The Luxuriant Sedans release Born Certified
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Ed Bumgardner tells the story while sitting in the soft afternoon sunlight that pours through the windows of his Winston-Salem home, which is shielded from Robinhood Road by a thick screen of trees.
His latest band, the Luxuriant Sedans, was opening for Unknown Hinson at Ziggy’s this past summer. A crowd of twentysomethings lined the front as Bumgardner and his mates, veteran Winston- Salem rockers all, took the stage.
“They didn’t know who we were,” Bumgardner said. “We walked out and they had this look on their faces like, ‘What? Who are these old guys?’ We opened with ‘Automobiles’ and the place just blew up.”
The ripping first track on the debut record, Born Certified, ‘Stay out of Automobiles’ leads off with two crunchy guitars spread across the stereo field with a kick and snare beat setting the stage for vocalist Mike Wesolowski to lead the band through the first verse before the bass drops. In full bloom, the song takes off with a warning to young girls to “stay out of these automobiles.” The backbeat kicks, Wesolowski wails, and a crescendo of guitars pierce the air with the kind of tone you can tell’s been dialed in over the years.
When the song was done, complete with nods to bands like AC/DC, The Who, The Yardbirds, and Chuck Berry, Bumgardner walked to the stage front.
“After it was done, I walked up to the mic and was like, ‘oh, so now you understand?'” What’s to be understood is just how good a band can be when all five members commit their decades of experience to the greater glory of rock and roll. That’s what Wesolowski and Bumgardner say makes the Luxuriant Sedans such a unique band. Along with guitarists Gino Grandinetti and Rob Slater, and drummer Bob Tarleton, the band committed to finding delicious but obscure rock and roll tracks and mixing them with a distinct flavor.
Most of these guys grew up in a unique era of Winston-Salem rock that produced names like Mitch Easter and Sam Moss. They came from these heavily wooded neighborhoods with names like Sherwood Forest, Buena Vista, and Ardmore, and landed in a music appreciation class at RJ Reynolds High School in the early 1970s. The guys were more interested in the tone of British blues than they were the wisdom of their teacher, Mr. Eggers.
It was the British invasion in the 1960s that turned most Americans on to obscure blues musicians like Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, the Yardbirds, and others, interpreted these American blues artists and repackaged their songs with fuzz tone for mass consumption.
“They put something different on top of these songs that they were doing,” Bumgardner said. “At the same time, they were teaching a whole generation of kids, saying ‘here are these great people, go buy their records.’ That’s sort of the intention behind Born Certified. He’s got songs. I’ve got songs. We could’ve done more original stuff than we did, and the next one will have more. But this time around it was, ‘ok, here’s all these people that nobody’s heard.’ These songs are really good.”
The band recorded Born Certified this past May at The Fidelitorium in Kernersville. Mark Williams, a studio veteran who worked at Reflection Sound Studio in Charlotte for 18 years, produced the album. Winston-Salem’s John Pfiffner served as assistant engineer. The album lists 13 songs, 12 of which are interpretations of little-known tracks the band wants to introduce to a wider audience.
Bumgardner, who plays bass and is well known as a music journalist, said each of the songs spoke to band members in some way. The band focused on songs they’d always wanted to perform or artists they wanted to pay homage to. Names like Jerry McCain, Duke Jenkins, John Nemeth, and Terry McMillian populate the song credits, along with a John Lennon tune, ‘Cold Turkey’.
“We brought them in and everybody felt a natural affinity for it,” Bumgardner said. “If we can take this thing and somebody reads it and says ‘John Nemeth? I want to go check out John Nemeth or Walter Trout, or Terry McMillian,’ it’s the same thing we did.”
The Luxuriant Sedans released Born Certified in early September. The album’s pristine clarity allows each track’s grit to stand out. ‘Stay Out of Automobiles,’ for example, is a driving rock number with squealing leads and fills on top of a groove that’s hardly comparable to the original tinny blues track released in 1954.
Wesolowski mentioned the Lennon tune, ‘Cold Turkey,’ as undergoing a metamorphosis in the hands of the Luxuriant Sedans. Bumgardner brought the song to the table, Wesolowski said, adding that he’d never heard the song before. He talked to some friends who were skeptical that the song would be a good fit for Wesolowski’s thick, throaty vocals.
“Then they’d hear our version and they’d go ‘it doesn’t sound anything like that.’ And it doesn’t,” Wesolowski said. “This is taking somebody’s songs and making them ours.”
Which leaves it difficult to put a label on the band. Not quite a straight rock band, and not a full blues band, the unique interpretation of each song on the album undercuts the ‘cover band’ label as well.
“It’s American music, but filtered through Great Britain,” Bumgardner said. “It’s definitely got one strong foot in London of 1972 and another strong foot in Chicago of the 1950s and in between you’ve got stuff that mates and has hot carnal sex and it comes out sounding like we do.”
Both musicians credit the competitive, but friendly, music scene of Winston- Salem in the 1970s for shaping their dedication to craft. Back then, Bumgardner said, bands would set the bar and expect others to keep up or stay home.
“We’re really blessed in that the music scene that we grew up in … there were no bad musicians. And they’re still playing, most of them are,” he said. “Even the lesser bands could play. The central figure in all that is who we dedicated the album to, Sam Moss.”
Moss, who passed away in 2007, was a mainstay on the local music scene for years, running Sam Moss Guitars on Burke Street until shortly before his death. The spot was the place to talk shop, hang out, or buy gear.
All the Luxuriant Sedans were close to Moss, especially guitarist Rob Slater, who played in bands with Moss over the years.
“He was a real mentor,” Wesolowski said. “He never got properly recorded. There are all kinds of cassette tapes of him playing at live shows, but like we tell a lot of people, if Sam were alive he’d be in this damn band with us.”
Slater and Moss “were as close as brothers,” Wesolowski said, and in later years Slater would set up Sam’s gear at shows and perform sound checks. Friends bought him a large wig, dubbed ‘the Sam wig,’ which Slater would wear on stage.
Sam Moss lives on in the Luxuriant Sedans, Wesolowski said.
Bumgardner agreed. “There is at some point in every show, every time we play, where Sam plays,” he said. “Rob just hands the guitar to him.” !