Since the 1970s, Blackfoot has always been defined by their hard rock edge as evident on their most successful singles “Train, Train” and “Highway Song.” In 2012, under founder Rickey Medlocke’s sturdy guidance, he recruited a completely new ensemble. The Florida-based foursome, including lead guitarist/vocalist Tim Rossi, guitarist/vocalist Rick Krasowski, bassist Brian Carpenter and drummer Matt Anastasi, are carrying the torch for the next generation with the release of their latest album, Southern Native.
“This record is head to head old school meets new school, classic to new rock for a brand new generation,” says Medlocke.
“Rickey bridged the generations by having his grandfather Shorty Medlocke play on those early Blackfoot records,” adds Rossi. “Having Rickey play slide and other guitar with us on this record bridges the modern gap. It’s a full-circle kind of thing.”
Rock Confidential caught up with Rickey Medlocke and Tim Rossi to talk about the challenges involved in relaunching the band and their chemistry in the studio while working on Southern Native.
Blackfoot has always been heavier than most southern rock bands. That’s what makes the band stand out for me. That sound has definitely carried over into the new record.
Rickey: I remember in the original band we tried to make sure we separated ourselves from a lot of the other southern rock bands. We didn’t want to sound like all the other artists. We had more of a heavy rock, English influence. We really loved bands like Zeppelin, Hendrix, Cream and the Jeff Beck Group – all the heavier bands back then. That’s where we took a lot of our influence from plus a lot of the old blues artists. It all worked out well back then and when we did the new generation of the band I think the whole concept was to let these guys do what they do, especially Tim, and try to follow suit. It’s old school meets new school head on. That’s what you get with this record.
Who are some of the bands that made you want to pick up a guitar?
Rickey: My granddaddy Shorty was the biggest inspiration for me. He was a country, bluegrass and blues player and that’s what I was raised in. My grandparents became my parents and I was raised with them. I was under that umbrella of influence all the time. Music was at our house constantly and my granddaddy played music all the time. Next thing you know, Elvis came along and that was big in my book. The Beatles came along and that was big in my book. Next thing you know, when Hendrix and Clapton came along, those kinda guys inspired me to get into playing heavier rock. That’s where I cut my teeth.
Tim: Actually a lot of the guys that Rickey was influenced by. I had uncles teaching me about the old school guys. I was listening to guys like Zakk Wylde, Dimebag Darrell. Newer players that were influenced by those English blues kinda guys. I work backwards. I’ll like a player and then look back at who their influences are. I’m a huge fan of guitar players in general. Anyone that’s good in any style I will have an interest in. I try to suck up and absorb anything I can. And of course, being around Rickey so much, he is probably the biggest influence in what I do. I’m pretty fortunate to have one of my heroes standing next to me and learning so much from him.
Rickey, what was the biggest challenge after you decided you were going to move ahead with a new Blackfoot lineup?
Rickey: The biggest challenge wasn’t the musicianship of the band. This whole thing came together centered around Tim. After I saw him play and saw his talent it just kinda laid itself out how we needed to go. One of the challenges was recording a record that stood up to today and bringing forth what I considered going back a little. I hear a lot of bands that have done a throwback to the old stuff. Groups like Black Stone Cherry, Blackberry Smoke, and The Cadillac Three. As these bands come up through the ranks you hear them called the “new southern rock.” I don’t know if it is or not. Only time will tell. I consider the guys in ‘foot old school doing new school stuff. I think they’re in a good position. The challenge in recording the new record was to bring those two essences out in the music. I think we nailed that. We stayed true to ourselves and also let Tim express himself in a great way. I knew going into the studio right away that it was going to be a lot of fun. We had a great time.
I heard you say early on that you knew some original fans wouldn’t get it and you’re OK with that – maybe you’re not after them. You’re ready for a new audience.
Rickey: I knew that we would butt heads with the old fans over what I was doing. I knew there would be people saying, “Ahh, this isn’t Blackfoot!” Here’s my thinking. It’s been three generations ago since the original ‘foot had success. There’s an entire generation out there that doesn’t know one thing about Blackfoot. This band can open up a whole lot of great music for a new generation to listen to and enjoy. This is just our first record. We’re planning on many more. Older fans may shout “BS on this,” but when they go out and see the band they’ll get it. They’ll understand. I hope they understand what I was trying to accomplish in letting these guys take the name and spread the legacy. Of course I don’t want to shun the older fans. But, it’s a different day and a different time. I believe in moving forward.
Tim, what was your attitude going into this knowing fans of the original band may not be accepting of the new lineup?
Tim: We instinctively knew there would be some resistance. We didn’t guess how much but we figured there would be a fair amount. Coming in I took it real serious and as a challenge to win the fans over. Everything we did we did it the best we could. The person we want to please the most is Rickey. If he’s tapping his foot or picks up a guitar to jam with us we know we’re on the right track. Rickey’s always encouraged us to do our own thing with the classic music but we really try to capture the spirit and the attitude of the songs so when the old school fans hear it it will really strike a chord with them. We’ve been really fortunate. The majority of people that come to see us – some just because they wanted to see the band for themselves – they really like the band and they get it. Every show is a battle. Every show is a war to win those fans over. The new fans may not know the history but they like what we’re doing. This is a pretty new concept and Rickey likes to take on new challenges like this.
Rickey: I remember when I got with the guys and they were working the classics up. The first thing I said was, “Do the classics but make them your own.” Nothing ever stays the same. You’ve gotta go with change. I’m really proud of the guys. They made the songs their own and when you see ’em live you’ll be able to see what I’m saying.
Rickey stepped into a producer role for Southern Native and you all worked on the new material together, right?
Tim: Exactly. When we were in pre-production in the studio working up songs, Rickey would come in and we would play stuff for him. It was a real natural process because Rickey, being so creative naturally, if he heard something he liked it would spark ideas for him. We would be off and running. Sometimes that’s exactly what topped it off. We would be working on something and Rickey would come in with an idea on top of it. It totally made it Blackfoot. It was surprisingly easy. Rickey appreciates the old stuff but he’s very aware and appreciative of all the new stuff. No ideas are foreign to him.
Rickey, what was it like being a producer this time around?
Rickey: It’s something I really always aspired to do. That’s one thing I wanted to end up doing in my career. One of my favorite producers is Mutt Lange. I remember the original Blackfoot touring over in England. One time Rick Allen, the drummer from Def Leppard, showed up at a show of ours in Birmingham, England. He was frustrated at the time because Mutt wouldn’t let him come into the studio and record until Mutt had everything on guitar worked out. Mutt played a lot of the guitar stuff. A producer does whatever he thinks is best to achieve greatness out of not just the band members, but the record. I knew there wasn’t going to be any problem with Tim and the guitars. I did very little guitar-wise, maybe some slide stuff, but I did it if it was needed. If I had a melody or idea for a song, that’s what I did. I like being a producer. It was a phenomenal experience and we’re already talking about new material for the next record. It was interesting being on the other side of the glass producing a band called Blackfoot.