J. Roddy Walston is a hurricane of hair and hands. He's playing with urgency and head-banging so hard the fans on the balcony are feeling a steady breeze. He's sporting an early 90's Seattle look: lengthy locks, flannel and plenty of scruff. And his quartet's sound is equally rugged, equal parts southern rock, electrified honky tonk and parlorhouse piano on crack.
It's tough to doubt his courage on this rainy ACL set. He shrieks like Steve Perry without blowing a gasket and he's not only covered Little Richard, but sped him up and dressed him in highly amplified garage rock. J. Roddy and his band the Business take nothing lightly. Every track of their explosive set is—to get lost in metaphor—shoved into a roadhouse, force-fed a shot of whisky and told to fight the nearest guy to the jukebox.
The Baltimore band might as well be from the Bayou. Guitarist Billy Gordon is anything but shy, asserting himself with solo after solo of Skynyrd-inspired noodling. Feeding off the first lengthy span of rainfall since April of 1986 (or thereabouts, it seems), Walston fuels the party atmosphere with impossible-to-argue-with lines like: "You gotta share what shakes!"
On the keys, Walston is a maestro. His speed and control is not at all unlike a modern day Fats Domino, and the more I hear, the more I detect little hints of Mo Town and early set jazz.
Most impressive is Walston's ability to be heard over his crashing band mates. How is voice doesn't blow out daily, I'll never know. And while his pipes are certainly scratched, they reach all registers and do legends like Little Richard proud. When he asks the rain-soaked crowd if it's excited for the night's headliner Stevie Wonder, there's a resounding, "Yes!"
But what most think but fail to say is that J. Roddy Walston is closer to headlining territory than he might like to admit. His unique ability to fuzzy classic rock with piano-driven hyper-jazz is well worth witnessing live, especially when you're celebrating something as highly sought after as summer rain.