Nashville guitarist Marc Copely has performed with some of the best in the biz, including B.B. King, Rosanne Cash and Billy Squier. He’s released a pair of well-regarded solo albums in Limited Lifetime Guarantee (2002) and Harp & Plow (2009), and his original songs have been featured on Gray’s Anatomy, Pawn Stars and all the late-night talk shows (David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno).
If it has strings, the ever-capable Copely can play it, turning good tracks into great ones and average concerts into memorable rock ‘n’ soul romps.
Now Copely’s picking with JD and The Straight Shot, an Americana-inspired outfit headed up by ex-Cablevision head honcho (and Madison Square Garden CEO) James Dolan.
Together the band--which also includes Byron House (bass), Erin Slaver (fiddle), Shawn Pelton (drums), and Carolyn Dawn Johnson (guitar)--has issued a half-dozen albums (Nothing to Hide, Can’t Make Tears, Ballyhoo, etc.) and opened for Z.Z. Top, Jewel, Chicago and The Allman Brothers Band.
This Spring finds the ensemble hitting the road with The Eagles (with guests Vince Gill and Deacon Frey) behind last year’s self-released Good Luck and Good Night. The tour kicks off in Chicago in mid-March and wraps in Canada in May.
AXS spoke with Copely last week about the album and upcoming road trip, which brings The Straight Shot to Columbus, Ohio on April 8.
AXS: What was the songwriting process like for the band on Good Luck and Good Night? Is it a democratic process? Does everyone contribute equally to the music and lyrics, or otherwise?
MARC COPELY: It's pretty democratic, but really depends who is in the room when the writing is taking place. After the initial ideas, we all get in a room and work it all out.
AXS: This spring, JD & The Straight Shot are opening for The Eagles, whom you’ve toured with before. Is a high-profile gig like that ever nervous or daunting?
M.C: Oh man...well, It’s always daunting. When you open for a band that has one of the best singers in music history singing songs like "Hotel California" and "Life In the Fast Lane" it’s a bit scary. Ha-ha! But, we're all friends now after years of touring together so it'll be really fun for us to hang with them again.
AXS: Good Luck and Good Night has a couple great cover songs. Please tell us how “Shambala” was selected and what your approach was to producing it.
M.C: We always have a cover on every record, so this time we went for "Shambala" made famous by Three Dog Night. J.D. brought that to the band and we were all psyched to do it. It's not easy, and it took some time to work out, but it’s a blast to play.
AXS: How did you start out in music? Was there anyone in particular who inspired you to pick up the guitar?
M.C: I started guitar when I was 13 years old and haven't stopped since! My friend Dave who lived down the street taught me to play "Lyin' Eyes" (ironic, isn't it?) and I was hooked. I really got into it the first time I heard Hendrix and thought it was the coolest thing I had ever heard.
AXS: Who were your favorite bands growing up?
M.C: Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and then I started getting into jazz and listening to Miles Davis, Pat Metheny and Bill Evans.
AXS: What were some of your first "professional" gigs?
M.C: I was in a blues band that played every Wednesday at Martocci's restaurant in Worcester, Massachusetts where I grew up with my friend Chet Williamson who's a blues/jazz harmonica player. We played for free pizza!
AXS: When and how did you join JD & The Straight Shot?
M.C: I joined about 8 years ago after getting a call from my friend Charley Drayton who was the music director then. J.D. was putting a band together to open for Don Henley and I ended up joining and going along on that tour.
AXS: You've had some of your own songs covered by people renowned for their own songwriting, like Carole King and Willie Nelson. That's got to feel gratifying, to know you're doing it right by those standards. Any other favorite covers or collaborations that you've had a hand in?
M.C: Well, you've mentioned two of my favorites, but there's one song I love that was recorded by Tracy Bonham, titled "Something Beautiful.” I love the song, and loved writing it with Tracy and Greg Wells. Oddly, enough, I just emailed with Tracy just ten minutes ago!
AXS: Do you have a preference for hard rock vs. country material? Is it tricky to work guitar/mandolin into songs that might also feature keys or fiddle, etc?
M.C: My preference is to make good music. I love playing music so it doesn't really matter what's in my hands as long as I'm enjoying the song. We don't have keys in JD & The Straight Shot, so there's plenty of room for mandolin when it's the right instrument for the gig. I also throw in some National steel guitar and high strung acoustics which help.
M.C: They are amazing guys! They've been nothing but fun to be with, and they sound great.
AXS: You also spent time touring with Billy Squier [“The Stroke,” “Rock Me Tonight”]. What was it like playing with him?
M.C: It was great! Billy is a good friend and a great artist. Billy and I got to play every night through his old 100 watts Marshall amps. THAT is fun!
M.C: We're heading out on tour with the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, and Chicago for a bit, then looking at recording a new album in the fall. It'll be a busy year, and we dig that!