Why the words “The Salty Dogs” aren’t regularly scrolling across your dashboard as part of the lineup on Elizabeth Cook’s “Apron Strings” or across the marquee at the Ryman, I’ll never know, but the fact that some of the most polished, purest honky-tonk on the market is coming from a quartet of our Little Rock neighbors shouldn’t temper our enthusiasm an iota. (Maybe it’s just The Natural State tribalism talking, but give me frontman Brad Williams’ swing and twang over a Blake Shelton or a Jason Aldean any damn day.)
We caught up with Williams following the release of “Gold,” a 29-track retrospective from Max Recordings featuring three new tracks with assists from Buck Trent and Lloyd Green, along with some of the barroom gems that have made The Salty Dogs a Little Rock treasure for the decade-plus across which the collection spans. You can get “Gold” now on your streaming platform of choice (iTunes, Spotify, Amazon) or you can hold out for one of the limited edition double CDs the band’s printing up to sell at live shows, at their own website and at Max Recordings.
I’m not sure I’d know Marked Tree existed if it weren’t that you hailed from there. Anything that might surprise us about the town, or about your having grown up in it?
Well, Marked Tree is a small community in the Northeast Arkansas Delta. It sits between the Johnny Cash cotton fields and Elvis in Memphis. Those two had a profound impact on me musically and also served as the gauge for what was cool. All those Sun artists used to tour around that part of Arkansas heavily.
Here’s a fun fact: Listen to the “Million Dollar Quartet” album (original recording), the track “Is it So Strange.” At the conclusion of the track, you’ll hear a fan asking Elvis for an autograph for her granddaughter from Marked Tree. I bet that surprised you.
The St. Francis River runs through Marked Tree. The Native Americans in that area would mark a tree in order to know where to take/put their canoe out/in (of) the water. I remember as a kid, the town had a large tree on display in the middle of town; as if to say, “Here ya go, this is it.” I asked my Dad one day as we drove past it, “What will happen when that tree gets old and rots?” He said, “Oh, we’ll just go get another official marked tree.” That still makes me laugh.
Your sound’s been described as “equal parts 1954 Nashville, 1961 Bakersfield, and 1972 Everywhere.” If you had to assign a song from “Gold” to each of those three components, which ones would fit the bill?
I would have to say, “Little Rock (I’m Rollin’ Away)” would fit the 1954 Nashville bill. It has a ’50s Everly [Brothers] vibe and also features legendary Nashville steel player Lloyd Green. “Starting Now” would be the 1961 Bakersfield. It has that shuffle beat and phrasings that Buck [Owens] made popular. 1972 Everywhere — “Wounded Heart.” I’ll let everyone figure that one out.
Would you indulge us and list your top five favorite country singers?
Just off the cuff:
1. Merle Haggard
2. George Jones
3. Loretta Lynn
4. Patsy Cline
5. Dwight Yoakam
Can you tell us a little bit about Buck Trent and Lloyd Green’s cameos on “Gold?”
“Unfaithful Woman” is a tune that was born out of Lenny Bryan’s show, “Verses.” The premise of the show is to draw cards that help determine the direction of the song. One of the recipe cards stated no electric guitars on the tune. My first thought was, “Let’s get Buck Trent with the electric banjo!” The card said nothing about an electric banjo. Ha. Anyway, I knew Buck would make the song better and would fit his style really well. It also gave me an opportunity to hang out and laugh with Buck.
And sure enough, we laughed and he made the song better. (“Oh yeah!”)
The Lloyd Green guest spot was little more spontaneous. Another project I was working on lead us to Nashville. There we recorded with Lloyd and a couple other legendary Nashville session players. I played the song for Lloyd and he liked it so he cut a track for it. It turned out great and I’m really proud of it.
This collection spans across 16 years. Was there anything from the SD archives that popped up and surprised you while y’all were putting it together?
Well, nothing that surprised me per se. It did remind me that we have been doing this for a while. I can tell my voice sounds younger. Makes sense. Also, I noticed the songs have progressed lyrically and stylistically.
But more than anything, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to play and record music with friends that are so talented.