Dedicated jam-band scenesters get excited when a new "all-star" collaboration surfaces — especially one with plenty of New Orleans musical spice and Southern boho-mojo in the mix. This explains the buzz about Flannel Church, a newly formed power trio featuring drummer Duane Trucks, bassist Kevin Scott, and blues guitarist Gregory "Wolf" Hodges. Trucks and Scott are currently in Atlanta-based band Col. Bruce Hampton and the Pharaoh Gummit. Hodges is a New Orleans-bred player who spent time with Hampton a few years ago in the Codetalkers.
"It's my creation, in a way," Hodges says. "I met Duane and Kevin through Bruce a long time ago. They'd come down to New Orleans, and I put them together as a backing rhythm section for a gig one time. We went from nine o'clock at night to five in the morning, and we were still ready to go."
Finding skillful players is one thing, but finding two who already have great chemistry is ideal.
"If you don't have a good match-up between a drummer and bassist, it almost doesn't matter how good they are individually," he says. "It sounds best when you have the right drummer with the right bass player. Duane and Kevin have got my back the whole time, and they don't let up. They're totally supportive, and that's refreshing."
Hodges, 32, has been playing guitar since he was eight. He learned the blues, rock, soul, and a bit of bluegrass along the way. So far, the threesome has had no problem hooking up for rehearsals and short road trips around the Southeast.
Judging from live recordings, Hodges' expressive rhythm and lead styles pair very well with the rich funk/soul rhythms and phrases from the Trucks/Scott foundation. After those initial jam sessions in New Orleans, all three realized that they could handle virtually any New Orleans blues, swing, gospel, or Southern rock tune with ease.
"I played with Bruce for several years, and I learned a lot in that situation," Hodges says of the trio's common thread. "I lived with him for about a year and a half, too. He's crazy, but he's a down-to-earth guy. Bruce has been a mentor for a lot of people who believe what he preaches about. A lot of great musicians feel comfortable playing with him."
Hampton consistently leans toward a no-boundary approach to playing and writing, and that sense of openness influenced Hodges as he assembled the new combo. Recently, Flannel Church performed a string of dates with guest pedal steel player Roosevelt Collier of the Lee Boys.
"I make better music with my friends like these guys," Hodges says. "I've played with some of the most unbelievable world-class musicians in the world, but when you're an asshole, you tend to sound like you're an asshole when you play. It's a whole 'nother chemistry. I'm a big believer in playing with the right people, and these guys are the right musicians for me right now. It's a great situation to take on the road."
This month, the trio hit the road with Spartanburg-based blues guitarist Shane Pruitt as the featured guest. "There's not a better guitar player that I can play with," Hodges says of Pruitt. "We grew up in the same town and played together for years. On stage, we give each other room to play, and there's never any egos in the way. It feels like when we were 15 years old, and we can go all night long."
While Flannel Church has yet to record in the studio, they have assembled a hot setlist featuring all of the band's new originals along with renditions of old faves by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Albert King, and various New Orleans artists.
"We're just gonna get up there and raise some hell," Hodges says. "Everybody on the stage will be giving it everything they got. If music is the second or third or fourth priority on the list while you're playing it, then you're not really playing music. It doesn't matter if you're playing one note on a guitar like B.B. King or tapping a pair of sticks. If you're on stage to party, it'll sound like that. You can have the chops, but if you're not into the music first, it doesn't sound that hip. That's what I learned from Bruce Hampton."