Average Joe is back to rock out R.T. Champs
HUNTINGTON -- Below the raised stage at R.T. Champs are the words, "House of Champions," and that surely is the case starting this weekend on that stage where the JBL speakers will be stacked ready for some professionally popped country and classic rocked thunder.
With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the Tri-State super group slyly known as Average Joe is back rocking out at R.T. Champs, the West End nightclub owned by Bud Waugh whose bar hatched Billy Ray Cyrus and Sly Dog just over 20 years ago.
Armed with Sly Dog bassist, Corky Holbrook, who retired from the road, and fronted by Philip Dain Powell, the country rocker who's burned up the indie country Christian charts the last few years, Average Joe also features Keith Lambert, former guitarist and bassist for Ricky Lynn Gregg, Dave Mounts from the legendary Zachariah band, and drummer Jay Frisby, a multi-instrumentalist who has played with the Powell for nearly a decade.
Cover is $3 and the band will be playing Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Mounts, who began playing with Holbrook back in 1977 with the Tri-State band led by the late songwriter and guitarist Mike Murphy, said in a way Average Joe has gotten boiled down to the good stuff -- great music shared among friends with no worries about music industry expectations.
"When Mike got a little older he knew he wasn't going to be famous and he said 'I want to be that little old man at the corner bar just standing there and kicking (expletive)," Mounts said. "We can do things normal people can't and play the way they'll only hear on the concert stage or the radio."
Mounts isn't just talking. Everyone in the band has been there and done that. None more than Holbrook, the gracious, but wise-cracking bassist who Powell joked carries the recipe for dirt in his front pocket he's so old.
Holbrook was playing with Powell at Mill Run in the East End when Powell's drummer Greg Fletcher got a gig with Cyrus' Sly Dog. Holbrook joined Sly Dog, and the band nailed down about eight years at R.T. Champs.
They built a rabid following and such a buzz that industry giants Harold Shedd, Buddy Cannon and Jack McFadden all came to the bar to catch the band that would flip the planet for country in 1992 with "Achy Breaky Heart."
That song and video made "Some Gave All," which has sold more than 20 million copies, the best selling album in the U.S. and one of the most successful debuts in music history.
"It's my last hurrah," said Holbrook, who said it will be 20 years in December when he first hooked up with Cyrus and the band. "Philip and I met back in 1989 or 1990 through Fletch and he is one of the best vocalists I've ever met. I'm a singer, we're all singers, but he's a vocalist, and I couldn't think of anybody I'd rather do a last hurrah with."
When Sly Dog hit the road to tour the world it was Powell, who'd been flirting with major deals in Nashville for years and was signed by Shedd in 1998, that took over for Sly Dog at Champs.
Powell, who first began playing at Jake Finch's when he was all of 14, said there's something special about this West End spot.
Much of that has to do with Waugh, a former national Golden Gloves boxing champ and big-time music fan who has committed much of his life to supporting live music.
"Every band member has had a connection with Bud for the last 30 years, and Bud, in my opinion, has had real insight and has nurtured the bigger level talents and developed those big acts, and there's been some good stuff come out of here over the years," Powell said. "To me Bud is the last of the Mohicans, he supports the local musicians and has always been game for us to try whatever we want to get the crowds."
Ironically, Waugh, whose known for helping nurture Cyrus, is really an old time blues and Dixieland jazz fan, but took one for the team early on to give Tri-Staters what they wanted -- blue-collar, electric-guitar-wailing, Bourbon-stained country rock.
Back in the day when Cyrus' band had about $13,000 of musical gear stolen from a truck outside the bar, Waugh drove them to Mack and Dave's and bought about $15,000 of new equipment.
Filling in after hot, young country act Crisp and Davis left to pursue deeper their songs in Nashville, Average Joe will be taking over weekend runs for a while.
Their set list is stacked with classic rockers that dip into pop, country and funk like "Shaky Ground," "Spooky," "Super Freak," "Can't You See," "Amie," "Walk This Way," and "Save A Horse."
Powell, who in the past couple years charted two No. 1 singles, "Save Me A Place at the Table" and "Give A Little Love" on the Christian Country Charts, said they'll have a big, clean sound system pushing out a lot of styles of music.
"It's pop, rock, country and a lot of classic rock and we have a huge original package too," Powell said. "Here we get a call for a lot of original catalog. A lot of musicians come to see this band, and this bar has always been known for that. If you're a musician, come here and you'll connect and always meet someone looking for a guitar player or singer. It's kind of a melting pot of Tri-State music."
While many bars switch bands every weekend, Champs usually does a band run for about a year or two.
"Consistency builds the house. Bud has taught us that mentality to be consistent and be polite, and this band's really personable," Powell said. "Everyone in the band has their fans, and the bar has its fans, so it's just about being consistent. When you love your fans they'll love you back. I've never seen that fail."
One thing that has never failed so far is that bands and Waugh also do business the old-fashioned way.
"I've never had to have a contract with any band," Waugh said. "It has always been just a handshake and a word, to this day. Billy Ray was here for eight years and there was never a contract."
And there's no need for one now.
"They feel like they are coming home again -- they made it big time and they feel like this is home base," Waugh said with a proud smile on the back porch.
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