Grayson Capps was conceived in the back seat of a Pontiac Tempest in Brewton, Alabama, and first saw the light in a delivery room in Opelika, Alabama the morning of April 17, 1967. This was the year Woody Guthrie and Otis Redding died and the year of the summer of love. His daddy had just gotten out of the Army and was preaching at a Baptist church in Augusta, Georgia, and his mama was a student at Auburn University. The reason he wasn't born in Auburn was because Auburn, Alabama didn't have a hospital at that time. When they found out about him they got married, and his daddy quit the church and became a student, too. They both got certified to teach and moved back to Brewton after they graduated.
The sixties hit Alabama in the seventies and left poignant memories in Grayson's brain. The weekends are what stick with him the most. "There was an array of eccentrics, channeling Cannery Row or Greenwich Village, coming in and out of my life at this time. They were writers, painters, musicians, vagrants and ne'er do wells reciting poetry, philosophizing, singing, dancing and drinking. I remember a man named Fred Stokes who used to come by with his old beat up Martin guitar, and he and a man named Bobby Long and my daddy would sit in front of a Realistic tape recorder drinking and smoking and singing, trying to get a perfect recording, in three part harmony of Glen Campbell's hit 'Break My Mind' or a number of other songs, without laughing before the end," remembers Grayson. "Fred had a beautiful baritone voice that melded with the strings of that old guitar, Bobby had a high almost pretty voice, and my daddy had a full mid-ranged voice. Then out of nowhere Bobby would stand up and recite the 'Love Song of J. Alfred Proofrock,' or something, accentuate the ending with his glass of vodka and orange juice and sit back down. The entertainment was theater, 'life is a cabaret.'"
Grayson and his family moved to Fairhope, Alabama when he was in the seventh grade. There he got involved with acting, literally, and earned a partial scholarship to Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. At Tulane he majored in theater, studying primarily acting and graduated in 1989 with a BFA. While studying in New Orleans, he started playing guitar with bass player-grad student Pete Ficht and drummer-fellow acting student Sterling Roig. They formed a band called the House Levellers, calling their music "thrash-folk." Within a year after their graduation, they got signed by Tipitina's record label in New Orleans. "We bought a 1977 Plymouth Voyager van and toured America for three years non-stop. We were on the cover of USA Today, we were in Sassy Magazine, we were opening up for Crowded House, we were becoming famous," remembers Grayson. "Most of the time we slept on people's floors or in the van, barely able to afford gas to get to the next gig. We were theater majors acting like musicians. Tensions arose from too much junk food, too much time on the road and climaxed in a huge blowout in Charleston, West Virginia, I quit. I was twenty-two going on fifty."
Later that year, Grayson's friends, John Lawrence and John Dawson, discovered a stretch of houses on the railroad tracks off Tchoupitoulas St. in New Orleans. The street was called South Front St., a Cannery Row incarnate. A man named Allen Crane was the landlord. He was a one-legged man who drove a rusted out station wagon, who went bankrupt and died soon after the trio moved in. There were two shotgun doubles next to one another that he owned. After his death no one claimed the buildings, so Grayson and company stayed there rent free for a couple of years. They played music on the streets for food and ran extension cords to Dawson's shotgun for electricity. They tapped illegally into the water main to have running water. They had illegal gas and a wood burning stove for heat in the wintertime.
Grayson and Lawrence began writing songs together, and soon started a band called, Stavin' Chain. In Stavin' Chain, Grayson was the singer-rhythm guitar player, and John Lawrence was the lead guitar player. They'd hire rhythm sections. The music was slide driven roots-rock, and the lyrics revolved around characters full of desperation, nicotine, loneliness and alcohol. As Grayson remembers: "One night after a show at the Maple Leaf Bar, two young women introduced themselves to us: Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn. They were filming a documentary called Anthem and wanted us to provide music for them, saying that we embodied an honest form of Americana they wanted portrayed in their film. They used five of our songs in Anthem. We went to L.A. and New York to promote the movie's debut."
Around the same time, Staivin' Chain were opening for bands like the Wallflowers, Koko Taylor, and Jeff Buckley. One evening at Tipitina's while the Rolling Stones were in town, Ron Wood sat in for a twenty minute version of "Hideaway," while Mick Jagger sat at the bar drinking water. Success was sneaking up like cigarette smoke from an ashtray. They got signed to Ruf Records out of Germany, putting out a CD distributed by Polygram Records. Their rhythm section had played on the Stones' record Bridges to Babylon and in Keith Richards’ band the Ex-pensive Winos. They had international distribution and a full page ad in the Village Voice. Wall of Sound Magazine called the record “the best 1999 album you never heard of.” They toured the U.S. and Europe, but just as success seemed inevitable, Polygram merged with Universal and dropped the band. Their record label bankrupt, Grayson's girlfriend pregnant, and S. Front St. far away, the world as reality check 101 was closing in like an old tube TV turning off. The band broke up.
"I remember asking Shainee what she was going to do after Anthem played itself out. She said she wanted to write and direct a film based in New Orleans," states Grayson. "I told her about a book my daddy wrote (which is based on Bobby Long and Fred Stokes) that had never been published and takes place in New Orleans, and I gave it to her." Shainee fell in love with the story and wrote a screen play based on it. As soon as the film came to fruition, she was back asking Grayson to help with the music. This was 1997-98 or so. In June 2003, Shainee calls and says the movie is being filmed in New Orleans in July and asks Grayson to be in the movie. John Travolta would be playing Bobby Long and Scarlet Johanson is playing the girl.
"A Love Song For Bobby Long" was filmed from late July through August. Grayson taught John Travolta songs he remembered Fred Stokes singing with Bobby Long and his daddy back in his youth. The film is named after a song he wrote in defense of Bobby. In fact, it features six of Grayson's songs. The set for the film was a recreation of South Front St. The movie made its debut in December 2004 with national distribution following in January 2005.
To further add to an already mythical story, an A&R rep from HYENA Records, an acclaimed New York City-based independent record label with a roster that includes Dr. John, James Blood Ulmer, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet, wandered into a local New Orleans’ record shop, Louisiana Music Factory, in July 2004. He was immediately drawn to a compelling album cover. It was the recently self-released solo album by Grayson Capps selling on consignment. The record was purchased out of sheer curiosity, but the music discovered on the disc was another story altogether. Produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Trina Shoemaker (who was also his girlfriend and mother of his second child) the music was one part J.J. Cale, one part Steve Earle, a little bit of Tom Waits and a whole lot of pure grease and soul. HYENA contacted Grayson sight unseen and a deal was made. The power of music works in mysterious ways. In the summer of 2005, Capps' first ever nationally available solo album, If You Knew My Mind, was released.
And then the storm came. Shortly thereafter the release of If You Knew My Mind, Capps was driven from his home in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina--where he’d lived for the past 20 years. No small tragedy to absorb and deal with, Grayson responded stoically by keeping a stiff upper lip and his eye on the road. During this period of time he toured incessantly, including an appearance at Bonnaroo and two European tours. He even found time to record his follow up album, Wail & Ride. On the recording, he addresses the Katrina experience with the poignant song, “New Orleans Waltz.” Other stand-out tracks include the black water, back-country blues of “Wail & Ride,” the bayou-funk, second-line rumble of “Poison,” the country & western gem “Jukebox” (which could have come straight from the pen of Hank Williams) and perhaps his most exquisite piece of songwriting yet, “Daddy’s Eyes.” Once again produced by Trina Shoemaker and being released on HYENA Records, it’s the next chapter in Grayson’s story. Art is life, life is art.
Grayson Capps writes songs which have the voice of dead prophets masquerading as town drunks screaming "look at us we're pretty, too!" He's been playing guitar and singing for nearly twenty-five years now. He's played theaters, festivals, radio shows, T.V. shows, whiskey-beer crusted barrooms, living rooms, and camp fires. Some people call him a preacher, others a poet, a singer, a guitar player, a redneck, but he declares: "I am only an actor strutting and fretting across the stage. I still have to use a shovel. I still have to dig in the dirt. But, I tell you what, I have beautiful children named Sadie and Waylon, a new house in Franklin, TN and my second solo record coming out in the autumn. Bobby and Fred are dead, but my father is alive and well in Alabama about to publish his second novel. No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but songs are still sung by those who continue to sing."