Always on the hunt for new music and interesting people with amazing talent, I stumbled across a Kentucky based band called Magnolia Boulevard. The 5 piece is made up of Ryan Allen on keys, Todd Copeland on drums, Gregg Erwin on guitar, Maggie Noelle on guitar and vocals, and John Roberts on bass.
I caught wind of Magnolia Boulevard through their guitar player, Gregg Erwin. Gregg and I connected on Face Book and share a passion for a good number of things including guitar players, slide guitar, southern flavored music, and expressing your self through your instrument.
I emailed off a bunch of questions to Magnolia Boulevard and then called Greg on the road to see just who Magnolia Boulevard is and how they came to be a powerhouse of Soul, Rock and Roll, Bluegrass, and a dash of Funk.
“The band is made up mainly of working musicians that live in Lexington. Most of us had other projects when the band formed. Maggie met Gregg years ago at an open mic at Al’s bar. Todd met Gregg years ago at a fill in gig at Cosmic Charlie’s. Gregg met Ryan at a fill in gig at Willie’s Locally Known. Todd knew John from a previous project years before. I think the idea to start the band was mainly Todd and Maggie’s. Maggie was in a bluegrass band at the time and they talked one night and agreed they needed to put something together. Plus, Todd had always wanted to start a band that was more suited for her voice. She asked him if he’d ever heard of Gregg, he had of course, so phone calls were made and we wound up setting a date for our first rehearsal.”
“I’m not really sure what we expected. Our first rehearsal was the first time that a few of us had met in person. I think we all knew pretty instantly how special it could be, though. We jammed on a couple songs that we knew, (some Tedeschi-Trucks covers, Angel From Montgomery) and felt really good about them. We actually recorded those first tunes through a mixing board that was in the session room and released them on BandCamp. After seeing the response from people online, we were kind of reassured that we might be on to something good.”
“We all come from different backgrounds musically. I think that’s one of the main reasons we all can get along so well. We’re all able to just get in whatever sonic space needs to be filled without stepping on each other’s toes.”
Not surprisingly, they seem to be planting their band flag firmly in the ground and making inroads everywhere they go.
“We actually won the Lexington Music Award for Best Rock Band in our first year. Our first show was 2/26/17 and the award winners were announced in January of 2018. It’s not the reason we play, we just want to make good music that connects with people. I guess winning that award was kind of reassurance that we’re doing that. It’s been nice to have that, though. It helps with booking. We also just found out that we won the FloydFest “On the Rise” competition this year. That’s supposed to be helpful too. I guess we’ll see.”
Their sound is built on various inspirations ranging from Tedeschi Trucks Band and The Allman Brothers, to Bonnie Raitt. Each influence has made it’s mark on them while not limiting their style and overall vibe. They are eclectic, while pushing new boundaries in the music they write.
“We’re absolutely not ashamed to be compared to our influences and won’t deny they’ve had a great inspiration on us. We’re also not interested in doing something that’s already been done. We definitely want to make our own lane.” And that the do with graceful style.
For anyone looking to get a taste of Magnolia Boulevard, what’s out and available for someone to pick up?
“We actually have a self-titled EP already released that we recorded at Shangri La Studios with Duane Lundy. You can find it on all the online streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, etc.) and also buy physical copies at our shows and on our website.
“We’re currently working on our full length album with Paul Reed Smith up in Annapolis at PRS Studios. We’re not sure how much we’re allowed to say about that yet, but we’re very excited to have some of the best in the business help produce it.”
I asked Gregg about the Paul Reed Smith connection and it seems it was both a stroke of luck and having the guts to believe in yourself enough to make something happen.
Gregg tells me about a fortuitious gig at Willcutt Guitars 50th Anniversary event in Lexington. “We got the schedule and right after us was Brent Mason and Paul Reed Smith who were doing a guitar clinic..and it started out as a joke and I was like I’m gonna ask him, Brent Mason, if he wants to sit in and, it was just a joke, but I really got to think about it and I thought, what have ya got to lose, so I sent a message and literally 5 or 6 minutes later he replied back and said sure.”
“After that we were tearing down and befriended Paul and I was lucky enough, he was talking abut my pickups and I ended up sending them my guitar and got a bunch of work done on it, and then we got invited out to the PRS experience, they flew us out. Then a couple months after that we drove out and cut a couple tracks at his studio. Were probably gonna do 2 more sessions to get the album done. Probably the first of next year we’ll have an album released.”
“Paul has been very encouraging to us since we met him. He’s introduced us to several heroes who have also offered their words of encouragement. While we appreciate the situation we’re in, we also know it’s not a golden ticket and we plan on getting out there and earning it every step of the way. We’re looking to really fill up the calendar with some new places at the beginning of next year and would love your help with Iowa. Isn’t that where they shoot the Daytrotter stuff? (It is, and Tim Neilsen from Drivin N Cryin alluded to stopping by there as well.) Right now, we’re booked pretty solid until November but it’s mainly in Kentucky and the surrounding states. We’re really looking forward to getting out on the road and expanding our fan base.”
Photo by Brandon Bowlds
With the shows and festivals that Magnolia Boulevard has been tackling this last year, they shouldn’t have any issues expanding the fan base. Once more people get a chance to experience what they are about, the music they make, and the sincerity with which they play, it wont be long before tickets will be hard to come by.
Before I closed out, I had to indulge in my guitar nerd questions and ask about Gregg’s set up. I’m always fascinated in the tools that a craftsman uses to get what he needs and Gregg has a pretty interesting set up.
“Well my #1 is a PRS S2 standard… when I sent the guitar in to PRS I ended up getting 2 custom pickups based off of 1958 PAF pickups. My amp, I rely solely on my amp for tone. I’m not a pedal guy man, I have a pedal tuner and an OCD, which I basically use for a volume booster for solos. I’ve just never been a big pedal guy. 90% of the time I use a VVT model…and I use a Jack Pearson Model…the amp that I use and own is actually the one he uses in the video reviews. So you know Jack is one of my heroes and that made it even more sentimental.”
While I may not get to see them in person until next year, I’ll be following along and anxiously awaiting that album next year. I expect big things from this band and I have a feeling that I’m not the only one.
My deepest thanks to Ryan Allen, Todd Copeland, Gregg Erwin, Maggie Noelle, and John Roberts for answering my questions and sharing some of their magic.
And because it sometimes doesn’t show up, the Featured Photograph is also by Kim Blackburn.