Still coming clean

As part of a genuine Rags-to-spiritual-riches quest, boogie-woogie wuenderkind Abe Reid is back dazzling dancers — just as he did a decade ago fronting Asheville’s then-premier club band, punkish rag ‘n’ roll pioneers the Blue Rags.

This Saturday night, the 32-year-old dynamo returns with his funk-rock trio the Spikedrivers (with bassist Korey Dudley and drummer Charlie Heard), to follow Grammy-nominated bluegrass legend Del McCoury at the Flat Rock Music Festival.

“It probably saved my life”

Now married and the father of three, Reid has seemingly taken charge of his life, tuned more into the world as a songwriter, and started feeling the lighter shade of blues since kicking a heroin habit that got him kicked out of the Blue Rags eight years ago.

In fact, losing his place in the wildly popular regional band saved his life, Reid confessed in a recent phone interview.

“When the Blue Rags let me go, I truly believe it was out of love,” he reveals. “It probably saved my life. At first, I didn’t understand that. I felt hurt and mad. I didn’t like anybody [in that band].

“Now,” he insists, “I love them all. I respect Jake for making a hard choice. He did the right thing. … I got over it.”

The Jake in question is Jake Hollifield, the Blue Rags’ pianist, who now plays around Asheville as “The Manic Pianic.”

Following Reid’s forced exit from the band, he moved back to his hometown of Statesville in Iredell County (where the band had formed in 1990). Today, he stays busy recording in his home studio, Back Shack Records, playing regular regional gigs and sharing career and kid watching with Jan, his wife of seven years and his agent/business manager.

“I have so much more balance [now]” he declares. “I feel comfortable in my skin. I became ready to settle down and be a dad, and be in love. And I love playing music.”

And even that’s a bit different now. Reid has grown beyond his intense, sand-papery, Satchmo-scattin’ marathons (he used to be hoarse for two days after performing; he still scats some, but more often mixes styles) and ultra-frenzied harmonica forays. Instead, he’s rediscovering his own voice and versatility.

“It’s time to blossom playing my own songs and music,” says Reid, who racked up a handful of failed rehab stints and did time in three jails before finally becoming clean.

“Now, I have to step up and reveal what I think. It’s like standing up naked.”

In his own words

Despite having mellowed, Reid remains a clever, sometimes almost-silly lyricist, though he has dabbled with social issues since 9/11. And a new, yet-to-be-released punk-doo-wop tune is about the deadliness of substance abuse.

“It’ll kill you,” Reid offers. “I’ve lived it.”

The singer says he embraced religion and stiffened his resolve for recovery three years ago, after daughter Maggie’s coma from head trauma suffered in a car accident. Maggie, then 2, was hospitalized for three months, but eventually recovered.

“I prayed when she was in a coma. I was not a believer. But I made a deal. I said, ‘God, if you save the girl, I’ll be a soldier.'”

Reid was grateful for a Blue Rags benefit show that raised money for his family’s medical expenses from the wreck. (Though they semi-officially disbanded two years ago, The Rags are now in the habit of staging regular reunion shows, one of which has included Reid.)

In fact, Reid and Blue Rags singer/guitarist Aaron “Woody” Wood will both play in Flat Rock Saturday night. Wood (who now typically performs under the name Hollywood Red) leads the indoors midnight jam, and Reid says it’s “entirely possible” he’ll join the musicians onstage.

You might say that in his musical comeback — which began when Reid won the 1998 International Blues Talent Challenge in Memphis, Tenn. — he’s re-scaling the mountainside. His first CD of all-original songs, Caution: Falling Boogie, was released just this past spring.

For much of Reid’s career, he growled fiercely on stage, “pushing it to the limit to prove myself and get attention,” he reveals. But for four years now, he’s been steadily relaxing his singing approach, rather than batter his vocal cords merely for the sake of showmanship.

“When you let it happen, the better it gets,” he muses. Witness his soulful delicacy on “Fern Gully Lace,” Reid’s current “hit” on WNCW-FM.

“I filled my void with my family and career,” he concludes. “I try not to dwell on the past or the negative. I’m in a positive world.”

[Pete Zamplas is a freelance writer based in Hendersonville.]

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