Bloodkin: Redemption Through The Wreckage
“Baby they told us we would rise again/ As I recall they never filled us in about when.”
-“Easter Eggs” by Bloodkin
“My rock bottom happened during the recording Last Night Out,” recalls Daniel Hutchens, who along with Eric Carter has been the core of Bloodkin for more than 20 years. “I assumed it was the last time I’d ever be in a recording studio. I was ready to die, not disturbed by that notion at all. Just slamming as much cocaine and liquor into my system as I could, every day, waiting for my heart to explode.”
It wasn’t just Hutchens who was in free fall. A few years earlier, in 2000, close friend and manager Zac Weil died and Carter was closing in on the same fate. “Eric’s form of self-destruction had been much slower and longer, with sad, terrible stories stretching all the way back to the late ’80s” says Hutchens. “There were some years toward the end there where I felt like I was holding my breath most of the time, waiting for the phone call to bring me the bad news about Eric, or even just looking over at him while he nodded out onstage, and just not knowing what the fuck to do. He was going to die, and I didn’t know how to stop it. He had become completely non-functional, couldn’t eat or speak coherently, could barely walk half the time, let alone play much guitar. I already missed him. He was already gone. And nowadays it’s like a fucking miracle, because I suddenly have my best friend back.”
This is the story of Bloodkin circa 2009. From death’s doorstep to a triumphant new album full of life and love, a wildly successful tour with the Drive-By Truckers and even a high-profile slot in Rolling Stone, the time has come for Hutchens and Carter to rise again and this album will forever cast a light down their dark, crooked path.
But, don’t go getting the wrong idea. This is still Bloodkin and there’s plenty of bite and bile, mean guitars, and that dark genius Southern Gothic songwriting, but now in their forties, the pain is tempered by life’s sweeter side found in areas like Hutchens’ wife, two new children, sobriety and the simple joy of a sunny day. However, that doesn’t really explain why the album starts with a seven-and-a-half-minute kick to the chest:
You wake up your smile is strange
Crooked with sugar coated pain
Your tongue is stained with the name
The purple blood of The Viper
So you put a shotgun in your mouth
But you can’t pull that trigger now
Your hands are dealing for the house
Now you’re working for The Viper
So, what is “The Viper” really about?
“‘The Viper’ is a composite of myself and Eric Carter, what complete debris our lives had become due to our addictions, pains, losses, all that. He and I bottomed out at slightly different times, but we both wound up in really dark places with very little hope,” says Hutchens. “‘The Viper’ is a portrait of that dark place, which, once again, serves as a preface for the salvation described later in the record.”
Danny Hutchens and Eric Carter first met when they were eight years old. They were neighbors in a small West Virginia town and it didn’t take more than a shared love of baseball, comic books and rock music to cement a relationship that would last a lifetime. To call it a friendship would undersell what this is. Danny and Eric’s bond is deeper, this is like family, like brothers, Bloodkin if you will.
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As teenagers, the two moved around a bit, playing open mics and landing small gigs whenever they could. In 1986 their path led to Athens, GA and it was in the college town’s rich rock soil that Bloodkin evolved from a songwriting partnership into a real band.
By Jackie Jasper
“The backbone of the Bloodkin sound is definitely electric guitar,” says Hutchens. “But I don’t think any Bloodkin song has ever – at least in my mind – been just a vehicle for jamming or anything like that. To me, the songs are always the meat and potatoes, always, always. Great musicians without great songs are, to me, like empty calories, junk food.”
As Hutchens and Carter began to assemble the pieces, meshing their brilliant songs with heated compositions, it didn’t take long for other Athens bands to take notice. It was around this time that Widespread Panic began to crawl up through the bars and they immediately took a shine to Bloodkin. By the early-90s Panic were covering Bloodkin songs live and they would record three of their staples. Widespread Panic still regularly play several Bloodkin songs including, “Makes Sense To Me,” “Can’t Get High,” “Henry Parsons Died,” “Who Do You Belong To?” and “End Of The Show,” and many (including Hutchens and Carter) credit Panic with helping Bloodkin gain some hard fought notoriety.
“From the very beginnings of Widespread Panic to today and beyond, Bloodkin has been one of our greatest influences” says John Bell, Panic’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, who was very eager to comment on Bloodkin. “Danny and Eric’s music has a consistent blend of poetry, intestinal fortitude, and song-craftmanship that I envy. I can hope their example sinks in to my own approach to music. We can voyeuristically cover their songs during our sets but ultimately it’s best to listen to Bloodkin and surrender to what is coming at you – pure intention in the form of music. Bloodkin’s presence in, and their approach to, rock & roll – or whatever you call it – is as much of what makes up the backbone of the Athens music story as any other band that has come through this town. That’s what Danny and Eric mean to me.”
Speaking to JamBase following the Truckers’ recent tour with Bloodkin, Hood added that, “They’re a great band playing in top form. I’ve known them as long as I’ve lived in Athens, 15 years now, and they’ve never been as great as they are now. I’ve seen all that they’ve been through and their rebirth is inspiring.”
Clearly folks in the Athens scene have long known the power of Bloodkin, but the band has never found much success outside passionate pockets of fans, and the mainstream press has all but ignored them, until now. In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, legendary writer-editor David Fricke chose the band for his “Fricke’s Picks,” exclaiming, “On Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again, Bloodkin are at a hot peak in their odyssey, opening with the hypnotic hell of ‘The Viper,’ a catalog of addictions checked off by Hutchens in a belly-to-the-bar drawl against a seventies-Neil Young tornado of banjo, dirty guitars and prairie-chapel organ.”
Of course Hutchens welcomes the good press, but this ain’t his first rodeo.
“I always love any exposure the band receives, because that ultimately means the songs get heard by more people, and at the bottom line that’s what it’s all about for me,” he says. “So, I’m very appreciative of nice write-ups, but at the same time, I think I’ve gotten pretty levelheaded about things over the years. I don’t get too high over a great write-up, and I don’t get too down over a negative one or even total lack of attention. I’ve achieved a pretty good perspective on what I’m doing by now. To me, it’s all about creating a body of work that will survive long after I’m gone. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of it – a great majority of the songs actually still remain unheard, but they’re written, and many are already recorded – most on the upcoming box set [no solid release date yet, but Hutchens says it is assembled and stands to be six discs and 108 songs] – and I think I have a pretty solid, unflappable estimation of where I stand, how much work I’ve completed and how much I still have left to do.”
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For those who have watched the band develop, and at times just hang on, since their 1994 debut Good Luck Charm through what appeared to be their 2005 swan song Last Night Out, this type of perspective from Hutchens is not only welcomed, it was almost unthinkable but a few years ago.
Never underestimate love. You could make an argument that no man is saved without it, and if anything informs the new album, it is love. Love of his wife, love of his first child (and the second that has arrived since the recording), love of music and the simple love of life – something he and Carter had lost track of but have both once again found.
More than thirty years after playing their first notes together, Hutchens and Carter have reassembled Bloodkin and they appear to be entering an inspired new chapter. They say timing is everything and none of this could have happened before now “because we had actually become a band again,” says Hutchens.
Chemistry is a strange thing. Difficult to explain or describe, it often makes or breaks a band, and Hutchens can’t say enough about the current lineup. Along with Hutchens on guitar and vocals and Carter on guitar, the band now features additional guitarist Eric Martinez, bassist David Nickel, drummer Aaron Phillips and multi-instrumentalist William Tonks.
The vibe on the road carried over until Hutchens says it became “irresistible” and they had to go into the studio. There’s a funny assumption in the rock world, where folks believe that you write better songs and even play better shows when you’re all fucked up and life is dragging you down. There’s no denying that hard times have given us great art, but sometimes finding peace can give an artist the key to new inspiration.
Once inside the studio, the band began to lay down tracks like “Rhododendron” about Hutchens’ mom; “Heavy With Child,” which is a “scattershot of images all having to do with my newly found relationship, marriage, children – and just plain rediscovering a sense of joy;” “Little Margarita” – a reaction to the birth of Hutchens’ daughter; and the beautiful disc closer, “Summer In Georgia,” which is dedicated to his wife.
But here’s the thing, none of these songs ever get saccharine or stuck in clichés. There’s balance now where once it was all death and doom and destruction. Today, there is still plenty of gritty residue that will never leave the Bloodkin sound, but now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again is our chapter of transformation. It’s kind of a vindication, kind of a realization of some hopes and dreams,” says Hutchens. “Our songs were never about wanting to be lonesome and fucked up sitting in a bar somewhere. That was just honestly the situation we found ourselves in, and we were telling the story without flinching. But there were always those distant glimmers of hope for at least some moments of peace on the horizon, and I think this new record actually documents our growing up a little bit.”
Bloodkin is on tour now, you can catch the fever here.
“End Of The Show” with members of WSP :: 01/27/95
JamBase | On The Rise
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