From rock to country: Bass player for The Shootouts takes musical journey to Nashville
- The Shootouts, a honky-tonk and vintage country music band, found an unlikely bass player in Kevin McManus, a former member of Akron area rock bands.
- The band's new album, "Stampede" has cracked the top 10 of the Americana music charts.
- Performing last month at the Grand Ole Opry, The Shootouts have an Ohio album release show on Saturday in Massillon.
Cruising along in a van from Macon, Georgia, to Jackson, Mississippi, isn't where musician Kevin McManus imagined himself about a year ago.
Passing through remotely populated areas and gazing out the window, McManus' recent afternoon ride was symbolic of his musical journey. From a booze-swilling partier of a bass player for indie rock bands he's now achieved sobriety with The Shootouts, a Northeast Ohio-based retro country and honky-tonk band that has recorded music with Nashville industry luminaries.
"I think I'm somewhere in Alabama," the affable McManus said with a laugh.
His change in musical fortunes culminated last month when The Shootouts took the stage to perform at the revered Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
Legends aplenty have graced the stage − Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Dierks Bentley among them.
Moments before showtime, tears filled McManus' eyes. He collected himself before taking the stage, but they returned during the three-song performance.
"It was just amazing," he said of the sold out venue that holds about 5,000 people. "There was definitely a personal sense of accomplishment for me where I felt, 'Yeah, I'm on the right track here from a musical standpoint and from a personal standpoint.'"
"You step out of yourself for a moment," McManus said of the live broadcast.
"It was very overwhelming in the best way," he said. "It was like, 'Wow, we got to this point, we got to the top of the mountain … and for a few minutes we were among the best,' and that's what it felt like.
"I probably would not have been there if I had not turned my life around," McManus said of quitting alcohol.
This was a bucket list moment, one McManus calls "a dream I didn't think that I had." But it also served as a musical launch pad for The Shootouts as the five-piece band rides the momentum of its new album, "Stampede."
Other prime shows on the schedule have included a SXSW (Southwest by Southwest) showcase at The Continental Club in Austin, Texas, what McManus calls the "Holy Grail for indie bands."
Another especially memorable gig will be an Ohio album release concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Lions Lincoln Theatre in downtown Massillon. Special guest will be singer-songwriter Cody J. Martin. Tickets, $20 and $25, are available at https://www.lionslincolntheatre.org/ or by calling call 330-481-9105.
McManus, a Medina native, said relatives from Canton and Massillon will be in attendance. Ryan Humbert, the group's vocalist, lives in North Canton.
"It's ... so special to play for a room full of family, friends and fans − some of (whom) have been with us since our very first show," Humbert said. "We'll be playing the whole album, plus some older favorites."
'Stampede' cracks Americana music chart top 10
Earlier this month, the group's third studio release climbed to No. 7 on the Americana Music Association Radio Album Chart. Last month, the record ascended to No. 1 on the Alt-Country Specialty Chart.
Also in the Americana top 10 are The Arcs , a project of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and acclaimed alt country rock Nikki Lane .
Special guests on The Shootouts' new album include Ray Benson , who has worked with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and George Straight. "Ray is so warm and supportive," Humbert said. "And a wealth of knowledge."
Standout songs include the Michael Stanley cover, "I'll Never Need Anyone More," featuring Raul Malo of Grammy-winning band The Mavericks.
Discovering an acoustic version of the song, Humbert said it inspired The Shootouts' track. "We loved it so much that we made it the first single from 'Stamped,'" he said.
'We're playing with live ammo.'
Joining The Shootouts followed two months of sobriety for McManus.
"I was kind of over that lifestyle and feeling like crap all the time," he said. "I wanted to step up my game as a musician, and definitely as a person as well, so I think the move to The Shootouts was kind of in line with that; it's different, and the stakes are much higher, and we're playing with live ammo there − it's the real deal."
Needing a bass player, Humbert had asked McManus for referrals. Assuming McManus wasn't available, The Shootouts' frontman was surprised when the musician and friend offered his services.
Learning 50 songs in two to three weeks, McManus found himself in awe when The Shootouts opened for Grammy-winning Western swing and Honky-Tonk veterans Alseep at the Wheel in front of nearly 2,000 fans at the picturesque mountaintop venue Penn's Peak .
"It definitely, I think, raised a few eyebrows from folks I know musically and otherwise ... that I went to play in a honky-tonk band," said McManus, who continues to work his day job remotely as editor of the Medina Weekly News .
"I love those guys and those projects dearly," he said of his former Akron area bands The Outside Voices and The Buffalo Ryders .
But "I saw what was going on with The Shootouts and it excited me greatly," McManus said. "It wasn't a lateral move; it kind of just made sense; it kind of just clicked, where I needed that kind of structure."
While McManus was new to the Americana scene, "he's a true music lover and was thorough in immersing himself in the material," Humbert said. "He's also a great harmony singer."
"Kevin is a team player − a total band guy," the bandmate said. "He understands the struggles and hardships that go into trying to make this a viable business. I think we are a better band − on and off the stage − because of him."
Playing bass in a country band posed challenges. Loose and ragged turned to precise and on point. "It's nothing I've ever done before," he said of the difference in musical scales and chord progressions.
"I'm excited to see where that goes when we start working on new material together," McManus said.
"It's unlocking all these doors in my musical brain all the time," he added. "And that's really exciting."
Learning curves withstanding, and genres aside, connecting with audiences is the same reward.
"It's a wonderful thing when you can see people moved by it," McManus said of playing live. "And I think that's what keeps us coming back as musicians. People are hollering and being rowdy and having a good time ... and people are dancing. We're really killing it."
Country music bass player still rocks out to Rancid and Nirvana
Country and rock have more in common than most music fans would assume, McManus said.
"All American music kind of comes back to rhythm and blues in a way," he explained. "At the end of the day, it's not all too far away. Like punk rock and country music aren't that dissimilar from each other."
And while McManus has fully embraced the country scene, he's still a passionate fan of punk, metal, grunge and other subsets of rock.
Finding himself behind the wheel of the band's van recently, McManus selected the playlist.
"I went on a tear," he said. "I was listening to some Rancid, to the Pixies," he said. "We were actually listening to 'Nevermind' by Nirvana. It's some of the first stuff I ever heard and it still knocks me out."
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and email@example.com
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