If you mention the Allman Brothers to Tom Leonczyk, he lights up like a giddy teenager. As a member of local rock band Weigh Station, his deep love for the sophisticated harmonies and rhythms of the Allmans — and the '70s Southern rock boom in general — is usually on full display.
"I absolutely love the Allman Brothers," says Leonczyk. "That's some of my favorite stuff. The harmonizing guitar licks and the slide guitar work — that's what I've been inspired by. The Allman Brothers had a lot of changes within the band, but they're always awesome."
Leonczyk put Weigh Station together as a Southern-fried jam band in 2006 with a few College of Charleston pals, including guitarist John Heinsohn, drummer Joseph Hope, lead guitarist John Durham, and saxophonist Eric Gaffney. Stylistically, they initially leaned toward an Allmans vein of jam-rock.
"I just called it good Southern rock," Leonczyk says," but we eventually worked elements of country, soul, and funk styles into the mix. Once we added Eric, the band started adding funk stuff like the Greyboy Allstars and Bill Withers along with the Allman Brothers and Rolling Stones songs."
Experimenting with new styles and expanding the set list allowed Leonczyk and his colleagues a chance to develop chemistry and create a more original personality. A few lineup changes affected the band along the way, too. After a while, they sounded less like an Allman Brothers tribute and more like a flexible rock band with a few new ideas.
The current Weigh Station roster features the core trio of Leonczyk, Heinsohn, and Gaffney with solid rhythm backing from bassist William Moore, drummer Stuart White, and organist Ross Bogan. The addition of the new guys provided a healthy transition.
"Things really got tight when William joined on bass. That's when we started working seriously on our own songs," says Leonczyk. "William stepped up with structuring the songs and getting us to practice the arrangements. He was really assertive about cutting things out and rearranging parts.
"It's really great having Stu on the drums. He can play anything," Leonczyk adds. "I love playing on stage with him — and I love taking road trips with him. He brings the weirdest music for us to check out."
Weigh Station's pace accelerated over the last year, as the band performed and rehearsed more frequently and with more intensity. They began veering away from the typical bar band habits of playing covers, hamming it up for friends, and noodling aimlessly during live jams. Leonczyk admits they used to meander plenty during shows in the early days, but he's proud of the effort and time they've invested in their music recently.
"We still play some covers at shows for a little variety, but we're definitely all about the originals these days," Leonczyk says.
Last fall, they booked time at Ocean Industries on James Island with studio engineers Eric Rickert and Jeff Leonard and tracked six of their best new songs. The band celebrates the release of the collection, titled Past the Tracks, at the Pour House this week.
"In the last year or so, we focused a lot more on getting these songs orchestrated," says Leonczyk. "We wanted to be prepared for the session, and we wanted to try to record some of the stronger tunes with lyrics and harmonies on one disc."
Driven by a gnarly funk-rock beat, nasty guitar tones, and earthy backing organ, Past the Tracks' lead-off track "Rockin' the Bench" demonstrates the band's classic, Southern rock, and soul leanings. Acoustic power ballad "Rain" grooves at a much slower, mellower pace, starting with light guitar and piano before gathering steam with full-band instrumentation. The groovier songs "Can't Take My Soul" and "The Heat" (featuring some of White's most fierce drum breaks) draws more from old-school New Orleans funk (a la the Meters and the Neville Brothers) and the Muscle Shoals-made soul records than the vintage redneck-tinged Southern rock out of Macon, Jacksonville, or the Carolina piedmont.
The bluesy rhythm of the riffy and pounding "What's Next" resembles both the good ole boy boogie of yesteryear and the simplified swing of the White Stripes and the Black Keys. However, lead vocalist Heinsohn sings a bit too politely on "What's Next" and the album closer "Train of Love." It sounds like he held back a little bit to hit every note. Belting his versus and choruses with a little more grit and growl would have nicely complemented the dirty grooves of the tracks.
"We weren't trying to emulate any rock album in particular," Leonczyk says. "We're really excited to have it in our hands now. It is a great straight-up rock album."