Nashville, TN J. Roddy Walston and the Business (JRWATB) is an American rock band based in Richmond, Virginia. The band was formed in 2002 in Cleveland, Tennessee by J. Roddy Walston (vocals/piano/guitar). The Business now consists of Billy Gordon (lead guitar/vocals), Logan Davis (bass/vocals) and Steve Colmus (drums). The band is known for their energetic live shows and Walston’s pounding style of playing the piano. Cleveland, Tennessee is the town where I am from. I knew Roddy Walston as a kid. My husband even taught him in Sunday School.
So how did he go from being a kid from East Tennessee to being the lead singer in one of the most iconic Rock Bands of the 21st century? It turns out that Roddy Walson’s maternal grandmother, Charlcie Harris Roddy, was a honky-tonk/gospel piano player/musician. She taught Roddy how to play piano and guitar, but was often dismayed at his attempts to learn rock and roll. She was an accomplished singer/piano player. She had a trio with two of her sisters, Hazel and Lucy but then they had a “classic country fallout” as Roddy explained and she went out on her own. Being ahead of her time, she had a tape deck where she recorded and dubbed multiple tracks so she could make her recordings singing all the parts by herself.
The original line-up of the band was convened in Walston’s hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee, after a demo tape he recorded in his basement beat out 350 contenders to win a showcase on a national festival. Shortly before the festival, the band released Here Come Trouble, a seven-song EP recorded in the living room of the house Walston and his bandmates were renting. In November 2009, Walston and the Business signed to Los Angeles-based Vagrant Records, via a partnership with Fairfax Recordings. Lead single “Don’t Break The Needle” was used in the opening credits of the movie Contraband. In the song, “Don’t Break the Needle” which was recorded in Sirius Studios for their Loft station without a live audience, you can really see the talent of the band. However, the live version at Newport Music Hall in Columbus, Ohio is so much better than the studio recording. The fans are everything. One fan accurately described it as, “Jerry Lee Lewis sitting in with LED Zeppelin.” “Don’t Break the Needle,” “Pigs and Pearls” and “Brave Man’s Death” was also used in the MTV reality series “Caged.”
After signing with ATO Records in 2013, Essential Tremors was released in September and was followed by a nationwide “Holler and Moan” tour including a show at both weekends of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Their most iconic popular song to date is “Heavy Bells” from the Essential Tremors record. Although there are many interpretations, the words appear to reflect that regardless of their upbringing, rock n roll/metal music is just a part of their DNA. Parents may not approve of the kind of music you to listen to, but once you fall in love with rock and roll, you can’t end it. Fan Ellyssa Meyers wrote, “These guys took rock and roll, threw it in a deep fryer, added nitrous oxide and Jack, tied it to a bottle rocket and lit it with a highway flare!”
Another hit from the Essential Tremors album was one of my personal favorites, “Take It As It Comes” talks about just going with the flow. This music is all the stuff they know and you just have to make do with what life gives you. J Roddy said he wrote it so people so people could dance to it. To JRWATB, fans are the fuel that feeds their souls.
In 2015, the Ascend Amphitheater opened on the Cumberland River just off lower Broadway in Nashville. Eric Church was the initial performer. Not only would Church perform, JRWATB opened the show. The very first band EVER to play at Ascend Amphitheater was J Roddy Walston and the Business. And they did not disappoint. Roddy made his home state proud.
The fourth LP by JRWATB, Destroyers of the Soft Life was released in September of 2017 pursued a brighter, more nuanced sound that teased out the band’s latent pop sensibilities without skimping on energy or attitude. Instead of the raucous bombast that JRWATB manifested on their breakout hit album Essential Tremors, Roddy had certain rules he was determined to follow on Destroyers of the Soft Life. One was: “Speak/sing clearly, no hiding behind mumbles.” JRWATB played “The Wanting” from Destroyers of the Soft Life on Conan in 2017. It is deep and personal and authentic without really caring what other people think. “Even though it is a dark song with a brutal ending, I find hope and beauty in the idea of these two people that had a shared sense of both regret and longing for each other,” Roddy explains.
On Essential Tremors, JRWATB inspired pangs of joy in music fans that yearn for the days of Bob Seger and early Bruce Springsteen. But when Walston returned home from touring in 2015 and began contemplating his next move, he no longer felt the same connection to that classic-rock sound. “Loud rock and roll music has become less relevant because it’s just been on a loop,” he says. “If there was any rule on this record, it was, let’s be a part of music right now. I want to be part of living music at this moment.” When I asked what he meant by ‘being in the present,’ Roddy responded, “Being the present means it’s a little proactive something and a little anti something else. I think that nostalgia [rock and roll] as being exact copies of something else which makes it not really important anymore. [Rock] is sort of silly and a joke now to some extent. It’s like fashion that’s redone. The loop is getting tighter and tighter where bands keep copying the old stuff and now people are copying what was five years ago, which wasn’t even its own thing then. It’s sort of the diminishing returns of recycling stuff that I just don’t care about.”
Roddy countered, “The pro side is I do actually have memories of bands who were new and proactive who even sounded a little bit nostalgic. It was powerful. When I was a teenager, I got to own something. If I liked a band that was a little bit anonymous, they may not be in a record store. I would have to drive to Atlanta or contact the label and send a check from my parents’ bank account to get their record. Back then, there was a real value to the music. You didn’t share your record with anyone. Today, everyone has everyone’s record immediately and in a way, it has devalued the music.”
Roddy Walston literally built his own recording studio in Richmond, Virginia. Some people have advised him to rent it out to make extra money. “I’ve had moments where passion has turned into my job couple times but so far haven’t gotten to the point where I want [the studio] to be a place where it’s a money maker or a rental property that I’m in charge of. The suffering and sweat [of having your own studio] is part of the whole deal.”
Like many artists today, the band plays their own music. When I asked about the process of writing music, Roddy explained that there are documentaries about people and their processes. “They have tricks or tools or even a snag and they get around it. My main process or role is if it’s really happening it can be kind of a detriment to the relationships of family or whatever. I will call my wife and say ‘I can’t make it home right now because it’s going.’ That’s my one process that if it’s really flowing, you have to keep going because you might not ever again come to that wavelength.” (Wife Sarah Kate Walston is an accomplished soprano from Richmond, Virginia.)
Roddy continued, “Ego has no place in songwriting. It means if you are in a room where you are working on something and someone throws out a good part but it may be the thing that holds up the song, so you’ve got to let it go. Songwriting can be inspirational where a muse comes and taps you on the shoulder and says do this thing and someone says, ‘We’re on vacation, you can’t work on that.’ It’s a miserable day for me. Now I am a husband and a father and my priorities have changed. But even during the holidays, there was this one day where I said, “This is happening, I’ve got to do it.” And it’s this kind of drive attracts the most loyal fan base ever.
J Roddy Walston and the Business recently rocked the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, Though somewhat more subdued than when they were at Ascend, when Roddy and the band get on stage, they are transformed. The more the crowd gets into the music, the more alive they become. Even if the lyrics to the songs may sound obscure to us, they definitely resonate with his fans. And their fans are different than the regular rowdy country music crowds that I normally see. JRWATB fans are purposeful and present just like the J Roddy Walston and the Business would expect them to be. And even though JRWATB kind of give off this “anti-nostalgia” vibe, their music will continue to be played long after they are done.