Rob Russell & the Sore Losers
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Rob Russell & the Sore Losers

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"Losers Aim to Please!"

Rob Russell and the Sore Losers aim to please

There were no losers at the Casbah Saturday night as Rob Russell and the Sore Losers took the stage and rocked to a full crowd.

"We were really excited to see so many people there since it had been since December when we last played in Johnson City," said Russell. "It sold out, we even had to turn people away."

The CD release party produced excitement for RRSL fans and curiosity in newcomers.
"We were surprised that we had so many people traveled to see the show," Russell said. "There were people from Jackson, Tenn., Charleston, W.Va., and Greeneville, S.C. That was special."

The band - which includes Rob Russell on guitar and vocals, Andy Russell on drums, David Hart on guitar and vocals, and Josh Reifert on bass and vocals - has been together for five years.

I have seen this band four times over the span of my three year college career, and I would say this was, by far, their best concert. Not only was the band into it and in sync, the crowd re-energized the mood.

"It is always a good sign when you pack the place," said Russell. "The crowd had a lot of energy which kept us going."

The music was captivating and seemed to take over the crowd's body and mind, and like most of the people there, I could not help but dance.

"The show was fabulous," said Beth Jablonski. "A good live band is one when you go hear them you can feel the music."

The band played mostly original songs, many of which were off their new CD, Lucky on the Side. They also covered an array of bands such as The Beatles, Johnny Cash and rapper Snoop Dogg
As Russell began singing the words to Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice", ad-libbing his own words, "Its kinda hard being R-O-B. But I keep coming up with funky ass songs like every single day," the crowd erupted with cheers singing along.
"Any band who can cover Snoop Dogg is alright in my book," said Amber Schlobohm, an ETSU student and fan.

These renditions did not take away from the show or the originality the band personas, but enhanced the liveliness of the crowd. "The show was really great," said Schlobohm. "The crowd was especially nice. This was my third Rob Russell show and they just keep getting better."

Originality is also a hallmark of the Russell genre. He mixes up words from songs that he covers in order to make them his own. The lyrics also bring meaning to the songs, as Russell writes them from his own personal experiences, using everyday life and fitting it into his work. The crowd seemed to be able to relate to the lyrics, but at the same time relax and give in to the rock 'n' roll.

Russell, who rocks out in the evenings in smoke-filled clubs, is the Writing and Communication Center director during the day.
As someone who is familiar with Russell as the director of the WCC, I was slightly shocked to hear Russell's remarks and lyrics while on stage. Spectators that know him for his proper use of the English language also marveled at his frequent use of expletives in his show.

He left the impression on me that he enjoys performing for such a crowd, whether they were sober or drunk. The way they interacted with the crowd, giving away T-shirts and posters, showed that the band was there for more than a money-making performance - they actually take pleasure in what they do.

As the show came to an end the crowd shouted for an encore. After giving a stunning encore performance, the band said there departing words despite the disapproval of the crowd. Going along with his enthusiastic personality, Russell left his instructions for partygoers, words they won't forget anytime soon. Although I cannot repeat them, they went along the lines of encouraging the crowd to continue to party after the show and commit general acts of debauchery.
I know I speak for many when I say I felt like a winner after such an amazing and energetic show.
- Melanie Herrington/East Tennesseean


"Talent, Not Luck, Makes Album Rock"

Talent, not luck, makes album rock

"Lucky on the Side," Rob Russell & the Sore Losers
Review by Wayne Bledsoe

Rob Russell has spent two decades keeping stages hot from the Tri-Cities to Knoxville. His new release, "Lucky on the Side," with his band the Sore Losers, is rock-solid rock 'n' roll with just an edge of old-fashioned Southern rock.

The years have done nothing to diminish Russell's energy, and his songs (Russell writes all the lyrics and co-writes music with the band) are the sort that can be written only with a little maturity.

In "The Great Depression," Russell depicts a young woman whose alcoholism is only a symptom of a bigger problem: "The truth is so hard to swallow / You choke it down it comes right back up tomorrow / So you crawl inside the warmth of a botle / Drink to the great depression."

Tracks, including "Hey Hey Hey" and "The Score," have bouncy hooks that keep clicking the repeat button.

The disc's title comes from a song in which a longtime rocker wonders if he still has the stuff to be on the stage: "How am I gonna please a bunch of drunks like these?"

Russell can accomplish the task even if the crowd is stone-sober. - Knoxville News-Sentinel


"Feeling Lucky"

Feeling Lucky
Academic, rocker Rob Russell plays a winning hand

by Paige M. Travis

The problem with interviewing a college writing instructor is that he’ll try to compose your first sentence. As soon as he speaks the words, the light bulb goes on. “Hey, that’s your lede,” he jokes. “‘Rob Russell is family friendly.’”

It’s a good line, but it brings to mind amusement parks and chopped steak at the Golden Corral—not a kick-ass rock singer who knows how to edit his on-stage language at all-ages music festivals. If only some booking agents hadn’t bristled at the smattering of well-placed curse words on his band’s 2005 disc, Lucky on the Side, and decided the rockers should stick to the rowdy bars of their home in Johnson City, Rob Russell and the Sore Losers might be on the schedule of more regional festivals.

Guitarist/lead singer Russell and his band—guitarist David Hart, drummer Andy Russell and new bassist Nathan Jones—are the odd men out, and not just because they’ve been boxed out by sensitive festival organizers.

“We don’t really fit,” says Russell. Not quite among the bands in Johnson City, where they’re one of the few groups with some longevity (five years), regional radio airplay and a measure of popularity. Nor do they fit snugly into a strict musical continuum that divides rock from country and folk with a thick black line.

But for fans of roots rock and Americana—genres existing solely within that amorphous blend of musical influences—Rob Russell and the Sore Losers provides a hearty dose of satisfying pop hooks, thrashing drums, two guitars that sound like three, a gut-rumbling bass rhythm and a lyrical pendulum that swings from bad love to worse.

By day, Russell, whose accent and wit echo his East Tennessee raising, heads the Writing and Communications Center at ETSU. In addition to training tutors, running workshops and pushing papers, he teaches in the English department. Teaching makes up only 20 percent of his job, but he loves it, especially when he’s torturing students with intro-level American Literature. “It’s a totally different world and world-view,” he says of the era that produced Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” “It’s amazing that the roots of our country are buried in the dark and twisted souls of these people who basically set up a David Koresh-like settlement on the coast of America,” he enthuses. “The Puritans would’ve hung me or set me on fire.”

Though he spends his days facilitating the appropriate arrangement of words, Russell swears it doesn’t make him a better writer. Academic writing and songs are different animals, he says. It’s all about the audience. Academic papers argue ideas to professors and thesis committees. “When I write the songs I’m going to perform, I’m writing to please myself,” he says. “I have my own standards and internal criteria.”

Russell began by using perhaps the best tutorial a songwriter could choose: Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. He was 11 or 12 when he picked up the record at the library. Russell guesses it was the first record he ever analyzed piece by piece to figure out how a songwriter did what he did.

“I’ve always approached songs that way, finding writers I admire,” he says. “The downside of it is you might end up writing a bunch of songs that sound like Bob Dylan.” (Um, that’s a downside?) To this day, Russell’s way with internal rhyme and storytelling structure reveals his kinship with Dylan and other masterful writers.

While Russell regularly crosses the borders between academic and rocker, he finds acceptance in both worlds. He’s not itching to pursue his fortune with music, and he seems quite happy to have his feet planted in such disparate fields.

“I’m lucky in a lot of ways that I have a job in academia because there’s a respect for the artist and the creative process,” says Russell. “There’s an expectation that people are going to be creative.”

To promote the music, there’s the requisite touring. The Sore Losers hit the road back in the spring, and…. “We got our ass kicked,” says Russell, and not by local bands looking to rumble. Gas prices chewed into any profits the band might have made playing gigs and selling merch. (Have you filled the tank of a van lately?) So they shucked plans for a summer tour and stuck closer to home, a decision that turned out lucky considering the ripple effects of Hurricane Katrina on gas prices, hotel rooms, etc. This weekend’s show at the Corner Lounge will be their first at the cozy dive and a preview for the next night’s show in Johnson City marking the re-release of the Sore Losers’ first CD, 2002’s I Think We’re Going to Be Alright. Russell comments with self-effacing amazement: “It only took us three years to sell 2,000 copies. We didn’t go gold; we went plywood.” They’re just lucky that way.
- Metropulse (Knoxville, TN)


"Rock, Wit & Wisdom"

Rob Russell & the Sore Losers
Lucky on the Side (RRSL/MAD Records)
by Paige M. Travis (travis@metropulse.com)

I bet Johnson City’s Rob Russell & the Sore Losers get asked why they don’t move to Nashville all the time. But why relocate to Music City when you can make great roots rock and enjoy the perks of living in East Tennessee? The band’s new CD Lucky on the Side will surely grab the attention of rock-lovers on both sides of the Cumberland Plateau.

Landing on the gritty, Bad Livers side of alt-country, RRSL launches into its second disc railing against the unfairness of romance and the rock ‘n’ roll industry. The triple whammy of “What Do You Know,” “American Bastard,” and “The Score” dish out riotous double guitars punctuated by Andy Russell’s sharp snare and thundering kick drum, corroborated by bassist Josh Reifert. Really, Scott Miller’s follow-up to Thus Always to Tyrants should have been more like Lucky; the two share the same dynamic as equal parts half-cocked bar band rock and half-drunk lament. The resemblance continues in Russell’s voice which drawls and keens like Miller’s, particularly on “The Great Depression,” which stands up there with Miller’s “Lie I Believe” for sheer heartbreaking effect. Guitarist David Hart chimes in with backing vocals that double Russell’s at all the right moments.

Eric Fritsch, a card-carrying member of Miller’s band The Commonwealth, produced, engineered and mixed Lucky in Eastwood Studios in East Nashville, which might explain the disc’s powerful dynamic from the quiet, swaying moments to those of loud, full-blown rock. But Fritsch’s job was made easier by starting with RRSL’s great songs. Lyrical highlight: “I’m just the bastard of ceremonies singing with a fair degree of acrimony. How am I gonna please a bunch of drunks like these?” And there’s plenty more wit and wisdom care of lyricist Russell, who is director of East Tennessee State University’s Writing Center.

The test of a band’s true mettle is its live show, which has won RRSL plenty of local fans over the years. Their local CD release show is March 18 at Blue Cats.
- Paige Travis for Metropulse/Knoxville TN


"Bring Out the Dead"

Bring out the dead - Russell, others to perform songs of late rock stars

By Doug Janz
Press Tempo Writer
djanz@johnsoncitypress.com

Just in time for Halloween comes a chance for true rock music fans to party, celebrate the most ghoulish of holidays and maybe even learn a little about, of all things, dead rock stars.
Rob Russell is hosting the inaugural Dead Rock Star Ball at Gatsby’s, 227 E. Main St., on Saturday. He’ll serve as emcee for the evening, and the bill will include The Neverwills, Fierce Embrace and Russell’s own group, Rob Russell & the Sore Losers. They’ll do original music but also many covers of some of their favorite dead rock stars.

The evening will include costume competition for Best Dead Rock Star, Sexiest Costume and Best Overall Costume.

Admission is $10. The show begins at 10 p.m. when Fierce Embrace goes on. It is an 18-over show.

The show “will feature all three bands presenting their own unique interpretations of songs by some of the greatest fallen icons of rock and roll,” according to Russell.

Fierce Embrace, a new group on the local scene, will pay tribute to Alice in Chains and the group’s late singer, Layne Staley. The Neverwills — “powe-pop-meets-emo” — will include songs by The Doors, the Beatles, The Clash and Elvis Presley, among others. The Sore Losers will pay homage to Johnny Cash and Lynyrd Skynyrd, groups the band has done tribute shows for in the past, as well as more obscure names like Steve Marriott of Humble Pie and The Faces, and early rocker Bobby Fuller, who was murdered.

“I think it’ll be fun,” Russell said. “We’re all going to have some surprise things, too, some obscure dead rock stars who I think are important. We’ll try to tell a little bit of the story of some of these artists.

“But,” added Russell, a writing professor at East Tennessee State University, “there’s not gonna be a quiz or anything afterwards.

“It’s not exactly a tribute, like ‘How sad it is they’re dead.’ We’re a little bit more tongue in cheek. It’s a little macabre, a little dark. We hope people do get into it.”

The idea for the show’s theme came partially from a scene in the Paul Simon movie “One Trick Pony,” which followed a band on tour. “They played a game while they were in the van, sort of ‘name the dead guy,’ and somebody has to say how they died,” Russell said. “Greil Marcus (rock music critic) also did an essay on the subject. And I’m writing a novel that involves a murder taking place at a costume contest and it has to do with musicians, which has allowed me to do some research on this stuff.

“That mythos, of the dead rock star, is so much a part of our culture. It’s the survivor mentality.”
- Johnson City Press


"The Dead Rock Star Ball"

Dead Rock Star Ball
By Brad Lifford

Sore Losers headline tribute show with a different twist

Rob Russell wants all Jimi Hendrixes, Kurt Cobains, Bobby Fullers and Jim Morrisons to join him in Johnson City for a Halloween shindig like no other.

It’s sort of like Night of the Living Dead, rock ’n’ roll style, minus the zombie eating habits.

“I came up with this idea,” Russell said, “based on all these things sort of swimming around in my head.”

The “Dead Rock Star Ball,” being held Saturday at Gatsby’s in Johnson City, congealed from a variety of elements — a novel Russell is writing, an essay he read by a noted rock critic, an obscure Paul Simon movie he watched, Russell’s love of rock ’n’ roll trivia — that all have to do with rock stars who died.

The Gatsby’s show will be part music tribute show and part costume ball, with Russell and the Sore Losers headlining a concert bill that features two other local bands, The Neverwills and Fierce Embrace.

All the bands will play a mix of originals and covers, with the latter drawn from a pantheon of dead rock stars: Fierce Embrace will play four to five songs by Alice in Chains in tribute to the late singer Layne Staley; The Neverwills will put their own power-pop-meets-emo spin on songs by The Doors, The Beatles, Elvis Presley and The Clash; while Russell and his Sore Losers will cover legends Johnny Cash and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others.

“This idea came from two or three different places,” Russell said. “There was a story I started working on years ago, and it turned into an idea for a novel. It’s the idea of this local music hero who becomes a solo artist and gets murder, and he becomes even more popular.”

On top of that, Russell read an essay by Greil Marcus where Marcus actually assigns scores to dead rock stars, on what they did and what they might have done. And then there’s the Paul Simon movie “One Trick Pony,” where Simon and his fellow bandmates in the movie are essentially playing dead rock star trivia on the way to a gig: Try to match the rock star with the manner of death.

“I decided I wanted to do a big show for the fall, so I decided to turn my idea for the book into reality,” Russell said. “The people coming to the show would dress like dead rock stars, and you could dress like them, what they looked like when they were alive, or what they would look like now.”

Accordingly, party-goers can compete in the categories of Best Dead Rock Star Costume, Sexiest Costume and Best Overall Costume.

Russell hand-picked the opening acts for the show. Fierce Embrace is a newcomer to the local landscape, a Knoxville transplant that will play several songs from their upcoming full-length CD. The Neverwills, too, are finishing up a full-length album.

Any music listener knows the songs of Skynyrd or Cash, but the Sore Losers plan to add some more obscure tributes to their set, like Bobby Fuller and former Humble Pie frontman Steve Marriott.

Fuller’s ’60s hits “Let Her Dance” and “I Fought the Law” had the Texan on the rise as a rock star, but his 1966 death remains one of the most mysterious in rock lore: His wounded body was discovered outside a bar, soaked with gasoline. It was ruled a suicide, but doubters say otherwise to this day.

Marriott’s push to give Humble Pie a harder, rockin’ edge led to the departure of Peter Frampton, who went on to huge solo success. The two were preparing to reunite for a tour when Marriott died in a house fire in 1991.

“We’re aren’t making light of [rock star deaths] — we’re also doing this so people might think about music that maybe they haven’t thought about in a while,” Russell said. “I’d like to keep this going, just this idea of people getting together in costume. There’s so many great rock stories out there. I’d like to see some people really digging down and doing some research.” - GoTricities/Times-News


"Living in Two Worlds"

Living in two worlds: Musical mix of sounds reflection of varied lifestyle

By WAYNE BLEDSOE, bledsoe@knews.com
December 19, 2003

Like a lot of musicians, Rob Russell leads a double life.

In Russell's day job he is director of the writing and communications center at East Tennessee State University. But more Knoxvillians know Russell through his many musical endeavors. His latest is Rob Russell & The Sore Losers.

"It's like living in two different worlds," says Russell over coffee at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. "One is a bunch of guys traveling through North Carolina in a van. The other is supposedly being in a position of authority. But both energize the other. It's easy to get into a rut playing every night. Teaching writing and literature keeps me connected to a life that's not just that next van ride to a bar. It's hard for me to imagine not having that balance."

Russell was born in Knoxville and grew up in Morristown. His musical ability may come from his mother and aunt. His mother played saxophone, and his mother and her sister decided to learn how to play guitar when Rob was 4. When his aunt gave up the instrument, Rob inherited her Gibson J-45.

Into his early 20s, Russell attended East Tennessee State University in Johnson City and became a regular in local music circles - lots of different circles.

While he tried his hand at being an acoustic singer-songwriter, the quality of his voice earned him invitations to join electric bands.

"I was loud," says Russell with a chuckle. "I sang in blues bands and alt-rock bands. But it was great. I probably would've never listened to Ray Charles if I hadn't been in a jump-blues band (the GrooveMasters)."

He also played bluegrass, pairing with local banjo player John Taylor and backing up Scott Miller in the Bluegrass Disciples in the early 1990s.

At that same time, while he attended graduate school at the University of Tennessee, Russell started the punk band The Junkers. Upon returning to Johnson City in 1993, Russell formed the Rent Boys, which eventually transformed into the Mystery Dates. Then he and another member dropped out to form The Bystanders.

In 2000, Russell formed The Sore Losers as an outlet for his increasing output of original songs - songs that reflect his varied musical experience.

"The idea of The Sore Losers was to be able to switch gears and go from hard rockin' to the blues to singer-songwriter stuff and have nobody know the difference," says Russell.

He enlisted his drummer brother, Andy Russell.

"He's a little brother, so he'll pretty much do what I tell him," says Russell. "The nucleus was me and my brother, with different people rotating in and out. This version of the band has been together since April."

The group's album "I Think We're Going to Be Alright" is filled with songs that sound as if the singer has plenty of life-experience.

"When I was a teenager I wrote everything - stories, poems," says Russell. "Now everything becomes material for songs. It's just that songs are the best avenue to communicate what I have to say - not that what I have to say is probably that important."

Russell says that while he takes his music more seriously now than he ever has, he isn't exactly looking to be some national phenomenon.

"The whole idea of 'making it' is so subjective," he says. "For me, 'making it' would be for the music at least pay for itself." And while the group continues to expand its touring area, Russell and the group are happy to remain based in Johnson City.

"There are more clubs in the Tri-Cities than in Knoxville," says Russell. "There are far fewer clubs willing to pay guarantees in Knoxville. You can play every night of the week if you want to (in the Tri-Cities) - except on Sunday."
- Wayne Bledsoe/ Knoxville News-Sentinel


"Bad Luck Days & Sore Losers Nights"

Bad Luck Days & Sore Loser Nights (Interview w/Rob)
by Jeff Eason

You’ve got to have some kind of confidence in yourself to mix Murphy’s Law with Friday the 13th and think you can get away with it. The truth is, Rob Russell & The Sore Losers look forward to the challenge of playing live at Murphy’s in Boone on Friday, August 13th.

Rob Russell & The Sore Losers, a powerful rock & Americana outfit out of Johnson City, has been making waves for the past four years with its unique blend of soulful harmonies and Southern rock roots. The group has spent time this summer in Nashville recording its second album with producer Eric Fritsch. If it is anything like its fantastic debut, I Think We’re Gonna Be Alright, it should be one of the best releases from an area band this year.

The new album is tentatively titled Lucky on the Side and is slated for release in October. It gets its name from lyrics in a Mick Jagger song called “Evening Gown.”

East Tennessee State University students know Rob Russell as the director of the university’s Writing Center. He’s been a working force in the Tennessee music scene for the past decade-and-a-half, playing with musicians such as Walt Wilkins, Scott Miller (V-roys) and Dick Thompson (Steve Miller Band). During that time Russell has performed everything from bluegrass to punk to swing. It is through The Sore Losers, however, that Russell has found his own original musical voice.

Russell has distributed some of the new songs from the upcoming album to friends, radio stations and media outlets. The sound is crisp, the band rocks, the new tunes are tight, and it looks like Russell has another winner on his hands.

“We started recording with Eric Fritsch—he plays with Scott Miller and the Commonwealth—at his studio in East Nashville this past May, finishing twelve songs,” said Russell. “We returned just last week to record four more, and we’ll be choosing the best eleven or twelve to on the new CD. One of the tunes is already being used as the theme to a TV show, The Verge, which is a live music show covering venues across the southeast, from Nashville to Charleston to Atlanta. It’ll debut in early September, but I’m not sure if it will air in Boone.”

Russell added that the new song selected for The Verge is “Success,” a tune that was recorded for the first album and then remade this spring for Lucky on the Side. (You can find out more about the TV show at www.thevergeonline.net.).

Combining jangly guitars, tight rock rhythms, and bluesy vocals, the songs from the new album have the band poised for national prominence. Unlike many of their Americana brethren, these guys know how to rock. They have an innate sense of when to invoke the introspective spirit of Hank Williams Sr. and when to party like his son.

“I think the new material has greatly benefited from two things,” said Russell. “First, this version of the band, with David Hart on guitar, Josh Reifert on bass, and my brother Andy Russell on drums, has been together for over two years, so the recording has much more of a band sound. Second, working with an experienced producer like Eric has helped us be more adventurous and take more chances in the studio. I think the last CD is solid and has some good songs, but it’s kind of ‘safe’ sounding. On this new one we really kicked out the jams and turned everything up to 11…much more like our live shows. The moodier and slower tunes even rock out a bit. It’s more Led Zeppelin III than Redheaded Stranger, to make a feeble folk-rock-country comparison.”

James Watson of The Johnson City Press wrote, “With songs ranging from burning, crowd-shaking rhythms to smoldering, twangy tunes, the Sore Losers sort through stories filled with frustrations, joys and a fondness for drinking.”

Fans of Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, and of Miller’s previous band The V-roys, will enjoy Rob Russell and the Sore Losers. All three bands have a gritty mix of soulful singing and Southern storytelling. Like Miller’s work, the Sore Losers instinctively know how to mix electric guitars with acoustic instruments such as accordions and fiddles for a big yet intimate sound.
- Jeff Eason / Mountain Times - Boone NC


"Russell & Losers Resonate with Listeners"

Russell, Sore Losers resonate with a wide mix of listeners
By Jim McGuinness

You’ve come to a critical moment in your life. You’re not sure when, if ever, your ship will come in. You’ve made a choice that required you to give up one passion for another. You don’t know if you’ve made the right choice. All you can do is give it your best shot.

Characters who make such choices are all over “Lucky on the Side,” the new album by Rob Russell & the Sore Losers. From the opening salvo of the album’s blistering leadoff track, “What Do You Know,” the CD introduces us to passionate people on the brink of success and failure, often both at the same time.


There are two things I’d like to learn
How to live and how to burn
‘Cause I’m wearing my heart
Outside of my chest
Going through changes
Hope they’re for the best


Russell’s lyrics eloquently convey why many people wind up in bars on the weekend, beer bottle in hand, looking for catharsis in a rock ’n’ roll band. Rock ’n’ roll may not have the answers, but the good songwriters like Russell understand the questions many of us confront on a daily basis. Together with the Sore Losers — his brother Andy (drums), Josh Reifert (bass) and David Hart (guitar) — Russell churns out music that somehow make those questions easier to face. In Russell’s songs we see ourselves, over and over again.

“I read where Ezra Pound said every poem should have one concrete image,” Russell said. “I don’t know if I have a single concrete image, but I at least like to have one question or problem in a song. The problem in a lot of these songs seems to be that someone made a choice, and they don’t know if it’s the right one or not.”

The group will hold a CD release party for “Lucky on the Side” at 9 p.m., Saturday at The Casbah in Johnson City, a show sponsored by Dr. Enuf and GoTriCities. Produced by Eric Fritsch in Fritsch’s East Nashville studio, the disc follows up on the promise of “I Think We’re Gonna Be Alright,” their 2002 debut album.

The opening three tracks – “What Do You Know,” “American Bastard,” “The Score” – come fast and furious, reminding us why rock ’n’ roll first grabbed our attention . But it’s the depth of the material that follows that ultimately gives “Lucky on the Side” its clout. “Swing Swing,” the song immediately following the first three tracks, kicks off with a wheezy harmonica intro by Russell, changing the pace of the album entirely. Songs like “The Great Depression,” “It’s Time,” and “World Turns Blue” pack emotional wallop in the best bar-band tradition, even as tempos slow.

“I always like records that are punchy right away,” Russell said. “That’s why we have those first three songs that don’t let up. The fourth song is there to suck you into a different place.”

While the decibel level never gets back to the altitude of those first three tracks, “Lucky on the Side” retains a rock ’n’ roll attitude all the way through. But it’s an adult rock ’n’ roll record, complete with acoustic guitars, insightful lyrics and acknowledgements to other musical influences (one song, “Cured,” even cites the George Jones hit, “Choices,” by name).

Lyrically, Russell incorporates slice-of-life lines that listeners invariably identify with.

“One of the coolest things that can happen is when somebody comes up to you and says, ‘that line in that song meant so much to me,’” Russell said. “It might for me be a throwaway line, or it might even be a line that I’m particularly proud of, and I’m just glad that somebody got.”

A musician on the East Tennessee music scene for 15 years, Russell got the rock ’n’ roll bug early in life: his mother, a potter and painter, would keep him in the crib while she worked in her studio. As she did so, the radio would be blasting songs by The Who, Van Morrison and Led Zeppelin.

As he grew older, Russell developed a deep appreciation of artists like Bruce Springsteen and Alejandro Escovedo – relentless rockers who aimed their lyrics at an older audience. Like those artists, Russell crafts lyrics that we can relate to without being too obvious.

“I don’t want to make my songs so vague that they’re infuriating, but I don’t want to just spell things out,” Russell said. “I hope I can write in a way that people can interpret things in the way they want to interpret them.”

The Sore Losers found a kindred spirit in Fritsch, a member of Scott Miller’s band who produced Miller’s excellent “Upside Downside” album. The Sore Losers liked the way Miller’s album integrated both electric and acoustic elements. Yet while Miller’s songs are mainly acoustic-based ditties that are rocked up, there’s no mistaking “Lucky on the Side” as a rock ’n’ roll record, acoustic guitars and all.

“Scott has this fear of reverb,” Russell said laughing. “We’re coming from an opposite perspective.”

While everyone and his brother seems to have a CD they’re selling online, the Sore Losers plan to market “Lucky on the Side” the old-fa - Kingsport Times-News / GoTricities.Com


"Losers are Winners!"

With CD release, Sore Losers feel like winners

By Doug Janz
Press Tempo Writer
djanz@johnsoncitypress.com

They may be the Sore Losers, but Rob Russell’s band will celebrate like winners this weekend.
The group will have a CD release party Saturday at The Casbah to celebrate its new album “Lucky on the Side.” To show their appreciation for fan support, Rob Russell and the Sore Losers are also handing out a free copy of the new release to everyone who attends the show.

“We’re excited about it,” said Russell, who moonlights as director of the Writing and Communications Center at East Tennessee State University. “It represents a lot of hard work and a lot of time, but we’re excited to finally get the CD in our hands.

“Two and a half years is a long time between albums.”

The group consists of Russell on vocals and guitars, with some occasional harmonica; Andy Russell on drums; Josh Reifert on bass; and David Hart on guitar and vocal. Russell has fronted the band for five years. The sound is rock ’n’ roll with an Americana feel to it.

The album contains songs dealing with love and failed relationships, based partly, Russell admits, on his personal experience.

“It’s about relationships and the toll that being a musician or an artist can take,” he said. “Doing this consumes so much time, and a lot of relationships seem to suffer. It’s hard to sustain those normal connections. This maybe even questions whether following your own muse is worth it. There’s a lot of regret going on in this record.

“But we also kind of say, ‘If all else fails, rock ’n’ roll.’ ”

The album title, Russell said, comes from a Mick Jagger lyric and expresses the idea that “you can find a little bit of luck or salvation in everything. You can find a four-leaf clover hiding in the weeds if you look hard enough.”

The group began saving money for and planning this album almost as soon as their first release, “I Think We’re Gonna Be Alright,” was finished in October 2002. This time the boys went to Nashville, away from the distractions of day-to-day life in Johnson City, and focused solely on putting together the album.

“Our first album was done over a couple months, where we’d work on it a couple evenings after work, maybe on Sunday after playing shows,” Russell said. “But we wanted to focus attention and time on this one, so we had to get away from home to get that. I think that makes it more intense and gets your creative juices flowing and focused.”

They recorded for nine days in May, then went back into the studio in August for three days to add a couple more songs. Instead of bringing in a variety of musicians to work on the songs, they stuck to the regular lineup.

The finished product is one the band is happy with. Now it’s time to get those discs into circulation, Russell said — even if it’s free at first.

“We’re certainly not gonna make money on this show,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve set it up to lose money, but we want 300 of our closest friends to walk in and be with us and have our CD. We’ll celebrate what we’ve done and thank the people who’ve supported us and been with us.”
- Johnson City Press


Discography

Get our music on iTunes, Rhapsody and other download services, as well as through cdbaby.com/rrsl : our records include "Lucky On the Side" CD (RRSL/MAD Records, 2005); "I Think We're Gonna Be Alright" CD (MAD Records, 2002); and "Five Songs" CD/EP (Self-released, 2001).

Photos

Bio

He's Appalachia's Poet Laureate of Rock and Roll, with a voice that glides from velvet smooth to sandpaper growl, a wit that begs comparison to John Prine, a flair for drama that conjures images of The Boss, and he was East TN's 2008 Democratic nominee for Congress.

"Russell’s lyrics eloquently convey why many people wind up in bars on the weekend, beer bottle in hand, looking for catharsis in a rock ’n’ roll band." -- Jim McGuiness, Kingsport Times-News (TN)

"Unlike many of his Americana brethren, Rob knows how to rock. He has an innate sense of when to invoke the introspective spirit of Hank Williams Sr. and when to party like his son." -- Jeff Eason, Mountain Times (Boone, NC)

"Rob Russell and the Sore Losers provide a hearty dose of satisfying pop hooks, thrashing drums, two guitars that sound like three, a gut-rumbling bass rhythm and a lyrical pendulum that swings from bad love to worse." -- Paige Travis, Metropulse (Knoxville, TN)

"'Lucky on the Side' is rock-solid rock 'n' roll with just an edge of old-fashioned Southern rock." -- Wayne Bledsoe, Knoxville News-Sentinel

Rob Russell has been an active part of the Mid-South music scene from Richmond to Knoxville to Memphis to his homebase of Johnson City, TN for over a decade. As a solo artist, frontman and guitarist he's shared festival and club stages with a wide array of roots and rock artists, from blues legends like Koko Taylor and John Mayall to Americana acts like Gillian Welch, Keith Urban and Scott Miller.

While he took a sabbatical from touring in 2007-2008 to focus on a run for the US House of Representatives (he won the Democratic Primary and became the first Democrat in nearly two decades to win more than 1/4 of the vote in a Presidential election cycle), since 2000 Rob Russell and his band the Sore Losers have been delivering powerful roots-based rock music with intelligent lyrics, tasteful musicianship, and a sense of humor. Download some of their new tunes here and sample/purchase their newest CD, "Lucky on the Side" at www.Cdbaby.com, www.notlame.com and locally in East Tennessee at Mr. K's, Dad's, or Disc Exchange (South/West).

Rob plays and endorses American-made Reverend Guitars, Amps & Effects; Andy plays and endorses locally owned Phattie Drums.

Rob Russell & the Sore Losers have:

- been featured in Enigma (Chattanooga, TN), GoTricities/Kingsport Times-News (TN), Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN), Metropulse (Knoxville, TN), Richmond.Com (VA), The Johnson City Press (TN), Graffitti (Charleston, WV), Marquee Magazine (TN-NC), The East Tennesseean (TN), The Maryville Daily Times (TN), Clink & Freight Train Boogie web'zines.

- performed on the main stage at numerous regional festivals, including Mucklewain (2006), Riverbend Festival (Chattanooga, TN - 2005), Hank Williams Days (Knoxville, TN - 2005, 2006), Riverstone Festival (Johnson City, TN - 2005), Downtown Kingsport 4th of July Celebration (2005), the Midwest Entertainment Conference in Louisville KY (2003), Dogwood Arts Fall Fest (Knoxville, TN - 2003), Bristol TN/VA's Rhythm & Roots Fest (2001), and Fun Fest and First Night (2002-2003) in Kingsport, TN.

- been named "Best Original Rock Band" by GoTricities.com (2005)

- had both "What Do You Know?" and "Cured" from new CD "Lucky on the Side" chosen as Americana/Rock "Track of the Week" on Garageband.com (April and February, 2005)

- opened for numerous national acts such as .38 Special, Blessid Union of Souls, The Verve Pipe's Brian Vander Ark, Grammy-winner Jesse Harris (Norah Jones), Scott Miller & the Commonwealth, Trent Summar & the New Row Mob, and Seven Mary Three.

- received airplay on commercial, public and college radio stations in Knoxville (WOKI), Memphis (WEVL), Blacksburg VA (WUVT), Raliegh-Durham NC (WXDU), Harrisonburg VA (WXJM), Johnson City TN (WETS) and Kingsport TN (WRZK), and in Belgium, The Netherlands, and Spain.

- received over 8,400 plays on MP3.com with high rankings on the Alternative Country (#12), Americana (#5) and Rockabilly (#2) charts since 2000.

- been rewarded with a "Band Spotlight" at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville (June 15, '03).

- have reached as high as #4 in Rock on Garageband.COM and been chosen as Track of the Day in both Rock ("Less Like You") and Folk/Country ("When I Go Down").

- received local/regional recognition for Pop/Rock Performance of the Year (2002) for the single "Come Down Here" from listeners of WRZK-FM in the Northeast TN and Southwest VA.