Preacher Stone rocks out!

By Mitch Talley

If you’re upset that all the legendary Southern rockers are getting old and retiring, don’t worry.
With bands like Preacher Stone still cranking out new music, Southern rock remains in good hands for years to come.

If you’re a fan of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy,” you’ve probably already heard Preacher Stone, the rock band from North Carolina whose song “Not Today” played on two episodes of the series that aired from 2008-14. They’ve also appeared around the United States as well as Europe, where fans knew every word to their songs even though they didn’t know how to speak English.

But you don’t have to flip on your TV or travel overseas to hear the band, which will be making another appearance in the North Georgia mountains at Rocco’s in Jasper on Jan. 2, 2021.

Band member Jim Bolt, who plays bass guitar and sings vocals, took a few minutes to talk with us about Preacher Stone, which he likened to Lynyrd Skynyrd “when they’re really mad!”

You can find their songs at all the usual places, including iTunes where we’ve been jamming out with the group since our interview. Come set a spell with us.

M – Where is it you live?

J – We’re up in the Charlotte, N.C., area. I actually live in Mooresville, a little north of Charlotte, up where all the NASCAR teams are based out of. Call it Race City USA. We’re up here on Lake Norman … well, actually I live about $350,000 off of Lake Norman. (Laughs). It’s a pretty nice area. I like it a lot. My wife’s originally from here. I was born in Anderson, S.C., but I grew up in Caldwell County in Lenoir, N.C., up near Blowing Rock and Boone. Darrell [Whitt] turned me on to an article you did on his band, Whiskey Stills & Mash. They’re our buddies from down there in your area. They actually hooked us up with Rocco’s. We’ve done quite a few shows with those boys over the past year. We’ve had a lot of fun with them.

M – Tell us who’s in Preacher Stone.

J – One of the founding members of Preacher Stone is Marty Hill. He’s a guitar player, plays slide, plays dobro, plays a bunch of stuff. He’s a Charlotte living legend, basically. He’s been playing around the area for a while. He got up with Ronnie Riddle, our singer, back in ’08 sometime, wanted to form a band. And then they hired Johnny Webb on keyboards. We’ve had a couple of different members back in those days, but I’ll just kinda brush over how this lineup came to be.

And then I play bass and sing backing vocals, and Ben Robinson is the other guitar player, plays lead, sings a little bit. Ben and I were touring in a blues band, and the guys in Preacher Stone would come out whenever we were in the Charlotte area and see us. We’d trip out because we were Preacher Stone fans at that time. And come to find out, they were just scoutin’ to hire us. So that worked out pretty good. And then we ended up needing a drummer about four years ago, and me and Ben had used Joshua Wyatt on a blues recording session. We told ‘em, we got this hell of a drummer that just came in out of a praise band in a Greensboro church and Ben had met him at a jam night. Josh came in, and that was it. He’s about the baddest boy on drums I ever met. So Marty Hill, Ronnie Riddle, Johnny Webb, Jim Bolt, Ben Robinson, and Joshua Wyatt – that’s the members.

Ben Robinson

M – What’s the story behind the band’s name?

J – Anything good having to do with Preacher Stone is Marty Hill’s fault. (laughs) I’ll just go ahead and blame everything on him. He was sittin’ around watching a Clint Eastwood movie one night. I can’t remember which movie, Pale Rider, or one of ‘em where he’s playing the preacher. And Marty thought, yeah, Preacher, that would be a pretty cool name for a Southern rock band. He said he was sittin’ there and had a pretty big fire built, in a big ol’ stone fireplace, and he said, Preacher Stone. That’s one story of how it came to be. (laughs). Marty’s wife, Zane, is an artistic lady, and she come up with the horns and guns logo. I happen to think it’s probably one of the most recognizable logos for any regional tour band out there right now because whether they like the band or not, people buy the t-shirts just for the horns and guns. That’s the story of how the band got the name, according to Marty. Now, if it’s something different, I have no idea, but that’s how the legend is.

M – How long have you been in the band?

J – Since 2014. When we got this group together, Ronnie and Marty were pretty much like, this is what the hell we had in mind to begin with. This is the longest running lineup of the band, and in my opinion and most of the other guys, this is the lineup that should have been from the beginning.

M – What’s the story about the band’s song being used in the Sons of Anarchy TV series?

J – Marty wanted to form a band. Ronnie was living in Nashville at the time. He’s had him a record deal and moved to Nashville and did the whole thing I feel like folks try to do and ended up with a paper route and a couple different jobs, coaching football at Brentwood High School. Anybody that moves to Nashville and tries to become a superstar, ends up working at Outback, you know how that goes. He called Ronnie, and Ronnie drove in from Nashville to get together for a little writing session. Marty writes hellacious guitar licks – all the coolness that comes from a lot of our songs comes out of Marty Hill’s head. Anyway, long story short, he had this lick for a song, and it ended up being “Not Today.” That was the first song they ever wrote together, oddly enough, and somehow or another, by talking with different folks in the industry, Kurt Sutter and Sutter Inc. heard it and hit the boys up and wanted to use it in “Sons of Anarchy,” and they used “Not Today” in Season 3 and in Season 5. They used the same song twice. It set all the wheels in motion for the band.

M – Is that a big moneymaker for a song to appear on TV?

J – Well, I mean it’s what we like to call :mailbox money.” Nobody’s riding around in their Ferraris, or nothing, but it’s opened up doors more or less is what it did. They signed a deal with it, each time the show’s re-released on DVD or over in Europe, whatever, but the big thing for us is it opened up doors for us. We started doing the Skynyrd cruises with Skynyrd and Blackberry Smoke and all those boys and meeting folks from all over the world. It just kinda blossomed from there.

M – What’s it like playing with Skynyrd, by the way?

J – We’ve gotten to play with a bunch of our heroes, from Charlie Daniels to Marshall Tucker. It’s kinda odd when you’re standing there in the artists’ line for breakfast at the buffet, and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s standing behind you and he knows your name, and then here comes Johnny Van Zant and he knows your name. It’s just weird. It’s really surreal because it’s all these folks we grew up listening to. I met Jaimoe from Allman Brothers – he’s got his Jaimoe’s jazz band out. They were playing on one cruise, and we were on right before they were on the pool deck show. He’s elderly and come walking up with his cane, and he said, ‘Young man.’ I said, ‘Yes sir, Mr. Jaimoe, sir.’ Hell, he’s talkin’ to me. He goes, ‘Your band might be the best on this entire damn boat.’ That right then and there, you could’ve just shot me dead because one of my heroes told me my band was one of his favorite bands on the boat, and there was a bunch of damn good bands on the boat. Johnny Neel was there. We jammed with Johnny and Chris Anderson from the Outlaws a lot late at night. That’s one thing about those cruises. It’s so cool, you’re trapped on this boat, you know what I mean, with 2,500 people plus all the other bands, and the late night jams pop up in closed bars. There’s always somebody from the production company around. Hey look, we got some boys from Atlanta Rhythm Section, got some boys from Preacher Stone that they’re down here drinkin’ and wantin’ to jam. Next thing you know, there’s something going on till 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, and it was just something else.

My first gig with Preacher Stone was going on one of those cruises. It was on the Simple Man 7 cruise, and one of our first shows I ever played with ‘em, the guys in Skynyrd had reached out to all of the bands that were going to be playing the Sail Away deal, which we were a part of it. And they said, ‘Yeah, we want you boys to cover two Skynyrd songs.’ So we got to play two Skynyrd songs with Skynyrd sittin’ over there drinkin’ beer watchin’ us, you know. I’m sittin’ here, going, holy hell, what have I done? Leon Wilkeson’ll come back from the grave and drown me out here in the middle of the damn ocean, that’s all there is to it. It’s something else, like I said, when you get to meet these guys. I’m as big a music fan as I am anything, and I’m trying not to ask everybody for autographs – I will try to sneak a picture from time to time, but trying to act like I belong. They may come up and call you by name before you even introduce yourself – it’s pretty humbling.

Marty Hill

M – I bet. Do you remember the two songs of Skynyrd’s that you played?

J – Yeah. We played “I Ain’t the One,” and Marty and Ronnie went up there and did “Four Walls of Raiford.”

M – I can’t imagine that, being able to…

J – Yeah, it’s one thing to play a cover song in a bar in front of a bunch of drunks somewhere. It’s another thing to play a couple of songs in front of the boys that wrote the damn things! It kinda tightens you up just a little bit there, but they were real nice, real supportive. Rickey Medlocke and I sat at a blackjack table one night about 3 o’clock in the morning after their show was done, and that’s what he was talking about was Preacher Stone and how Southern rock was in good hands. We’re huge Blackfoot fans, you know, and we actually played with the new version of Blackfoot with Tim Rossi and those guys. We share a lot of the same stuff, and those guys are as good as any band out there doing it now, too.

M – I see that y’all did a European tour in 2016. What’s it like playing for people who speak a foreign language?

J – We got the chance to go over there with Tom Cunningham, road manager of Molly Hatchet, who met us on a cruise and decided he wanted to do something with us, too. He says, ‘Here’s what we’re gonna do, boys. We’re gonna go to Europe for 19 days. We’ve got it set up and we’re gonna go over there and play,’ and we just immediately started going, like, oh, crap. I mean we ain’t never played out of the country, other than on the cruises, you know, when you’re playing in the Caribbean or Mexico or whatever, but that don’t really count because you never leave the boat. But we got over to Germany, and there are so many Preacher Stone fans in Germany! Every place was packed; half of the people spoke very little English, but they would sing our songs word for word back to us. I mean, European crowds are very enthusiastic. They treated us like we were the damn Rolling Stones — I mean, they’d wait in line. We went over there in November during election year when Trump got elected, and all anybody wanted to talk about was Trump. Hey man, we’re just redneck musicians, we liken it to the Clampetts go to Europe, you know. We took a little camera crew with us, had a big time. It was something else. We were so well received over there that we can’t really wait to get back. We’d actually started working on another run over there when all this COVID mess hit and they shut Europe down, so we’re just trying to get through this 2020 with our skin intact and get the hell on into 2021 and do some stuff.
We actually had an opening band over at a place called the Real Music Club over there, and one guitar player Wolfgang could actually speak a little bit of English and told us they covered Preacher Stone songs. So we made them play Preacher Stone songs in front of us, and it was something else to watch a band from 3,000, 4,000 miles away from you in an entirely different country, speak an entirely different language and play your songs! You know what I mean? It’s something else. It’s truly humbling. You don’t really realize what you’re doing is affecting somebody else until you get around some folks and you see what’s going on, so we tried to be the best ambassadors we could and just had a ball and can’t wait to get back.

M – How old are the band members? Did you grow up in the ‘80s or the…?

J – Yeah, pretty much in the ‘80s. We’ve got some boys that’s in their 50s, we’ve got a couple of boys in their 30s. Josh and Ben are the babies, and me and Johnny and Ronnie and Marty are all in our 50s. We feel like we’re 29 years old, and this stuff is just gettin’ ready to happen. We’re gonna ride this thing until it actually absolutely falls to pieces.

Jim Bolt

M – I grew up in the ‘70s. I never got to see Skynyrd in person before the plane crash, but I’ve seen ‘em several times since then. They’re one of my favorite bands. Y’all sound a lot like them, I think.

J – Well, actually, that’s what a couple of them said, too, you know. Artemus lives here in North Carolina; he’s got a hell of a band going on with Brad Durdin, and some of those guys that are friends of ours. We don’t sound as much like Skynyrd so much as we remind the Skynyrd guys of Skynyrd, kind of the whole attitude behind the band and we meet and greet folks. Like we say, we don’t make fans, we make friends, and we treat people right. Had we had this success back in our 20s, hell, all of us might be dead, you know what I mean? But now that we’re of an age and we’ve all toured, we’ve all had record deals, we’ve all done the thing, you know to a certain degree, we can truly appreciate it more now at this point in time as grown-ass men instead of just a bunch of kids running around trying to play rock star. There’s definitely a difference. (laughs).

M – It’s good to know that Southern rock is in good hands.

J – There’s a bunch of damn good bands out. I mean, Whiskey Stills & Mash is one. Magnolia Bayou’s one. They’re a damn good band. Cadillac 3, there’s a bunch of bands coming up. Dirty Roses. A bunch of good bands that we play around with. Blackstone Cherry, good buddies of ours. Stuff’s in real good hands. But I think the thing is, we don’t really call it Southern rock. We’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band from the South, you know? Some record label exec made up that damn term, you know what I’m saying. Some deejay at a radio station made up the term Southern rock. You look at all the bands that came out of the Jacksonville, Fla., area back in the day, and South Carolina and Georgia, bands that came out were damn good bands that happened to be from the South. When Ronnie opens his mouth, he kinda talks Southern like me, just by default, and everything sounds Southern. It just kinda is what it is. We feel truly appreciative that folks lump us into some of that stuff. We don’t sit around and use all of our heroes as a measuring stick; we’re a blue collar type of people. We do what we do the way we do it; we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or nothing. We’re just trying to carry on and hopefully take a few folks with us as we go.

M – I know Skynyrd had their farewell tour recently, but it sounds like maybe they haven’t given up on music totally then?

J – No. Gary’s had a few health issues. They’ve had some things go on, but I’m not quite so sure they’re gonna be doing the cruises anymore. They tried to do a destination thing down in Orlando this past August, but obviously COVID took that thing away. They’re still gonna kinda do it. I can’t see ‘em quitting completely. If you actually tell somebody in all seriousness that you’re a musician and you’re just gonna retire, you’re done, uhhh, I don’t believe that. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I sold all my stuff, I tried to quit, but then I’m like, man, this is ridiculous, what am I doing? It’s a one in a million shot at doing anything, but as you get older, your priorities change. We’re not sittin’ here waiting on that record deal, waitin’ on that big record exec with the cigar coming and makin’ us a superstar, where we make the cover of the Rolling Stone. We want to go out, we want to play for as many people. Like I said, we went to Ohio, we just got back from Florida, got back from playing in Georgia down there at Rocco’s. We go around and we play, and it seems to draw a pretty good crowd of damn good people. That’s what it’s all about. We’ve already made it in our minds because people actually show up to watch us play. We don’t expect a huge crowd. We actually jokingly go, well, gonna play for nobody again tonight, boys. We don’t expect anybody to show up. Why would somebody take all their hard-earned money and spend on a bunch of boys from North Carolina, and then you turn around and they do. It’s real cool, man.

Ronnie Riddle

M – Summarize the band’s theme or thoughts…

J – We don’t get real political, although if you listen to any of the songs, there’s really no wonderment. We support the troops, we support the Second Amendment, we support your right to be a grown-ass man and make your own decisions for yourself. We work hard. Folks in our crowd do work hard. People have likened us to Skynyrd. If you’re gonna compare us to Skynyrd, we’re like Lynyrd Skynyrd when they’re really mad. (Laughs). We’re like a pissed-off Molly Hatchet. We’re just kinda carrying the torch by default because we’re not trying to write a Hatchet song, we’re not trying to write a Skynyrd song, we just write songs. And Ronnie is one of the best storytellers that you’ll ever meet. He’s got a way of communicating what it’s like to grow up in the South and have parents and grandparents that expect you to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and keep on no-matter-what type of thing. We’ve adopted that, and that’s kind of the mood of the band.

M – Any new music on the way?

J – Oh, yeah, that’s all we’ve been doing during this COVID mess. We did some of that live streaming stuff trying to stay in touch with the fans, and we brought a boy in from Raleigh. His name is Joey Bostick, a genius on a lot of the new digital format stuff. We bought some gear. We’ve got about four or five songs in the can now, and about eight or nine that are still being worked out. That’s all we’ve been doing since our last album came out on No No Bad Dog Records in 2016. They signed us out of Charlotte. Chuck and Margo are huge fans of the band, and they’re two of the best people we’ve ever met. They’re ready for us to put something else out, but when that record came out in 2016, all we did was play. We just started playin’ and playin’ and playing and playin’. I guess the COVID thing kinda helped us out, gave us some down time to where we could get back in the studio. We decided we get such a good sound in our band room, we wanted to bring a guy in to record us like we’re rehearsing. Turning out real well, man, turning out real well. We’re playing a couple of the new ones out live. Got a real good song called “The Damage Is Done.” It’s a rocker. Got a handful. We’re gonna start releasing some. Actually Joey just came back in with some other gear to the room last Wednesday and started running some tube preamps. We don’t play again until like December, like I say this COVID thing, you ought to see my calendar book. It looks crazy, man. It’s a bunch of marked-out dates pushed to 2021. We’re just gonna take advantage of the down time and get this new record out, probably be ready for a spring release. After the Christmas stuff settles and New Year’s comes through, actually we’ll be back down to Rocco’s on Jan. 2, so hopefully we’ll have a handful of new songs to play then when we’re down there.

Johnny Webb

M – What do you think about playing at Rocco’s?

J – I love Rocco’s, man. Darrell turned us on to it. We don’t really have any Georgia rooms. We always drive through Georgia going to Florida, and I asked him, man, what’s some of these rooms like you boys are playing? He’s like, well, you like Rocco’s. Call Rocco and tell him you want to come in. I said we’ll open up for you boys. Darrell’s like, no, no, no. I’m like, it don’t matter to me – it’s your home area. We don’t care who plays first and who plays last, just as long as we play. We really don’t. We do a lot of festivals, and people want to go, y’all want to headline? We don’t give a damn when we play as long as we play. Rocco and all his folks treat us like family. They take good care of us. We’ve played down there twice, and the place has been packed both times. Met a lot of new folks from that area down in there, Jasper, Hiawassee, all that North Georgia area. Half of ‘em’s Clemson fans, and I’m a huge Clemson fan, so there you go.

M – Can you talk a little bit about the creative process, how you come up with a song?

– The way it usually works out is Marty will come out and say to us, check this lick out. Or Ben’ll say, check this lick out. They’ll start playing a guitar riff. When Ronnie Riddle goes quiet and sits in the corner in a chair with a pad and pen, you know he’s got an idea. It’s one of those things. We’ll build the music usually first. Sometimes it happens the other way, you know, where Ronnie’s got an idea and he’ll go to Marty and go, hey, I want this story to be about such and such. Marty’s never short on guitar licks because he’s a mad genius when it comes to that sort of thing. That’s usually how it goes. We’ll banter ‘em back and forth – how about if we do this here or how about if we do that here? That sounds good, let this be the chorus, let this be the verse, and then the next thing you know, we’ll rough record it in the band room, just kind of scratch tracks, and go back and listen to it. And everybody’ll take it home and think on it for a little bit. Then we’ll come back, hey, I think about doing this here or this here, and the next thing you know, we’ve got another song.

M – I guess that 2016 album was the first one with the current lineup?

J – Yes. We always joke that’s the first Preacher Stone record as far as me and Ben and Josh. No, we actually toyed with the idea of making a live record, too. We may still do that because even the versions of some of the older songs that folks really like, “Hand on the Bible,” “That’s Just the Whiskey Talking,” “Not Today,” some of those songs we play different now than they played ‘em when they were recording them. Everybody is kinda looking to get this group down doing those songs because having the longest lineup being together, the songs have really become our own. I’ve changed up a little bit on the bass lines, Josh has damn sure changed stuff on the drums, goodness gracious, and Ben Robinson is probably one of the baddest guitar players I ever played with in my life. Me and Ben played together the past 10 or 12 years, so I’m kinda biased on that. When Ben was 13 years old, he was on David Letterman. He’s been signed and done blew a million dollars in his life, too, so it’s one of those things. (Laughs). He’s out of Southern California. When he was living in Brunswick, his folks had taken him to a jam night over on St. Simon’s Island – one of them islands down there, I can’t remember – at a blues bar. Got word to a manager showed up down there. Monty showed up and they signed him to a record deal, and his mother has moved to Southern California, and he moved out there and got hooked up with Paul Shafer and the Nickelodeon people and all that when he was a kid and was in a Nickelodeon band with a bunch of other young people. Lot of good folks came through that band that you probably recognize, and Ben’s one of ‘em. He ended up back on the East Coast and ended up meeting me, and like I said, we toured for years in a blues band all up and down the East Coast between D.C. and Key West. That’s how the Preacher Stone guys found us.
M – So this is a full-time gig for y’all now?

J – Yeah, for the most part. I’m still a land surveyor. I’ve been doing that since 1993, and when we’re not on the road, I’m out here on these job sites like I am right now in case you hear the wind blowing. I can go out and make some money while the band’s down. But yeah, most of the other guys, we just rely on the music. That’s why this 2020 has been one more hell of a year.
M – And you’re ready to get to 2021, I bet.

J – We’re ready for something to happen, man. Come on, something’s got to give. The more they open stuff up, the more they start closing stuff back down. So we don’t know. We’re just trying to steady the course, get this record wrote, keep the boat floating. We just dropped a new website, Our old website has been hacked like so many times. We actually had a Facebook page attached to it, too, and it got hacked. We had about 25,000 likes, and it was all that certified approved, all that mess, and the next thing you know, it’s Japanese anime all over it. (Laughs). I don’t know, you could get you a Russian mail order bride off of our website. We crushed all that stuff down and started over basically. I guess we made it big enough to get hacked, I don’t know. (Laughs).

M – So y’all are looking forward to many more years of Preacher Stone?

J – We’re not gonna stop now. We’re just now gaining steam, you know what I mean? The more we do it, the more we see people. We make the joke, it’s just gonna be Preacher Stone and the Cockroaches once everything comes out. Ain’t gonna kill us, we’re gonna keep on. We’re gonna keep on, keepin’ on. It’s been a hassle like it’s been on everybody in America, not just us. We’ve been blessed with being able to go out and find some shows and find some bars that’ll actually have a show like Rocco’s or like Outpost Center up in Kent, Ohio or some of these bars in Florida. Folks are hungry for live music.

M – I bet y’all miss playing.

Joshua Wyatt

J – We’ve been luckier than most because we just leave the tour bus parked at the band room, and we jump in an E350 and pull our little trailer right down the road. It’s kinda hard to justify a tour bus when you’re not out for more than four days at a time, so we’re not scared to scale down and go play. We’ve done a lot of private stuff, some private back yard stuff. Some folks were like, we want you to come. We’ve gone to Nebraska, we’ve gone to Illinois. We’ll jump in the van and go.
M – Ordinarily, before all this COVID, y’all were playing all over the country, I guess?
J – Oh yeah, we played all over the country. We make the joke, any place that lets us plug up and have a cold beer, we’re there. Put up the stage, bring some folks, let’s have a hoedown. That’s kinda been the way we’ve been handling it. Tough times don’t last, tough people do. And everybody in the country’s going through this mess right now. We’re just trying to do our part when we get a chance to take everybody’s mind off of it.