Tool Shedding with ROCK-N-COUNTRY: (Best Country Band, 2006 Review Music Awards)

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature, Review Music Awards,   From Issue 625   By: Robert E Martin

02nd November, 2006     0

Of all the musical styles that permeate the landscape, it is often said that Country is the 'peoples music', not only for its accessibility but also more importantly, because of the way it touches feelings & emotions of the common man.

Not that there is anything 'common' about Rock -N-Country.  Performing a dynamic mix of modern country that also incorporates elements of Rock and Funk, these relative newcomers were able to garner a total of six awards at the Review's 20th Annual Music Awards ceremony back in May, pulling off a first by collectively willing both Best Country Band and Country Rookie of the Year categories, while also pulling honors as the Country Band Deserving Wider Recognition.

Individual honors went to Matt Kramer (Best Country Drummer) and guitarist Leonard Miller, while the group's lead singer, Jim Burkhardt was named Country Musician Deserving Wider Recognition. Rounding out the sound of this dynamic quartet is bassist Chuck Lund.

What makes the story of Rock-N-Country so unique is the fact that they adhere so strongly to core values of hard work and musical discipline.  While the group formed back in 2001, the current incarnation has performed together for approximately 18 months, cutting their chops on material ranging from classic & contemporary Country, to classic rock, oldies, soul and dance music. By forging a versatility to their sound, they've been able to make their way into a divergent array of gigs, ranging from saloons & clubs to lodges, weddings, and private parties, drawing more and more people into their ever-expanding fan-base.

"It all began for me back when I was 16-years old and my mom took me to see this great band called The Country Knights," explains Burkhardt. "I became good friends with the lead guitar player, Tim Raleigh, and he basically 'broke me in' on playing the guitar. Consequently, I started playing at home and kept following the band for five or six years. Eventually, I wanted to start my own band, so got hold of Chuck. We put ads up to get a drummer and lead player, started pounding the streets, and eventually formed the Rock-N-Country band.  It's grown a lot over the last year and is something I've always wanted to do. I'm fortunate to know a bunch of talented musicians that showed me how to do it."

"When I met Jim, he said he played in a country band and asked if I was interested in working more," adds Matt. "I'd never really played in a country band before, but have worked everything from jazz to blues and mostly rock. But the thing that drew me to this group is that it offered something different for me. Apart from a new challenge, I could see the potential of it going somewhere."

Leonard Miller is a Detroit native, claiming he knew he was destined to pursue the guitar when he saw Jimmy Page in concert. Apart from listing Deep Purple & Jethro Tull as key influences, a pivotal attraction to the Grateful Dead bent his ear toward Country music.

"Mainly, I started guitar at the age of 14 and was into Zeppelin, Sabbath, and hyped-up blues," he reflects. "Towards the end of the '80s I turned 20 and moved out of the house and figured I needed something to do, only I thought the music scene was getting weird. With all the Alternative music happening, it seemed that the guitarist had become a shadow in the band. But when I started listening to the Grateful Dead in the '90s, that turned me on to Country in a major way."

"About 18 months ago, I was trying to figure what to do musically, when Tim approached me," he continues. "I was a bit hesitant because of my job and family commitments and trying to find a perfect situation where I could play a lot but not gig every weekend. Either you work a lot and are good, or don't work and are not that committed, so I wanted the best of both worlds. I decided to give it a shot and it was the best decision I could have made."        

Indeed, with regular 'day' jobs - social worker, maintenance man, special education teacher, and hardware clerk - all members agree the security takes away the pressure of performing for a living, which only makes the creation of their music a more rewarding and pleasurable experience.

When asked about the chemistry in the band that created such an outpouring of votes this year leading to so many honors at the 20th Music Awards, Tim is mystified.

"I don't know what it is, whether it's the way we act and present ourselves, or if it's simply the music," he admits. "We joke around a bit, play our music good, but I think it's the way we connect with the crowd. Whether we have 10 or 200 people listening, we get their attention. People just like us musically and emotionally, probably because we give off a warm feeling. People like us and pay attention, but we are versatile enough to suit whatever crowd is there, and we always respect the crowd. We can play AC/DC and then if older people are in the crowd, turn around and play a Hank Williams, Sr. song."

"We're user friendly," concurs Matt. "We don't strive to be above peoples' heads. I think that's an important part of it. We want to be part of everybody else and have fun with the audience, as opposed to just playing to an audience."

"It's a job," admits Leonard, "but we're there to make people have a good time. Part of  being a successful band is not just going after a paycheck. You need to get involved with the crowd.  I don't know many bands that can go from Buddy Holly and Rockabilly to AC/DC and then to Johnny Cash."

"People say we have a certain style and sound, but I've always gone for that," continues the guitarist. "Through the '80s everything was fast and furious with a lot of processed sound, but I didn't like it. What I focused upon was the sound of those great guitarists of the sixties & seventies that had style and soul to their music - people like Duane Allman."

"My love of music has helped a lot. Matt says he's not really a country drummer, and I'm not really a country guitar player. I won an award for it, but my friends back in Detroit laugh, because it wasn't in the frame of reference. I just try to be unique and this kind of recognition is awesome."

"This is the tightest group of individuals I've had the pleasure of working with," concludes Matt. "I know being in this band has made me personally a better musician. It's exposed me to a different style of music to which I didn't have exposure to before."

Having built a substantial regional following, Rock-N-Country is constantly seeking to expand its base to include other areas of the state. If interested in contacting them for bookings, you can phone James at 989-753-2255 or Matthew at 989-753-2255.


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