Reshuffled Aces Stack Deck With Country, Blues, Rock and Soul


Pop music reunions are all the rage these days, from the nostalgia of the Monkees to those pioneers of punk, the Sex Pistols. Toss in such 1970s-era mega-bands as the Eagles, Steely Dan and Styx, and it's reasonable to assume a lucrative payoff (remember the $115 top ticket price for the Eagles' Irvine Meadows shows?) often figures into the bands' motivation.

Except in the case of the Amazing Rhythm Aces.

This Memphis-born country roots-rock band has re-formed after a 15-year hiatus, but not due to popular demand. Heck, other than winning a Grammy for best vocal performance by a group in 1976 for "The End Is Not in Sight," they're remembered most for upstaging the headlining Leon Russell at a New Zealand ballroom back in 1981.

Which is to say, they're hardly remembered at all.

And, in sacrificing some of their more lucrative session work, individual band members will probably make less money rejoining the group.

So what's driving the Aces to regroup? For these low-key, down-to-earth, Nashville-based pros, inspiration can be as simple as the right feeling coming at the right time.

"I think we always played good music that people wanted to hear, and we all just felt like we want to do that again," bassist Jeff "Stick" Davis said from his new home in Antioch, about 12 miles outside of Nashville. "That's all this is really about. I mean, we're not just a bunch of guys on the skids looking to get the band back together so we can pay our rent."

The current sextet now includes three original Aces who have stayed active professionally, working as sidemen to some high-profile, respected musicians.

Besides Davis, who has toured and recorded with of B.B. King, Bob Dylan, John Mayall and Al Green, there is founding singer-songwriter-guitarist Russell Smith, who has penned songs for Randy Travis, Ricky Van Shelton, Pam Tillis and Highway 101, among others. Drummer Butch McDade has done studio work with Leon Russell and Roy Clark and toured with Tanya Tucker and Lonnie Mack.

New to the original group are pianist James Hooker, organist Billy Earheart and guitarist-mandolinist Danny Parks.


After falling victim in the past to major label indifference and, according to Davis, a manager who stole the master tapes of their seven albums, the more business-conscious band is now proceeding down an independent, grass-roots-oriented path.

With none of its seven albums available on CD, the group last year rerecorded 10 old gems for a debut CD called "Ride Again." Released through the band's own Breaker Productions, the country-emphasized collection (which includes the Aces' "Third Rate Romance") is being sold at concerts, through mail-order and via the Internet.

"When we split up in '81, we had nothing--no record deal, no tour support--and it was very sad," Davis recalled. "The music business wasn't the pleasure craft that it is now. Man, it was a lifeboat back then, and everyone was hanging by their fingernails. But things are different now, we have a fresh start, and it's very exciting. We can record our own CDs--and through our web site, sell them all over the world. You don't have to do it in the traditional ways. I guess you could say we're into the '90s in our own way."

The Aces are scheduled next month to record a variety of new songs, mostly written by Smith and scheduled for previewing Friday night at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana. According to Davis, the selections of rockers and ballads range from the bouncy western swing of "It's So Sweet Dancing With the One You Love" to the bluesy ache of "The Blue Room" to a catchy, torch-style song called "Love's on the Way."


The new material doesn't differ much in style from the band's trademark mix of country, blues, rock and Memphis soul grooves.

"It's more of the same," Davis said. "As with the old days, nothing's contrived. None of us would ever say, 'Let's try some Alan Jackson-type song that's on the radio.' We're just not like that. . . . Our songs just fall out of us, and folks either warm to 'em or they don't.

"We all have big ears and wide musical tastes, and this upcoming CD will reflect that. It's kind of a mosaic of our influences, what with Russell's country leanings, James is more folky . . . then there's Butch, who's heavily jazz-influenced, and Billy brings this kind of Dr. John/New Orleans vibe to the mix. I think when you roll all that up, it makes for an interesting sort of pie."

Chances are slim that the Aces' homemade, slow-baked pie will be enjoyed by more than a cult-size few, but it's a dish the band wants to be proud of, whether 20 or 20,000 fans indulge. And for someone like Davis, who grew up in a hard-working family that scoffed at music as a profession, the taste will forever be sweet.

"Looking back, I was just an average student and wasn't very good at sports. Music is the only thing that ever liked me back," said Davis, who learned to play while growing up in Indiana. "Anybody can buy an instrument, but the music chooses who gets to play it. I feel like I've been blessed that way."

* The Rhythm Aces' "Ride Again" CD is available via mail order: P.O. Box 110551, Nashville, TN 37222. $20. The band's web site is

* Who: The Amazing Rhythm Aces.

* When: 8 p.m. Friday, with the Hellecasters.

* Where: Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3105 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Harbor Boulevard. Go north and take the third right, Lake Center Drive. The theater is on the left.

* Wherewithal: $17.50-$19.50.

* Where to call: (714) 957-0600.

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