Caleb Warren, ragtime rumble slingin’, guitar pickin’, Dixieland lovin’ purveyor of old-time dance hall tunes with a maniacal modern twist, along with his polite partners in crime, The Perfect Gentlemen (and lady) [Colt Bowen – percussion; Dave Aitken – lead guitar/banjo; Jenna Mobley – fiddle; Robert Green – trumpet; and Ian Blanton – upright bass] will be raisin’ a riotous ruckus at Mac McGee Irish Pub in historic Roswell this Saturday, August 15, at 9 pm! And if that isn’t enough, you’ll get a second and third hoppin’ helping of their juke joint jamboree at The Earl on Aug. 22, and a tail feather shakin’ good time with the band at the sensational ‘n’ seedy Clermont Lounge on Oct. 8!
Caleb hails from Chattanooga and has a hankerin’ for the tunes of yesteryear. Although heavily influenced by Western swing, gypsy jazz, ragtime and Dixieland blues, Caleb Warren and The Perfect Gentlemen (The Gents) have proven time and again their ability to tell relevant tales to the melodies of the past. The Gents have shared bills with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, “First Lady of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Billy Joe Shaver and more! Their self-recorded/self-released EP, “The River” was released in 2014, followed by their new single “Hoke Poole Stomp”/“Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia.” And if you’re cravin’ a whole lot more from these rowdy folks, don’t fret! The Gents and are in the works on their first full-length album, so keep your ears peeled!
ATLRetro caught up with Caleb for a quick interview about whiskey ‘n’ women, The Gents’ flair for old-timey janglin’ jingles; his retro influences; and his love of Lefty Frizzell! And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Caleb, get an earful of Caleb Warren and the Perfect Gentlemen’s new single “Hoke Poole Stomp”/“Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia.”
ATLRetro: Caleb Warren and the Perfect Gentlemen’s sound has been described as coming straight out of the land of vaudeville, speakeasies, juke joints – all spiced up with that janglin’ ragtime Dixieland ‘n’ western swing, while “finding a place for the past in the present.” How important is it to resurrect the past to tell the stories of today?
Caleb Warren: Absolutely! I think being able to pay homage to the music that we love and the music that inspires us while telling the stories of today and connecting with the folks who are listening is not only an extremely important aspect of what we do, but an honor as well. The music we’re making today is hopefully a modern representation of some of the most pure forms of American music with our own twist, and if it weren’t for the pioneers of Western swing, country blues, gypsy jazz, Dixieland, ragtime, and blues, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing today.
Any interesting stories to tell our readers about your musical upbringing, or when you became interested in playing music?
When I was just a wee lad (haha) my grandfather, “Pops” or “Papa” to me, owned an alternator repair shop near Atlanta. He loved his work. He also had a love of honkytonk and classic country. Some of his favorites were Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams Sr. and George Jones. I can distinctly remember sitting at the kitchen table of my grandparents’ home (the same home my dad grew up in) as a 12-year-old who wanted to learn anything and everything that I could about music, playing guitar, classic country and old gospel hymns from my grandfather.
As a result, when I sit down at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee or a glass of whiskey (depending on the time of day), that’s where some of my most introspective and personal writing happens. In my late teens I strayed a bit from my roots as a musician and was in a few bands that were a little louder and a little heavier, but eventually found my way back to making the music that is, for lack of a better way to put it, “In my blood.” All that to say, I’ve always been interested in playing music. It just took me a little while to find and settle into what musically feels like “home”.
We see that you (Caleb) hail from Chattanooga, a once thriving ragtime, bluegrass ‘n’ Dixieland swingin’ musical haven. How much of an influence did Chattanooga have on your current musical endeavors?
I do live in Chattanooga and it’s a wonderful city, but I wrote the songs we’re playing today while living in and around Atlanta as well as the mountains of north Georgia. Chattanooga is an amazing city centered around the Tennessee River and for whatever reason, there’s something about rivers and bodies of water that are extremely inspiring and seem to almost pull songs out of me. The extremely rich musical history in Chattanooga as far as the blues are concerned is pretty amazing! It’s the home of Bessie Smith and the Chattanooga Choo Choo!
What is it about whiskey, women and woeful misfortune that influence musicians, especially those of the old-time variety, to pour out their soul in front of the masses?
I feel like there’s a certain simple honesty and light-heartedness in a lot of the music we make that affords us the opportunity to write and
play songs that are fitting for the nights when you just want to have a good time, dance and forget about your troubles. On the other hand, this music lends itself really well to being able to tell some of the most heart-wrenching and deeply personal stories. Stories that might be autobiographical, might be about my best friend, or could be a declaration of love for a certain someone. I definitely feel like that’s one of the most beautiful and amazing things about this type of music. It’s made for telling stories. Good, bad, or otherwise.
We see that you’ve shared a bill with rock ‘n’ roll pioneer and “First Lady of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson. How exciting! Can you tell our readers a little about that experience?
It was a great experience! We got to see so much great music and share a bill with some pretty amazing names like Jim Lauderdale, Strung Like a Horse, Reverend Horton Heat, Lindi Ortega and Hot Club of Cowtown. It’s humbling to have our name on the same bill as those folks, Wanda Jackson included!
Who would you say are your top three old-timey musical influences and why?
Oh man! This is a tough one! Geez! I would have to say that Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies is a band that never ceases to inspire me. The swing that they have as a band just blows my mind, the rhythm section is so solid, and the lead players are top notch. Those fellas along with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys were instrumental (no pun intended) in making Western swing and country blues a form of popular music fifty years ago and the fact that those tunes are relatable and relevant today is, I think, a testament to how much fun that music is and how well-written those songs are.
Lefty Frizzell is one of my absolute favorites. I’m a bit partial to Lefty because my grandfather was a huge fan, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Lefty Frizzell had one of the most amazing voices in the history of country music. You immediately know when you’re listening to one of his songs. I’m not sure there’s much more to say about that one.
Also, Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans is one of the first bands that really opened the door to all of this wonderful music for me. I can’t go a day without getting at least one Pres. Hall tune stuck in my head. The folks in that band are, to this day, teaching the newest generation of young musicians the traditions of New Orleans music and to me that is wildly inspirational!
Your newly-released single, “Hoke Poole Stomp”/”Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia,” was recorded live at the home of your fiddler, Jenna Shea Mobley. Can you tell our readers why you chose to record live and what sets this single apart from your EP, “The River”, self-recorded/released in 2014?
Of course! With the single, we really wanted to capture the feel and energy of a live performance and instead of going the route of tracking
live in a studio, we decided to do something a little bit different and track the whole thing like one of the Alan Lomax field recordings of the ‘40s where they would set up in a hotel room or a living room and just put songs to tape. It was kind of a way of paying homage to the folks who paved the way for bands like us. We had our good friend, Mr. Tony Terrebonne engineer and mix those tunes. Our lovely Ms. Mobley was kind enough to let us take over her (entire) house for the day and track those tunes as well.
Our EP, “The River” was recorded and mixed by our drummer, Mr. Colt Bowen at his home studio in Adairsville, Ga. We spent quite a good bit of time recording that one and making sure it was exactly what we wanted to give folks as a first impression of The Gents and we couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.
That’s a bit of a round-about way of telling you that the two recordings are totally different from one another, they represent two very different times in our progression as a band, and we are extremely happy to have been able to put our name on two completely different, but stellar recordings. Colt and Tony are both wizards when it comes to engineering. We’re lucky to have those fellas around, and even more lucky to be able to call them our friends.
If you could put together a dream line-up of musicians to play with [still around or not], who would it be and why?
Freddy Mercury, Ray Charles and Robert Plant sharing vocal duties; Big Bill Broonzy and Merle Travis on guitar; Willie Dixon on upright bass; Bix Beiderbecke on coronet; Fats Waller on piano; guest appearance by Django Reinhardt on lead guitar and “La Pompe” for a song or two. Why? Because, seriously. Think about that band for just a second. I wouldn’t play in that band. I’d sit down at the table right in front of the stage with all The Gents and a glass of great whiskey. I’d smile, laugh, chuckle, give a thumbs up, make a joke that wasn’t all that funny, buy a round for everyone in the bar, and then I’d enjoy the show! My dream lineup of musicians to play some tunes with? The fellas (and gal) in our band.
What can ATLReaders expect to experience at your upcoming shows at Mac McGee (Aug. 15), The Earl (Aug. 22) and The Clermont Lounge (Oct. 8)? Should they bring their dancin’ shoes? Anything special planned?
You can definitely expect to have a hell of a time and, yes, dancing shoes are a requirement for every show. I might even get off the stage and cut a rug with you! Special plans? There’s a possibility that you might see a singer playing an upright bass solo at The Earl…Also, isn’t any time spent at the Clermont special?
What’s next for Caleb Warren and the Perfect Gentlemen?
Definitely more shows, new cities, more writing and starting work on our first full-length album. We have some great things to look forward to in the next six months or so!
Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about Caleb Warren and the Perfect Gentlemen?
Thank you! Thank you for listening to our music, coming out to shows and for supporting this band of ours. You folks are one of the main reasons we do what we do and you make all the work we put into these songs so worth it.
What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?
Q: What is the band’s favorite food?
A: Dude! Avocado (Guacamole counts), grilled chicken, bacon, bell peppers, pizza with all of the aforementioned foods as toppings, and if you really want to find the way to Uncle Buttermilk’s (Dave) heart, a damn good cheeseburger should do the trick.