The Outlaws

By Cary Stemle

I remember it well. It was 1975 and a friend from another high school had asked me to go to a rock concert. On the bill: The Doobie Brothers, REO Speedwagon and a group I'd never heard of, The Outlaws. The price: $5.50. No kidding.

I remember that day at school. When I went through the lunch line, I gave the cashier $5, but she gave me back change from a ten. That was more than enough persuasion for me.

Well, the Doobies were cool, as you'd expect. Those were the Skunk Baxter/preMichael McDonald days and the Doobs were a hard-rocking band.

And REO, I'd heard of them vaguely via my brother-in-law. They had a reputation as a good live band. That was just two years before REO broke wide open and they were hot.

And The Outlaws. From the Allman/ Skynyrd/etc. school, the three-guitar band had its first album out, featuring "Green Grass and High Tides, " a 9-minute-and-45-second monolith of guitar bliss. To tell the truth, I don't remember much from the concert. I was too busy worrying about what everyone else was thinking to pay a lot of attention to the music.

But the guy who asked me to go liked The Outlaws and he lent me his copy of their album. One time I had it spinning on my then-new Dual 1225 and my dad, ever vigilant about non-frugal electricity use (I was out of the room), turned off my light switch.

Of course I had everything hooked into the one switch, so the music went dead.

Darned if the album didn't get a serious scratch in one of the grooves of "Green Grass." What else could an honest and loyal friend do but replace his friend's damaged merchandise?

I hit my dad up for it.

(Hey, dad, the album really was scratched. I can still show you the place where one of the dual lead guitar lines drops out.)

That Outlaws album turned me on to rock and roll like never before. From then on I followed their career. The Outlaws were really the first rock band that I considered mine. For some it was the Beatles, naturally, but fora 15-year-old music explorer in 1975, the choices were much different.

Anyway, I digress.

The point of all this is the Outlaws' August 25 appearance at Jim Porter's Good Time Emporium. It was hot.

The band has one original member, guitarist/singer/songwriter Hughie Thomasson. The absence of original members Billy Jones and Henry Paul, who wrote a lot of the band's material, meant that their songs were essentially off limits.

But Thomasson wrote more than Jones or Paul, so he has ample material from which to choose. And he reached deep into his bag of tricks, opening with old favorite "Keep Prayin' "and following with "There Goes Another Love Song, " "Hurry Sundown" and "Waterhole."

Thomasson once said he never wanted to become complacent as a guitar player because there is always someone ready to replace you. So he came up with a good solution for that problem - he hired himself a couple of young guns, guitarists Chris Hicks of Macon and Tim Cabe of Atlanta.

The duo helped give Thomasson a break and led the band through some fine Allmanish blues, which wasn't surprising, given their origins. Both blistered the frets several times during the night, lending credence to Thomasson's fear.

But an Outlaws show is still his show, as it should be.

Ripping solo after solo, Thomasson showed why he is known as one of the premier guitarists from the southern rock school.

The bushy-haired guitarist — who resembles, if anyone, David Crosby with hair — has always projected a firm, confident stance. And although he now wields a sunburst Telecaster in place of his black Stratocaster, he has changed little. His playing was as agile as ever, and his singing voice has endured remarkably well.

The audience was full of Outlaws loyals and they did not leave disappointed. fifteen minutes of "High Tides" left them satiated and in some cases, traveling memory lane.

In an interview after the show, Outlaws founder Hughie Thomasson talked about his work and career. At 37, the burly guitarist has played thousands of shows, but he seems to have survived it more than intact.

Q: How do you feel about playing this long after so many have fallen by the wayside?

A: I feel fortunate. I've seen so many get chewed up by this business — the road and all that goes with it. I think I've managed to survive because I always looked at it like it was my job. I wasn't against having some fun, but you have to really work to take care of yourself.

Q: What's it like playing a place like Jim Porter's after doing stadiums and arenas for much of your career?

A: Times have 'changed. There's only a handful of bands doing stadiums these days. We played last night with REO Speedwagon before 12, 000 people, But we just like to play. The Outlaws have been a working band since day one and we still are.

Q: Do you get tired of your job like other people do?

A: Sometimes it gets old. But not very often.

Q: How are the crowds?

A: They're great! They're always filled with people who really know our stuff. Outlaws fans.

Q: You were once quoted in Guitar Player magazine as saying you were wary of getting complacent because there's always someone who would like to take your place and who could do it. You've managed to withstand that fairly well, it seems.

A: Well, there are lots of great players. We got a couple of hot ones in our band now, Chris Hicks and Tim Cabe. They keep me honest. And I think this is the best Outlaws band yet.

Q: Your voice seems to have held up remarkably well.

A: That comes from continuing to use it. It's like any other muscle. If you don't use it, it gets out of shape.

Q: What are your recording plans?

A: Our last album, Soldier of Fortune, was 4-1/2 years ago. We have one in the can now called A New Frontier. We decided to go back to our roots a bit and do songs more like our early stuff. lt's got a definite western theme. We're looking for a label that will really push it.

Q: Is it hard to work the new stuff into the shows?

A: Yeah, it is tough sometimes. We play 200-250 shows a year and on days when we are in a town and have an off day before the show, we rent a practice hall to work on the new stuff.

Q: What would you do if you weren't in a band?

A: I don't know. This is the only job I've ever had. I feel fortunate to be able to do it for ta living.