Alive and Kickin’

For The Grand Ole Uproar, rock never stopped rolling

We’re trying to make rock ’n’ roll,” The Grand Ole Uproar’s Josh Watson says. That unruly beast has been ailing in recent years, but fortunately there’s still some up-and-coming musicians willing to keep rock off life support, standing it up on its hind legs and roaring.

But the Greensboro band’s singer/guitarist/composer feels that term and that sound aren’t fashionable now. “It has to be called Americana, or something. I feel like rock ’n’ roll is not a cool term now.” But rock never was in fashion. It was always rebellious music, always looked down on, and that, as well as its raucous presentation, was a badge of honor for those who played and lived it.

The Grand Ole Uproar upholds that tradition with pride, their scruffy look and sound a beacon for old souls looking to rock. Watson came to his craft after getting an M.F.A. in creative writing from UNCG in poetry. He knew he wanted to write songs when done with the academics, but got a severe case of intimidation from a recent Nobel Prize winner. “I’d stopped writing because [of] the anxiety of influence of Bob Dylan; you listen to his songs and you go, ‘Why bother? What could I do that’s any better than that?’”

Watson got cured by the Grateful Dead. But it wasn’t their jamminess that attracted him.  What he found so appealing was the eclectic influences they wove into their music. His first efforts were from 2008–10 in the alt-country acoustic duo One Horse Jethro with Emily Stewart. “I wanted to start a band that grew from Waylon Jennings, the Grateful Dead, early electric Dylan. I wanted to go electric.” Watson got his wish with the help of Britt “Snuzz” Uzzell (Majosha, Bus Stop, Ben Folds), who produced the band’s eponymous EP debut, The Grand Ole Uproar, in 2010 and their 2014 follow-up, Good Long Spell, with some vocal assistance from Whiskeytown’s Caitlin Cary.

Over the last six years, the band’s been a musical collective with a constantly shifting roster. Watson and percussionist Jeremy Parker, who favors the cajón, a Peruvian wooden box drum, are mainstays. Bassist Danny Bayer, guitarist Sam Bailey and Wake Clinard, on lap steel, round out the current cast.

“We draw from stuff that was made pretty much from 1978 on back,” Watson says. “The band has been like a countrified Steely Dan. I’ve tried to assemble bands on record I wanted to hear in my head: The Band, the Dead, Little Feat, Allen Toussaint, the Exile [on Main Street]–era Rolling Stones; a gumbo of all the ingredients of rock ’n’ roll.”  OH

— Grant Britt

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