Armed with a microphone, an acoustic six-string, and only a few effects pedals, Graham Whorley creates an impressively vibrant range of sounds. Established as a versatile solo live performer, the Charleston-based singer/guitarist's skill, versatility, and performance style seems to come naturally. While he's worked diligently over the years, both as solo act and as a bandleader, this year's taking shape as the most transitional and ambitious of his career.
There's two pots simmering on the Whorley burner. He recently completed the basic tracks for a forthcoming 14-song solo album of originals. He also assembled a brand-new lineup of musicians for The Graham Whorley Band.
"I'm really excited about this session," Whorley says of his studio work in Lynchburg, Va., with longtime friend Roger Reynolds at the mixing board. "I wrote all these new songs, and I figured if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right. I'm not going to get somebody else to do it for me. That way, I have no one to be mad at but myself if it doesn't turn out right. It's going well so far. It might be the best thing I've done so far."
Whorley played all of the instruments on the album — drums, xylophone, piano, bass, and acoustic and electric guitars. He plans to do the final mixes this summer.
"Roger and I were literally blood brothers when we were eight years old," Whorley says of his engineer. "He was my best friend. His place is nothing like any of the studios we have here in Charleston. You could literally put any major band in there, and it would be completely accommodating. There's nothing but goodness coming out of the speakers."
Whorley's previous solo release, 2007's State of Affairs, mixed a few acoustic ballads with some of his groovier acoustic rockers, powered by harmonies and loop pedal effects. His latest tracks are more amplified, with a broader full-band sound.
"It's so different from my last album, which was mostly acoustic-based," says the songwriter. "It's me redoing myself once again. I feel like I'm going completely legit with this album. Every time, I go a little further and a little further. It's full tilt this time — the whole nine yards."
Encouraged and inspired by the environment and vibe of the studio, Whorley wrote several of the songs while jamming in the main room during some marathon sessions. He plans to mix it in Lynchburg this summer and have it mastered in L.A. and Nashville by late fall.
In and around town, Whorley regularly plays more than 300 solo shows a year. It's not unusual for him to do gigs in town every day of the week, with a double or two thrown in. The last two years have been a fairly quiet run for the Graham Whorley Band, however. This year things are revving back up with the addition of keys man Chris Duvall (of The Key of Q), drummer John Fitzgerald (of The Secrets, Baby Fat), and bassist Tad Fletcher (of Vehicle).
"The first time this new GWB played was at Loggerhead's on Folly Beach this summer. We just slammed the joint," says Whorley. "We're in the early stages, but it's solid."
The new GWB is fine-tuning live arrangements of Whorley's new studio material and expanding their eclectic set list of rock, soul, and blues standards.
"We're still doing stuff like Frank Zappa, Freddie King, Luther Allison, Phish, John Scofield, to name a few," says Whorley. "These guys are all very into the music, plus they're all very professional musicians. I'm really proud of how well they've clicked."