Recently LMNR caught-up with the Charlie Wheeler Band. The blues rock trio delivers rippin’ guitar jams that make their bad-ass live shows a high energy experience where fans party hard all night long. Hailing from a small town called Ridgway, PA, the Charlie Wheeler Band exudes a toughness that can only be cultivated in the working class environs from which they’ve emerged. The band’s hard-driving brand of blues-infused Rock and Roll is reminiscent of the Black Crowes and The Allman Brothers Band, coupled with the blunt force of Pearl Jam. With lyrics that can at times be light, heavy, deep, and even funny, the band’s songs tell stories of life, love, and living life on the edge.
LMNR: How did the band come to be?
CWB: Originally, back in ’08, I thought I had some decent tunes written. I decided I wanted to make a proper album and I hooked up with Graphite Studios in Warren, PA. I wasn’t singing much at the time so we enlisted a great friend and conspirator, Greek Cheronis to sing on the first 2 albums and play harmonica. The band took a break and when we restarted, we pared down to a three piece. It felt like a more natural fit. So the band was born out of the studio and started morphing into a more open style.
LMNR: Is this the original line-up?
CWB: This is not the original lineup, but with Dave Fink on Bass and Rad Akers on Drums, it’s definitely the most aggressive and adventurous combo. They’ll try anything once. It’s really fun because when we try something and it works, it goes right into the repertoire.
LMNR: Can you give a brief description of what your music is like?
CWB: We are a Jam Band, wrapped around a Blues Band, surrounded by a funk band, infused with strong songs and solid lyrical content. I like melody and I like lyrics that make sense to the listener. I try to write lyrics that a listener can dig, understand and sing along to.
LMNR: How does living in PA influence your lyrics and music?
CWB: Well, first of all, we are from western, PA. It has it’s own culture in Pittsburgh, it’s like living in a bubble. It exudes a real, tangible blue collar essence. It’s where people make forgings and steel. It is cold in the winter. It has an edge that is tough and can be quite unforgiving at times. But it also makes the people here a family. If you can survive here, you can survive anywhere.
LMNR: And what about touring? Has touring made an impact on your style and music?
CWB: Touring has certainly made us a better, tighter band. We show up to our gigs and whether it is 100 or 1000 people, we try to leave an indelible mark on people with our show. We don’t ever hold back. Not one bit.
LMNR: What makes your music/band unique?
CWB: I think it’s the songs and the intensity of our live performance. The people who follow us and love us know every word. They sing along. They holler out requests. And then its an interesting blend of musicians, from Dave on the bass who plays everything from his church band to jam band, to Rad on drums who played in JamGrass band Big Leg Emma (but his first love is progressive rock) to myself, Charlie, who is always starting with the blues and then has lyrical influences of everyone from Robert Hunter, Bob Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young. As a kid, one of my early memories is watching Springsteen do Rosalita live, maybe at No Nukes or one of those big shows. His commitment, passion was so inspiring to me. Sometimes I feel that overcome while in performance, but the knee slides he does? Sorry, I can’t pull those off.
LMNR: Tell us about your latest album. How did it come about? How is this album different from your others?
CWB: The latest album is due to be released this summer some time. I went through a terrible writer’s block in 2014. It was really hard. I had to really simplify certain aspects of my life. Then this great flood rushed out and onto paper. We’ve recorded some great stuff. The difference between Highway Run and Line Em Up (the first two albums) and Rewind and the new album, (which will be called Blues, Karma and the Kitchen Sink), is night and day. Vocally the last two have CW on vocals, we are a three piece and we tried to stay as close to a 3 piece as we could.
LMNR: What does your creative process look like?
CWB: The creative force always seems to start with a really solid vocal hook. I don’t think a song fits my band and my life really, unless there is a story to be told. I like telling stories about smoky bar rooms at closing time, about the human toll after a natural disaster, or the human inclination to sin. Rarely do I wax on about a personal experience. But it has to have that lyrical line that people hear and want to sing.
LMNR: How did recording go?
CWB: As always, Anthony Brown at Graphite Studios (master engineer and co-producer) and I clicked in the studio. We are great, great friends and we can almost read each others minds in the studio. We do have different taste in music, and I think that actually helps. Four albums later, we are still cranking out some really great quality recordings.
LMNR: If you had one original song to choose for new listeners to get into your music, what would it be?
CWB: I would have to say Love Letter, the opening song on Rewind Why? It’s just a fun song and it tells a lot about our life band’s performance. It’s not the most advanced lyrically, but it is a smokin groove and a tale of love lost. Who can’t relate to that?
LMNR: What artists or bands have inspired you guys?
CWB: Other than the lyrical guys mentioned earlier, we really vibe on bands like the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Trucks Tedeschi because of their intensity and their thoughtful lyrics.
LMNR: Do you have a favorite musician or band that you like to cover?
CWB: It seems like we cover a lot of CSNY. I don’t know why but we take their beautiful writing and arranging and “Wheelify” it.
LMNR: How do you make the covers more your own style?
CWB: In a word, we add tension to the song. We’ll take CSNY’s Almost Cut My Hair and just rock the snot out of it.
LMNR: How is the tour going?
CWB: All of this playing is making us connect as a band on a cellular level. So the touring has been really fun. We get along so well with the band and crew that we just crack ourselves up on the ride between shows.
LMNR: Any particular shows you are looking forward to playing? Why?
CWB: We are pumped for the Navy Pier on August 20th in Chicago. We’ve never been in Chicago to play. The last time I was there was for the Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well shows. The city is just full of possibilities. And I’m sure that the blues crowd in Chicago will dig us.
LMNR: What are your fans like? How do they influence your music?
CWB: Our fans are educated music listeners. They don’t take there taste in music lightly. It’s not background music. They listen to Phish, the Dead, Widespread Panic and bands like that. They have discerning taste. They influence us because we have a strict “no filler” policy on our albums. Nobody likes an album where the fist 3 tunes crush and the rest of it makes you apathetically shrug your shoulders. I really make an effort to keep the quality consistent throughout each album.
LMNR: Any last thoughts you’d like to add?
CWB: Dave, Rad and I would like to see you at a show and would love to meet you online or in person. This band is based in keeping things as real as possible. Being present in the moment. Keeping grounded. The people who help us do that are our fans.