To say that Levi Lowrey’s presence looms large is an understatement. Built like a mountain, the man commands attention when he enters a room and can seem intimidating to folks who don’t know him. Appearances aside, it’s his musical stature that ultimately beguiles new listeners. Quite often they become fans for life.
Lowrey and songwriting partner Wyatt Durrette have written award-winning songs for the Zac Brown Band (“Colder Weather,” “The Wind” and “Day for the Dead”) and Lowrey has toured with and opened for the band.
Performing as the duo Yesterday’s Wine, he and Durrette have just wrapped up the two-day Wild and Wonderful Country Fest in Morgantown, WV, and they’ve been playing all over the country from a charity event for the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yard to California’s Napa Valley at some of the finest vineyards in the country.
He speaks in a deeply gentle voice imbued with intelligence and love for the music he’s grown up with. It’s in his blood. Literally.
The Dacula, Georgia, native can trace his musical roots back over 30 years when he was a 12-year-old fiddle player working up the nerve to play at the “Chicken House” in his hometown with bluegrass legends the Skillet Lickers. But the roots go even deeper.
Lowrey’s great-great grandfather was the original Skillet Lickers’ fiddler James Gideon “Gid” Tanner (1885-1960), a Dacula chicken farmer who formed the string band that famously jammed in a chicken house on his property. The Skillet Lickers were among the first country music groups ever recorded, and in a career spanning 15 years made 188 recordings. String bands — or “hillbilly” bands — were widely featured locally back then on radio stations WSB and WGST.
Lowrey recalls his grandparents taking him to jam sessions every Friday night at the “Chicken House” on Tanner’s farm.
“That was the beginning of music,” Lowrey says. “Before you had records being sold and the commercialization of music, it was primarily a get-together. That was the reason for it. It always belonged in a community.”
In the sixth grade, he was taking classical violin lessons and later switched to fiddle music and guitar. By his sophomore year in high school he was in a rock band playing lead guitar and performing in Atlanta and Athens.
“We never really did anything big, never really got anywhere with it,” Lowrey says of those early days. “We just enjoyed it. It was some of the best times I ever had playing music.”
He later joined country music artist Sonia Leigh as a fiddle player. “All the while I was writing my own stuff,” Lowrey recalls, “coming up with my own voice and kind of figuring out what I had to say.”
After touring with Leigh for a few years, he found himself playing at the Dixie Tavern in Marietta on the same bill with Zac Brown. “Zac’s star was rising and he ended up forming a record label,” Lowrey says. He signed with the label and toured with Brown for several years. By 2015, Lowrey put out his own independent-label album “My Crazy Head” followed by a double album “Roots and Branches” in 2016.
At a performance that year supporting the album at the Red Clay Music Foundry — Eddie Owen’s live music venue in downtown Duluth — Lowrey put on an intense show in three sets featuring three different bands over nearly three hours. For the first set he jammed with the current lineup of Skillet Lickers (Phil Tanner, Russ Tanner, Fleet Stanley, Joel Aderhold and Brian Morgan) but it wasn’t just a sentimental trip to the past. The two following sets displayed a complete living history of a singularly talented songwriter and performer offering a rare glimpse into the music that influenced him, where he was at the moment, and where he might go next. The show ended with a spectacular version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and a mindblowingly trippy fiddle solo.
As Yesterday’s Wine, Lowrey and Durrette have been releasing one song at a time from their upcoming EP. They refer to each release as a “bottle”, and they’ve put out four so far and are expecting two more. “You can find the offerings on Apple Music and anywhere that people no longer pay for music,” Lowrey says.
Yesterday’s Wine is scheduled to play at the Red Clay Music Foundry on September 7 at 8 p.m. “I’m hoping to have a lot of folks out to see what it is that Yesterday’s Wine has to offer. In my opinion, Red Clay is the finest venue in the country (and I’ve played a lot of them). The sound is unparalleled. The atmosphere is incredible. And it’s all thanks to two of my favorite humans on the planet, Eddie Owen and Shalom Aberle.”
Although Lowrey makes his living through music, you get the feeling he isn’t in it for the money. His joy in simply playing music and writing songs is obvious by his on-stage energy and shines through when he talks about his music today. “I don’t get quite as much fulfillment from (touring and selling records) as I do sitting around on the front porch playing with a bunch of guys. They don’t do it for the money. They don’t do it for the recognition. They do it for the community, and that’s one thing that will never change.”
Lowrey no longer attends the Friday night jam sessions at the Chicken House in Dacula these days because of his touring schedule. It’s a bittersweet and rather ironic fact of life for him. “I grew up and learned how to play music with the Skillet Lickers. In a sense, the very reason that I can no longer go on Friday nights is because I used to go every Friday night. The Chicken House helped to make me who I am today; a lucky Dacula boy living out his wildest dream.”
FAVORITE ALBUM OF 2019:
“My favorite album that I’ve heard this year is definitely, ‘Desperate Man,’ by Eric Church. I know that it was released in 2018, but I didn’t hear it until a few months ago and I haven’t heard anything top it yet. The production (Jay Joyce) is really intriguing and inspiring and the songs are top notch.”
ARTIST MORE FOLKS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT:
“I’m currently working with a Kentucky artist named Nicholas Jamerson. We are working on his new record together and I think he is really special. Folks should check him out.”
FIRST VEHICLE HE EVER OWNED:
“My first vehicle was a 1993 Ford F-150 and I’ve been wanting another one for years now. We lucked out recently and found a ‘95 at Akins Ford in Winder and they gave us a great deal. Every time I get in it, a wave of nostalgia hits me. I absolutely love it.”
BEST PIECE OF ADVICE HE’S EVER RECEIVED:
“Darrell Scott told me, ‘You’ll know that you’re at that next level when you start to scare yourself.’ It took me a long time to understand that, but it has been a game-changer for me. I’ll leave it up to others to interpret it how they will.”
Levi Lowrey performs with Darrell Scott at Red Clay Music Foundry on April 3rd.
Eddie Owen Presents: Red Clay Music Foundry
3116 Main St NW, Duluth, GA 30096