out on stage during our last song with Ninja masks pulled down over their heads.  They also had these garbage bags filled with packaging peanuts.  They dumped them all over the stage and all over us.  Then they started taking John Fred’s drum set away one piece at a time.  They took everything but his snare, kick and hat.    They just removed it all.  That was my favorite because that was the first time that a band had done something like that to us.  Saliva messed with us a little bit, but they didn’t go ‘all out’ like that.  We did get Buckcherry back that night though because we all got those crazy bitch boy cut panties, we all put them and we all went onstage in nothing but that!  It was hilarious!  I think we sold more records that night because of that one incident than we sold the rest of the time touring!  The last night of the American portion of this ‘Hinder’ deal was great because Hinder guitarist, Blower, his birthday was March 3rd and my birthday was March 4th.   Not only were all three bands messing with each other, (Finger Eleven was the middle performance slot on the tour), in the worse of ways but the amazing part about it is that we all have become such best of friends.  It is nothing for me to wake up in the morning on the tour bus and walk into the front lounge of the bus and see Cody and Austin (Hinder) watching TV.  They were just as much a part of us as we were of them so it didn’t matter.  After the show was over with, they had the upstairs portion of this bar in New Orleans exclusively set up for ‘Bands and Guests only’.  We just hung out all night long.  Let me tell you, those Hinder boys drink like fish!  We don’t drink.  We do have the occasional, once in a while beer and that’s about it.  We do not drink everyday.  We do not drink onstage.  We don’t drink before we go onstage… ever.  And if we have a show the next day, we don’t drink at all.  We all grew up in a dry county and it’s never been our thing to say ‘let’s go out and get drunk’.  A lot of people enjoy doing it and it’s great.  Let them have a good time.  We watch them have a good time from the stage every night.  And we watch our brothers in Hinder have a great time with it.  It’s just not our thing.  We can’t function doing it.  The guy’s in Hinder can drink two fifths of Jagermeister a piece and still play.  We can’t do that.  So we stay away from that.  The only thing that we do is that two of us smoke cigarettes and that’s it. 

DMN – What CD are you currently listening to in your vehicle or what is on your I Pod?

JL – In my vehicle right now I have Metallica’s Master of Puppets CD.  On my MP3 player I have been listening to Stevie Wonder a whole lot lately.  I’ve been on a big Stevie Wonder kick. 

DMN - Who has been the most fun touring with?

JL – I would have to say the guy’s in Hinder.  If you ever get the chance to meet them, you will absolutely fall in love with them.  There have been so many active radio stations that aren’t hip on the pop rock kind of stuff because their listening audience is more into heavy rock and stuff.  We’ve heard all those little comments about ‘Lips of an Angel’ and stuff.  You know what?  Man, Hinder came out with ‘Get Stoned’.  It’s a great song.  It did a lot of good things for them.  It moved them on into modern rock and stuff then ‘Lips of an Angel’ absolutely blew up and destroyed ‘Get Stoned’.  I am thrilled that they had that song (Lips) and that it did what it did.  Anytime I see a band no matter how old they are what stature they are sitting at, it doesn’t matter.  When I see a band blow up like that, I love it because they are out there doing it and they are living it.  You can’t argue with that.  And the guys from Hinder, you couldn’t ask for better guys than that.  They would give you the shirt right off their own back.  Any time we hear comments about ‘Lips’ we kind of choke them a little bit!  We really have become brothers with those guys.

DMN – What is the next big thing to do on your ‘Things to do in life list’?

JL – Win a Grammy!  In an interview that I read a few years ago with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Paul looked at John and asked ‘where are we going to take this?’  His answer was ‘Tip top.  Right to the very top of the top.  That really left an impact on me because you can’t just strive to have a good record and sell come CD’s, or records in their regards, try to make some money off of it and make a living with it.  To really fully become what rock and roll is meant to be, you have to go for the throat.  #1, don’t let anything stand in your way and if it does, cut it down.  Always go for the top and never give up.  Always have goals. 

DMN – Is there anyone that you would like to collaborate with?

JL – Tons of people.  Aerosmith would be my first pick.  I really think that Aerosmith is the best American rock and roll band of all time.  Those guys are incredible.  They have been through absolutely everything.  They had drug addiction that had broken them up.  Steven Tyler went through his rehab and got it all together.  All the guys cleaned up and got back together and they released monster records since then.  They are still an incredible force in the rock and roll world.  If it wasn’t for Aerosmith, we wouldn’t have a lot of the bands that we have today.  Steven Tyler is one of the most amazing voices that has ever been in rock and roll.  Joe Perry is an incredible guitar player.  Joey Kramer who is never given the proper credit that he should be given is also an incredible guitar player.  Tom Hamilton is one of my top five bass players of all time.  He is one of the few bass players that is still writing today and he is also one of the few who actually play bass lines instead of root notes.  It is a huge pet peeve of mine to hear a bass player my age or even older play a song that there is so much room within that song with the basic chords yet they only play root notes.  There is no need for that.  The bass is the bridge between guitars and drums.  It is the thing that makes guitars and drums ‘make sense’ together when they are played.  When you only play the root note, it is kind of halfway doing the job.  But when you play a walking bass line when it calls for it, it allows the drummer to do so much more.  The drummer can feel off what the bass player is doing and put something different in to where it either coincides exactly what the bass player is doing or it can go against it and create a new push to the song.  It can make it evolve into a whole new thing.  There is no reason for a bass player to feel that all they can do is play the root notes because they don’t want to step on toes of the band.  SCREW THAT!  You play what you feel.  If it doesn’t work then let the whole band get together and decide, well, that doesn’t work and we’re not going to use it.  But, at least try. 

DMN – What is more satisfying?  Touring or creating music?

JL – Everybody puts satisfying in their own sense.  Writing is satisfying because when you are done writing a song; you can sit back and look at this masterpiece that has just been created.  A song isn’t something that is written, it’s given by God.  It is handed to you and you find it.  You don’t just pop it off, you discover it.  You will always find new things.  That is why bands like us, or 90 percent of the bands that are touring or anyone who has ever played an instrument, cover other people’s songs because it shows them something new.  So they discover a new thing.  It is impossible to be 100 percent original these days.  You can be original in the way of having an original sound, but, it’s always going to be reminiscent of something that has already happened.  There are only so many notes and only so many ways to approach those notes and it pretty much has all been done.  There is no way you can play a lick on guitar, bass or drums that hasn’t been done before.  It’s impossible.  In the 1930’s, it was possible.  Now it is not.  I believe that Eric Clapton said it once that there is no originality left.  You steal what you can without getting caught and you try to do it in such a way that isn’t noticeable.  I thought that was very cool because it is the truth.  You really can’t do anything that hasn’t been done before so you just have to try to do it in your own way. 

DMN – And finally, anything that you would like to say to your fans?

JL – Yeah.  For the fans, we love you guys.  Keep on coming out to the Black Stone Cherry shows and we will keep on coming out after we play and we will hang out with you guys till they shove us out the doors.  That’s what we do after every show.  We always go out and shake hands, sign babies and do whatever we have to do to make the fans feel a part of it because they are.  If it wasn’t for the fans, there is no point in us even being there.  And for all the musicians who are Black Stone Cherry fans out there, we all range in ages from 21 to 24.  We are all a bunch of kids.  We signed our contract about a year and a half ago and we’ve been living it up since then.  We are going to keep on doing that.  There is no reason if you play that you can’t do it.  Just keep doing it and never give up. 

DMN - Thank's Jon for taking the time to conduct this interview with us.  As always, continued success, good health and rip it up my friend!!    

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