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TENNESSEEAN
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
July 24, 2004

Cherry Bombs reignite

First single from reunited '80s band veers off Gill's usual path

by Peter Cooper, Staff Writer

Back then, in the early 1980s, there was no fame to encroach on the fun. There were no expectations to shade the reality of the thing. There was just music, and some men who sought to play it with feeling.

The band was Rodney Crowell's. He was the front man, he wrote most of the songs, and they were the players, the Cherry Bombs. The sound, though, was something beyond what might be expected of a touring band. They all knew that, and even the ones who went on to far greater notoriety - Crowell, Vince Gill, Tony Brown - missed the Cherry Bomb days from time to time.

"Sometimes, now, I get tired of talking about me," said Gill, who has gone on to write and sing a slew of country hits since the days when he was Crowell's guitar player. "I get tired of always doing my deal: doing gigs, another record, more gigs, more talking."

"Yeah," Crowell interjected, sitting across the table from Gill at a Nashville office. "It's like, 'Gag me with a Vince.' "

Gill laughed at that. He laughs at much of what Crowell says, and the two share the ease of old friends. They also share a new project: Gill, Crowell, Brown, guitar wizard Richard Bennett and slide guitarist Hank DeVito have regrouped for a new album that releases Tuesday called The Notorious Cherry Bombs.

The original Bombs drummer, Larrie Londin, passed away in 1992, and Eddie Bayers now mans the kit in his place. Keyboardist John Hobbs and bass man Michael Rhodes also have been called in to assist. (Another notable ex-Cherry Bomb, Emory Gordy Jr., is not along for the reunion.)

The re-grouping has produced a new single, Gill and Crowell's co-written It's Hard To Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your #&% Out All Day Long. That's a long way from Gill's sweet love ballads, and that's OK with him.

"This is out of the norm," Gill said. "But on the other hand, it's probably the most familiar thing I've ever been a part of. I feel more comfortable singing high harmony for Rodney, playing a loud Telecaster, than anything I've ever done. There's a comfort there that I wouldn't trade, for nothing."

The rough model for the Cherry Bombs was Emmylou Harris' Hot Band, a group that Crowell helped bring to greatness in the mid-1970s. Though she was not yet a well-known or profitable artist, Harris insisted on touring with a band that included some of the finer musicians around - a group using several members of Elvis Presley's band, including guitar hero James Burton. The record label had to pay more to employ Burton in the Hot Band, but the resulting performances helped build buzz and momentum.

Harris also hired young gun Crowell and recorded some of his early songwriting triumphs. (Bluebird Wine, 'Til I Gain Control Again, etc.) When Crowell left the group to begin his solo career, he began to consider the merits of building a Harris-like ensemble that would be able to take his already sturdy songs to a higher level.

"When I was making a record in California (1980's But What Will The Neighbors Think), I hired Larrie Londin to play drums, thinking I was hiring a massive session player," Crowell recalled. "Larrie made me start thinking about the Cherry Bombs, 'cause he was so into the notion of the band and the feeling. When the record was coming out he called me and said, 'When you tour, I want to be in this band.' I said, 'I can't afford to pay you.' He said, 'It ain't about money.' "

With Londin and Emory Gordy Jr., Crowell had a world-class rhythm section. DeVito offered a steel guitar that grounded everything in country music while allowing for rock excursions, and the sometimes-revolving guitar slots included virtuosos Richard Bennett, Albert Lee and fresh-faced Vince Gill. Tony Brown, fresh out of Presley's band, played keyboards.

The Cherry Bombs barnstormed the country, playing some legendary shows (one of which was an Austin City Limits episode recorded in August 1981) but spawning exactly no hit records for Crowell. The Bombs also toured with Rosanne Cash - Crowell's then-wife - and played on several of Cash's classic early albums (most impressively, Seven Year Ache and Somewhere In The Stars).

Bands without hit records don't tend to stay together for too long, and members shifted in and out of the Cherry Bombs. By the mid-'80s, the Bombs' name was gone, though DeVito and Gill remained in Crowell's band. By then, bass man Michael Rhodes had joined, beginning a longtime partnership with Crowell. Rhodes was there when Crowell's star finally rose in 1989, on the strength of the platinum-selling, Tony Brown-produced Diamonds and Dirt album. Soon after, ill would become a country star in his own right with hits such as When I Call Your Name.

"Water takes the shape of its container, and everybody in that Cherry Bombs band went on to become the beautiful human beings that they are in this world," Crowell said, noting Brown's position as an influential producer and executive, and Bennett being one of Nashville's premier guitarists.

Even with all the individual successes, people occasionally grew wistful for the Cherry Bombs' blend of highly musical aggression and sensitivity. The 2003 ASCAP country awards dinner found the guys back onstage together, and that experience spurred The Notorious Cherry Bombs album coming Tuesday.

The intent of the new record isn't to recapture old glories, so much as to renew acquaintances and see what happens in the process. The band is, of course, quite different. There's no Gordy and no Londin (Bayers played Londin's old Cherry Bombs drum set, which Gill set up in the middle of the studio), and Crowell is now more a band member than a bandleader.

"I don't think there was any notion of 'Let's go back and show the world how great we used to be,' " Gill said. "We made a record of things that don't necessarily pay homage to our past. They're new songs. My favorite compliment of the whole project was (Crowell's wife) Claudia pulling me aside when we were making the record and saying, 'I love having you around: Rodney's happier. He's having a blast.' That was a great compliment, that we were doing something that was even more important than a record."