Reid Stone has mixed feelings about having his picture taken on railroad tracks. "You see these photographs, and it's like everybody's trying to look like they're going somewhere," he says, balking at the suggestion that we shoot him walking down the rail line behind the Royal American on Morrison Drive. "Not me, I'm staying right here."
That's a contradiction, considering that Stone readily admits that he still yearns for a life on the road. But between his steady girlfriend, Anne Lauren, and their nearly two-year-old son, Jackson, life has taken a stay-at-home turn for the songwriter in recent years. Six years ago, he was still touring the country with his Oxford, Miss.-based band, Daybreakdown, attracting Allman Brothers and Panic fans, and earning praise for being one of the potential stars of the Southern rock revival movement.
"We always felt like we were on the cusp," Stone says. Unfortunately, "almost" wasn't enough to keep the group together after years of heavy touring. With his band and previous relationship in shambles, Stone packed his bags and moved to Charleston, a town he'd fallen for when Daybreakdown's van went kaput after a performance at the Contagious Collaboration festival, an early 2000s annual music and camping event on the Edisto River.
"I'd lived in Mississippi all my life, which was fine, but once I wasn't on the road I was just twiddling my thumbs," he explains. "And in Oxford there's no beach."
Stone rolled into Charleston in January 2008 and began making friends, quickly establishing a reputation as one of the most affable and cheerful players on the scene. His college buddy, Taylor Garrigan, was the chef at Home Team BBQ, where he picked up a bartending gig.
Music took a backseat for a couple of years, apart from the evenings when he'd climb across the bar and onto the stage at Home Team. One night, fellow singer-songwriter Mac Leaphart happened to catch him perform the song "Lights," co-written by Stone and Cary Hudson of the band Blue Mountain.
"I heard it and thought, 'That's a song that sounds like something you could hear on the radio or on a great album,' " Leaphart recalls. The two became fast friends and soon shared the stage at a Rolling Stones tribute at the Tin Roof. "There was a mutual kinship, and the more we hung out the more I really liked his lyrics," says Leaphart.
Stone credits Leaphart with helping him to rekindle his musical ambitions. "I had a typical bartender life, working all the time and hanging out late, but I knew I was lacking something," Stone says. "I had absolutely fallen off, and it was Mac who got me up and moving."
By 2010, Stone took on the role of guitarist and singer in Leaphart's My Ragged Company. They regularly toured the Southeastern college circuit, and music began to click again for Stone. "I was like, 'Oh yeah, this is what I do,' " he recalls.
But playing with Leaphart also meant that Stone's solo work was not high up on his list of priorities. He'd book gigs at Home Team or Surf Bar on Folly Beach under the moniker Guilt Ridden Troubadour, with a revolving band that often consisted of My Ragged Company members, but local bar gigs were the extent of Stone's aspirations.
By summer 2011, the head of Guilt Ridden Troubadour was ready to record, so he booked time at Mantis Studios in North Charleston. He completed a few songs, but they sat idle and unheard. And then Stone got some unexpected news: he was going to be a father.
Raising a kid and playing late-night gigs are not exactly two things that go together. However, Stone makes it work thanks to Anne Lauren, who gets up at sunrise and feeds Jackson while dad sleeps.
"I get up around 9:30 or 10 a.m., drink coffee, and play Fraggle Rock reruns for Jackson while I work on the laptop," says Stone. "After my second cup of coffee, I put him in the stroller and we go walk around Riverland Terrace for a couple hours. We go down to the water and the park, and I push him in the swing while I listen to conspiracy radio."
It's not all Alex Jones around the house though. Stone says he's fallen hard for the lullaby remakes of classic Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, and Pearl Jam, and he's guilty of leaving them in his iPod's playlist even when Jackson isn't around (the Tool lullabies are his personal favorite).
That goofy, unconventional picture of a stay-at-home dad mirrors Stone's persona around town. Whereas the odd hours and heavy drinking schedule of some professional bar-gig musicians lead them to behave like wannabe stars with swollen egos — burning bridges and breaking hearts along the way — Stone manages to avoid the perils that many of his peers face.
"Every time I see him, he's always laughing," says Perry Darby, co-owner of The Southern Bar & Grill. "He's absolutely one of the nicest, best-natured people I know." Darby recalls hanging with Stone at last May's MerleFest in North Carolina, when the Guilt Ridden Troubadour front man brought Jackson along for a three-day father-son bluegrass road trip. "I might have bitten off a little more than I could chew on that one," Stone admits.
Friend and musical compatriot Campbell Brown of Gaslight Street echoes Darby's kind words about Stone. "His music is still a priority, but he takes care of the kid, and you can tell that they're best friends," says Brown, who also became a father since the release of his band's last album.
Stone met Brown soon after moving to Charleston, and the pair began their friendship with regular post-closing time songwriting sessions that stretched until dawn.
"He used to get me in a good bit of trouble too, but it comes with the territory," Brown says.
That last comment reveals a rougher side to Stone that's not evident through the constant smiles, but which is present in his songs. On one of his album's tracks, "Ten Miles Gone," Stone sings, "I'm not looking for forgiveness/ I'm not trying to change my mind/ I just want what I have coming/ shut the door and cut the light/ I've conceded to the demons/ better dead than being grown/ I'll probably be forgotten/ but until then I'm unknown."
Stone seems to draw from a messy past that might surprise his Charleston friends. "I ruined a lot of relationships over the years in order to taste the dream, and I always somehow used music as an excuse," Stone says. "I've always felt guilty about it, and I'm apt to lament."
A friend with an advance copy of Gone recently told him, "I really like your album, but your lyrics don't really seem like you on a regular day," to which Stone replied, "Well, some of those are old lyrics."
Nonetheless, his wild streak isn't gone for good. When we meet for an interview, he doesn't hesitate to chase a double Ketel One on the rocks with a second double Ketel One on the rocks, but he's also just as quick to say good night to his buddies when a phone call beckons him back home a couple hours later.
"I was told that having a kid would give me better material for songs," says Stone. "It's just the same old material, really, and playing dad during the day doesn't help my songwriting in the afternoon, but I still let them come as they will."
After the birth of his son put recording an album on hold for nearly two years, Stone decided last spring that it was time to finish his album. He went back to Mantis and producer Mitch Webb with guitarist Jeff Davis, organist Whitt Algar, drummer John Picard, and bassist Wilson Pippin. Together, they wrapped up 10 tracks, plus an a cappella bonus song.
"Jeff was really the piece of the puzzle I always needed, a guitarist that would stand by me all the time," says Stone. He also credits Algar's role (the keyboardist is also a member of Gaslight Street and Ryan Bonner and the Dearly Beloved). "We're all really just members of the Whitt Algar All-Stars," Stone jokes.
For his part, Davis met Stone at Surf Bar in January 2011, on the recommendation of Darby and Hank Cagle, the two guys who used to run the much-loved Folly spot. At the time Davis would drop by to catch Guilt Ridden Troubadour's weekly set and bring his guitar and amp along just in case. He ended up sitting in each Wednesday for a year-and-a-half. Stone's magnetic personality simply makes people want to play with him, including Cary Ann Hearst, Charleston's darling of the Americana scene, who sings on three of Gone's tracks.
"I think I got the last freebie out of her before she blew up," Stone jokes, then clarifies that he paid her, specifically with a bottle of Maker's Mark.
For Stone, recording an album is really about the fun you have doing it. "It's a lot more exciting when you have your friends around and people are all happy to be there," he says.
That element is audible throughout Gone, from the banjo-powered group sing-along of "A Little More Ground" to the rowdy country-rock track "Lonely."
"I've never considered playing rock and roll a job, you know what I mean?" Stone says. "It's hard work a lot of the time and not monetarily rewarding, but there's a high reward in satisfaction."
These days, Guilt Ridden Troubadour includes Matt Cahill on drums and Corey Stephens on bass, along with regular guest Charlie Thompson on pedal steel. Members of the group also perform every Thursday at The Southern in an informal jam dubbed Shitpistol that also includes Ryan Bonner.
"Reid has a vision with his music, and part of that vision is to be a collaborative band of friends," says Leaphart. "He likes being around good people and making good music, and that's the idea of Guilt Ridden Troubadour."
Although the bar gigs continue, Stone hopes that with Gone finally released, Guilt Ridden Troubadour might actually lead to the life he's always dreamed of.
"I've been waiting for this for a long time. I never thought this band would feel legit until I got this album out," says Stone. "It's definitely planting the flag and saying, 'We're here.'"