From sea to teaching C chords
On March 13 th , the Small Batch Songwriter Series at Gibb’s Hundred will feature Greensboro’s Alan Peterson’s and “full-Triadian” Ken Mickey, from 6-8 pm. Ken Mickey’s an eclectic sort: he grew up in Winston-Salem, lived a couple years in Greensboro, sojourned in Nebraska, and now lives in High Point. His music ranges from Neil Diamond-like ballads to grungy blues rock a la Southern Culture on the Skids—his first album, Stand, reflects his easier-going singer/songwriter background, while his newest project, due out in the summer, is funky rock ‘n’ roll salted with pinches of psychedelic, soul, and punk. “I did the whole high school garage band thing,” but he says that joining the Army was one of the biggest influences on his life and his music. “Being in the infantry was an eye-opener—we had guys in my squad who were going for West Point, and some were there so they wouldn’t go to jail. It exposed me to different ways of seeing things.”
After being discharged, he played in the Winston-Salem rock band Infidels before heading to Nebraska to study audio recording at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, NE. He found it was a small program and that most of his fellow students were musicians, too. They put together three bands and quickly started playing a unique set-up at nontraditional venues: pool halls, bowling alleys, and small-town ballrooms. Ken says, “I would play Neil Young-ish folk rock for the adults at happy hour, Shattered Fragments would play Metallica and Alice in Chains for the kids coming to pick up their parents, and Love Dogs would close out with the happy party music.”
In 2008, Mickey released Stand and focused his life on music and contributing to the Triad’s music scene. He teaches guitar lessons and a rock band class at Westchester Country Day School. Mickey is also one third of Shaken and Stirred, a band that includes Greensboro’s Bobbi Needham and fellow High Pointer Jack Gorham. They’re part of an ongoing push to give High Point some home-grown identity outside of the twice-yearly furniture market, and he points to Brown Truck Brewery and the High Point Arts Council 5 th Friday open mic as beginning efforts to support the arts and entertainment in the city.
Alan Peterson grew up on church music and bluegrass in Trinity, North Carolina. After he learned piano in his mid-teens, he fell in love with the math of musical theory and went to Appalachian State for their music industry degree. “I really started writing music in college.” His duo, Union County, was based in 90s light rock, with lots of open, airy chords and vocal harmonies. After graduating, he moved to Charleston for a year, where he played House of Blues and opened up for Sister Hazel, but “we never could get it all to fall into one spot.”
That’s when he started his solo career, releasing The Betterside under “The Lucky Few”—a reference to the close network of friends who came together in the L.A. studio and backed his songs—in 2012. “I’m super-proud of it, and, for me, it was how I’m going to figure out how I want to sound.” It experimented with all his musical facets up to that point, and after a year, it helped him see the way ahead for his next record. He also cites the success of Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, which came out in 2013, as another impetus to pursue his brand of Americana songwriting. When Peterson teamed up with Dynamic Soundworks, a Greensboro-based production team with a studio in Wilmington and connections across the Piedmont, he had a clear vision for California to Carolina. “There are still electric elements, but the driving force is my voice and my acoustic.”
California to Carolina was a passion project of friends—many of whom came from Greensboro’s House of Fools. Alex McKinney’s dobro is prominent on the album, and he and Alan often perform as a duo. Peterson points to the cooperation of Greensboro’s music scene as its strength: he’s shared the stage with Sam Frazier and Laurelyn Dossett at Lucky 32 and is working on getting new voices out with a Monday night concert series at Marshall Free House. Trust is important to him, and the trust he’s built with his Greensboro network of music friends has been crucial to his success: “that’s what made that last record what it was, and we’re pushing the sound that we found even further with the next one.” !