Alabama Music Office.com goes through the door into our studios to interview JK Terrell November 2012. Below is a reprint of an interview I did with JK which was published in Planet Weekly March 2007.
An Interview with J.K. Terrell
by Jerry W. Henry
Do you want to tell us what the J.K. stands for? Most people I tell it stands for Just Kidding! I come from an old southern family that used initials. It stand for James Kenneth. Where are you from? I was born in Birmingham, raised and educated in Mobile, and been in Tuscaloosa a large portion of my life. I’m a true Alabamian. You are a accomplished musician. Where did it all begin? There was always a set of drums in the closet in our house. The failed instruments from one of my brothers. I came from a large family with two brothers and two sisters. There was always a old marching drum in the closet. I would sneak into the closet and beat on it and no one could really hear it. But I think as far as being influenced, it was being lucky enough to be born in the 50’s and surviving the 60’s. I had the joy of listening to Elvis and the Beatles. There was always music in the house. But I am the only one in my family that actually plays an instrument. But everybody in the family loved music. We revered the musicians, they were our role models, more than the athletes of the day. I remember my parents were big fans of Al Hirt and Pete Fountain. They liked that New Orleans kind of jazz that they could dance to. I had big sisters that listened to the 50’s rock and roll from Bill Haley to the Big Bopper. There was a lot of Buddy Holly in our house also. When I came along and could afford to buy 45 RPM records. I bought the Beatles, Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix and all those from the psychedelic age. I was blessed with a family that loved music and loved to dance.
What was your first band? In high school people would get together. I was in a gang down in a certain part of Mobile. We were the first long hairs in our school. We were the first to get instruments and learn to play them. In high school there were eight or nine guys that floated through this house that had a set of drums and guitars. All of us were allowed to play. So it might be three or four guys one day and the next day a whole different group. Some identified with drums, some identified with bass, and some with guitars. The first band that made any money was a band called Full Moon. That was a kind of jazz/blues based band that had one of the original members of Wet Willy named Wick Larsen. Topper Price was a member of that band for a short while. That was the first band that actually got paid and didn’t have to play for beer and pizza. Where did you progress from there? You know the blues was always attractive to a lot of us white boys back in the 70’s. We didn’t live that kind of lifestyle, nor did we witness it. Hearing that beat in the back of psychedelia and being in Mobile which was such a great blues town made for a natural attraction. A lot of great blues bands came through there played places like the Harlem Duke Social Club, the Mardi Gras Club and the black clubs in Pritchard. They would let us come and listen. I can remember Albert King playing there and there were more young white musicians than black folks. Albert liked that because us white boys bought a lot of drinks. We didn’t sit around and nurse one drink all night. We drank a lot and were good tippers. Wanting to play rock and roll influenced by the blues got me to Florida touring both coast in a pretty good band. They were a bunch of hometown boys from Port Charlotte and Fort Myers that had a lot of connections and were already working. What was the name of that band? That band was HatTrick. Those guys are still playing. One of my best friends and the lead singer for HatTrick just released a CD called Old Humble Men that got picked up by a small label in Miami. I left rock and roll when I was in grad school here in Tuscaloosa. I became a redneck in a soul band. I was a white drummer in a 12-piece black soul band. That was like getting my graduate degree in music. The horn section was all the top players from Stillman. The leader of the horn section was music director at Stillman. They were all very high quality musicians in that band. We did shows and you had to learn timings. We had two different singers in three different shows. I was the drummer in that band. Then I was in a splinter group that came off that band that had a great drummer so I played percussion. That’s what got me playing congas and tembalies and the whole percussion thing. You played with Johnny Shines. Didn’t you? I was blessed by accidentally running into Johnny Shines via his wife Hattie. She worked at Partlow where I was working. She was a housekeeper there in the building I worked in. She and I got to talking. She told me to come over to her house one night to meet her husband and eat some catfish. I was really more out to get a free meal than to meet anybody. It turned out that the night I went over there Robert Junior Lockwood was passing through. He and Johnny were on their way to Jacksonville, Florida to do some gigs promoting their latest album. They needed a place to rehearse because Robert was coming down from Cleveland and Johnny had not rehearsed with band. I had a full studio in this room we are sitting in now. We used to record in here. I had a full set of drums, percussion, amps, everything, a full studio. I said, “guys just come to my house and rehearse.” They asked, “how much it would cost.” I said, “My gosh, nothing. Just come over. I’d like to hear you play.” So about one o’clock one afternoon, Robert Junior Lockwood, Johnny Shines and Robert’s band from Cleveland came over to my house here and played. At that time one of Robert’s stepsons was trying to play percussion. He was having difficulty playing this one song. In an attempt to help him figure out a beat I started playing congas. Robert told his stepson to sit down. I started playing and they asked me to go to Jacksonville with them. I couldn’t go to Jacksonville with them because I was already on schedule the next night. They were going to leave that next night and I couldn’t just pack up and go. They asked me if I could join them in Jacksonville, Alabama and do some shows going back up north when they came back from Jacksonville, Florida. I worked it out were I could. They were just getting ready to record their second album. It was actually Robert Lockwood that asked me to join them in the studio in Boston to record. We had three or four months to get ready to record. I started doing some shows with Johnny and we became very good friends. That was the start of a long and good relationship with Johnny Shines and Robert Lockwood. What came next? I went from the blues to the only reggae band in Alabama, Lost in The Mail. I was with that band for seven years. I was an original member. I kind of bounced around after that for awhile. I was in a band called Beanland out of Oxford, Mississippi for awhile. I met them through Lost in The Mail playing in Oxford. We had a good following in Oxford. A couple of the guys in Beanland, Lance Lawrence which became my very good friend and roommate was a bartender in this bar we played at called Forrester’s. They all loved reggae music and it turned out this guitar player named Bill McCrory worked as a bartender there also. Playing there they knew me before I knew them. Then later on a buddy of mine here in Tuscaloosa called me and said Beanland was playing that night here and wanted to go sit in with them. They were staying at Dill’s Motor Court. So we went down asked if they would mind if we sat in with them on a couple of songs. I didn’t know it but they were having some problems with their drummer. We went down to The Tusk that night. I set up my percussion rig. I didn’t know if I was going to play one song or how many or if I would get to play at all. I ended up playing the whole night from the first song to the last song. The place was packed. Everything seemed to fall into place that night. Their drummer played the best he had in a long time. It was a great night. I just went there to sit in and have a good time. After the gig they walked up and placed a big stack of cash in my hand. They said I deserved it and wanted to know if I could come and join them in Memphis the next weekend. Then it was Nashville and I was still with them three months later. So one night we were at the Nick, which is the place I have played the most. The Nick and the old Wooden Nickel were the places I played with the Southside Blues Band and Lost in The Mail. Anyway, Beanland was playing the Nick when they asked me to come on board with them because they were about to record and wanted me to be a part of it. So I ended up moving to Oxford and traveled with Beanland for a couple of years — recorded their first CD with them. Did a DVD. We still do a reunion ever so often. I did a tour with the John Kilzer Band with the great Memphis drummer Harry Peel who was with Beanland also. We were signed to Geffen and I went from $100,000 a year to $50.00 a night plus a bowl of chili gigs in 48 hours. All because of a drunk saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But that’s the music business. Is that when you moved back to Tuscaloosa? Yea, I came back and at times have been with four bands at one time. I did a 10 year stint with Mike Spiller, Michael and the Memories. Which is a wonderful family band. They were great people to work for and fun to be with. They treated me like family. I was in a band called the Persuaders with Dan Vogt, and Gary Walker. I was in a band called The Flying Leroys with Gary Edmonds, Mike Shamblin, and Chris Ballard. I’ve worked with the Alabama Blues Project for about eight or nine years now. I’ve been involved with the musical staff at the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Birmingham for a little over four years. It’s the oldest African American Baptist in Birmingham. I don’t think I stumbled into that church, I feel I was led there. Those are as high a quality musicians as I have ever played with. There ain’t no sad walkin and slow singing in this church. It’s uptempo. Some of the guys have degrees in music, some are full time jazz musicians, there’s a couple of high school band directors as choir directors. It’s been a learning experience for me, learning the business of gospel music. Muddy Waters said the blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll. I really think gospel had a baby and they called it the blues. I think it all came out of the spiritual, and the field shouting from the slave days. Johnny Shines taught me that the field shouting was the way they got the news from one plantation to the other. Then when the masters got wise to what they were doing they started disguising the news by singing. As they got Christianized, the songs came into the church. The gospel business is all above the table business, none of that under the table money stuff. From a musician’s stand point there are more churches than bars in Alabama. You don’t have to play until three in the morning and breath second hand smoke. It’s great for me. I’m doing studio projects, a gospel album, and have been working with Mike Mysinger helping him get his original tunes out. Mike’s project is with Dan Vogt and Bruce Hopper. I am always getting calls to go play someplace. But now a days I am very selective.