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Photo By Laura Roberts
Edgehill Ave.

EDGEHILL AVE.

WHAT MEMORIES CAN MAKE

By Tim Roberts

Drew Perkins, guitarist and lead vocalist for Louisville's Edgehill Ave. is telling the story of the band's name origin. He mentions the brick-paved street where his grandparents lived in Ashland, Ohio and in the time it takes me to blink, compacted memories flower-up. And I remember.

My grandmother's house was on Cherokee Parkway, four houses down on the eastern side of the street from where the statue of General John Breckinridge Castleman, upon his horse Caroline frozen mid-stride, acts as the prime landmark of the Cherokee Triangle area of Louisville's Highlands neighborhood. The brick exterior is light orange, like pale butterscotch taffy. It was divided into apartments shortly after my father and his brother sold it. Still is. Gone are the leaded glass front doors and the balustrade of the marble staircase, demolished for a reason known only to the ones who walled it all off. Remaining are the stained-glass window seat and mosaic-tiled floor in the foyer. The renovators had to stop somewhere.

Until she died in 1970, she operated a nursing home there: Cherokee Rest Home, with fewer than a dozen residents, all women. She had an assistant, John Lang, a stocky, olive-skinned man with dark bags under his eyes who had immigrated from Malta back in the 1920s, who ran her errands, took the residents' bedsheets to the laundry, did the grocery shopping, served food to the old women who occupied the house's large rooms. He call me and my older siblings "baby," even though they were both already grown and one of them (my sister) was already married. He had a 1950 pale gray Plymouth, with a white steering wheel and no radio, that he kept in a garage he rented behind the house. From the back gate, we had to cross the brick alley that ran parallel between the parkway and Longest Avenue. When I'd ride with him as he drove down the alley to Longest, I'd feel the tiny vibrations of the wheels rolling over the hundreds of bricks inset in the narrow road.

From left, Mike McLaughline, John Poole, Lamont Melson, Drew Perkins

I remember how that end of town felt and smelled different from our neighborhood in the South End: more shade from taller trees, a park to get lost in just half a block away, a playground down the street, the occasional unpleasant stench creeping up from manholes and sewer grates, the White Castle at the corner of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway where my mom or dad would sometimes take me for lunch on our way home from grandma's house.

It's easy to pull way too much sentiment out of a single image keyed off by something somebody says, something you see, a song you hear. Still, embedded in that kernel of a memory is an idea that gets pulled out and suddenly becomes useful.

For Perkins and his bandmates, the memory of the brick-paved street where his grandparents lived became a band name. Something he had to come up with when he and guitarist Mike McLaughlin (when the band started out as a duo) booked themselves into the Rudyard Kipling.

"We were talking to [Rud owner] Ken Pyle," Perkins said, "and he asked what we were called. My grandparents lived on this little brick street in Ashland, Ohio, in a really cool old house. Used to be the mayor's. When you're a little kid, everything's bigger than life. You romanticize it. We'd go there and every time was playtime and fun. So I just remembered that brick road.

"So I said, 'What about Edgehill Avenue?' It stuck. Once you get a name, you can't change it."

Fitting, then, that the band Edgehill Ave. (using the formal abbreviation of the word Avenue) has a warm sound, mostly all acoustic, sort of a low-key acoustic country pop. So it's not so much rooted in the "high lonesome" tradition of Bluegrass. It's more like the "laid-back lonesome."

"I don't know exactly what we are," Perkins stated. "One of the things that I don't like saying is that we're labeled as Americana or roots rock or whatever. I don't know. It doesn't bother us. We're not aiming for that. We're aiming for whatever the song calls for. That's the biggest challenge."

Interesting, then, that Perkins was able to draw in three other musicians who were also looking for challenges themselves. Bassist John Poole, a former member of How Town, where he played with the original members of Ben Folds Five, drummer Lamont Melson, who had worked in blues and guitarist McLaughlin all seemed to be in search of a certain vibe different, even just so slightly, from what they had played before.

"We've been together a little more than a year," Perkins said. "Mike and I started playing together originally. I had some songs and he and I had met at a coffeehouse in Shelbyville, where we both live. I had no idea this was going to turn in to what it did."

The five of us were seated in a set of marshmallow-soft chairs, covered in a golden yellow leather, in the Galt House Conservatory, the glass-enclosed walkway and lounge that connects the hotel's eastern and western buildings. It was noisy with loud conversations from other clusters of the same kinds of chairs and the bar that stretched along the northern glass wall and overlooked the Ohio River. The Galt House had been busy with meetings and professional conferences for most of the autumn. The participants that night were trying to unwind after a day of PowerPoints and breakout sessions, so they did it in the best way they knew: throwing back alcohol and talking at the tops of their lungs. The noise shot straight up to the glass ceiling and bounced around the Conservatory like a lost pinball.

Perkins continued. "Mike and I were playing together and we said, 'Well, let's see if we can find some other guys.' So we looked around until we found the right people. And, really, when I was talking to these guys over the phone about what we were trying to do, the idea was I have these songs I have worked up and I'd just like to see where they'd go."

Bassist Poole and drummer Melson joined Edgehill Ave. after answering an ad Perkins had placed. Their first rehearsal space was the office of an attorney friend of Perkins. Their first gig was at Lisa's Oak Street Lounge in Germantown after another act had canceled. Their first CD was recorded shortly afterward. Then the hard work began.

"We literally went in during a weekend and popped it out," Perkins recalled. "It wasn't like we were trying to produce a best-selling album, but it exceeded of what we thought it was going to be. So we went in on a tight budget and timeline."

"It was just something we wanted to give somebody to hear," McLaughlin said.

To create this short sampler of Edgehill Ave.'s. sound, the band chose CB Sound in Goshen, Kentucky, just east of Louisville, in Oldham County.

"It was pretty cool, inexpensive," said Melson, who had recorded other projects in the studio. "You get exactly what you pay for."

Only seven songs appear on the band's self-titled debut, just enough for an introduction. The budget may have been small, but you can hear nearly every penny that was spent. The sound is clean and warm and intimate. And one of Perkins's students helped out by creating the CD's rustic, expressionistic artwork that looks like a funky folk-art version of Edvard Munch's Scream without the blood orange swirls and angst.

The recording's intimacy wasn't just happenstance. This band apparently strives for the kind of sound when it makes a recording or plays in front of a crowd, something that was essential in selecting a studio.

"We really wanted to have that live feel as much as possible," Perkins said.

The feel of that live vibe reflects Edgehill Ave.'s own synergy that carries them through their live shows.

"It's a major part of who we are," Melson said. "But I think the longer we've been together, not only have we learned to play off that, but we've also learned to make it all blend to where it's not so energized and overproduced and hyped. We've learned a lot from each other for the short time we've been together."

In a city as entertainment-saturated as Louisville, where one long block of the city is lined sidestreet-to-curb with nightspots, finding a place that actually wants and will pay for live music is a task similar to shoveling out the trash on the riverfront after Thunder Over Louisville. Finding a place that appreciates original music is harder.

"This is a tough town to play in," Perkins said, "especially originals. First of all, there's so much great music going on, there's so much talent, that I think it's important that the music community works together. That's not always the case."

Melson agreed. "The guy at The Pub [at 4th Street Live!] didn't know that all the music we were playing was original. He said we were bold playing a club at 4th Street Live and playing all originals. So it's definitely an endeavor."

But the men of Edgehill Ave. have found a workaround: showcases, which evolved from a set of gigs Melson had booked at Zena's, one of the venues on Main Street known for having live music almost nightly. On those nights Edgehill Ave. shares the bill and the purse with other Americana acts from town and some regional acts as well. A recent showcase featured author and former Government Cheese guitarist Tommy Womack.

"The showcases were sort of his brainstorm," said Perkins nodding toward Melson. "They're a way for us to sort of support the music community. We played with The Trust one night and at the end we split the money. Since we did the booking, we gave them half. And I remember [lead singer Jon Beazlie] looked at me and said, 'Are you serious?' He didn't expect that much. Everybody has good nights and bad nights. It's all about money in the end, but he was sort of shocked that somebody wasn't short-changing them or was being competitive about it. "

Besides Womack and The Trust, other showcases have involved The Shinerunners and the area's newest alt-country band Slithering Beast.

"There aren't a lot of bands that bring other people together to jam out and do a show," Melson said. "We're just gonna have a good time, whether there are five people there or 200 people there."

Edgehill Ave. is ready to take the energy they've harnessed in playing these live shows back into the studio to create another recording, this time armed with a bigger budget and more songs.

"All the money that we've made since November," Perkins said, "we've saved for this new recording. At this point, there are a bunch of songs that I'd like to have these guys hear and see what they can do with them. But I keep telling them that just because I'm writing songs, that doesn't mean they're any good. They have to be very interested in the songs."

So now the band is planning for their next release, scouting out studio space and looking for that same kind of vibe they had when they created their debut. The big problem now in front of them is finding the time in which to do it. All four men are married, three of them have children and each one has a day job that keeps him busy: Melson is head of banquet operations at a major Louisville hotel, McLaughlin is an arborist, Poole is operations engineer for WDRB-TV and Perkins teaches psychology at Shelby County High School.

"Everyone's got their own thing going on," Melson said.

"We're not 22 years old, partying all the time," said Perkins, "coming and going whenever we please. For the most part we get along well, but there are always changes and things we have to work out. But we're not screaming and yelling and fighting and all that kind of thing."

"Plus we make no real money," Melson added with a laugh.

A good sign for the future of Edgehill Ave. future is the origin of the name: one that is based in memories of joy of a place that was always full of life and love. And it doesn't matter whether it is a grandparents' home in Ashland, Ohio or the Highlands neighborhood in Louisville, a college where that transition between adolescence and adulthood was made less painful, or a place of worship where a spirit was nurtured. You immerse those memories into fluid that bubbles with a passion to create and perform with others so that everybody goes home a winner and a there's always the excitement of working on freshly-written songs.

The result? A band where the members feel good about what they're doing and music that shows it.

The next planned Edgehill Ave. showcase will be on Saturday, February 9 at Zazoo's on Bauer Avenue in St. Matthews. The band Lauderdale from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, comes up to share the bill.

Keep up to date with the stuff memories make at www.edgehillave.com.