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About George McConnell
George McConnell picked up his first guitar at age 15, and he’s been picking them up ever since. As both a player and purveyor of guitars, he has amassed quite a collection of sounds, songs and stringed instruments,. He’s served as lead guitarist in the bands Beanland, Kudzu Kings and Widespread Panic. In his spare time, he helmed a vintage guitar store on the historic Oxford Square.
McConnell first learned the ways of the world under the tutelage of Mississippi’s first black female beertruck driver named Lulu. At the tender age of ten, McConnell traveled the backroads with Lulu, delivering delicious Falstaff Beer to patrons of juke joints, honky tonks and pool halls across the Mississippi Delta.
Thus began a lifetime of exposure to the wide swath of music that inhabits the Mississippi soul. McConnell grew up in the river town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, at the base of the Delta that birthed the blues, and smack dab between the jazz of New Orleans and the soul of Memphis.
The beer warehouse where young McConnell worked also served as a practice space for one of the employee’s bands– Little Red and the Reversibles– and McConnell would sneak in after hours to play guitar through the band’s equipment. Another employee was the son of Rufus McKay, lead singer and bass player of the legendary Red Tops. [ “I had no idea they were so big,” recalls McConnell. “I thought they were just another band. But they played everywhere in Mississippi in the ‘60s and ‘70s—frat parties, juke joints, weddings and everything. It was seriously funky soul music. “] He later met Hank Williams guitarist Tommy Bishop and in his high school days was heavily influenced by the guitarist Johnny Crocker and his band Fat Back.
In the 1980s, McConnell moved to Oxford to attend Ole Miss, where he helmed the now-legendary band Beanland. Beanland was steeped in all of these sounds, a maelstrom of rhythm and blues, barrelhouse boogie and fiery guitar work. The band had started with informal guitar sessions with McConnell’s friend Bill McCrory, the two of them battering out Rolling Stones songs with the reckless urgency of punk rock, of which McConnell was also a fan. “My brother and I had been deer hunting” he recalls. “We were soaking wet in our long-underwear by the fireplace, and 60 minutes was doing something on the Sex Pistols and we were enamored from that point on. It was the Beatles on Ed Sullivan for us. My old man was pissed off and that made us like it more.” The Minutemen and the Meat Puppets became influences too.
During his stint at Ole Miss, he moved to an old Victorian rental house, long inhabited by students and nicknamed “The Hippie Hotel.” It was living there that he became enamored with the music of the Grateful Dead. McConnell says he appreciated their songs the most, but he also drew a connection to the Dead and the punk rock he was also immersed in. “Nobody is more punk rock than the Dead,” says McConnell. “Who else would come out and do 45 minutes of feedback!? The whole ethos of punk was the DIY attitude. They were one of the first bands to say fuck the corporations and the record companies and go off on their own.”
The songs of the Grateful Dead became part of the Beanland repertoire. “Playing those songs,” says McConnell “is what led me to believe I could write songs too. I knew where they came from. They went from blues to country to rock n roll.”
Beanland amassed a dedicated regional fan base, hosting several infamous Riverboat cruise concerts. They successfully mined roots forms while digging into thed Dead catalog, eventually focusing on original compositions. They released two rollicking albums—their eponymous debut, produced by the legendary Jim Dickinson, and Eye to Eye in 1993. A documentary film about the band, Rising From The Riverbed, was released in 2004.
Furthering his infatuation with guitar, McConnell then opened a guitar shop on the historic Oxford Square— Django’s, named in honor of gypsy jazz guitar pioneer Django Reinhart. He simultaneously served in the local country rock outfit Kudzu Kings and released two albums with them. Their debut album, Kudzu Kings, was released in 1997 with the follow up, Y2Kow, coming out in 1999.
When founding Widespread Panic guitarist Michael Houser became ill with pancreatic cancer in 2002, the band called on McConnell to fill in. He served as the band’s lead guitarist for three years, appearing on two solo albums and a half-dozen live releases.
With nearly two decades of stage experience under his belt, McConnell is unleashing the fully realized version of his artistic vision—a mixture of all those styles, songs and sounds that have been simmering into a potent stew of great songs.
Those songs have been percolating in McConnell’s Oxford studio, and will be released in the following months through a series of downloadble singles, packaged together in “Virutal 45” form as a two-track (A-side and B-side) package.
Lulu would be proud.
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