A few days ago I knew very little about East Nashville duo Black Diamond Heavies. I knew that Fort Wayne designer and promoter Jeff Anderson designed a T-shirt for them at some point and I knew that the cover art for their national debut, 2007’s Every Damn Time, was very much to my liking.
Now, days later, I know quite a bit about drummer Van Campbell and keyboardist/singer John Wesley Myers. Well, quite a bit, considering the following: 1) Their website no longer works; 2) an official bio for the band does not exist; 3) their record label offers little-to-no info about the band (including no press kits); 4) most publications who have written about the band focus on the same few facts – these guys play an often loud, always dirty version of rock that takes equally from punk and blues. Their sound is keyboard driven and, despite their minimalist set-up, they make a whole lot of noise. Those few facts, along with some rambling about how Mark “Pork Chop” Holder was once in the band, is pretty much what you’ll learn online about the Heavies.
Mostly, I learned about Campbell and Myers by listening to their 2008 sophomore record, A Touch of Someone Else’s Class, surely a future classic of the garage-punk genre. It’s brilliant, front to back – one of the best records of its kind that I’ve heard in a long white. Organic. Dirty. Soulful. Lean and mean. Imagine if Left Lane Cruiser’s Joe Evans had a serious late-era Tom Waits obsession and played vintage keyboards instead of vintage guitars. I was digging the record quite a bit until a song called “Bidin’ My Time” came through my speakers.
At this moment, which I now call the “Bidin’ My Time” moment, I understood fully why Left Lane Cruiser’s Brenn Beck considers the Heavies to be one of his favorite bands. By the time the song ended I played it again, by now fully agreeing with one of my favorite music writers, Mark Deming, who also loves the band. Then I played the song a third time.
And, sure, I learned more about these dudes. Other stuff. Like, for example, I learned that Campbell and Myers spend an incredible amount of time in old vans, touring the country, playing everywhere. Everywhere. Making huge impressions along the way, surely, as captured on their popular 2009 live album, Alive as F#%&.
I also came to realize, after much Internet research, that the Heavies have quite a loyal following. Loyal enough to keep a couple of loud, dirty, blues-loving rocker types quite busy. So busy, I’d guess, that when something like a website crashes or an interview falls through (as was the case with me), the van just keeps rolling. It has to. Such is the life of a touring band. Vans break, interviews falls through the cracks, etc. Who cares, as long as the shows get played.
I like that. And I get it.
Years ago, when my hair was still long and each day felt like the last, I thought for sure I’d end up with a life that felt something like how John Wesley Myers, aka The Reverend James Leg, looks. Tough and worn, with a leather jacket, unironic aviator sunglasses, long hair and a forever hardened expression. To me, a guy like James Leg was rock n’ roll. James Leg and, you know, Iggy Pop. The guys who show up, stand on stage, steal your heart, scare your girlfriend and make you feel humbled, no matter your amount of talent and drive. A rock star. The kind of guy allowed to flake on an interview, so as long as the songs are good and the shows are loud.
Some more found facts about the Black Diamond Heavies I hope you’ll enjoy: The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach produced the great A Touch of Someone Else’s Class; the Heavies have great taste in influences, covering artists as diverse as Tina Turner, Nina Simone and Fort Wayne favorite T-Model Ford; the Reverend is the son of a Baptist preacher and Campbell comes from a bourbon-distilling family, both fitting; NME once said that the Heavies “make the Black Keys seem like choirboys.”
To further the great mystery that is the Black Diamond Heavies, I learned that, not only are they hard to pin down in cyberspace or get on the phone, but they may or may not be from their listed hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. I’m sure they’ve done their time there, but I’ve also seen where they’ve recently said that they’re from Louisville, Kentucky and Wildwood, Georgia. Sometimes they say they’re from “everywhere” or even from “White Van” or “Blue Van.” Umm …
Listen to the record or see the band and I’m sure you’ll find that the mystery fits. And, most importantly, the songs are loud, authentic and memorable. That’s what matters most – loudness.