Back in 2003 I got the opportunity to write a feature for Billboard Magazine, a story about the South Carolina music scene for a regional special edition issue. The final version took two separate stories and combined them into one–Below, I’ve posted the original text of both pieces–lots of familiar names in the first piece, but as for the second one, the one question I have is, “Where is Echo 7 now?”
It may still be regarded as the state that spawned Hootie & The Blowfish, but eight years after that band’s debut the music scene in South Carolina has put away the coattails.
“The success of Hootie was a mixed bag for the South Carolina music scene,” says Dan Cook, editor of the Columbia Free Times (And a musician himself, with the graceful indie-pop Verna Cannon). “The immediate effect was to further the careers of artists with a similar sound, like Edwin McCain and Cravin’ Melon. But that effect was short-lived.”
What remains is a handful of fragmented scenes, with vibrant communities in Columbia and Charleston and smaller scenes in places like Myrtle Beach and the Greenville/Spartanburg area.
Hootie hometown Columbia’s music scene ranges from punk and hard rock to hip-hop and yes, even some melodic guitar pop.
Bleak sports a heavy edge on their recent **Trama** CD, yet still maintains a distinct melodic groove. Isabelle’s Gift have considerably less decorum in their redneck metal sound, but a solid connection with The Bloodhound Gang’s Jimmy Franks’ record label resulted in the CD, ** Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms**. On the punk rock front, straightedge punk rockers Stretch Armstrong are two albums into a relationship with Solid State Records that has seen them tour nationally. From Safety To Where released an intense album of abrasive postpunk on indie label Radical in 2002. Newcomers like the emo-leaning Burns Out Bright and Love Apple are popular in the live music scene.
Columbia still has plenty of bands with an ear for melody. Capital’s ** Above It All** references current Brit-pop and classic British rock, while Captain Easy’s unlikely-sounding combination of Phish with classic Elton John has been heard on two eclectic CDs, including 2002’s ** Picture Perfect World**. Danielle Howle, both in her solo career and with her rock band The Tantrums, has attracted plenty of national attention with albums for several indie labels including Daemon and Kill Rock Stars.
Like most of South Carolina, industry presence in Columbia is minimal, but it is there. Most prominent is the Hootie-owned Handpicked Records label, which is readying its second AWARE style compilation for release in late March, with distribution through Redeye. South Carolina artists to be featured are Five Way Friday, Carolyn Evans, David Dunning, Quench, and The Working Title from Charleston, and Patrick Davis from Columbia.
Even rap music has found a home in Columbia. The “Nonstop Hip-Hop Live” series at New Brookland Tavern has showcased a rotating cast of MC’s and other prospects for over a year now, from the Beat Junction Project to Lyrical Buddah, Al-One, and IX Two.
Recording studios in the area include The Jam Room, Gothic Recordings, The Sound Lab, Modern Music, and Strawberry Skys.
Charleston’s scene is notable for bands like Five Way Friday, who are releasing their third CD, **Wrecked **, this month on the Redeye label, with production by Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan. Hazel Virtue combines pristine harmonies, muscular guitars, and some pop-savvy hooks on their new CD, ** The Face and the Shine**.
Jump, Little Children’s souped-up Celtic folk gone power pop has been a staple of the city’s scene since their sidewalk busking days in the early 1990s. They released a moderately successful album on Atlantic subsidiary Breaking in 1998 before self-releasing 2001’s adventurous Vertigo themselves.
The country-rockers The Blue Dogs are another act that has been touted for several years now; Cracker’s David Lowery produced their last studio album.
Other names to watch for out of Charleston are hard rockers Quench, Beam, and The Working Title.
The upstate of South Carolina may be known as the most conservative area in the southeast, but there is still a liberal amount of good music there. Spartanburg’s Dezeray’s Hammer self-released their most recent disc last November after a one-album deal on Edel America. The Lackies, from Greenville, are turning heads with snappy, crackling Beatlesque pop and their debut CD, Itch.
Studios in the area include Adam Powell’s Site & Sound Studios and the new Sit N Spin Studio, an offshoot of the local label Sit N Spin, which boasts The Lackies, The Squids, The Black Lungs, and Rodney Stokes on its roster. A Sit N Spin compilation album is in the works and due out this spring.
Other notable artists not in the big three cities are the hard rock act Echo 7 and the gothic rock of Something About Vampires and Sluts, both from Myrtle Beach; the hip-hop DJ B-Lord from Florence (currently touring and recording with Petey Pablo), and heavy rockers Headsnap, from Greenwood.
With no second Hootie on the horizon, the artists who live in South Carolina are working hard, playing frequently around the region, and living by the attitude expressed by Hazel Virtue singer Eric Britt, who says, “Frankly, people aren’t expecting bands from South Carolina to hit the big time any more, so you have to go and prove your worth.”
“Echo 7 is positioned to be another version of the Creed success story,” Says Tony Couch of McGathy Promotions and Rockstar2K.com. “All the labels passed on Creed the first time around, which is how they ended up on Wind-Up. In Echo 7’s case, we decided to put the album out ourselves after getting a similar response from the labels we contacted.”
Will history repeat itself? Bill McGathy and In De Goot Entertainment were the first to showcase a then-unknown Creed to the industry. They currently manage the careers of several popular acts, including 3 Doors Down and Puddle Of Mudd (In a co-management deal with The Firm).
“We hope to get to that status, to get real popular, real quick,” says Echo 7 vocalist Ronnie O’Brien, “But this has been a long time coming.”
The Myrtle Beach, South Carolina hard rock quartet have been kicking around the Carolinas since 1995, but their big break came in 2000 when the band hooked up with manager Terry White.
“I began working on demos with the band in 2001 at Ardent studios in Memphis,” White says, “and the McGathy name had a great reputation there from the 3 Doors Down connection.” In October 2001, White and the band connected with McGathy Promotions after showcases on both coasts.
“We found the band through my artist development website, Rockstar2K.com,” Couch says. “We have been waiting and developing our company to get to this point, and Echo 7 is the right band for us to get behind.”
The album–tentatively titled, Another Day Another Drama–will be the first release on a new, in-house label, In De Goot Recordings. The band recorded again at Ardent, spending twenty-one days on everything but final vocal tracks, which were done at Sea Note in Myrtle Beach. Michael Barbiero is mixing the album, with “One Step Away,” the first single, going to radio in late March or early April.
The band has already completed opening dates with 3 Doors Down, and upcoming shows are scheduled with Roadrunner Records act Theory Of A Dead Man.
“The shows with 3 Doors Down have been a lot of fun,” says O’Brien. “The response from their crowd has been fantastic, and I think we make a good pairing live.”
“They went out with 3 Doors down as an unknown and had great success,” says Couch. “They were selling out of CDs at every show.”
It has been a long road out of the Carolinas for Echo 7, but they credit good management and a tireless road ethic with giving them the possibility of putting hometown Myrtle Beach on the musical map. “We had to work really hard from the start to get on the road, play shows, and get out of town,” says O’Brien. “Nobody from the labels was going to come to the beach to see us play.” If Echo 7 lives up to their potential, however, that attitude might change.