Belated Glory for Rev. Greg Spradlin and the Band of Imperials

Group’s debut, Hi-Watter, finally sees release ten years after its initial recording

Rev. Greg Spadlin and the Band of Imperials | Hi-Watter | (Out of the Past Music)

They say that it’s who you know that helps move you along in life. Granted, it takes talent — and lots of it — to become successful. But surrounding yourself with influential individuals can’t help but further the cause.

The Rev. Greg Spradlin was fortunate enough to associate with a revered batch of musicians, starting with the late, great player and producer Jim Dickinson, the man he considered his mentor. Hi-Watter, Spradlin’s belatedly released new album, features a supporting cast that includes a number of venerable, veteran contributors — bassist Davey Farragher of Cracker and John Hiatt and Elvis Costello’s bands, Los Lobos co-founder David Hidalgo, the late keyboard player Rudy Copeland and another Elvis alumni, drummer Pete Thomas, among others — still carries Dickinson’s spirit in both style and set-up. Indeed, Hi-Watter is an auspicious debut, and yet, it nearly didn’t get released at all.

Spradlin’s songs had been gestating for quite some time prior to 2010, which is when the album was recorded. However before it could be released, a series of tragic mishaps occurred which not only delayed the album, but threatened to derail it entirely. The list of unfortunate events that transpired reads like a script from a soap opera. First, a close member of Spradlin’s family passed away. Then his former drummer and close friend of 15 years died, followed by his dog and his cat. The air conditioning in his home went out in the midst of an Arkansas summer, which was especially troubling given that his wife was pregnant at the time. To complicate matters even further, Spradlin was dealing with the uncertainty of the music biz and the trials and tribulations of attempting to secure a record deal.

“It turned into a hectic year, and that stretched on into another nine,” Spradlin recalls. “I’m real bad about working on records and then letting go. I’m never happy with it. It’s not like I’m a perfectionist, but I have to reach a level where I’m happy. So that made it easier to let go. I wanted to do it right and put it out right. I wanted it to have a happy birth. After all those years, I I think that was achieved.”

In the interim however, Spradlin had decided to pack it all in. “I thought, you know what — maybe I should take a hint.,” he mused. He travelled overseas to work with a non-profit charitable group and eventually ended up in Ghana aiding poor African villagers living in less than ideal conditions.

Nevertheless, he eventually realized that being away wasn’t the answer to his misgivings either. “The whole time I was doing it, I had this feeling that maybe this was something I was supposed to be doing now,” he recalls. “But it’s not the thing I’m supposed to be doing forever. I know that making music was the thing I was meant to do with my life. I was fighting with the universe. I should have just relaxed and let it happen.” Reclaiming his musical muse, he went home, rediscovered the recordings, and found a label that was willing to release the music a full ten years after its recording.

“Maybe it wasn’t ready to come out at first,” Spradlin muses. “But now it is. Sometimes it’s just better not to push it.”

Suffice it to say the effort was well worth the wait. Brimming with the sound of classic soul — think Al Green, Stax Records, Booker T, and any number of other iconic individuals from the ‘60s and ‘70s that bore significant roots relevance. “My mother’s records were Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, all the great should stuff,” Spradlin recalls. “My dad was into Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. That was the diet I grew up on it. My mother had this box of 45s her father would send her when he was outworking on the pipeline, all these songs that were on the jukebox. It was everything from early Elvis to Howlin’ Wolf, early James Brown… that’s what I was listening to. So I kind of grew up out of time. I was listening to music that was already really old. I was on delayed broadcast. I’ve always liked music that’s timeless and doesn’t have an expiration date.”

As a result, the music that emerges is rocking and robust — as evidenced by the aptly named “Go Big” and the riveting title track, the soulful strains of “Gospel of the Saints” and the arched balladry of “Stainless Steel” and “Don’t Make Me Wait.” Spradlin and company make music that boasts fire and finesse, all the better to reflect his confidence as both a singer and songwriter. As an initial outing, it’s strikingly consistent, a set of songs that demonstrate Spradlin is well suited to replicating some vintage environs.

Spradlin, who acquired his reverend handle as a nickname prior to becoming fully ordained, immersed himself in that sacred southern firmament early on, traveling to Alabama and the Mississippi delta as a teenager where he found himself exploring the firmament that gave birth to the blues. He had grown up in a Southern Baptist household — “I was fascinated and mortified by it at the same time,” he recalls  —and he distilled those parts of his upbringing that made sense as far as his own philosophy and perspective were concerned. However music was frowned upon in the church and he was convinced that he was going to hell simply because he listened.

“Then I had a realization,” he explains. “I discovered what was really going on. I was always drawn to it and repulsed by it at the same time, having been brainwashed as a child. So I kind of just stayed out of the way. That’s how this record took on a life of its own and eventually made sense further down the road. It started coalescing into something very  solid. That’s kind of how I work. If I just stay out of the way and not try to shape anything, it works out the way it’s supposed to.”

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