Sunday morning coming down

by Jordan Green

‘“I’ve got a copy of the new Avett Bros.’ CD that’s not supposed to be in my hands,’” says David Butler, as he starts down a list of exclusive cuts for his Sunday morning show on WQFS, Guilford College’s non-commercial station at the left end of the dial.

Today he also has a live Mark Knopfler CD he got through a trade with a guy in Paris after a labored series of e-mails hobbled by the language barrier. He has an unreleased live Jayhawks CD.

The 50-year-old Butler, a Greensboro native who served as music director for the station as a student in the late ’70s, took up the 10-to-noon slot at the station about 10 years ago after returning to the Gate City from Columbia, SC with his wife. Butler’s relaxed, unassuming drawl sets the tone for the torn and frayed recovery from the party that is the ‘“Sunday Morning Rehab Show.’”

Like Grady Cook, who relieves him at noon to present ‘“Stoner Serenade,’” Butler specializes in live tracks, bootlegs and obscure gems that his listeners are unlikely to find on their own.

For the past year Butler has been on a huge Avett Bros. kick. He’s seen the North Carolina trio play about 40 times since he first heard them with his son at MerleFest.

After starting the show with Air’s ‘“Cherry Blossom Girl’” followed by Caitlin Cary’s ‘“Sleeping In On Sunday,’” the DJ reads some public service announcements and then prepares to unveil his treasure. He alerts listeners that the Avett Bros.’ New Year’s Eve show in Charlotte is close to being sold out.

‘“You guys may be the first people in the world to hear it,’” he says, announcing the new Avett Bros. song ‘“Pretend Love.’” The harmonies are more gentle and wistful than the turbo-charged mesh of bluegrass, punk and Fab Four pop that characterizes the Avetts’ earlier music.

As the song plays Butler takes a call from a listener. ‘“Squeeze? ‘Goodbye Girl?”” he asks, squinting and throwing his hands in the air. Then he shakes his head and hangs up the phone.

Soon calls are coming in about the Avett Bros. though.

‘“Anything that you’d like to hear?’” he asks one listener. ‘“Well, okay. I’ll play some more of that Avett Bros. I know you’ve been waiting to hear that.’”

To another: ‘“I figured you’d love this. You want more Brothers.’”

‘“There are some Avett Bros. fans upset,’” he says later. ‘“Usually they sell their CDs at their concerts two months before they’re released, but they put their foot down this time.’”

Butler also receives a call from Winston-Salem recording artist Jeffrey Dean Foster, thanking him for plugging an upcoming show at the local Border’s bookstore. Butler had read the announcement off an e-mail printout after identifying the track ‘“Lily of the Highway’” from Foster’s recent full-length, Million Star Hotel.

The heavy rotation of the Avetts, Cary and Foster give the show a strong North State alt-country cast, but Butler’s roots are in the British invasion and ’60s rock. His first concert was the Dave Clark Five. He closes his show with ‘“Ball and Chain’” by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

‘“When I was fifteen Janis played in Charlotte,’” he reminisces. ‘“My brother lost his glasses, so we couldn’t go. My parents said, ‘Well that’s okay, you’ll get another chance.’ And then she died.’” I started trying to see as many performers as I could at that point ‘– people like Hendrix ‘– before they overdosed and died.’”

It’s noon now and Grady Cook makes his entrance in a blue, long-sleeved shirt over a T-shirt decorated with a psychedelic Tao design.

‘“Okay Grady, put your stinky mountain music on,’” Butler says as he surrenders the chair in front of the microphone. The two grouse about Christmastime commercialism. Cook flashes a CD compilation of local bands playing Christmas songs.

‘“You’re gonna have to be on your toes,’” Butler says. ‘“Those songs are not twenty minutes long.’”

Soon Butler makes his exit and Cook slides up to the microphone and pulls the headphones over his ears. As the last smattering of applause dissipates at the end of the track, he enthuses: ‘“The late, the magnificent, Janis Joplin. I love that cut. Thank you, David.’”

Then he slides into his own show with the Fairlanes’ rendition of ‘“Santa Kept A Rolling,’” which clocks in at about two minutes. But true to form he’ll end the show with a 23-minute live version of ‘“After Midnight’” by the Jerry Garcia Band that drifts into an instrumental interlude of ‘“Eleanor Rigby’” before returning to ‘“Midnight.’”

Where Butler’s speaking style is relaxed, Cook is animated. Cook possesses a rough, gravelly voice that conveys Southern-flavored hippie hospitality.

Neither of them gets paid to do this. Butler works for a printing company that caters to car dealerships; Cook irrigates high school athletic fields. Their excitement about the music and love for it is palpable, unvarnished by the weariness that besets many disc jockeys, club owners, music writers and even musicians themselves.

The 45-year-old Cook’s show ‘“Stoner Serenade’” will hit its seven-year anniversary next spring. When he started Cook says his was one of four or five radio shows in the country that featured the genre that has come to be known as jam band music.

Now the jam-band movement benefits from the modest institutional infrastructure provided by the Mebane-based distribution company, Leeway’s Homegrown Music Network. The company sends out CD samplers to jockeys like Cook to push new music and cross-distributes radio play lists.

It’s a fluid and evolving genre.

‘“I think the one thing that holds it together is instrumental excellence,’” Cook says. ‘“It goes from pure bluegrass to jazz and everything in between.’”

A call from a listener named James allows him to demonstrate the breadth of his musical vocabulary.

‘“Killer bass?’” he asks. ‘“There’s a lot of stuff with killer bass. You want some Vic Wooten with really jazzy bass?’”

He says goodbye to the caller and turns on the microphone to introduce the next song.

‘“I had a request for some bass,’” he says. ‘“Hey James, I got some bass for you right here, baby.’” With that he plays a track by an instrumental hip-hop group from Maryland called the Bridge that features cooking bass and horns. That glides into a track by avant-grass banjoist Bélá Fleck that features Wooten on bass.

Without turning on the microphone Cook explains, ‘“I’m gonna hit him with three different bass styles. Now let’s rock it.’” The next song comes courtesy of Gov’t Mule, the Allman Brothers-inspired Southern rock band fronted by Asheville guitar player Warren Haynes.

He checks the levels to make sure the live track isn’t playing too hot, nods and flashes an A-OK hand sign.

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