A Rainy Night At Bud's Sports Bar With Drummer Mark Herndon And Southlander; Rising Star Leah Seawright

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - by Mark A. Herndon

It was an early December rainy night to be out on Brainerd Road.  I got a message earlier in the day that one of my favorite drummers would be at Bud’s Sport Bar in Chattanooga with his North Alabama band Southlander.  In the many years of enjoying all types of music.  I really enjoy Live and Local bands.  There was one band in from North Alabama in its day that I followed closely… the songs well written, and the music moving and seemed each song charting weekly had real applications as many attested in giving them repeated recognition at all levels ….. but it was the beat of the drum that I heard a lot.  

Having the same name as the drummer also created an interest with people even still today. Years ago when more checks were used before plastic debit cards,  I would hand a check and get the most interesting looks from the cashiers.  I would speak up and say, "No, I am not that one." So now 30 years later with social media… even with Facebook today. . . I get friend requests with people who want to connect but I am not that person they hope or think I am.  I am not Mark Herndon, I am Mark A Herndon. 

I had just settled at home when Terry Parker, Southlander front man, sent me a text earlier and said we are set up, everything’s ready…. working on the lights, come on. I usually get to the venue about 30 minutes early, not to interrupt the band set up but try to get a couple of group shots before the place starts rocking.  

I drove into the parking lot at Bud’s Sport Bar, an establishment with a legendary history in its own rights. The rain was beating hard and to my surprise a parking space was available almost at the front door beside a marked handicap space.  I actually tried to talk myself out of catching this act at another place and time, thinking the rain will keep people away. I was there for a different reason. Sure I enjoyed seeing the crowd swell as the night turned to morning.  Then, I noticed many of my friends were there for various reasons enjoying socializing with other friends, food, drinks and music.  It was good to see and photograph many of my friends there. 

As I walked through to the stage area I asked the manager if they expected a huge crowd with the relentless rainfall…his reply was “you never know.” What I wanted to really see was the drum set up. Then as he stepped off the ladder I introduced myself to me, oh no not me Mark Herndon, the drummer, (the former drummer of Alabama) and a CMA Hall of Fame member. I was also greeted by Terry Parker, vocal, lead guitar, and Tracy Walker, vocal and bass player.  I got my group band shots and was able to talk more to the members between sets.  Mark and I knew some of the same local players including drummer Johnny E. Smith and Sound/Light Tech Dennis Phillips who at the peak of his career supported several touring bands including Alabama. Dennis first met Mark Herndon in the early 80’s while the band Alabama was touring.  Mark and I also spoke about where our families were from realizing we are probably not kinfolks. 

It’s always interesting to me how the band Southlander got its start. It was some 30 years ago with brothers Terry and Gary Parker and Glen Martin from the Sand Mountain (Alabama) community of Fyffe.  The band members claim influences from rockers like KISS, Allman Brothers, Prince to George Jones and other traditional country music artist and musicians. During the first 15 years there were not many changes with adding other musicians as part of the band - Kevin Hyler, John Jensen and Ralph Snyder.  The band began touring the United States and Canada opening for Greg Allman, Sammy Kershaw and Exile.  It was about three years ago that changes in the band occurred for various reasons - the departure of Ralph Snyder, keyboard and John Jensen, drummer.

 Terry and Mark, being friends over the years and staying in touch, made the call to Mark that he was needing a drummer. Mark having other ventures going said he would help out. That’s been about 3 years ago.  Tracy Walker joined the band earlier this year as the band bass player announced he would leave the group to join a band on a cruise ship. 

So the big sound for three members (Terry, Tracy and Mark) of Southlander reaches across music genres from traditional country to classic rock, blues and contemporary music.  It’s a crowd pleasing mix, able to gauge the audience and adapt to the desired music to please everyone. 

Since we are talking about one of the most well-known drummers in this band, I took the opportunity to reach out with him on his other interest, having the courteous and respect not to talk about the Alabama days but to look at what he is doing today.  Mark really enjoys playing with Southlander, he appreciates Terry and Tracy's musical depth, talent and abilities to book dates. 

You have to consider North Alabama and North Georgia local to Chattanooga when talking about the local music scene.  Mark continues with his other interests as a commercial pilot and promoting quality and talented artists. One of those talents is Leah Seawright, a native and still resident of Fort Payne, Ala. Leah was immersed in music from birth as her parents and brother are all musicians and singers.  Mark supports her band as drummer and road manager.  I asked Mark to add more on the local artist I had not heard or photographed. Mark said she performed, wrote and recorded two gospel albums prior to her debut country album in 2005, Country Girl 101.  Leah wrote 13 of the 14 songs, and two of the singles charted. 

It was while on her first country project, Seawright met Country Music Hall of Fame drummer Herndon. At the time, the former Alabama stick man was working as a corporate pilot. Seawright asked him to come and hear some of the music she’d recorded.  He did and really liked it.  She told him jokingly that he needed to come out of retirement and be her drummer.  Mark said after mulling over the prospect, he took her up on it. He even played a few licks on her album and wrote the liner notes, in which he praises her for being “genuine and authentic.” 

Mark sees Leah Seawright as a rising artist while having performing experience on a national level.  She has shared the stage with several well-known artists, such as Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker and Charlie Daniels; her fan base expands across the country.  Leah has released her second single off her EP titled “Set It On Fire”. 

Mark said Leah had planned to be in Chattanooga with Southlander, but a prior commitment to a charity event in Gadsden prevented her from joining the group. There is no doubt the Chattanooga music scene will hear more from Southlander, Mark Herndon and Leah Seawright in 2014. 

On a side beat, he broke a stick during the show, I reached to pick it up off the crowded dance floor and handed half of it to Karen, one of my friends there.  The other half was a reminder (that next to photographing the Eagles a few weeks prior) this opportunity to meet and shoot Mark and the Southlander band ranks high in my experiences as a photojournalist covering entertainment events.

The night turned out to be full of people enjoying the music of a band committed to pleasing its audience.  You would never know the weather was a menace outside by the  enjoyment people were experiencing with Southlander and the hospitality of Bud’s Sport Bar. 

More information about Southlander on Facebook and Leah Seawright  at leahseawright.com  or Facebook.  

Mark A Herndon, CPG (m.a.herndon@comcast.net)






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