Preacher Stone Take To The Pulpit For A Southern Rock Sermon

Crack open the beers, sit on the porch, and fire up the barbecue with John Porter as he experiences Southern hospitality from all-out rockers Preacher Stone

You might recognise a song of Preacher Stone’s before you’ve recognized their name. The band were lucky and talented enough to appear on two episodes of Sons Of Anarchy, and it doesn’t take long for that subject to come up when I sat down to speak with frontman Ronnie Riddle and founder member and riff-meister Marty Hill.

“It was actually the first song we wrote together!” laughs Riddle, referring to Not Today, the featured song on the aforementioned series. “So that was a pretty good start.” He smiles. The use of the song was the fruit of several tracks of labour – firstly, a lobbying effort by Hill’s then-wife, followed by the serendipity of being used on a fan podcast. “After that appearance”, as Riddle takes up the story, “the music director called us and asked if he could hear the rest of our music – I said I’d drive it over to him myself if I had to!”

It’s an early laugh, and this relaxed, homespun attitude permeates the entire conversation with Preacher Stone – it’s almost a cliché to call it southern hospitality, but despite the four-hour time gap between our respective spots in the world, the chat and time goes by almost as if we’re talking to each other while whiling away summer hours on the porch with a cooler full of beer. This is a relaxed, happy, together group, exemplified by their reaction to being asked, again, about the Sons of Anarchy connection. While some bands would bristle at the constant reference to a part of their past, Preacher Stone are typically languid and never knowingly ungrateful. Riddle describes it succinctly: “Sometimes you think, well, that was a long time ago. Do we really want to talk about it? But to be honest, we wouldn’t be talking to you now if it hadn’t been for that.”

Indeed, not only do they have the pleasure of talking to us in the midst of it, but their sudden appearance on many people’s musical radar led to the band working with avowed admitted influences like Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. Both were excited by this, of course – Hill speaks lovingly of Skynryd, and is later described as ‘the biggest fan you’ll meet’ by Riddle, while Riddle was particularly thrilled to work with ZZ Top – not only citing Billy Gibbons as an influence, but directly tying his start in rock and roll to a van trip, cassette player, and hearing Thunderbird from Top’s 1975 album Fandango. As he says, “As soon as I heard that, I thought ‘I have to have some of that in my life!’”

Whether that’s excitement, fame, or good old-fashioned rock and roll, they’ve not been short of things to do ever since. At the time of writing, Preacher Stone stand on the precipice of releasing their first album in eight years, the southern-rock stomper ‘V’ [pronounced ‘Five’, as in the Roman Numeral] – “We’re trying to teach everyone Roman Numerals”, grins Riddle, arriving March 29th. While it has been eight years since their last effort Remedy, there was still a busy schedule of touring, particularly across their native United States, before the obvious interruptions. For their part, the band are anxious to point out that they have in fact used their time effectively, with Riddle saying, “It’s been a minute; but we didn’t really go anywhere. We toured, the whole world got shut down, then a lot of life came at us, and we battled a lot of things. But now … we’re back!”

Like most, the band certainly have battled adversity in the intervening years, not least losing keyboard player Johnny Webb, a beloved member and close friend. With that in mind, the album has taken on a certain poignancy, particularly given that the artwork bears his signature in tribute. This might pressurise any normal band into meeting a certain creative ideal, but Preacher Stone are far too relaxed, experienced, and sure of themselves for that. If anything, their creativity seems to be ignited again, and the band speak very highly of their creation. “It’s ten good songs!” thunders Riddle, smiling. “It goes from basic four-chord stomping rockers, to more artistic and developed things. We’re really proud of it.” Emerging Rock Bands also recently reviewed the album, and would largely concur with this assessment – it’s a varied, fresh, entertaining listen throughout.

Perhaps some of that variety and vitality comes from the sheer amount of musical talent available for Preacher Stone to draw upon, with five active members, each with diverse musical backgrounds. One would think that it would be easy to lose your way with five solid, experienced creative voices in the room during recording, but fortunately, the band have at this point spent so long working together that their strong bond borders on telepathic when it’s time to start recording. Riddle explains the recording process as follows: “We’re blessed to have this lineup. Wyatt is the newest member, and even he’s been with us for nine years! We all bring something eclectic; Ben comes in with a riff, Marty comes up with a counter riff, and all of a sudden, you go from ‘wow, that’s a great riff’ to ‘wow, that’s diabolical!’ – add in a bass player who loves the blues, and a drummer whose background is from the church, and we’ve always got something new to put together. We let everybody be themselves.”

They speak with constant cheerful enthusiasm, and it’s clear that they love what they’ve produced. They talk openly about the freedom of being independent as being something that they love the most, allowing them to set their own goals and expectations, something they really seem to value. There’s a coolness around potential success for the band that can only come with experience, and perhaps, just a little, of that relaxed southern personality. “We’ve all got numbers in the back of our head, but we’re not under any pressure. No one ever tells us which direction we need to go; we just get to make music the way we want, and we’re not worried about Taylor Swift numbers, all we want to do is make it bigger than it is right now. We’ll just take it as far as we can. If it’s a club, and it’s full, that’s great. If it’s a small theatre, that’s great too. If it’s a stadium and they’re lined up as far as the eye can see, great, but we just want to take our music to people who appreciate it. We’re some of the most blessed individuals on the planet to get to do this!” Riddle says.
For all their relaxed demeanour, it’s obvious that they are, inspirationally, doing exactly what they want to do, and exactly where they want to be; you can hear the passion ooze from both Riddle and Hill during the conversation, and they consistently come across as two men who clearly love their band, playing live, and each other. There’s a bond here that almost feels familial, something Riddle confirms that when I ask: “Everybody likes to say Band of Brothers, but we’re closer than that. There’s love in the room, and I think it comes out when we play and record.” This love shows even more when talk turns to playing live – they constantly consistently laud getting out on the road, particularly when it comes to playing new songs. Riddle explains it as: “The new stuff’s always exciting for us. How many times can you play the other songs?” he smiles, before adding, with a wink, “any time someone wants to hear them!”

It seems that playing live is sustenance to Preacher Stone – our conversation is peppered throughout with anecdotes and light-hearted jokes about life on the road, and they talk lovingly of being followed around by fans from both the UK and Europe, as well as playing a lot of the Southeastern parts of the United States. While this might be a grind for some bands, Preacher Stone’s attitude perhaps shows in the response to questioning about the reasons behind his passion for playing live: “When you’re a kid, you don’t think, ‘Well, I’m gonna sit in a soundproofed room by myself and create beautiful things’; you think of the girls and the glory and the glamour and all that kind of stuff…and then you realize what it’s really like, and you still love it anyway!”

Tongue-in-cheek humour aside, they’ll get plenty of chance to enjoy themselves, as there’s a busy schedule ahead for them. While they’re still going to be playing their heartlands, they’re giving these shores some attention too – returning to the UK for a second time in two years, this time with an exclusive UK tour, including an appearance at the ever-growing Maid Of Stone festival in, surprisingly enough, Maidstone in Kent. Riddle calls playing the UK “a dream”, as well as speaking enthusiastically of support and liveliness of the music scene here in general. “Everyone is so kind to us, and more than that, everybody will come out no matter what day of the week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, whenever! We’ll come here as long as anyone will let us, because it’s wonderful to be here.”

That sentence probably sums up the entire aura around Preacher Stone. They claimed to be able to talk my ear off, and they certainly could have – they’re the kind of band you could chat to for hours. They’re fun, chatty, and clearly having the time of their lives just making music for people to enjoy. They are refreshingly normal people, unencumbered by any bitterness or weariness towards the music industry – even after many years, it’s consistently made obvious that they love making music, playing live, and, as our review of V will attest, they’re making great music too. Their stated ambition, to make things bigger for themselves than they currently are, seems a dead cert to be achieved. They’re authentic and true southern rockers in the purest sense of the word, and it’s that authenticity that made being around them such a pleasure. “We are actually the real deal. Warts and all, we’re real … this accent’s real!” Riddle says to me in closing. Personally, and musically, they certainly are. Keep coming back to the pulpit, Preacher Stone


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