As I pedaled my bike to the Jam Room for a live in-studio recording session for Columbia, SC based Debbie and the Skanks, there were already a few people outside smoking cigarettes and laughing. I mention this because the Jam Room is a recording studio, not a concert venue. Hell, it’s the recording studio of the capital city. This evening I had been invited to a “friends-and-family” style session to help give some audience vibes to a live set as well as get an in depth look at a recording atmosphere perhaps not long for this world – the live studio album. I remember living in Atlanta when The Black Lips released Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, the live studio album that kicked off their popularity to a broader audience. Los Valientes was supposedly recorded live at a dive bar in Tijuana, but everyone in Atlanta knew it was a studio session recording. Whatever, “Tell the Legend” as the saying goes – The Black Lips are a great band, and they successfully captured their raw, live energy and shared it with an audience outside the doors of a venue. I’m excited to be present for what could be a similarly singular recording and experience.
Inside, there is a main office/green room type of space and a door that opens to a dimly-lit, Turkish-and-Persian-rug-lined recording studio. One wall of the studio is just stacks of amps and preamps, and I notice a mythic Orange cabinet. The back wall has the glass-cased control room. Bandmates and friends are relaxing in the main room, having beers and sharing stories. I recognize Rev. Joe Buck Roberts, the Skanks guitarist and main songwriter who helped set this up and was my main point of contact. He is a big, jovial man with huge mutton chops, a t-shirt of a wolf howling at the moon, and Elvis-aviators on his eyes. Rev. Joe seems to know everyone in the room, which makes sense, and he puts me at ease after passing me a Coors Lite and introducing me to a few people. We talk about music; Columbia bands, the local college radio station WUSC, and just shoot the shit as more people arrive. I get brief introductions to their bassist, Hound Dog, who has long hair, wears a vintage t-shirt, and who I recognize from the local record shop Papa Jazz, and their drummer Ol’ Unk, who is lean and muscular with short blonde hair. As the band members chat with other people in the room, I sit down next to a few photographers and other affiliates. We share a few beers and discuss Willie Nelson’s vitality in spite of his age and copious ganja habit and the absurdity of seeing Kenny Chesney’s crotch magnified 1000% on a jumbo-tron.
As all 25 or so attendees head into the studio for the recording, I hear people talking about the Rolling Stones Exile on Main St. That album seems to be a common thread among both the band and the attendees for this studio session. Joe bonded with CanIMayI writer and editor Matt Kay over that album, and later Debbie tells me that when she first met her future bandmates, she and drummer Ol’ Unk were both playing the album in their cars.
It seems odd that more bands don’t do live studio albums more often – it allows for a special experience for attendees while capturing a band’s live presence on record. One possibility for the decline in these kinds of albums is that it takes significant chops to pull off – there are no redos, no edits, only the mic’ing of the studio and the mixing of the engineer. If you’re a good band, you’ll sound great; if you’re a bad band, everyone will hear it. This is precisely why I’m so excited for this set.
Once the session starts, the energy is electric. Debbie exudes charisma from her pores, and the Skanks play a fun, loose style of blues-inflected garage rock that gets the crowd moving. Hound Dog’s rubbery basslines mesh with Ol’ Unks drumming to create a solid rhythmic foundation for Rev. Joe buck’s guitar to dance on top of. The band rips through their 10-song set without a hitch, but there is playful banter on a few occasions as guitars are re-tuned or one of the band members gets a water or beer. A ditty played by Rev. Joe and Ol’Unk as Hound Dog retunes his amp leads the whole band to break down in laughter after about 30 seconds, as they explain how they could never fit that lick into a proper song. I strongly suspect it will be the foundation of their next single.
Despite Debbie and the Skanks being a relatively new band, it’s clear that this isn’t the members’ first band. The Skanks play with swagger and Debbie is meant to be on stage. She is actually the only member who hasn’t been in a band before, but her theater background is perfect for a frontwoman. She has a commanding presence on stage, and the assuredness off the stage to make everyone who attended feel welcome, like she’s known them forever.
After the set, I talk some more with Joe Buck and Debbie about how fickle music can be to bands, and how sometimes success is just a matter of staying with it – to be at the right place at the right time. Despite this, the luck needed to be successful can definitely be created, so long as everyone is on board for the ride. Taking the risk to record a live studio session, and pulling it off, is exactly the type of confident move a band should take to create their own opportunities. I get stuck in conversation on all these topics, and more, with Debbie and Rev. Joe, before checking my phone and realizing that it’s approaching 11:30 on a Sunday night and I have to be at work at 8:30 the next morning. I say my goodbyes, find my bike, and pedal back through the neighborhood home, with my ears still ringing in the best way possible. Debbie and the Skanks have the talent and verve to gain many fans, especially with their live performance. I highly recommend checking them out if you have a chance.
While you are waiting for the Jam Room cuts to come out, listen to “Atom Bomb” (not recorded at Jam Room Studios) below in all its basement quality glory.