Four years ago, Alabama Shakes was an unknown, high school band from Athens, Alabama. Now they're playing sold out shows, appearing at SXSW, performing on the David Letterman Show, Conan and Later...With Jools Holland and touring the States in support of their debut album, Boys & Girls, which was released earlier this month.
When singer Brittany Howard first approached bassist Zac Cockrell about starting a band, they had no idea what kind of a band it would be. They experimented with everything from progressive rock to country. As Howard described it: “We started to come across our own sound a little bit, though it's evolved a lot since then."
With the addition of drummer Steve Johnson, a punk and metal aficionado, they embraced a soulful rock sound, one proudly showing its blues roots. Heath Fogg, a well-known local guitarist joined after asking the group to open for his own band; they agreed as long as Fogg played with them. The guitarist obliged, later joining Alabama Shakes as a full-time member, and the line-up was complete.
Alabama Shakes got their start playing dives and empty clubs, rounding out sets with covers as they wrote original material and crafted their sound. The band grooves on stage, employing a raucous blues-rock and soul sound, while playing covers as varied as Otis Redding and AC/DC. Brittany Howard tears it up with her powerful, mournful vocals. In a recent interview with American Songwriter Howard said, “We definitely paid our dues.”
Their first single “Hold On," a song about staying strong, illustrates their signature mix of blues, rock and soul. The band also conducted a recent web exclusive performance of the song “I Ain’t The Same.”
One of their biggest challenges has been to record an album that showcases their greatest strength - live performance. While Boys & Girls doesn't quite capture the energy of Alabama Shakes' live show, their debut is a damn good rock and roll record and a fine introduction to a band that possesses a bright future.
(Elford Alley has written plays, sketch comedy, and short stories. He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and daughter. Follow Elford on Twitter.)