Meet Garage DeLuxe
Working hard to be your new favorite band
BROTHERS IN ARMS: Garage DeLuxe’s line-up makes for a full sound and crowded stage.
Where one door closes, another opens. It happened last summer when Traffic keyboardist and ‘80s hit-maker Steve Winwood cancelled his much-anticipated appearance at Sundown in the City in Market Square due to a death in his guitarist’s family. The cancellation occurred abruptly with little notice before the Thursday night show. Crowds for the concert series in previous weeks had reached a reported 10,000 or more, and a similarly sizable group was expected for the Grammy-winning member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
As news of Winwood’s change of plans spread, the names of various locally accessible bands were bandied about in offices and on message boards but nowhere more actively than at AC Entertainment, who would either call off the show or find a replacement band to take the stage.
While phones were ringing off the hook in other parts of town, J.C. Haun was sleeping through the activity. “I got about 37 calls when I finally woke up at 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” he recalls with a smile. The former guitarist in Left Foot Down and Limit 9 didn’t expect to be so in-demand, particularly in response to the one-night-only Allman Brothers tribute show he and some musical cohorts had enacted the month before at Blue Cats.
“I’d been calling AC wondering if they needed a fill-in,” says John Montgomery, Haun’s partner in crime in that one-offshow and Left Foot Down, a groovy Southern rock band that ruled the local scene a few years ago. Montgomery wasn’t sure of his chances, but he made the call. “Every band in Knoxville was calling,” he says.
Haun and Montgomery were possibly as surprised as anybody that AC wanted them to recreate their Allman Brothers tribute for the throng of classic rock lovers who were expected on the Square in a matter of hours.
“I guess they thought the whole ‘70s vibe would be the cool thing to do,” Montgomery suggests. Fortuitously, every player involved in the cover gig was available, and, despite not having rehearsed, they recreated the rambling rock jam on the Sundown stage in front of thousands of people. The positive energy between the players and the audience was undeniable, and it begged an obvious question: Where should they go from here?
“That’s when we decided, well, if everybody’s game, let’s try and create a new band,” says Montgomery, who, since Left Foot Down disbanded had started his own group, Jomo, and played with the bluegrass outfit Roddy Branch.
Starting a new band was distinctly familiar territory for all players involved. Keyboardist and chief songwriter Stevie Jones is an alum of LFD and Limit 9, which included drummer Andrew Bryant. Bassist Aram Takvoryan and percussionist Jon Whitlock also know their way around the scene.
“Everybody in the band has been in a band that has traveled, has cut albums, and they’ve all been two or three or four years down the road with a band and really getting it going,” says Montgomery. “When you’re first starting out, everybody knows where you’re going to get, and they want to get there now . We’ve really had to make sure we didn’t take off and go too fast…because we could get out on the road and have gigs every weekend and have the same set and no rehearsal time. And we’d burn ourselves out in no time.”
Instead of being jaded by a “been there, done that” attitude, the members of Garage DeLuxe are using their past experiences to set the pace and establish goals. Haun, a laid-back guy with a distinct North Carolina drawl, peppers his speech with business-like words such as “market” and “network.”
“It’s music and I love it, but there’s a business side that you have to follow if you want to do it,” he says. “Because this is what I want to do for the rest of my life; there’s no doubt about that.”
The band has played a few shows in Nashville and nearby cities, and in October will start a three-month, Tuesday-night residency at Barley’s. “Playing live is really what makes a band good,” Montgomery says. “If we play that many shows in a row, we feel like it’ll help our stage presence and getting to know each other and everything else.” More out-of-town gigs will follow, as well as a debut CD.
Garage DeLuxe (the “L” is capitalized “just for the hell of it,” says Montgomery) has spent its first year trying to establish itself as a distinct entity away from the Allman Brothers cover thing.
“It’s kind of a joke now,” says Haun.
“Of course, it labeled us as the Southern jam band in Knoxville,” Montgomery adds, admitting he plays his share of slide guitar. “We’re trying to get away from that. Most of our shows are a little bit improv-based, but we’re trying to make it more of a straight-ahead rock band.”
Definitely filed under the Southern rock label, Garage DeLuxe shares an affinity with Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes, and even hints of Queen. But a jam band they are not.
“Our originals aren’t 7-, 12-, 14-minute long songs,” Haun concurs. “We’re rock.”
What: Garage DeLuxe