By Chris Robie
Photos by Jenny L. Viars/Dancing Lemur Photography
I can't think of too many bands that have ever fully recovered after losing their front man and lead singer. Few were successful, such bands like Van Halen (Sammy Hagar replacing David Lee Roth), AC/DC (Brian Johnson replacing Bon Scott) and Genesis (Phil Collins replacing Peter Gabriel) are just some of the few that I can immediately think of. It's a difficult task and it's more often than not the music will ever be the same.
Replacing Daniel Justin Smith wasn't going to be easy. With his signature vocals and heartfelt songwriting he was undeniably a vital ingredient to Big Daddy Love's sound. So when word came out of Smiths departure the qualms from fans that the band would ever be the same again were instantaneous. But guess what? The show must go on. Sometimes change is a good thing because whether you realize it or not, with the current lineup, there is not one original member left in Big Daddy Love. I should also mention that almost immediately after Smith's departure the band also replaced Chasper Horton, their drummer.
So let's move on to the good news. Before I go any further I just want to be clear that I have nothing but the utmost respect for Smith. He is an exceptional singer and song writer. And in more ways than one he is everything that Big Daddy Love embodies, its heart and its soul. Humbly filling that void is Scott Moss, formerly of the band Evergreen. Much like Brian Johnson and Bon Scott's vocals with AC/DC, there are striking similarities. What's different and is a much needed addition to the band are Moss's soulful take on the lyrics and his energy on stage. Horton was replaced by Scotty Lewis, formerly of Jackass Flats, on drums. I like Horton. He's a great guy. But Horton was never a good fit for BDL. He was more of a reggae style drummer.
Has the band's sound changed? Yes and no. It's not like they've gone in a new direction or anything. Just try to imagine the music getting an adrenalin shot. Before you would dance until your feet hurt. Now you may need a new pair of shoes. Whether you choose to stay on board and support the band that you once loved so dearly is entirely up to you. But I'm here to say that you're a complete idiot if you don't. And Smith isn't entirely out of the picture. He will still continue to contribute as a song writer for Big Daddy Love. So it's a win-win situation for the band and their fans.
With so much discussion centered on Smith and Moss, let's not forget how important a role Scotty Lewis presents on the drums. The chemistry between him and Sutton are dynamic. They are the true backbone of the band, the coal that fuels the locomotive. They provide Recchio and Swenk a wide open canvas to paint in, the guitar fusing with the banjo in dual interplay. Together they paint that masterpiece. The band is as solid as ever and it's not because of any one person in particular. It's because they are all very talented musicians who are passionate about what they do. They wear their hearts on a drum stick, a bass, a guitar, a banjo and a microphone.
I had a chance to hang out with the guys shortly before their gig at The Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh. By this time Moss had already put in around 20+ shows with the band. It had been a very busy month for them. Tonight would be Lewis's fifth show. As I prepared for the interview I noticed Moss scribbling on a piece of paper. He was writing down the lyrics to "Home Tree". He would write them down over and over again until he had memorized all the words. Absent from the interview was bassist Ashley Sutton. He stepped out to go make me some coffee and never came back. Musicians, especially bass players, can be easily distracted.
Scott Moss - Vocals, acoustic guitar
Matteo "Joey" Recchio - Guitar
Brian Paul Swenk - Banjo
Ashley Sutton - Bass
Scotty Lewis - Drums
HGMN: Let's talk about the new lineup change. What happened with Daniel and why was it his decision to leave the band?
Swenk: He wanted to spend more time with his family. He felt like he was on the road too much. He was missing his family. I'm sure everybody can understand. He's got two small kids. He made that decision. We kind of saw it and knew it was coming. We support his decision.
HGMN: Was Daniel a founding member of Big Daddy Love?
Swenk: Oh yeah. Big Daddy Love was a different band. It was him and some of his friends from Elkin. When me, Joey and Ashley joined at the same time, in '09 I think, his friends were kind of bowing out. That's when Daniel called and brought us on board.
HGMN: What were you guys doing at the time?
Swenk: I wasn't playing that much...
Recchio: I was in the medical business and I was playing in a blues band out of Charlotte.
HGMN: So when Daniel gave you the news that he was leaving, did you guys already have a back up plan?
Swenk: The only backup plan was...we had seen Scott sing before. And in the back of my mind I knew if we ever had to go through the process that Scott was our guy. That was it. When Daniel told us, Joey and I talked a lot about moving forward and how we didn't want to give it up. We had done so well in two years, we felt so good about it and we didn't want to fold. We've got to find somebody that can come in and keep the spirit of the music alive and grow with us...
Moss: And one of these days you're going to find that guy.
HGMN: Daniel was the primary song writer, right?
Swenk: Very much so. We're really in the best situation right now because Daniel is going to keep writing songs. We all still talk and we're all still good friends. Daniel wants to continue to write songs and we'll have the chance to play or record them if we want.
HGMN: Will you still be keeping Big Daddy Love's catalog of music?
Swenk: Yeah. We were big on that and so was Daniel. He didn't just want to take the rug out from under us. He's glad that we're playing those songs.
Recchio: It's totally beneficial for him to keep them out there.
Swenk: He wants to be a song writer. It helps us all. He writes the songs and we can play them if we want. We'll still be playing his old songs. We're all kind of helping each other out right now. It's a good situation.
HGMN: Where did you meet Scott?
Swenk: Asheville, in December of last year.
HGMN: You guys played together?
Moss: Yup. It was a Little King showcase. I was in a band previously. We were on the same record label. It was a showcase and we all ended up in the same room. Evergreen was the band.
HGMN: Were you still with your band when they offered you to join up?
Moss: It was good timing. That was kind of winding down in its own way. It sort of hit a plateau. Luckily it just all worked out.
HGMN: Did you feel intimidated at all coming in?
Moss: Ya'll should feel intimidated (laughs).
Moss: Honestly, yeah. I knew it was going to be a lot of work and I have a lot of respect for the success that they've done already. I wanted to fit in and be a part of that and not take anything away from it.
HGMN: How many shows have you played so far?
Moss: In the twenties. We played like 25 times in May.
Swenk: We've been out since May 1st.
HGMN: Have the fans been accepting?
Moss: They seem to be.
Recchio: Very much so.
Swenk: Fans that have been with us almost from the beginning have... everybody's been kind of hesitant and no body knew how it was going to sound...we didn't know how they were going to react...and everybody just came up and said, "you guys got it. You made the perfect decision and the music is still as good".
HGMN: I know that Daniel will continue to write songs. Are you guys going to try and write music on your own as well?
Swenk: Oh yeah. Scott writes songs. We're playing several of his songs right now and they're killer. And Joey and I have learned how to write together. So we are excited about...just growing.
HGMN: You guys also have a new drummer.
Swenk: We do, from Jackass Flats.
HGMN: How is that working out?
Swenk: So far so good.
HGMN: What happened with Chasper?
Swenk: It ran its course. Chasper was great for us. He got us through in a pinch. I'll say musically we needed something different. For how we envisioned our music growing we needed something different and it was a tough choice. We've been with Chasper for a little over a year and he is a good friend of ours. We knew we needed something different musically and we knew Scotty was the one for it. It's one of the toughest decisions we've ever made but we were all in agreement that it was right. So we're happy. We wish Chasper the best. He's such a good reggae drummer. He'll be with a national reggae act playing huge festivals.
HGMN: How many shows have you played so far?
Lewis: This will be my fifth.
HGMN: How has it been for you?
Lewis: It's been blessed. For me it ended up being the best possible situation. These guys are great musicians, playing great music, I couldn't ask for anything better.
HGMN: So there are really no original members left?
Recchio: Nope. There's not an original member left in the band.
HGMN: Now that you're lineup is solidified do you have any plans on doing a live album in the near future?
Swenk: Yeah. We would love to do a live album. It's definitely in the near future. If we could be really aggressive we would like to put out an album by the end of the year, maybe in the winter. I think that's a good goal for us to really work hard and do that. What do guys think? Is that doable?
Recchio: Oh, yeah, surely.
Swenk: Other than music the biggest change is that these guys can work. Daniel was only playing Thursday, Friday and Saturday because of family obligations. So the biggest change for us is now we can practice through the week, work a lot more. We've done so much through May. We've only been home a few days. That's really the biggest difference.
HGMN: What do you think is the biggest challenge for Big daddy Love right now?
Swenk: Putting gas in the van.
Recchio: Getting to the level where we get two motel rooms.
HGMN: You guys sharing the same bed?
Swenk: We slide them together (laughs).
Recchio: My girlfriend just got me a blow up bed roll.
Swenk: That was a game changer.
Moss: The van sleeps pretty good.
HGMN: I hear that you guys are opening up for Willie Nelson. How did that come about?
Swenk: Somebody called and asked us. For some reason we got picked and we're happy to do it.
HGMN: Where will you be playing?
HGMN: Is that a festival?
Swenk: It's where Smilefest was, Pilot Mountain.
HGMN: Will there be other artists performing?
Swenk: It's just us two. We're opening.
HGMN: That's going to be really nice. What's the date on that?
Swenk: June 16th, in two weeks.
HGMN: How are you enjoying your role as the new vocalist for Big Daddy Love?
Moss: I love it.
HGMN: How would you compare working with these guys to the last band you were in?
Moss: I've never been in a band with people my same age. All the other guys were a lot older than me and it's just nice to be surrounded by other musicians who are all like minded, work hard, and are more about the music than the scene. I appreciate that a whole lot coming from where I was.
HGMN: What's your favorite Big Daddy Love song?
Swenk: Which one do you like singing the best right now?
Moss: "Circle". I love it.
Recchio: That song is about as good as anyone.
HGMN: Are there any songs in your catalog that you've stopped playing?
Swenk: With these guys we're kind of taking them one by one. There might be a few that we might not pick up again. It's kind of like one by one; see what these guys want to play, like what Scott wants to sing, like he was really excited about singing "Mountain". And we love playing that song. If a singer's excited about something let them sing it. Don't force them to sing what they don't want to sing. Then everyone will have so much more fun. Really man, whatever he wants to play we'll play it.
Moss: It's such a strong catalog of music there's nothing really...there's really only two or three songs that I'm not interested in playing because they're so personal to Daniel.
HGMN: Which songs are those?
Recchio: "A letter to love".
Moss: Yeah. It just wouldn't make any sense for me to sing that song. It's a great song. If I was a fan of this band it would be a turnoff for me hearing the new guy sing that song.
Recchio: Also maybe "Thicker than Water".
Moss: That one is another one.
Recchio: I've known Daniel all my life and when I listen to "Thicker than Water", the whole time I'm playing I'm picturing him as a kid...In my opinion that's the best song he ever wrote. If I didn't know Daniel I might be able to pass it over...
Swenk: You never know, ten years from now we may dig back in...
HGMN: What other kinds of music do you guys listen to?
Moss: This is a very diverse crowd.
Swenk: We listen to all types of stuff. We were debating on which Metallica album is the best last night.
Recchio: It was actually a really heated debate.
Swenk. It was a very heated debate.
Recchio: I almost stood up in the van to get my point across.
Swenk: I know my answer is right, "Puppets".
Recchio: And "Justice". That's what it came down to. And Ashley stuck up for "Ride the Lightning".
Swenk: He does have a valid point that it's ballsy. But musically "Puppets"...that was Cliff Burton's magnum opus.
HGMN: What new bands do you guys like or are really in to?
Swenk: Wood Brothers. I like the Black Keys a lot, Folk Soul Revival, Possum Jenkins and Tedeschi Trucks Band.
HGMN: Do you think that you will ever cover "Mountain Music"?
Recchio: By Alabama?
Swenk: We've talked about it. What's that song you wanted to cover?
Moss: "Groove is in the Heart".
Swenk: It was an Alabama song.
Moss: Oh, "Fishing in the Dark". I love that song.
Recchio: I don't know that one.
HGMN: I think "Mountain Music" would really get the crowd going. As if you couldn't tell I'm really pushing for you guys to cover that song.
Recchio: Yeah, it does have the kick drum going.
Swenk: There's nothing like a song that starts out with a kick drum.
Lewis: As a drummer I would have to agree. It's like the best thing ever.
HGMN: (Pointing to a grandmother-pick style, western shirt on a hanger) Is this what the band's outfits look like?
Swenk: That's the uniform. That's the first question we asked, "Do you have flannel shirts?"
Moss: Do you have pearl snap shirts? (Laughs)
HGMN: Are there rules on how you guys dress for the stage?
Swenk: We've got one rule. If the temperature starts with a nine shorts are fine.
Recchio: I don't wear shorts on stage. I would rather have people pay attention to something else than whether or not I'm riding the chicken.
HGMN: What does that mean, riding the chicken?
Recchio: Skinny legs.
HGMN: What else do you guys have coming up that you're excited about?
Swenk: We have four shows at Floyd fest this year. We're one of the first bands that play on Wednesday and one of the last bands that play on Sunday. We also have a main stage slot there.
HGMN: You describe your music as Appalachian Rock. What does that mean?
Swenk: We came up with that term just to have something to say...
HGMN: How would you describe the music?
Moss: When somebody asks me that question I just say that it's a rock 'n' roll band with a banjo.
Swenk: Stanley Brothers and Allman Brothers combined.
Moss: That's one thing that I'm really proud of, it is the dynamic between these two (Joey & Brian). Joey told me in the beginning, he said, "You'll find out that the banjo is our secret weapon". If you take either one of those elements out of it (guitar/banjo), you've got a blues band or you have a bluegrass band.
Recchio: We've got a good tug of war going on. Some people actually compose songs to take it in different directions. We'll just flip leads.
HGMN: Can you tell me anything about Big Daddy Love that nobody really knows about?
Recchio: Ashley is a bird expert.
Swenk: He's been called a bird savant.
Swenk: By like other bird watchers. He's spent a lot of time by himself in the woods counting birds and stuff like that.
Recchio: Cataloging them, mating habits... Sometimes I'll hit a lick on the guitar at practice and he'll say, "I'm not going to disparage you but that lick you just hit sounds like some kind of gull."
Swenk: A "laughing gull".
Moss: Now I pay more attention to birds.
Swenk: We're all looking up now.
Upcoming Tour Dates
Thursday, 6/14/2012, 11:00 pm The Galaxy Lounge Johnson City, TN
Friday, 6/15/2012, 9:00 pm High Rock Outfitters Lexington, NC
Saturday, 6/16/2012, 7:15 pm Jomeokee Park Amphitheater w/ Willie Nelson! Pinnacle, NC
Thursday, 6/21/2012, 9:30 pm Local 506 Chapel Hill, NC
Friday, 6/22/2012, 10:00 pm Blue Bourbon Jacks High Point, NC
Saturday, 6/23/2012, 7:00 pm Alexander County Summer Stomp Taylorsville, NC
Tuesday, 6/26/2012, 10:00 pm The Pour House Charleston, SC
Wednesday, 6/27/2012, 11:00 pm Goombay's Grill and Raw Bar Kill Devil Hills, NC
Thursday, 6/28/2012, 9:30 pm Hoss's Deli Newport News, VA
Friday, 6/29/2012, 5:00 pm On the Rise Festival Reading, PA
Saturday, 6/30/2012, 10:00 pm The Otter House Fredericksburg, VA
Tuesday, 7/03/2012, 8:15 pm Greensboro Fun Fourth Festival Block Party Greensboro, NC
Wednesday, 7/04/2012, 10:30 pm Palm Room Wrightsville Beach, NC
Thursday, 7/05/2012, 8:00 pm Live Bar Greenville, NC
Friday, 7/06/2012, 10:00 pm Outer Banks Brewing Station Kill Devil Hills, NC
Saturday, 7/07/2012, 5:00 pm Ted Constant Convocation Center Norfolk, VA
Sunday, 7/08/2012, 5:00 pm The Backstreet Pub Beaufort, NC
Thursday, 7/12/2012, 9:30 pm Martin's Downtown Bar & Grill Roanoke, VA
Friday, 7/13/2012, 9:30 pm Altamont Theatre Asheville, NC
Saturday, 7/14/2012, 1:00 pm South Carolina Peach Festival Gaffney, SC
Saturday, 7/14/2012, 9:30 pm The Loft @ Benchwarmers Salisbury, NC
Wednesday, 7/18/2012, 10:00 pm Rapture Charlottesville, VA
Thursday, 7/19/2012, 9:00 pm Doc Taylor's Seaside Market Lounge Virginia Beach, VA
Friday, 7/20/2012, 9:00 pm Ziggy's Winston-Salem, NC
Saturday, 7/21/2012, 9:30 pm Legal Grounds Rutherfordton, NC
Wednesday, 7/25/2012, 10:00 pm FloydFest 2012 Floyd, VA
Thursday, 7/26/2012, 4:00 pm FloydFest 2012 Floyd, VA
Saturday, 7/28/2012, 12:30 pm FloydFest 2012 Floyd, VA
Sunday, 7/29/2012, 4:00 pm FloydFest 2012 Floyd, VA
Friday, 8/10/2012, 10:30 pm The Whiskey Wilmington, NC
Saturday, 8/11/2012, 8:15 pm Possum Holler Prospect Hill, NC
Wednesday, 8/15/2012, 8:00 pm Barn Jam @ Awendaw Green Awendaw, SC
Thursday, 8/16/2012, 8:00 pm The Five Spot Atlanta, GA
Saturday, 8/18/2012, 9:00 pm Bootlegger's Cabin Mill Spring, NC
Thursday, 8/23/2012, 8:00 pm Oak City 7 Concert Series at CIty Plaza Raleigh, NC
Friday, 8/24/2012, 6:30 pm Camp Barefoot 6 Bartow, WV
Saturday, 8/25/2012, 6:30 pm Camp Barefoot 6 Bartow, WV
Sunday, 8/26/2012, 10:30 pm Camp Barefoot 6 Bartow, WV
Friday, 9/14/2012, 9:30 pm River Street Jazz Cafe Wilkes-Barre, PA
Monday, 9/17/2012, 8:00 pm Bullfrog Brewery Williamsport, PA
Wednesday, 9/19/2012, 10:00 pm Ten O One Sports Club Winston-Salem, NC
Friday, 9/21/2012, 9:30 pm The Camel Richmond, VA
Friday, 10/12/2012, 10:30 pm Murphy's Boone, NC
Saturday, 10/13/2012, 4:00 pm Hickory Oktoberfest Hickory, NC
To The Mountain (2010)
Let it Grow (2011)