All Richie Tipton needed was a nudge.
The Asheville native’s daughter and nephew had been suggesting he do a podcast for a while and synthesize his background in radio and investigative journalism. But if he was going to embark on such a project, he needed the right topic to explore — and the right reason to delve into it.
“At the time, I was still living in West Virginia and thinking a lot about my Asheville musical past — who [and] what inspired me, gave me confidence [and] supported me,” says Tipton, who played in the local rock bands Rattlesnakes, Praying for Rain and N.C. Rail in the 1980s and ’90s. “I remembered how Asheville itself was an artist — an artist’s tool. I could feel her magic jumping from the sidewalks. I could taste that ‘something in the water’ people talked about.”
As Tipton sat with his thoughts, vivid scenes from the first Christmas Jams at 45 Cherry and Be Here Now came to mind, along with “a young Warren Haynes at The Brass Tap before David Allan Coe came to snatch him” and “the muscular, world-shredding playing of Mike Barnes.” Likewise stirring powerful emotions was the annual Freakers Ball each Halloween at the old Asheville Music Hall, Praying for Rain packing Gatsby’s on consecutive nights and Eagles producer Bill Szymczyk working with Southern rock band Dixie DeLuxe on its album Rubberized.
“I looked at Asheville as a forest, and the characters — the world-class musicians, songwriters, venues — as trees,” Tipton says. “I personally know some of the trees of this forest and thought it’d be cool to remind some and introduce others to what I consider the golden age of homegrown self-rising jam.”
Thus was born Band of The Sky, which explores Asheville’s music history from the 1960s-’90s. The podcast series launches Monday, June 15, with the three 25-minute episodes Tipton recorded with longtime friend and musical colleague Rocky Lindsley. In Lindsley, Tipton found an ideal collaborator for the project, and the pair quickly fell into a productive rhythm.
“We really had no idea how we were going to proceed. I had research and Rocky was the insider, but we didn’t set any hard format. I’d usually pose a question such as ‘Does it matter, does anybody care if an unknown musician leaves behind a recorded work [or] legacy after they pass?’ Rocky was always ready to talk, so I’d just let him roll,” Tipton says.
“My goal was to interview musicians and find music from this area and era, and here was my co-host, one of the movers and shakers — a partner — sitting across from me telling me about his career, the Christmas Jams, his road work with country stars Lorrie Morgan and Rhett Akins.”
With momentum building, the COVID-19 pandemic put Band of the Sky on pause in mid-March, and mere weeks later, Lindsley’s sudden death nearly derailed the project entirely. For weeks, a grief-stricken Tipton couldn’t bring himself to work on the podcast’s “Rich and Rock” sister website, which will host a wealth of music and photos. In time, he regrouped enough to proceed and recruited his former Praying for Rain bandmate Jeff Anders to be his new co-host. Anders introduced Tipton to Lindsley in 1992 and was Tipton’s original first choice to help him with the podcast, but he had too many commitments at the time to take part. Anders’ son Satchel has inherited Lindsley’s role as series engineer.
Jeff Anders’ numerous industry connections have resulted in phone interviews with such musicians as Johnny House (NightCrawlers; The Dirte Four; Centurions) Jack Mascari (Stripp Band; Dixie DeLuxe) and Karen Connors (Crimes of Fashion). Tipton, who currently lives on a farm in Polk County, envisions the series will run 12-18 episodes and wants to loop in Haynes or Bruce McTaggart, who told Lindsley in January that he’d partake. Tipton and Anders plan to delve into the historical significance of McTaggart’s music venue, The McTap, and The Brass Tap that preceded it at the same 633 Merrimon Ave. space, as well as the role of the City Auditorium and Asheville Civic Center, plus other key topics.
“We’ve discussed the effects Asheville schools’ integration had on the local music scene. A lot of people [and] musicians at Asheville High School were exposed to a different culture [and] different music. Rocky and Jeff, who both attended Asheville High, said integration was a major part of their music education,” Tipton says. “I also may expand to other towns — maybe Weaverville. I remember great players coming from the northern end of Buncombe County.”
As episodes of Band of the Sky are released, Tipton hopes that “those who were a part of that scene and those who weren’t” are reminded “how special Asheville’s music community was during this period” — or learn about it for the first time. And though there’s no way of knowing, he believes that Lindsley would support his commitment to their creation.
“I think he would want me to keep going,” Tipton says. “I ask myself how he would feel — would he keep doing it if I were gone? I believe he would. The spirit of the project is bigger than the parts.” richandrock.com