News Column

Radical Rock-n-Roll

December 5, 2013


Dec. 05--Call it a quarter-life crisis -- one riddled with existential questions of "What am I doing?" and "Who am I?"

For two years, Lee Bains played with the popular Southern rock band The Dexateens. For two years, he put his heart and soul into every guitar riff and harmony in every dive bar, festival and concert hall the band performed.

After two years, the band that was invited to Austin's SXSW Festival and ranked No. 1 on Oxford American's top 15 contemporary Alabama artists list, disbanded.

"It was one of those life-altering, come-to-Jesus moments," Bains said. "I invested a lot of emotional energy into being in that band. When the band came to a halt, I felt lost. That was the impetus to me writing a bunch of songs and putting my own band together."

On Saturday, the band born out of Bains' existential crisis, will perform at the Flying Monkey Arts Center in Huntsville.

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires call their sound "deep-South, far-left, wide-open liberation gospel" -- or more simply, rock-and-roll.

"It's Alabama-sounding, raucous rock-and-roll. And it's loud," said Bains, frontman of the band.

At a Fort Worth, Texas, concert in October, the band produced such an intense sound, management pulled the plug, ending the concert.

Backed by drummer Blake Williamson, guitarist Eric Wallace and bassist Adam Williamson, Bains will bring an unrestrained, cutting-edge mixture of rock-and-roll, roots and Muscle Shoals soul, which received praise from the Rolling Stones and Athens' Brittany Howard.

"I love watching Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires," Howard, the lead singer of Alabama Shakes, told London-based music magazine NME. "The musicianship is incredible, and I've learned a thing or two watching the way the guitars interact with one another."

Paste magazine named the group one of the "12 Alabama Bands You Should Listen To Now."

For 28-year-old Bains, the road to regional notoriety, critical praise and national tours began -- like it happens for many Southern musicians -- while singing at church.

"My grandmother was the church choir director, and my grandfather sang tenor, so of course I was singing in church from the time I was real little," Bains said.

And then there was the influence of his father and older brothers.

"They loved rock-and-roll," Bains said. "We would basically listen to Led Zeppelin in the car on the way to church, sing hymns, then turn Zeppelin back on."

When Bains failed to exhibit any improvement on the piano, his instructor suggested to his mother that perhaps the guitar would better showcase his ability.

"It was completely unsolicited, but I have never been so thankful in my life. I hated taking piano lessons and I was not good at it," Bains said.

His parents agreed. In 1997, then-12-year-old Bains received a red guitar for Christmas. Within a year, he was writing and performing songs. This, he said, is his calling.

"There's a catharsis to playing that I don't experience doing anything else," Bains said. "Most shows, I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and there's no other thought that enters my head. That is a really gratifying feeling."

On Saturday, the band will perform songs from the debut album, "There is a Bomb in Gilead," and its upcoming sophomore record. Get ready for a dose of Alabama love, with songs such as "Centreville," "Opelika" and "Red Dirt of Home."

Q-and-A with Bains

If there was a natural disaster and you could save five albums, what would they be?

Wilson Pickett's "Hey Jude" with Duane Allman; Lynyrd Skynyrd's "One More for the Road," their last double-wide LP; The Replacements' "Let it Be"; Oukast's "Aquemini"; The Stooges' "Raw Power."

What bands are on your radar?

One of my favorite bands is The Nightmare Boys from Huntsville. I also really like this band from Nashville -- Pujol. The songwriter, David Pujol, has a really great ability to write deep, catchy lyrics. The Turf War in Atlanta and The Brooklyn Wheat from New York are really good. It's a great time in music because there's a lot of great sound being made right now.

How did you land a European tour?

Last February we played a show in New York. After the show, a couple of guys with foreign accents came up. I said, "Where y'all from?" They were buddies from Norway, who once a year take a trip to see a bunch of shows. This year they came to New York. One of their friends, who is a big music writer in Norway and lives in New York, told them, "Whatever your plans are tonight, cancel them and go to this show." A couple of days later there was this really lengthy article in Norwegian's version of "USA Today" about the show. As a result of that, we ended up doing a tour. That was the last thing I expected when we set out to do a Tuesday night show in New York.

Why do you perform?

I wanted to write songs and play them because I wanted to make people feel what music had made me feel. The music of Wilson Pickett, the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Conway Twitty, Charley Pride, Al Green, Elvis, the Stones and so many more got me through difficult periods and changed the way I looked at the world.

Catherine Godbey can be reached at 256-340-2441 or

If you go

What: Lee Bains III & Glory Fires

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: Flying Monkey, 2211 Seminole Drive, Huntsville

Tickets: $10.


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