Eddie Hogan, Free Time, and How It All Began

CFT MastheadEnded 2014 with the sad news of the passing of Eddie Hogan down in Charleston; Eddie was the publisher and editor of an entertainment newspaper called Charleston’s Free Time until health problems caused him to cease publication in the late 00’s. An unselfish supporter of local musicians and the music scene around Charleston, Eddie and the Free Time paper gave the budding scene somewhere to focus itself back in 1990 when he began as a bi-monthly free paper.

Hogan managed the Record Bar in Northwoods Mall, and I was working at the other Record Bar location, in Citadel Mall, so I knew him in passing already when he started talking about the paper he was going to be putting out. I’m not sure if I was in the very first issue or not, but I’m pretty sure I contributed to every one after that for about four years. It was the first place I was published after graduation from the University of South Carolina in 1989 with a mostly useless English degree; I was working full time at the record store and part-time as a DJ for the local classic rock station. The remainder of my young single life was taken up with seeing live music around town whenever I could, at bars like The Windjammer, Cumberlands, Cafe 99, and the new Music Farm that opened during that time frame. People stare in wonder when I tell them I saw Phish on East Bay Street at the original Music Farm in 1990; or when I tell the story of interviewing a 14 year old Derek Trucks before his gig at the Farm around that same time.

The first things I wrote for Eddie and the Free Time paper were simple record reviews, but a need soon surfaced for coverage of the live scene I was already immersed in. “The Beat” was born, a column that covered local music news and spotlighted a few good shows happening during the weeks each issue was on the street. It was a pretty wide-ranging selection of bands and music included, as my tastes then were just as eclectic as they are now (check the archives on this blog for a few examples of the column in its early form). beat logo

Soon, we began doing bigger stories when touring acts came through town; the first really big one I can remember that I did was when Atlanta band Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ came through around the time their Fly My Courageous album was blowing up; I did a phone interview with bandleader Kevn Kinney, then the day of the show we did an in-store with the band at Manifest Discs & Tapes (where I’d moved over to from Record Bar). I got Kevn to autograph a copy of the printed interview from the paper and later framed it, I still have that framed, autographed interview–In a rare editing error, Eddie spelled Kinney’s first name with the ‘i’ in the headline. Kinney was gracious enough (or intoxicated enough, maybe) not to notice or at least say anything if he did notice at the time.drivin n cryin feature 1991

The processes we used back then were positively antique compared to the publishing world of today; I would write or type out my copy and hand deliver it to Eddie (or he’d stop by the store and pick it up), who then re-typed it into his publishing program on a Macintosh computer setup, print that out and do paste-up on a light table for the pages that would go to the printer. I wasn’t ever involved in that part of the paper but any time I was at the house that table and computer were in various stages of use.

Eddie was always looking for ways to support the local music scene, being a musician himself. Between the two of us and a few others involved, we organized the Charleston Music Showcase for several years in a row, bringing regional industry folks like my favorite management curmudgeon Dick Hodgin and others in for a panel discussion of various topics, followed by a night or two of live sets from handpicked local acts we liked. It was, I hope, educational and informative for all the bands and musicians–me, I just liked seeing all the live music, all at once.

Eddie’s favorite story about me and my time with the Free Time involved Hootie & The Blowfish, who back then were just getting to be a regionally popular band not too many months removed from their cover band days at USC. In one of my columns previewing a Hootie show that was probably at the Windjammer, I made the pronouncement in a review of their demo cassette that the band “was going to be huge”, something that a more experienced critic might not have gone out on a limb of hyperbole with. That was in 1991, and of course we all know what happened beginning around four years later. Eddie was pretty proud of the fact that his paper had ‘called it’ earlier than anyone else. Years later in a Hootie exhibit in Columbia for some anniversary or commemoration of the band, there was a giant collage that featured show flyers and newspaper clippings from the band’s career; that column of mine with that prediction was included.

I left the Charleston scene and the Free Time ‘staff’ in 1993 when I moved to Columbia and got married, but Eddie’s influence and friendship didn’t end there. His sister-in-law Amy Whitaker, who had helped him start the Free Time in Charleston, was several years into publishing her own paper, the Columbia Free Times. When Eddie informed Amy I was moving up to Columbia she immediately asked if I’d be interested in doing similar work for her paper. I’ve now been writing for the Columbia Free Times for over 21 years–thanks again, Eddie.

Eddie and I kept in touch and he even mailed me the Charleston Free Time for a long time; when I noticed it getting a little slim on the local music coverage in the early 00’s I contacted Eddie and offered to resurrect “The Beat” from afar as a longer column in his now once-a-month publication. With the internet now a thing, I could easily scan club schedules and do a full-page rundown of upcoming concerts and significant club shows, and did just that for a while, enjoying being able to help out Eddie again, this many years removed from our beginnings in print together.

It has been years since I saw Eddie on a regular basis but any time I’d call it was like we could pick up wherever we left off the last time, talking about music that moved us, friends we both knew, or the latest band we’d seen. He was a friend to many, as the condolences that have been pouring in on social media this week have shown; I’m proud to give him the credit for kick-starting me and my own musical musings way back when. RIP Eddie Hogan, I’m sure you and Lowell George are in the middle of an awesome jam session right about now.

They’re Still Drivin’, Now It’s Me Who is Cryin’

Okay, I’m getting older. I’ll admit it, sure. But when Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ offers up the band’s most beloved song “Straight To Hell” in the middle of their set ‘in case you have to go to work tomorrow but you want to hear this song’, I take that as a challenge–though I’m still young enough that sticking around until midnight wasn’t much of a stretch. To be fair I did not, in fact, have to work the next day anyway.

In my 25 or so years of going to small, smelly clubs to see both good and bad bands play music deep into the night for little fame or fortune, there probably hasn’t been another I have seen as often over the years as Drivin’ N’ Cryin’. I’ve never been a rabid fan, member of the fan club, etc., but their shows have happened at just the right times that I’ve seen them play in four or five different cities and multiple venues over that time frame. So it’s with no shortage of experience that I say tonight’s set was one of the most affecting experiences I’ve had with them, ever.

Maybe it’s that getting older thing again; I was at the show with my wife (who is a bigger DnC fan than I realized) but I knew only a handful of others in the crowd. It has been a rough year personally, professionally, and spiritually on several levels for me, so this was our chance to close out the year, ‘rock out’ and forget some of those troubles for a night, the way a good night of live music is supposed to do that for you.

When Kinney strapped on his acoustic guitar for the first time early in the set and started strumming the opening chords to Bruce Springsteen’s “Growin’ Up” I was already slackjawed with surprise; then he had to go and dedicate the tune to the late Art Boerke, and by the end of the first verse I had tears streaming down my face, right in the middle of the club. Not necessarily for Boerke, though his was a hard loss for many in our local music community who credit the former booking agent for the legendary Rockafellas bar with bringing in all those great bands who helped shape their musical identity. No, it was more for the sentiment expressed in the song, one of ‘I’m growing up but I’m not going to go gently into that good night’. We all have to grow up sometime, but it’s not something we do willingly in most cases. Then along come the kids, the 40 hour work week, the bills, and all those responsibilities whether we asked for them or not. Growing up may be inevitable, but Kinney and company are proving it doesn’t have to happen without a fight, and it doesn’t have to take the fight out of you when it does happen.

The one thing I forget from time to time about DnC is the band’s musical range; casual fans latch on to the aforementioned unofficial southern rock anthem and the harder rocking material from the Fly Me Courageous era, but they are just as likely any more to launch into a Nugent-style drone riff, some slide guitar blues, or a beautiful acoustic folk melody. Fully two-thirds of the band’s set tonight, in fact, was probably unfamiliar to any but the most diehard fan; it’s to the band’s credit that the audience stuck with them throughout regardless of familiarity with the song selection. How many, I wonder, have  a copy of the solo album Kinney did with Anton Fier of the Golden Palominos a few years ago, A Good Country Mile, and knew that title track when he played a beautiful, slow-building acoustic version of it? Even I had to go look that one back up when my wife asked where it came from; I’d heard it before but not like they played it tonight.

There’s a new lead guitarist in the band (Aaron Lee Tasjan, who played on that recent solo album with Kinney), and I’m not sure if the drummer is the same as the one I saw them with last year either; the beauty of the DnC machine, however, is that as long as Kinney and bassist Tim Nielsen are on board it’s still going to be Drivin’ N’ Cryin’. Nielsen, in fact, may just be the band’s secret weapon—it’s his bass that anchors everything, whether he’s hitting higher notes or chugging along the bottom end, and he does it all with the traditional four-string Fender model he’s used forever.

It’s a joy to this old rock critic’s heart to see and hear a band that’s both comfortable with their identity and still hungry enough to keep creating, keep changing things up, this late into the game. As the best music does, it inspires me to keep my own standards high and not settle for just any old rock ‘n’ roll when it can be and is this good, at least this time.