CHESAPEAKE SONS RECORD SOUTHERN SOUND AT COPPERLINE RANCH
Maryland is a state with much diversity within its borders, swaddling the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay and 1,726 square miles of its basin. Its sons are drawn to the life their ancestors forged in this original colony, through hardship and determination, they fought to express themselves freely and earn a living through personal invention. Jason Morton and Brett Wilmer grew up on opposite sides of the Chesapeake Bay, both sons of Maryland and this signatory bay. The landscape shaped their lives as much as the time they grew up in, and when they connected through music, they had common ground to stand on and develop their musical identity. From roots nurtured by the same soil, they made music that naturally evolved out of shared influence and experience. Hard rock, with its big guitars and amplified vocals, gave them a platform on which to shape their sound, but it was the tendency of the guitar to dip southward, with lyrics that followed its journey, that added the blues to that developing sound. As the waters of the Chesapeake flow south into Virginia and further into the Atlantic Ocean, they follow a natural course to their destination. So, too, the Chesapeake Sons have followed their musical inclinations in a southward direction to Nashville, Tennessee, where the sum of their past resonates with a Southern Sound.
Just as the Atlantic Ocean doesn’t change the makeup of the Chesapeake Bay for having received it, Jason and Brett didn’t arrive in Nashville with an identity that needed molding. They disembarked from their native journey with a solid music history in tow. Over their eleven+ years together, they’ve had a lot of time to test the waters, playing and making music in the wheelhouse of their influences. The music of the 90s had a big impact on their early developing sound, bringing the hard edges of Nirvana and The Black Crowes in tune with the classic rock and blues their guitars naturally craved. Being a rock band wasn’t a choice, it was the perfect storm of musical elements coming together in authentic expression. The writing, instrumentation, and stage performances over eight years of touring needed no genre introduction. To their loyal local fan base, their ID was self-evident. They recorded three albums under the band name, The Cheaters, and performed worldwide, opening for marquee acts: Ace Frehley, REO Speedwagon, The Pretenders, The Stray Cats, The Wailers, and ZZ Top. They were one of 20 bands (out of over 3500), handpicked by SLASH to open for him in Guitar Center’s “On Stage with SLASH” contest, as well as being the only band chosen to represent the U.S. in a global music fest that took place in Lithuania. It was stunning recognition for a band that was not based out of a major city and did everything themselves with no label backing. It was this rock and roll attitude that put them in charge of their own career and led them to relocate to Nashville, Tennessee.
Nashville is a city with many resources. It’s moniker, Music City, tells of an open relationship with music of all genres and the creative people who make and perform that music. Through the mountains that separate Maryland and Tennessee, Jason and Brett brought their past history and present aspirations to a new landscape in 2013. The timing was not a random decision or a reaction to the well running dry. They had a solid resume, new music they’d been writing, and the maturity to approach this new opportunity with the discernment it would take to be successful on a different plane. Since June, 2012, they’d been working with manager, Rusty Harmon. They had a transitional song they’d written with Scott Hommel and Frank Myers, that could have been the foundation for a country/bluegrass album or a country/rock album, both with roots that tied into their musical heritage. Having met Tommy Harden, one of Nashville’s most sought after session drummers, they decided to bring him in to produce the album. A group of top-notch musicians were added to the session, and Jason and Brett selected songs from seasoned writers to add to their own. The direction of the album, a mixture of country, rock, and blues, was a natural evolution in the sound of their music, leaning a little less heavily on the guitar riffs and channeling that energy into the soulfulness of their country blues.
Two things that are inherent in the rock world are bands that write their own music and play on the records. Jason and Brett had done that on their previous three albums, so “the Nashville way” of using session players and The Nashville Number System was new to them. Waitin’ On Right Now was a rock solid introduction to the making of a country album and they’ve gained a lot of new fans through the music. As the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland spans the distance between its Eastern and Western Shore, this was a dual-span album that linked their older fans with the new. It was two different sources of energy and inspiration that led them to their dynamic stage performances. Hoping to further define their sound and hone their artistic ideas, they followed the path they were on until they found a sweet spot in the music that felt like home.
Settling into 2015 and comfortably rooted in their adopted new city, they knew the sound direction they wanted to go in. It had been germinating since they arrived, and it just needed the right light to coax it from below the surface. The next step was to get that sound into the right ear. Their manager had a connection to a producer who’d just moved to town from Miami. He told him about Jason and Brett and played him a song that they’d recorded on an iPhone. It wasn’t exactly master quality, but it impressed Will Edwards because he saw the potential in it. Had it been a formulaic demo, he might have passed on the project, but this he was excited about. Will doesn’t adhere to any formulas and he has no idea what “the Nashville way” is. He said, “I just make records.” In any other city, their meeting might have been commonplace, but in a town with its own number system and standard way of doing things, this was a musical big bang event – Miami meets Maryland’s Chesapeake Sons in Nashville and takes the process out of production.
To get to this place, both the artists and the producer made some changes. In July of this year, Jason and Brett chose the name, Chesapeake Sons, to represent their new band and musical identity. It signifies the importance of their Maryland heritage in life and music, and sets the course for their evolving sound. Will Edwards has lived most of his life in Miami, and traveled the world in his business and music endeavors, but he’d never been to Nashville until recently. He had passes to NAMM and came for a weekend, just to get away from Miami. He found a lot of positives in the city and returned home thinking maybe he should relocate. Six months later, he was living in Nashville. His new home is Copperline Ranch. Formerly owned by Kenny Rogers, this 18 acre property has a serene atmosphere, inspiring creativity through its natural surroundings. In a space above the garage that used to be a gym, Will handcrafted a space to record music. He was very clear in telling me, “This is not a recording studio.” He didn’t build it for the public. He built it for himself, to be a place where he can make records the only way he knows how.
What strikes you when you enter the space is its simplistic beauty. There’s almost a reverence in it, like history has already been made here, and in fact, it has. The ceiling (which he raised), the walls, and the floor are all made of reclaimed wood from a broken barn on the property. Red trusses were added to the ceiling, and Will made the light fixtures that attach to them. Acoustic panels made of burlap were being installed in a corner of the room. When I asked if there was a reason he used mostly wood in the space, he answered, “Because it sounds fantastic!,” and sound is very important to Will Edwards. He appreciates the intricacies of sound on a record and the instruments used to make them. In this space, there was a rack with 22 guitars on it, a drum kit in the corner, a percussion collection that included congas, timbales, an Irish bodhran, a didgeridoo, and a Conch shell, among other things, and a piano that had its own story. Legendary recording engineer and producer, Tom Dowd, was Will’s godfather. His blue Baldwin grand piano now occupies a venerable place in this room. Made to match his Persian rug, it was the only blue one made at the time. If those keys could talk, they would tell of the numerous hit songs that were recorded on it, including Eric Clapton’s iconic, “Layla.” Clearly, this was no ordinary recording space.
When Jason Morton and Brett Wilmer decided that Will was their guy to help make the new record, it was his free spirit and lack of Nashville knowledge that attracted them. He brought in a female to co-produce the project, Grammy winning songwriter and producer, Jodi Marr. They’d worked together in Miami for years, and with 30 Grammy certifications to her credit, she knows her way around the composition of a great song. It was another set of open-minded ears in this group of inside Nashville outsiders. As Jason put it, “All of us are in Nashville, but we’re not from Nashville, and we’re not doing things the Nashville way.” That was apparent when I walked in the room. They were working on a song they’d recorded the music to, but were still developing lyrically. Before they played it for me, I was told the song was nearly eight minutes long. Just seconds into hearing it, it needed no identification. This was Southern Sound, and I was witnessing the making of an authentic Southern Rock album – in Nashville, Tennessee! When they described the lack of process that went into the recording, I wanted to cheer the revival.
The prevailing attitude in the room was that the only music worth making must come from an authentic source. Both Will and Jodi had no desire to make Chesapeake Sons sound like something they aren’t. Their interest in this project was not to put music in, it was to inspire and collaborate on the music that comes from Jason and Brett, in a purely organic way. They’re rock guys with a southern flare, and the music they’re working on for this album reflects that inherent sound. Every sound on this album is something that came from an instrument, played live in this room. Tommy Harden was brought in again to add his expert sound on drums, and Will played many of the instruments that Jason and Brett didn’t. Bass player, Ronnie Dale, lives next door to Copperline Ranch and played some with former owner, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, and Ernest Tubbs. He played bass on this album and dropped in one day with guitarist, Brandon Henegar. When Brandon heard the song, he liked it so much he asked if he could play on it. He picked up a guitar, dropped a badass solo, and everyone liked it, so it’s on the record. That’s the kind of off the cuff moment in a song that keeps Will excited about making a record. If the pedal on the piano makes a noise the microphone picks up, he said, “That’s the instrument making its noise. I’m not going to edit that out.” Likewise, he finds no use for EQ. “Put up some barnwood and let the music speak for itself,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to EQ it because that’s what having good tone is for, and we try to get that good sound from the instrument, not from EQ after the fact.” He might change a microphone or use different amplifiers, but he doesn’t have to do anything on a computer. The more raw and real it sounds, the better. Laid back, with attitude.
This combination of rock swagger with an outlaw vibe is something rarely found in the music being made today. What’s out there is more derivative than authentic. With Chesapeake Sons, there is an honesty in the sound and in the lyrics. Writing about their own experiences, the music naturally follows the sound of their footsteps. The musical influences that have shaped their past are now finding fresh interpretation in Southern Sound. With the help of their new producers, Will Edwards and Jodi Marr, the sound that’s been in their heads is finding a voice on this record, and part of that revelation is in the retreat atmosphere of Copperline Ranch. You would almost expect a Southern Rock band to have a jam session around a bonfire, guitar riffs reverberating across acres of open space. With goats in the driveway, ducks on the lawn, and horses in the pasture, nature has a say in the acoustics here. If inspiration strikes, you can head to the recording space, instruments in hand, hook up a microphone, and press record. If someone tosses an idea at you for a third verse, or even a fourth, on a song that’s already outlaw in length, “the Nashville way” has no veto power out here. If it sounds good, and feels right, it’ll end up on the record. At Copperline Ranch, you won’t find a group of session players reading charts, ever. Will doesn’t bill by the hour, nor is there contact information for public consumption. You have to know someone to record here, and the feel of the project has to be right. Southern Sound feels right at home here.
Jason Morton and Brett Wilmer are Chesapeake Sons living in Nashville, Tennessee. Their musical view hasn’t changed much since they first recorded music in a room with a Maryland view. Recording in this acoustic marvel at Copperline Ranch, they’re much like the reclaimed wood that lines its walls. Neither can be changed into something it isn’t, for this space will only expose more of what they can be. Sitting with his back against the wall, guitar in hand, Jason was looking towards an upper window that faced the driveway. His view was likely not that of the original owner, “Peggy Sue.” Buddy Holly co-wrote and recorded that song in 1957. Peggy Sue was the name of his drummer’s wife, and the window Jason was looking through was hers. What he was playing didn’t reflect her view, it was a sound image of their Maryland roots and the music they were raised on. Under any name or genre, their fans have embraced this music, and they’re excited to make a record that feels like a homecoming. With the help of their fans, they’re hoping to release the Chesapeake Sons’ first album in the independent spirit their home state was founded on. Should it find airplay on an Outlaw station, that would suit them just fine. It would further unveil the splash they’re making in Nashville, like a hurricane blowing up the Chesapeake. You can name this one, Chesapeake Sons, and if you listen closely, you can hear the avant-garde of Southern Sound in their wake.
Jason and Brett have a special message about their groundbreaking new album and how you can be a part of it!
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