"I tried very hard on these songs to keep it as country as I could," says Chuck Courtenay of his new EP
Good Side of This Bar.
A Savannah native and a familiar performer on our stages, Courtenay has kept his music rooted in hardcore country for the better part of 20 years. This despite the fact that he's a versatile writer, singer and guitarist who's equally at home in the acoustic singer/songwriter genre, doing a lot of the soul–searching, finger–picking James Taylor–type material at his frequent solo gigs.
That stuff's all well and good, and Courtenay's vulnerability–tinged baritone is perfectly suited for putting it across. But he does those gigs to pay the bills.
When he was a teenager, he gave his heart to country music.
"We would listen to Hank Williams Jr. and David Allan Coe," Courtenay explains. "I learned all those songs, and it kind of stuck. And people said 'You sing country good.' You know, I liked the Beatles, and Drivin N Cryin and all that other music, but country was what I was comfortable with and what I enjoyed doing."
Courtenay's father, Chuck Sr., was a popular rockabilly–style piano player in Savannah in the 1970s and '80s. Chuck and his younger brother Jason used to get onstage and sing a couple of tunes with Dad's piano–and–drums act, Chuck and Bonnie.
The boys eventually went to live in South Florida with their mom and stepfather, a foreman on a 10,000–acre cattle ranch. There — via nonstop rural radio — Courtenay got indoctrinated into the ways and means of Waylon, Willie, Haggard, Twitty and Cash. The real deal.
When he moved back to Savannah, his hero was tall Texan George Strait.
"I started out with a drum machine, a cowboy hat and a big George Strait belt buckle," he chuckles. "I'd hit the sequencer and I'd play 'Polk Salad Annie' and jump around. I had to be just really bad at the time, but I was probably a decent singer. I had a big following and I got away with it."
With Jason, he formed the Courtenay Brothers Band, and rocked the country (and rock 'n' roll) clubs hard. A brief, unhappy defection to the real world (he went back to school to learn how to sell home mortgages) convinced him that music — and specifically country music — was what he really wanted to make his life's work.
In the past few years, the Chuck Courtenay Band has played hundreds of gigs around the Southeast, opened for country headliners, and become the killer go–to closer at mass events like the Beaufort Water Festival.
Good Side of the Bar, which was produced in Nashville by Dave McAfee, Toby Keith's longtime drummer, and producer of Jamey Johnson's Grammy–nominated That Lonesone Song, was created as a sort of calling card. To get Courtenay further down his desired road.
Courtenay and the band will celebrate its release with a CD Release Show Saturday, March 2 at Saddle Bags.
It's a solid (and very consciously radio–friendly) set of songs that showcase this young performer's versatility on a cross–section of contemporary country styles.
"I'd love to get a song on the radio, and travel and play bigger venues," Courtenay says. "When I look back, I've come far yet I don't realize it. As an artist I'm just scratching along and moving, 'How can I get further?'"
He thought it might happen with his 2010 full–length, Different Man. But it didn't. These days, Courtenay isn't terribly proud of the low–budget album, which was produced by the pedal steel player from his band.
"It's a steel guitar album with me singing on it, is what it is," he laughs. "But we got a lot of mileage out of it. I took that little CD and I traveled all over with it.
"It was good for what it was. But this one is my chance to make people listen. It's modern enough, and commercial enough, but it's not Taylor Swift commercial."
In March, Courtenay will take Good Side of this Bar back to Nashville, where he plans to shop for a management deal. After that — between performance dates — he hopes to write, or co–write, six or seven songs for another album.
Chuck Courtenay is ambitious and hard–working. Combine that with his natural talent and showmanship, and you've got what those in the biz call a triple–threat.
"I'm making a living playing music and I couldn't be happier," he beams. "I'm just not satisfied. I love working, man, it's like a drug. I just want more."
Here it comes
All hail the coming of The Rapture, an evening of electronic and experimental music from some of our city's finest and freshest, March 1 (Friday) at the Starland Dairy, 2521 Bull St. It's a multi–media music and art event brainstormed by artist Jon Taylor, and it's going to be like nothing Savannah has ever experienced.
Performers include Men Smash Atoms, a new "industrial opera" collaboration from Nicodemus and Anitra (perhaps the coolest creative provocateurs in Savannah); Electric Grandma, the electronic nom de studio of Word of Mouth's Lucia Garcia; Ross Fish (the sound installation A Breath of Fresh Air) and DJ Ede Gee.
Add to this a video installation by Jagrut Raval and more happenings being dreamed up as we speak.
Showtime is 8 p.m., admission is $5, and it's ages 18 and up. There's a Rapture Facebook page with info, links and other pertinent stuff.