Singer songwriter Craig Gerdes "rolled into Nashville, on four bald tires, on his beat up, old 4-door Plymouth car...with a stack of songs he'd written, and some old school country pickin, he was gonna be a country music star..." Says the opening line of his autobiographical song "Redneck Sons a Bitches" that tells the summarized tale of his discontented journey from Nashville rejection to releasing his debut album Smokin' Drinkin' & Gamblin' on the Indiana based Sol Records.
Craig took to the stage at a very young age following in the footsteps of his father, and fronting his dad’s band working his way through high school performing in all the honky tonks of Central Illinois. Marrying his high school sweet heart, Janel, they began raising a family together very young. Craig worked hard to take care of his family and continued to play, never letting go of the dream of being successful in the music business.
As his kids had grown, around 2006 Craig made his fateful journey to music city and began showcasing and working his way up and down music row. He landed a writer position at VMG Nashville, working for the legendary Jim Vest, and began the process of demoing songs hoping to get the cut that would establish his career. Craig did have several cuts of his songs over the years and commuted to and from his home in Illinois back to Nashville. However, the entire time his true passion was to be an artist himself not just a Nashville writer. In 2012 Craig began the process of working up a couple of tunes for commercial release and pitched it around town with the help of Vest... 3 singles were recorded but the response on music row was that Craig’s old school classic country stylings had no place in modern day Nashville.
The song continues “As I roamed from place to place, getting those doors slammed in my face, I was looking for that, elusive record deal... Where the hell did I go wrong writing all those old school country songs? Billy Jo Shaver said son I know just how you feel.” a sentiment seconded by the great Bill Jo Shaver at a show they played together when he heard Craig’s story... As the song concludes Craig’s finds his moment of clarity and determining inspiration when an unnamed Nashville label executive tells him “You long haired, redneck, sonsabitches, aren’t wanted here in Nashville, TN... that kind of country don’t play in Nashville, TN” which seems ironic, given legions of Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Cody Jinks fans that might argue that these days...
Craig was determined and released the songs on his own. He began touring regionally upwards of 250 shows yearly, performing in clubs and festivals from Illinois to Texas, Florida, Alabama, Ohio, Louisiana and all points in between both with his band and solo as part of the Last Honky Tonk Music Series, including the historic Florabama, Luckenbach, and the Frank Brown Songwriter festival. His travels lead him to find Brian DeBruler CEO of Sol Records, home of Outlaw Country artist Dallas Moore, Pure Grain, and others, who produced the record in Indiana along with Jim Vest, Craig’s original Nashville mentor, who also plays pedal steel on much of the album along with another Nashville legend Robby Turner. Larry Franklin also graces the record on fiddle.
Smokin’ Drinkin’ & Gamblin is collection of 7 original songs written by Gerdes, plus a hand hewn cover of the 1977 classic “Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets” featuring Jim Vest on pedal steel, who played on the original cut with Johnny Paycheck 40 years ago, and a powerful rendition of Dallas Moore’s “You Saved me From Me” a song about an angel that had a personal significance to Gerdes that you can hear. His uniquely identifiable voice is genuine and honest, his stories pull you into each song painting pictures in your mind throughout the record. “Each & every song has significant meaning to me, whether it was written by me or someone else. Whether I was writing about my own life experiences or someone else's, it's in this record - REAL LIFE – Drinkin’, cheatin’, lovin’, leavin’, killin’, pride, rejection, hearts full of love, broken hearts with no love” says Gerdes.
This record sets the stage for Craig and an ever broadening national fan base in the US and overseas. Despite the slow embrace of “traditionally influenced” what some call “Genuine” or “Real” country music by the industry, the audience continues to grow feverishly where the truly and uniquely gifted songwriters of vision find a resonance with a broad audience who have begun what we hope to be a regained interest in, and appreciation of, the art and vision of music and the song. One needs to look no further than the sales figures of Chris Stapleton’s latest releases that had little to no radio promotional support yet no shortage of free streaming availability as evidence. This is a renaissance period in the music industry and artists like Craig Gerdes, Dallas Moore, Cody Jinks and others that are releasing their own records, their own songs, the way they hear them, independently or on indie labels like Sol Records who has been producing and distributing independent artists since 1991 continue blazing a new trail, all of their own... It is the truly the Rise of the Independents!
Smokin' Drinkin' & Gamblin' drops Jan. 26 via Sol Records.