Jon Lawhon of BLACK STONE CHERRY (Live at The City Hall, Newcastle, U.K., November 27, 2016)
Photo: Mick Burgess

It’s been quite a year for Black Stone Cherry with a sell out UK arena tour, a Top 5 album and their first festival headliner alongside Whitesnake. They are now back over in the UK for a run of intimate shows in an “Evening With…..” format. Mick Burgess called up bassist Jon Lawhon to talk about their incredible year.

In a few weeks you’ll be coming back to the UK for a series of 14 shows. Are you looking forward to getting back over here?

It’s right around the corner now and we can’t wait to come back over. We’re going to be working on some things that are going to be really special for this tour so they’ll be great shows.

These shows are billed as “An Evening With…” so there’s no support just 100% Black Stone Cherry?

Absolutely. It’s just us and we’ll be supporting ourselves. The plan is we’ll do an acoustic section in the first part of the show then there’ll be a small intermission for a restroom break or so people can get something to eat or drink and then we’ll return and do a full on Rock show.

Who came up with the idea?

We talked about it with our manager and we tried to figure out something special to do for the UK as this has been our primary market since 2007. We were knocking ideas around and it was Vinnie, our manager who suggested doing two sets. One stripped back and one full on, that way the audience has that opportunity to get that intimate vibe with Black Stone Cherry again. A while back we did a series of intimate shows where we’d do a few songs then we’d do a question and answer session with the audience where they could ask anything they wanted and then we’d play a few more songs and do some more questions. We had no idea what they’d ask us and only a few people asked us inappropriate things. That was a unique, different thing that we’d never done before so this time we wanted to do something different again.

Have you had any thoughts about the songs you’ll be playing?

I can’t tell you any of that. That’ll be giving away the surprise. I’ll just say that we will be playing plenty of fan favourites but we’ll also be playing a few that we haven’t done for quite some time or haven’t played live before. If anybody wants to find out for themselves they’ll have to buy a ticket. Knowing what we’ll be playing is like walking into your parents room, opening the closet and seeing your presents the week before Christmas.

Is this going to be a totally different set to your arena tour back in January?

Absolutely. It’ll be a totally different show and we’ll be doing a whole new setlist just for this tour.

On 27th November you’re up in Newcastle for a date at the legendary City Hall. During the ’70’s and 80’s EVERYONE played here. Motörhead recorded part of No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith there, ELP recorded Pictures At An Exhibition and Blue Oyster Cult recorded a couple of songs on Some Enchanted Evening at the City Hall and Blackfoot’s Highway Song Live was part recorded there too so you will be in illustrious company.

We’re really excited to be playing in such a legendary venue. We are playing in some fantastic theatres on this tour and it’s very exciting for us to be able to play at these places. Some of these halls are 100 years old or more and so many of the greats that we grew up listening to have played there. Really historic events in Rock culture have happened in some of those buildings. We’re really excited.

Talking of live albums, this run of shows would be a perfect chance for to record a few dates and put out a live album. Has there been any thought about that ahead of the tour?

We’ve knocked that idea around but it’s only been a year or so since we put out the Live in Birmingham album so it might be a bit too soon to put out another one. We’re not too hot on doing another one just yet but I will personally have a few HD cameras out at every show filming performances and behind the scenes. We’ll be stockpiling footage and will be recording every show so you never know we might just have something cool to put out at some point next year.

This has been quite a year for you. Not only have you had a sell-out headlining arena tour culminating in a show at Wembley Arena but you headlined the Rambling Man Fair festival along with Whitesnake and had a Top 5 album in the UK. How do you feel about 2016 looking back on it now?

It’s been very busy that’s for sure. It’s the most we’ve toured in years, it’s been non-stop. It’s been absolutely incredible for us and it’s going to take a lot of beating. It’s been like a dream come true for us and all of the hard work we’ve put in over the years has been paying off. We’ve been very blessed at the way our career has unfolded before us.

It must have been surreal for you headlining a show with Whitesnake, a band who only a couple of years ago you toured with as third on the bill?

It was incredible for us. We’d headlined the second stage at Download but this was the first time we’ve headlined a main stage at a major festival. It was great to be a part of that and to play alongside Whitesnake as fellow headliners was amazing.

When you first played Newcastle a few years back you played in the smaller Academy. You’ve climbed a long, long way over a relatively short time. Would you say that a lot of that is due to your old fashioned work ethic of playing everywhere and anywhere and building up a strong fan base?

The first tour that we did in the UK ended at the Astoria and that whole tour was sold out. We thanked our label over there for working so hard for us. The label said that it wasn’t them but us that put in the work and delivered every night and it happened organically. We just worked hard and tried to be ourselves. We didn’t want to be the next Led Zeppelin or the next Aerosmith, we just wanted to be us, Black Stone Cherry and I think the fans have responded to that. Each time we come back the crowds get bigger and bigger.

Despite all of your success you’ve remained very grounded and down to earth

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we are all Southern guys. I know that if I walk around with an ego, when I got back to Kentucky my Momma would kick my ass. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter how old I am or how old or feeble she gets she would put me back in my place.

Your latest album Kentucky came out a few months ago. Have you been pleased with the reaction to it?

Absolutely, it’s been incredible. We just got word a couple of days ago and I don’t want to speak too soon and jinx anything but we’ve made it through the preliminary voting round for The Grammys. We haven’t exactly been nominated yet but we have made it through the preliminaries. Now our name in the four categories that we appeared in will go out to the Grammy Board people for them to vote to see who’ll become the five nominees. We’ve never ever got this far before so it’s a big thrill for us to even get to this stage.

You have said that this is a back to your roots album. Do you mean than in terms of a less commercial harder edged sound?

Not necessarily less commercial because what really is commercial? To me in the early ’90’s Nirvana were commercial and they sold a load of records. They were the least “commercial” band I’d ever heard but they were actually very commercial in terms of popularity. I think you need to make the kind of music that does it for you and hope the fans dig it and become lifelong fans and they will share that music with their friends and it’ll grow into something bigger than it was before. With this record we just wanted to make the most honest, genuine record that we could make and the only way we could do that was to do it without having a pencil pushing producer involved. We just did it by all sitting around and saying “that’ll suck at Download” or “the fans will be able to jump up and down, run around in circles and mosh to that” That was our focus knowing that we had to connect with the fans when we played those songs live.

Your last couple of albums were recorded in L.A and California but you’ve returned to your home of Kentucky to record this one. Why did you decide to do that?

We’d just left Roadrunner Records and we wanted to do something to turn the page to a new era. To do that we thought it best to step back to where we were grounded. We did it in a very similar way to the first album but without ever letting the quality of the production suffer or songwriting move backwards. We wanted to make sure we were at the same high level that we’d got to in recent years but stepping forward while being where we were at mentally and emotionally when we made the first album. We recorded the album in the same building where we made the first one too.

Your latest single The Rambler, features an appearance by Billy Ray Cyrus in the video. How did he become involved with that?

The director of the video, Blake, suggested that we reached out to him and see if he’d like to do it. We thought that was awesome as we’ve loved his work for years. John Fred’s Dad toured with Billy Ray with The Headhunter’s in the ’90’s so there was a relationship there. He said he’d do it but didn’t want any money or anything and said he loved our band and would do anything he could to help us out. To find out that Billy Ray was a fan of ours was awesome. Since then, when we did the United States version of our Carnival of Madness tour, we played Nashville and Billy Ray showed up and he came out on stage for White Trash Millionaire and sang with us. He has an overwhelming spirit about him. He’s so genuine and heartfelt, he’s just an amazing human being.

You’ve recorded a couple of covers in the past including Marshall Tucker’s Can’t You See and Shape of Things by The Yardbirds. Whose idea was it to record War?

We had a ton of originals for the record and the label wanted us to do some B-sides but we didn’t want to give away our music so we were planning on doing nothing but cover songs for the B-sides. We did a bunch of covers, we did Mississippi Queen and we did Love Runs Out but we wanted to do something from Motown as me and Chris especially just love that music. As a bass player I believe that Motown’s James Jamerson, from The Funk Brothers, is hands down the best bass player that ever lived. He was the focal point for me in how to play the bass the right way. Also Bob Babbitt played with the Funk Brothers too and it just so happened he came down to Black Bird Studio’s when I recorded the bass parts for our Folklore and Superstition album I had the legendary Bob Babbitt standing over my shoulder saying “hey that was cool” or “Why don’t you try this?” It was the scariest time of my life but to have him there and offer advice when I recorded those parts was an incredible experience. So really we wanted to do a Motown classic and War just seemed to fit the bill and was perfect for Chris’s voice. I think it’s a really cool version.

Your tour ends in Norwich on 8th December. Is that it for the year or do you still have time for a few more shows before Christmas?

That’s pretty much it for us this year except we’ll be doing a couple of shows back to back in Kentucky supporting our local animal charity, BRAWA, the Barren River Animal Welfare Association but other than that, that’s it for us for the year.

2017 is just around the corner. What do you have planned for next year?

We’ll be back over to mainland Europe in January for a run of shows for five weeks then we come back for a couple of weeks before doing a big headline tour over here in America. Then we’ll be in Australia in April and will continue to tour America when we return home. We’ll probably start work on the new album towards the second half of the year and we’ve already started writing for that. It’s looking like it’ll be another great Heavy Rock record.

The Black Stone Cherry Experience is on tour in the UK now.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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