Americana and Bluegrass Musicians In Recovery Share Their Stories

John Henry vs. alcohol: St. Louis singer-songwriter lays his hammer down

January 11, 2021
John Henry

Courtesy of Tim Gebauer John Henry, the St. Louis-based singer-songwriter who traffics in the sort of workingman’s Americana that’s fitting for an artist who bears his name, has enormous respect for those who battle an addiction to alcohol and drugs. As a guy who’s spent most of his adult life in a business where substances often cross a line from chemical augmentation to lifelong struggles of life and death, he’s also grateful that his own struggle with alcohol never led him to those dark places. He doesn’t make that distinction to set himself on any sort of pedestal, or to proclaim any sort of enlightenment beyond his personal experience: that mental health issues led to using alcohol as a coping mechanism, but thanks to the gift of his own self-awareness, coupled with the loving encouragement of his wife and the recognition that everything he loved was in jeopardy because of…

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A Christmas miracle: Banjo ace Ned Luberecki marks a major milestone

December 21, 2020
Ned Luberecki

Seventeen years ago this week – on Wednesday night, in fact, the day before Christmas Eve – renowned banjo player and teacher Ned Luberecki stared at what was left of the booze in his house and knew it wouldn’t be enough. He had moved to the Nashville area not long before, he told The Ties That Bind Us recently, and his roommate had left town for the holidays. He had the house to himself, and as he did in those days, he planned on spending most of that alone time inebriated. Except this time, there was no familiar expectation of escape. Instead, Luberecki said, there was only the resounding sorrow that alcohol had become his only companion. “I was sitting in the house, and I knew I had half a bottle of vodka and three beers in the fridge, and I knew: This is not going to be enough,” he…

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Altogether herself: The surreal and sober journey of country maven Jaime Wyatt

November 2, 2020
Jaime Wyatt

Courtesy of Magdalena Wosinska The first time Jaime Wyatt cracked open a beer in the woods at 9 or 10 years old — “Miller Genuine Draft, and it tasted like the can itself,” she adds — she didn’t plan on becoming an addict. Like most of her peers in recovery, that was never on any sort of personal or professional bucket list. For Wyatt, however, the possibility was always there, looming on the existential horizon like an unfulfilled family curse she might one day grow up to inherit. “Growing up, my dad was an alcoholic, and I remember going to 12 Step meetings with my father,” she told The Ties That Bind Us recently. “I had a strong feeling early on that I would have a problem — I was just hoping I would be able to control and manage it, that I could prolong it and get to enjoy…

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A song for Gigi: The Nell and Jim Band pay tribute to a loved one lost to addiction

July 20, 2020
Nell and Jim Band

The Nell and Jim Band, courtesy of Kalie Capadona. They’ve never sunk their claws into Nell Robinson personally, but the twin specters of addiction and alcoholism have long stalked her family, emerging from the shadows over years and miles to make her loved ones bleed. In December 2018, however, they were not content to simply wound. They claimed the life of her niece, Gigi, the daughter of her sister, Leslie, and at 59 years old, Robinson — who performs as half of the Nell and Jim Band, which recently released the new album, “Western Sun” — finds herself turning to music as a way to mourn her niece’s passing and to lift her soul up out of the quagmire that was her end. In fact, “Hurricane,” the fifth track of “Western Sun,” is dedicated to Gigi, whose struggle is brought to life in the tropical storms that regularly batter the…

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The Lumineers speak truth to the labyrinthine web that addiction weaves

February 17, 2020
The Lumineers

The Lumineers are, from left, Byron Isaacs, Jeremiah Fraites, Wesley Schultz, Lauren Jacobson and Stelth Ulvang. (Courtesy of Danny Clinch) As The Lumineers, Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites didn’t set out to write an addiction record. While both men have personal experiences with loved ones who have struggled with addiction and alcoholism, neither has battled the problem personally, Schultz told The Ties That Bind Us recently. They’re storytellers and have been since they first began playing together around New Jersey and New York City 15 years ago, and as their talent has deepened, so has their desire for authenticity. Purposely writing an addiction record, Schultz said, would have felt awkward, like the pair were tourists dipping their toes in an unfamiliar ocean. But a funny thing happened during the development of “III,” the Lumineers album released last September and debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. In…

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Scorcher, Sinner, sober: Warner E. Hodges is a man of many hats

November 25, 2019
Warner E. Hodges

Courtesy of Trudi Knight/Bands on Stage It’s been 27 years since Warner E. Hodges threw back a drink, but it wouldn’t be honest to say he didn’t have fun before the booze took over his life. As a founding member of Jason and the Scorchers — which started out as Jason and the Nashville Scorchers, incidentally — Hodges was the V-8 engine beneath the hood of a rumbling ’69 Mach One, a dusty, dirty machine that left stripes off the line and barreled through the rhinestone crowded streets of Nashville leaving carnage in its wake. Before Uncle Tupelo or Wilco or Whiskeytown or the Old 97’s or any number of alt-country forebears that would establish Americana as a popular genre, there was Jason and the Scorchers. The band has been tagged with any number of labels, but “cow punk” seems to sum up the sound perfectly: “We listened to the…

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Triggers & Slips’ Morgan Snow: Passion, purpose the key to overcoming addiction

November 18, 2019
Morgan Snow

Courtesy of Patrick Carnahan (Cracked Glass Photography) For Morgan Snow, labels are a nebulous concept. His band, for instance — Triggers & Slips, which releases a new album, “The Stranger,” this week — doesn’t fit into any certain box. There are throwbacks to the band’s 2012 full-length debut that are most definitely honky-tonk in origin, songs built with lap steel and twang and Snow’s country drawl that belies his roots as a Utah native. But there are a great many flourishes drawn from other colors on his musical palates, often within the breadth of the same song. Take the title track, for instance: barrelhouse piano and loping bass lines slowly transition into a fuzzy, driving freight-train boogie, and by the time the band reaches the end of the line, it’s almost a completely different song. It’s a creative gear-shift that continues throughout the course of the record — the final…

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Through sobriety, singer-songwriter Katie Toupin makes her ‘Moves’

October 21, 2019
Katie Toupin sobriety

Courtesy of Thomas Crabtree/Gasworks Entertainment A great many alcoholics and addicts take their first tentative steps into sobriety with some amount of trepidation, and Katie Toupin was no different. After all, substances — in her case, alcohol — are fun long before they make life miserable. If addiction and alcoholism hit the same legal, social, physical and emotional consequences right out of the gate that they do on the back end, treatment centers and the rooms of 12 Step recovery would be all but empty. The insidious nature of those illnesses is that when they’re fun, they’re not a problem. And by the time they become a problem, the alcoholic’s perception of “fun” is skewed. How, they wonder, can sobriety offer the same sense of conviviality and elation that was a constant companion of drinking? It takes time, and it takes work. More importantly, Toupin discovered, it takes dedication to…

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Singer-songwriter Morgan Wade: ‘If I didn’t get sober, I wouldn’t be doing any of this’

September 29, 2019
morgan wade sobriety

Courtesy of Chelsa Yoder Photography It was the mother of all drunks, singer-songwriter Morgan Wade remembers most about her final dance with the bottle. A New York show turned into a bleary-eyed bender that left her feeling sicker than she ever had before; even after driving back to Virginia, she told The Ties That Bind Us recently, she was still hurting. Slowly, however, she began to realize that her pain was spiritual in nature as much as it was physical. The dread, the angst, the despair — all were a product of her dependence on alcohol more so than her latest hangover. “It was like this mental hangover,” Wade said via phone from her hometown of Floyd, Virginia, where she takes a walk while she talks. She’s full of nervous energy, she explained, and walking is better than pacing. That energy serves her well on the stage these days, and…

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Old Crow Medicine Show’s ‘Critter’ Fuqua: ‘You can stay sober in this business’

August 5, 2019
Critter Fuqua sober

Old Crow Medicine Show: Charlie Worsham (from left), Cory Younts, Christopher “Critter” Fuqua, Ketch Secor, Joe Andrews and Morgan Jahnig. (Courtesy of Crackerfarm) From his first drink, Christopher “Critter” Fuqua knew he was an alcoholic. At the time, he told The Ties That Bind Us recently, he was a 14-year-old kid consumed by insecurity and discontent. It wasn’t something he recognized as a child, but after getting sober, he began to see that those feelings had been a part of his emotional wheelhouse as far back as he could remember. Booze, he added, became the medicine to make it all go away. “I remember having terrible anxiety starting around third or fourth grade, and I was 14 or 15 when I had my first beer,” Fuqua said. “It was like, all that stuff went away and I felt normal. I felt like I could function because that anxiety and that…

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Blank Range’s Jonathon Childers: ‘There’s joy in a sober lifestyle’

December 10, 2018

Blank Range’s Jonathon Childers: ‘There’s joy in a sober lifestyle’ Jonathon Childers readily admits that his bottom was a high one. In rehab, he noted the differences — the guys with years and decades on him, men whose consumption had destroyed their bodies and stymied their lives. At first, he told The Ties That Bind Us recently, those differences stood out. But then he began to take stock of his yets — specifically, those involving his bandmates in Blank Range and opportunities with that band he had yet to lose, and he came to a sobering (no pun intended) realization: His drinking wasn’t about a specific kind of alcohol or even the amount he consumed. It was about the reasons he drank in the first place, and those were plentiful. “I would drink because of anything; if I was happy, if I was sad,” he said. “I didn’t need a…

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Singer-songwriter Scott Miller: ‘Being sober is always your best chance’

September 3, 2018

Singer-songwriter Scott Miller: ‘Being sober is always your best chance’ Scott Miller is in the barn, waiting on the rain to pass. Out in the fields of the family farm nestled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, 70 cows roam 200 acres of property. He’s got hay to cut and elderly parents to take care of, including a father who suffered a stroke last fall. The record he released two weeks after that hasn’t gotten the support it needed from steady touring because of Miller’s commitments, and having to place his music career on the back burner because of family and farm obligations is a source of frustration, he tells The Ties That Bind Us. On top of all that, it’s been too long, he adds, since he sought respite in a 12 Step meeting. “Sometimes you pedal, and sometimes you coast, but I know that if I got and sit for…

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Newgrass pioneer John Cowan: ‘I couldn’t deny my recovery’

August 27, 2018

Newgrass pioneer John Cowan: ‘I couldn’t deny my recovery’ In the Basic Text of one of the 12 Step programs, it says that “a relapse may be the jarring experience that brings about a more rigorous application of the program.” For newgrass pioneer, singer-songwriter and auxiliary Doobie Brothers member John Cowan, his own recovery is proof of that statement, he told The Ties That Bind Us recently. After getting clean in 1987, he enjoyed 12 years of continuous recovery until it all unraveled. One of the guys he sponsored came to see Cowan perform with The Sky Kings, a country supergroup of sorts that Cowan was in with Bill Lloyd (of Foster and Lloyd), Patrick Simmons of the Doobies and Rusty Young of Poco. “He had two sons and a wife, and I actually lived with them for a a while; I was like ‘Uncle John’ to the boys, and…

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Mary Gauthier: ‘I’m so glad I’ve remained willing to do what it takes’

August 20, 2018
Courtesy of Jack Spencer

Mary Gauthier: ‘I’m so glad I’ve remained willing to do what it takes’ For a girl growing up in Louisiana with a gaping wound where her heart should have been, alcohol was a balm for the soul. Abandoned by her mother as an infant, Mary Gauthier — a critically acclaimed songwriter and neo-folk artist whose work rings with the poignancy and pain of hard truths, hard times and hard beauty — can’t remember the first time she discovered its warm embrace, but she remembers what it did for that deep ache, she told The Ties That Bind Us recently. “I remember being drawn to it in a way that there was no turning back,” she said. “From the get-go, it was, ‘You’re not going to stop me; I’m going to do this,’ because the sensation was one of not feeling like I was in pain for a little while. That’s…

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American Aquarium’s B.J. Barham: ‘I don’t feel like I have to drink to be a happy person’

June 11, 2018
BJ Barham

American Aquarium’s B.J. Barham: ‘I don’t feel like I have to drink to be a happy person’ When B.J. Barham announced he was giving up booze, he didn’t plan on making it permanent. Aug. 31, 2014: He walked into the Magnolia Motor Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas, ordered a triple shot of Jameson, then stood up on a bar stool and declared to everyone assembled: “I’m never drinking again!” At first, no one took him serious, he told The Ties That Bind Us recently. In fact, he wasn’t even sure that he was serious. “I didn’t think it was going to be full-blown sobriety,” says Barham, frontman of the Southern rock outfit American Aquarium, which released a new album, “Things Change,” this month. “I really thought, ‘I have to give myself a break to prove it doesn’t control me.’ For so long, people said, ‘You can’t quit!,’ but I’m a…

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Julie Christensen: Alt-country godmother finds renewal in the Rooms

May 31, 2018
julie christensen

Julie Christensen: Alt-country godmother finds renewal in the Rooms Julie Christensen’s spiritual awakening took place in the Colorado mountains, behind the wheel of 1966 Plymouth Valiant, a Chrysler Slant-6 engine growling around switchback curves while the singers of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 crooned a Beatles tune on the radio. In that moment, she tells The Ties That Bind Us, she realized: Those women were singing about her. “The Fool on the Hill,” originally recorded and released by the Beatles, may have been inspired by Paul McCartney’s ruminations on God or the Maharishi (depending on which urban legend you believe), but in that moment, dopesick and desperate, every word of the song hit home. “I went to go get that car in Colorado, because my brother had found it in Iowa, and it was just beautiful; while we were there, we were going to use my uncle and aunt’s cabin…

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