Henry Paul on the Outlaws’ ‘Legacy Live': Exclusive Interview and Video Premiere
The Outlaws recorded some of the freshest Southern rock of the 1970s, with radio favorites like "There Goes Another Love Song," "Green Grass and High Tides" and "Ghost Riders in the Sky." Nov. 18 will mark the release of Legacy Live, a two-disc collection of 20 of their best songs performed in concert.
Guitarist and lead singer Henry Paul was born in Kingston, N.Y.; his family moved to Tampa, Fla. when he was a boy. In 1972, Paul co-founded the Outlaws in Tampa with guitarist Hughie Thomasson, bassist Frank O'Keefe and drummer Monte Yoho. When Billy Jones joined the band in 1973, the "Florida Guitar Army" was born.
The band has endured for 40 years despite the deaths of O’Keefe and Jones in 1995 and Thomasson in 2007. Determined to maintain the Outlaws' hard-rockin' reputation earned on hundreds of stages across the country, Paul and Yoho put together the tightly-meshed sextet of players who form the Outlaws today. Paul tells Ultimate Classic Rock that he took an unexpected detour on the way to success in Southern rock.
Most fans probably don't know you spent some early years playing in New York's Greenwich Village.
I moved up there in 1970 and got my own little studio apartment in the West Village between Washington Square and Sixth Avenue. I was writing a lot of songs that wound up on the first couple of records. I was learning how to do it. I was living by myself and I had a lot of time to sit with a guitar in my room and work on writing songs.
I would play the Café Wha?, or I would go down to the Gaslight and play. They would have a night where everybody could just get up and play a couple of songs. Or I would play Folk City. I just communed with a lot of dreamers and singers and young people that were there doing the same thing.
How did the Outlaws develop the Florida Guitar Army sound?
I was a rhythm guitar player and a singer, and I was a frontman. I was not an instrumentalist; I was not a lead guitar player. [Jones] was a little bit of everything, and he and Huey had played together before. There was a chemistry between them, and Huey was excited about being with him and working with him.
That's where the Allman Brothers musical personality came from, those two guys. All of us were really enamored by the record Idlewild South and eventually Brothers and Sisters. I think when Dickey Betts took more of a singer's role in the group, the character of the Allman Brothers seemed to tip to my favor.
Listen to the Outlaws Perform 'Green Grass and Hide Tides'
They were all harmony-centered bands. Did that influence the sound of the Outlaws?
Exactly. We were students of those groups. We were always Byrds and Springfield fans. And we grew up in high school with those bands hovering over our musical sensibilities. And so we adopted some of the stylistic issues that they represented. When music stopped being Bobby Rydell and started being the Searchers, when Bobby Vinton disappeared and the Animals – that time period where vocal bands started to appear, guitar-driven vocal groups.
And so I think the Outlaws were a hybrid of the California harmony-vocal pop groups and the Allman Brothers, twin lead guitars in a harmony realm. So, we wrote songs and we crafted this musical personality. It was timely. We were in the right place at the right time with the right sound.
On the new album, what is your approach when performing live versions of original studio cuts?
You have somewhat different musical personalities in place. These people over the years have been in and out of this band and know the musical personality and can assimilate what that personality represents.
When I put "There Goes Another Love Song" or "Freeborn Man" or "Green Grass and High Tides" or "Song in the Breeze" or "Hurry Sundown," "Gunsmoke," all these songs, there's a musical roadmap to what they were as studio records. And we are faithful, from signature guitar licks, and faithful to the original versions from an arrangement standpoint.
Now, there's room to expand on that a little, which we do. But the Outlaws' fan base has grown up listening to this music. And they have it deeply ingrained in their consciousness. They know as much about our music or more than we do. And if you serve them up some free-form, jazzy, experimental, unfamiliar version of what they're used to hearing they will, and understandably so, reject it.
And so these guys stay close to home from the standpoint of the original musical concept. They play it really hard, they sell it emotionally – and we invest a great deal of ourselves, energy-wise, into this performance. And honestly, it's the exact same performance method that we employed as younger people 40 years ago. For whatever reason, what we did 40 years ago, we still do today and it still works in the exact same way.
Listen to the Outlaws Perform 'There Goes Another Love Song'
Let's talk about some of the references in your new lyric video, "It's About Pride." Besides the band members themselves, why did you reference bands like the Allman Brothers?
I think that the phenomenon of Southern rock, whether it's Marshall Tucker, Charlie Daniels, Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Outlaws – are all disciples of the Allman Brothers. We're all footnotes to their musical effort. And the culture that was created around the Allman Brothers – and it's a difficult culture to define or explain, but it had to do with the period graphics from the Civil War. They would refer to their tour as a campaign, much the same way you would in military tactics.
And there'd be cannons and there'd be Confederate flags and there would be all of these marijuana leaves. All of a sudden, it was redneck hippie rock. It was organic and earthy, and it had whiskey as a national beverage. It was very much cultural and sociological. And the kids that were fans would wear Frye boots and hats and they'd come with half-pints of Jack Daniel's. They were buying into this imagery of being a Southerner and being a rebel. Being a part of something that was significantly different than suburban New Jersey.
It was kind of like cowboys and Indians, and the music was significant in its character. It was important in its message: "Ramblin' on My Mind" by Marshall Tucker or "Workin' for MCA," "Sweet Home Alabama" – I mean, right then and there, it was lights out. It was "Oh yeah, we are our own people. F--- everybody in California. We're our own musical army of like-minded messengers." Everybody had their own subtle take on what that message was. And it was Jerry Jeff Walker and Michael [Martin] Murphy and the Texas thing and Willie [Nelson] and Waylon [Jennings] and all of that. It was kinetic, but it was organic and counter-cultural.
I swear, we tromped right into that muddy mess, and loved it all the way up to our ears.
Do you notice a lack of pride in the current crop of musicians?
I think it had to do with the time. Since then, the Confederate flag has grown to mean something considerably different. And it has been folded up and put away. Everybody steers clear of it, because we've grown to understand that for some people and for the time that it was relevant to the United States historical profile, it was a very hurtful moment. And it promoted an unacceptable and violent and vicious segment of our national profile and past.
The innocence of the Confederate flag meaning, "Hey, we're from the South, this is our rebel flag and we're all rebels." Nobody was goin,' "We hate black people and we want slavery." There wasn't any of that going on in our minds. It didn't mean that – but because of the hate groups, it ruined it.
Southern rock in the '70s swept every corner of the country. Is its popularity more regional today or will you tour coast to coast?
It is more regional. All music is that way. It's weird. The Outlaws can play very strong in the Northeast. They can play very strong in the Midwest. They can play very strong in Florida. But because the band didn't continue to tour in a significant form and fashion, and its career profile did not sustain these grandiose musical journeys to the West Coast, the Outlaws fan base there sort of petrified. While we have fans that cover the entire country, Canada, England and Europe, the depth of that fan base I think is a little on the thinner side. And maybe a little bit on the indifferent side from the standpoint of commitment to a show. We just don't play that much in the West, and I remember us being very popular there.
When you're on, when it's your time, you can play everywhere but eventually towns like Memphis or Jackson, Miss. or New Orleans, Birmingham, Ala., they just go away. You don't go there. You go where you're wanted and you go where you can do business, and you go there and you do the best job you can.
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