So long, 2019 … hello, 2020!
As we prepare to start another year of stories with musicians who have found recovery on the other side of addiction and alcoholism, we wanted to pause and take a look back at the interviews that made 2019 such a beacon of hope. The artists who honored us with their time and stories are inspirational beyond measure, and we end this year full of gratitude and hope: That anyone can stop drinking and using, lose the desire to do so and find a new way to live. We’ve curated a Spotify playlist of songs from our 2019 guests, and at the bottom of this blog, we’ve included some poignant quotes from those who don’t have music on the streaming service. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!
Nocturnal Blonde, "Smart Heart"
Richie Williams and Rachel Adams use the music of their Athens, Ga.-based band Nocturnal Blonde to document the searing nature of addiction, which almost cost Richie’s brother, Dave, his life. “I want them to understand the dark side of it,” Richie told us in January. “We’re not an anti-party band. This material addresses the souls who never actualize the concept of moderation, such as my brother. It’s like he was competing for a medal in the ‘Drug Olympics.’”
Amy Speace, "Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne"
Singer-songwriter Amy Speace brings a mature perspective about recovery on her latest, “Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne.” It was inspired by the steady flatline of life outside of the high highs and bottomless lows of her battles with the bottle, and finding serenity in the trudge along the road of happy destiny. “When you realize there’s no there, there, then you can really get to work rather than doing what you think the industry thinks is going to be the next cool thing,” she told us in January. “You stop caring, and you just start writing songs, and that’s when the writer’s voice shows up. In a sense, that’s what this new record is about — that this is all there is. There’s nothing at the end of the rainbow, so just enjoy the rainbow.”
500 Miles to Memphis, "Blessed Be the Damned"
“Blessed Be the Damned,” the title track of the latest by the country-punk outfit 500 Miles to Memphis, speaks for itself: “It’s actually a recovery record, dressed up in analogies and other parallel stories, and the title itself means a lot to me,” said Ryan Malott, the band’s vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. “I feel most connected to people who have had addiction problems in the past and have come out the other side. I think that people who have been through hell come out the other side appreciating life a lot more and understanding life a lot more. Because of that, they’re more blessed, so this record is for them more than anyone.”
Michael McDermott, "Ne'er Do Well"
“Ne’er Do Well,” by Michael McDermott, is a high water mark on his latest record, “Orphans,” and that’s saying a lot. There’s a tenderness to the songs on the album, released last February, that speaks to the nuances of a sober mind: the intricacies of life viewed through a lens of clarity that wasn’t always present, and the belief that no matter the storms, there’s always dawn on the other side of that long night. “When people post pictures of old shows where I was geeked out of my mind, I cringe,” he said. “I was the guy who would spend three days in a crack house nailing comforters over the windows because the light was the enemy, and I can see that in my eyes in those photos. I hated that guy. Now, a lot of the ego is gone. I still have some of that, but I know where I am now, and I know those delusions of grandeur are far fewer. It’s funny, because it is a surrender. The word surrender sounds like a weak word, but it’s not. It’s a word of strength to me.”
John Lee Hooker Jr., "I Surrender"
It’s been a minute since John Lee Hooker Jr. released a studio album, but he’s putting the finishing touches on one that includes contributions from his dad’s old friend, harp player Charlie Musselwhite, among others. And it’ll most definitely include songs in the vein of “I Surrender,” which is a song of celebration for the new way of life he found on the other side of addiction. “You’ve gotta be able and willing to sell out — to give up every evil lifestyle, to sell out to God,” he said. “In other words, you’ve got to let all of that stuff go and say, ‘Lord, take over the reins of my life.’ And I’m telling you, you will not ever, ever be the same.”
Hunt Sales Memorial, "One Day"
Performing as the Hunt Sales Memorial, “One Day” is the haunting story of a man fighting his way out of the darkness, a subject the drummer for Iggy Pop and Tin Machine knows all too well. “If you look online, the life expectancy of an IV drug user is usually 10 to 15 years, and I outlived that by about 40 years,” he said. “I had a period of sobriety about 12 years ago, and I did a bunch of work. I worked the (12) Steps, I had a sponsor, and a few things changed in my life immediately. I was in Nashville, and everybody there was drinking or smoking weed, and (recovery) kept me out of a lot of circles. I spent one year there, then I came back to Austin, where I eventually went back to my old behavior. It just gets worse every time. I finally had that moment of clarity — do I want to live, or do I want to die? Sometimes I wonder why it took so long, and why now, but I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter. I don’t have all these answers. All I know is that in the 15 months I’ve been clean, I haven’t put a needle in my arm, and that’s a big thing for me.”
Hootie and the Blowfish, "Change"
Jim “Soni” Sonefeld will mark 15 years clean and sober in 2020, and 2019 was a big year. His band, Hootie and the Blowfish, got back together, mounted a national tour and released their first new album in 14 years. Throughout it all, Soni has used the Serenity Prayer, a popular recovery mantra, as his North Star. “All of my day-to-day decisions, all of my frustrations, all of my victories, all of my weaknesses, all of my daily stuff — I’ve realized they need to go through the Serenity Prayer,” he said. “If I’m going to acknowledge a God and ask for Him to be my guide, then I’ve got to follow the Serenity Prayer and accept the things that are not mine to change, summon the courage to change the things that are mine to change and ask Him to help me sort those two lanes out. Because that’s where victory is for me — separating the things that are my job to handle and the things I can’t change and need to let go of. To me, that’s what having a simple program means — having a more functional way of sorting through those two categories and figuring out what’s my responsibility or not my responsibility.”
"Texas" Joe Bailey, "The Last Time"
“Texas” Joe Bailey released the EP “Redemption” last January, and while he’s perfectly at home playing smoky bars and honky tonks, he never lets an opportunity pass him by to offer his personal testimony of damnation and recovery from addiction, exemplified in the final track, “The Last Time.” “As a Christian and as a believer in Christ, I believe my first and foremost responsibility is to be an ambassador for my faith, and I use the platform I’m given when I’m performing in bars,” Bailey told The Ties That Bind Us recently. “I enjoy seeing people have a good time as much as the next, but there may be someone in there struggling the way I did, and I just want them to know I’m someone they can talk to. If we talk afterward, they may not be ready to change right then, but I’ve planted a seed, and that’s the beauty of it all.”
Sister Hazel, "I Don't Do Well Alone"
“I Don’t Do Well Alone,” off the most recent Sister Hazel EP “Earth,” is a testament to frontman Ken Block’s recovery after a relapse. His courage in speaking out about it to The Ties That Bind Us was awe-inspiring, and his message was a cautionary tale. “If you’re an alcoholic or an addict, and you’re not getting relief through recovery, eventually you’re going to get it somewhere, and that’s what happened with me,” he said. “Luckily, I got back into it, but I understood for the first time why it’s so hard to come back from that. I do carry some guilt and shame, especially as someone who was so public about his recovery. It is challenging, but I did it. Eventually, you come to realize that you don’t lose the recovery you had, even though it feels like that at first. I still spoke the language. The first time I walked back into a meeting, I was feeling really shitty, and a guy said, ‘You know what to do, don’t you? Then do it!’”
Chris Beard, "I'm Free"
On his way back home from an upstate New York drug and alcohol treatment facility, Chris Beard heard the voice of God as he watched the countryside blur by. “He said, ‘I’m bigger than any place you could ever go,’” Beard said. “When I came back to Syracuse, I told them that when I was finished, I was going to go home. And I’ve been clean ever since. Recovery has taken me around this world, and I know that the God of my understanding saved me, so I’m here to do His will, whatever that is, and share my message through my music. My accomplishments are because of recovery and because of believing. There are no limits in my process of recovery, and there are definitely no limits in my career, because I don’t put no limits on myself.”
Bambi Lee Savage, "Demon Alcohol"
On her latest effort, “Berlin-Nashville Express,” Bambi Lee Savage extolls the darkness of “Demon Alcohol,” which she put behind her several years ago thanks to her faith. “Right now, this day, things are good; probably the best they’ve ever been,” she told us in May. “But it grieves me deeply to know how much suffering there is in this world, and I cannot help but pay attention to those things. It’s a part of my daily life, and while I don’t spend my whole day there, any time I look at the news, there are so many things going on in my mind, and I feel obligated to take it in. As far as my sobriety goes, that was something I had to do for me, because my drinking was a real problem. But I think that for a community of non-drinkers, it’s important for us to be there when other people are going through it, and also to let people who still drink know that nobody’s judging anybody.”
Rich People, "No Age"
His band Rich People released the single “No Age” in 2019, and frontman Rob Rich continues to channel his energy into both recovery and rock ‘n’ roll. By putting out positive energy into the universe through kindness and spiritual principles, he reaps the positive results in his own life. It’s a pretty simple formula, and it’s one that can work for anybody, he told us. “I just try to let people know that you can still have a life, you can still have fun and you can still be cool and not have to do drugs,” he said. “When I’m talking about these things, I don’t try to preach that recovery will be the answer for everybody, but I do know that with it, you can be cool and play in a rock band, the drugs don’t even matter anymore.”
Amanda Bocchi, "Lips Like Poison"
For Roanoke, Virginia-based singer-songwriter Amanda Bocchi, sobriety isn’t work: It’s a way of life, she told us in June. “I don’t identify as an addict anymore, because I feel like some of the culture surrounding recovery is limiting,” she said. “I don’t want to forget I had that experience, but I also don’t want to live in 10 years ago. I’m focused on feeding my mind in the present with positive content. I focus on my mental health — how to effectively manage the residual mental health symptoms that I have, and to do that, I implement a lot of healthy coping skills. I still have some coping skills that come out as automatic responses that I have to catch, but I work really hard at being sane. Insane, to me, means unhealthy, so I’m constantly trying to restore those neural pathways with opposite behaviors that create the life I’m I want to live.”
Anders Osborne, "Escape"
For New Orleans musician Anders Osborne, recovery means his music doesn’t have to dwell in the darkness of the past. His most recent album, “Buddha and the Blues,” is a direct result of that realization. ““What I was noticing is that while all of these songs were pretty, they were repeating the same thing, so I felt like I was regurgitating and re-manifesting the same emotional state,” he told us. “I was living in an almost endless cycle of this darkness — ‘I’m an addict, I’m a junkie, I’m this, I’m that, I’m not happy.’ And when I realized it, I went, ‘Oh my God. This has to stop. I have to start having songs that sing about the beautiful life I have and the brightness and the choice I have between happiness and serenity and better lifestyle choices, and spending time in melancholy and sadness and introspective somberness.”
Dane Ferguson, "Ashes"
Singer-songwriter Dane Ferguson found sobriety through alternative means: by focusing on his health. “I’m a cyclist, and so I really put everything into biking to and from work, doing pushups and exercises and trying to become as well-rounded as possible,” he said. “I changed the focus of how I approached life in general. Everything I try to do, I try to do with intent. Of course I’m a human, and I make mistakes often, but I’m trying to live as deliberately as possible, whereas before there was no rhyme or reason. And it’s great having people around me who were very supportive. In the end, it got to a point where I was drinking bottles of red wine alone in the house just to sleep. Those were the darkest times, those moments when you’re by yourself, but now I have a hell of a support system.”
Steve Poltz, "All Things Shine"
Singer-songwriter Steve Poltz made his bones as the co-writer and guitarist for the mega-hit “You Were Meant for Me” by Jewel, but his alcoholism robbed him of that success. These days, a new record (“Shine On”) and a new lease on life have left him more content than ever. “Every year has gotten better than the last year, and I owe it all to sobriety, I just know it,” he told us in July. “I’m still a million volts, and I’m just trying to navigate this world. I don’t want to hate. I want to learn empathy and love and how not to be a dick. Some people might think they need a drink to take the edge off, but why would I want to do that? I like the edge! The edge is what it’s all about! When I stopped needing a drink to get on stage, that’s when it got real.”
Jason Ricci and the Bad Kind, "The Way I Hurt Myself"
Some artists get recovery easily. Blues harmonica player Jason Ricci is not one of those. However, he’s been sober for 17 of the past 20 years, and that’s a measure of success that can’t be denied, no matter how big his battles might seem. “My life improved so much as a result of working the Steps and continues to, and that’s my hope,” said Ricci, who released the new album “My Chops Are Rolling” with his band, The Bad Kind, in 2019. “My hope is that I get more involved in helping others, because that’s what really changes things for me. I wish I had a full circle story of how everything is wonderful now, of how I’m sponsoring guys and have multiple years sober and everything is great and my career is fantastic. I wish that was my story, but it’s not, man. It’s just not. My story is that I’m right where I am, and it’s a tough place to be.”
Greg Antista and The Lonely Streets, "Beat Down and Broken"
Greg Antista made his bones in the Southern California punk scene, but speed took him on a long, dark detour. In 2019, he and his new band, The Lonely Streets, released a new record, “Shake, Stomp and Stumble,” he’s reestablished his place as part of the SoCal lineage. It’s a distinctly Southern California record, helmed by a man who’s received a new lease on life. And every time he prepares to celebrate his new music live for new fans eager to be a part of the experience and old friends just glad he’s back in the saddle, Antista always takes the time to acknowledge them before he plugs in and rocks the room. “I say a prayer before every show,” he said. “I always say, ‘You’ve got to be present. You’ve got to realize this is special. And you can’t take it for granted.’”
The Jam Alker Band, "Riot"
Jam Alker and his band spent 2019 laying the groundwork for big things coming in 2020, but recovery has allowed him the gift of perspective, he told us in July: “The most important thing people need to understand is that it’s not about the material successes that have come in my recovery, but the emotional and spiritual successes that have come, and as a result of those, there have been monetary successes,” he said. “That is a byproduct of living a life in which I am centered; living a life that is happy; living a life that is completely devoted to being of service to others. I want people to understand that my happiness, my contentment, is not a result of this stuff. Those things are great, but those are not the things that have brought me happiness. The gifts of recovery are about knowing my purpose and being of service to others. That’s what keeps the needle out of my arm, and as a result of that, I’ve been able to receive these other gifts.”
Old Crow Medicine Show, "Wagon Wheel (live")
Chris “Critter” Fuqua had a hand in writing one of the biggest Americana hits of the past quarter-century with his bandmates in Old Crow Medicine Show: “Wagon Wheel.” The fame, however, paled in comparison to the pain of his alcoholism, and in sobriety, he’s adamant that anyone in the music business can find life outside of the bottle. “For some reason, society gives cart blanche to musicians, and I think society believes some people are musicians because they’re alcoholics,” he said. “That’s not true. I know so many musicians who are sober, who aren’t alcoholics, who are all incredibly artistic. You can stay sober in this business. It’s doable. It’s more than doable, actually. All you have to do is reach out for help. There’s no shame, and we have to break that stigma.”
Thomas Gabriel, "1974"
On the other side of prison, alcoholism and addiction, country singer Thomas Gabriel — the grandson of Johnny Cash — has found reward in the idea that his story, and his music, can inspire hope in others. “I love that, because it makes it to where all of my experiences, all of my days of personal hell, were not in vain,” he told us in August. “When we get done, I always get off stage and go talk to everybody I can, because I spent 10 years inside of a bathroom by myself, pretty much. Now, when I meet people, it’s all about the connection.”
Jedd Hughes, "Animal Eyes"
As a solo artist and the guitarist for Vince Gill, singer-songwriter Jedd Hughes always tries to keep things simple — in his own sobriety, and in the help he offers others. “One of my really good friends came to me once, and I had no idea that he was struggling with drinking at all, because he seemed like a really highly functioning guy,” Hughes said. “The first thing I kind of ask is, ‘Do you feel like it’s something you can’t control? Does it have control of you?’ And if so, I always just say, ‘Try a meeting. Come with me if you want to, or don’t. Get online, where there are meetings at all hours of the day.’ Because it’s an incredible support system, and a meeting would probably be really, really beneficial for anyone who feels like there’s a deeper issue going on. I feel like that for anybody who can get to a meeting, that can change everything right off the bat.”
Jack Russell's Great White, "My Addiction"
Before he ever found fame with the ’80s rock band Great White, Jack Russell had already served time because of drugs. Addiction would plague him for most of his life, but these days, as the bandleader of Jack Russell’s Great White, he’s found peace. “I think the one thing that I would have had a hard time following would be that I’d still be doing this,” he said. “I never even thought that far ahead. I didn’t think I’d ever even see the ’90s, and the year 2000? It was like, ‘Yeah, right, like I’ll be alive then.’ It’s a miracle some of us made it through, really. I lost a lot of friends, and I’ve come close on a number of occasions. I said to my wife the other night that for the first time since I can remember, I am content. There’s always something that you want or that you wish you had or something you want to strive for, but if I never get anything other than what I have, I’m fine. I love my life.”
Terry McBride, "Worth a Shot"
Country star Terry McBride got sober in 2010, and finding the willingness to ask for help with an alcohol problem beyond his control might have been his biggest accomplishment in a career that’s full of them. “The best thing you can do is to realize you have a problem, of course, then talk to somebody about it,” McBride told us in September. “Once you reach out and let someone know and don’t keep it a secret, people are willing to help. If people could just do it, could just say, ‘I’m at a point where I think I need help,’ that’s just such a big step. You’ve got to do work to stay sober, but keeping it a secret and hiding it is so much more work all on its own.”
Mitzi Dawn, "Broken"
Meetings, prayer, meditation, sponsorship, service work: The tools of 12 Step recovery made all the difference for Nashville songwriter Mitzi Dawn, who returned with a trio of EPs in 2019 after getting sober a decade earlier. “It was one of those things where if you do better, you get better,” she says. “I was in the meetings every day, and I started really focusing on what they suggested I do — the whole put your shoes under the bed, so when you wake up to get them, you have to get on your knees, and then you’ll remember to pray.”
Morgan Wade, "The Night"
Few artists have thrown themselves into sobriety with such zeal as Morgan Wade, who released a stellar single in 2019 and is preparing for a powerful full-length in 2020. “If I didn’t get sober, I wouldn’t be doing any of this — I can 110 percent guarantee that,” she said. “I was doing alright before, show-wise, but I don’t think it would have been a career until I got sober. After I stopped drinking, I worried about what kind of material I was going to have, but I found that by not drinking, I could be super honest and talk about it. When I realized there are other things I can talk about, that’s when I started being as honest as possible about everything, and that’s when people started to connect with things. I think with being real, people are tired of the fake stuff. Working on my music and being as honest as possible has helped me, and I think it’s helped other people. It’s certainly when I started to get people looking at me.”
Griffin House, "Hindsight"
Like a lot of artists, singer-songwriter Griffin House found in the rooms of recovery what he came for: a new way to live. “You look back on all the times spent in meetings with guys trying to live by moral principles, trying not to put alcohol in your body, and it’s pretty hard to regret that,” said House, who released the album “Rising Star” in 2019. “They allowed me to be there and present for my kids, in a way, because I didn’t have all those problems, I wasn’t walking around drunk, and my kids never had to deal with that. My wife and I are in a great place, and it’s allowed me to work out other issues that there’s no way I would have been able to do if I hadn’t gotten sober. There’s just so many positive things, that even though I needed something more, it’s still been an immense amount of positivity.”
Mike Zito (with Walter Trout), "Johnny B. Goode"
With 16 years of recovery under his belt, blues guitarist Mike Zito — who unleashed a tribute to the great Chuck Berry in 2019 — has found himself as something of a sobriety ambassador whenever and wherever he plays. “The whole process for me has been starting over, more or less, with everything,” he said. “Now, everything in life is all recovery-based. There’s not really an aspect of my life that’s not founded in recovery. What comes first, what I’m doing — it’s about this recovery, but people have started to notice, and people in recovery started to show up all the time and come out in droves to gigs. These are my brothers and sisters. Everybody start pouring out of the woodwork and showing up, because they know I’m doing the deal. Sixteen years later, it’s like, every gig I play, I know everybody there that’s in the program, because everybody comes out who’s in the deal. I could tell so many stories of meeting people and talking to people and helping people.”
Katie Toupin, "Lost Sometimes"
Katie Toupin is another artist who built a foundation for her sobriety in 12 Step meetings and then expanded her program to fit her own needs. In 2019, she released the stellar “Magnetic Moves,” toured the country and continued to build a place for herself that includes balance in all things. “I think if someone is curious about what it’s like, they just need to ask someone,” she said. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘I don’t know if I have a problem,’ and I just tell them my experience and ask, ‘Do you relate to this?’ Because most people who don’t have a problem, don’t ever think that they might. For me, I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know how to be in the world. It wasn’t a craving thing so much as just all the work you do after you get rid of the substance. That’s what it’s been for me, and even though it’s always there, I’m doing a lot of other types of work on myself. I read, I meditate, and I implement a lot of the things that are suggested.”
Electric Six, "Gray Areas"
Like a lot of alcoholics, Christopher Tait of Electric Six lived for a long time in denial, he told us in October. “I had no idea what I needed, and no idea what I wanted; I just thought that I was better than those people, or that I knew what I was doing,” he said. It took nearly losing his long-time band, his family and his health before he realized that there’s a way out. Today, as the co-founder of the Detroit-area recovery coalition Passenger Recovery, he helps others find the same. “I finally had been beaten into becoming willing to establish a new train of thought and to listen to other people,” he said. “Miraculously, that was the first tiny change that led to a much bigger change.”
Janiva Magness, "Have You Ever Seen the Rain"
Blues diva Janiva Magness (who released a tribute to John Fogerty in 2019) has been graced with a lot of praise and awards since she got sober for the last time in 1991, but her humility keeps her grounded. “I showed up for it, but I promise I wouldn’t have shown up if I wasn’t clean and sober,” she told us in November. “I didn’t want to be here, and I damn sure don’t deserve to be here. I know today, as a woman in recovery that now is where all the power is. It’s where the God that I don’t understand is, it’s where joy is, it’s where peace is — because it damn sure isn’t in the past, and my brain just doesn’t go to the beauty or the joy or the winning of the future. It goes to the potential wreckage of the future, so there’s no peace there, either. The power is in right now, and the word ‘grace’ is what it has been for me. It’s unwarranted, because I can’t earn it; and it’s unmerited, which means I don’t deserve it, because I can’t possibly be a good enough girl. If life were fair, I would be in jail for a really long time. What I’ve done is show up.”
Bad Wolves, "Sober"
As the frontman for the metal outfit Bad Wolves, Tommy Vext is a rising star in the music world. He’s touring the world with his band, working on a number of different projects, writing a biography and — above and beyond everything else — maintaining his recovery, both in the rooms and through outside help. It’s a rich, full life, and he wouldn’t have it any other way, he told us. “I didn’t get sober to have a mediocre life,” he says. “Everything in my life, I want it to be extraordinary: my relationships, my jobs, the way I interact with people. Otherwise, what’s the point? I’ve got to have that, but I also have to work for it. They say (in the rooms of the 12 Step meetings that helped him get clean and sober) that more will be revealed, but the reality is, more will be required.”
Triggers & Slips, "Rooster"
As a substance abuse counselor, Morgan Snow brings all recovery options to the table, including those that don’t fit into the 12 Step paradigm. It’s unorthodox, to be sure, but there’s one thing he believes fervently, he told us: “There is one thing that works every time, no matter who you are, and that’s finding passion and purpose,” he said. “No matter what model you use, if you find that, you’re going to have something else to hold onto that makes life worth living.” With his band, Triggers and Slips, he released the album “The Stranger” this year.
Warner E. Hodges, "Sick of Myself"
Guitar hotshot Warner E. Hodges has been sober for more than a quarter-century, but he doesn’t pretend to be cured. He doesn’t have a desire to drink, and his career with Dan Baird and Homemade Sin and Jason and the Scorchers has taken him all over the world, but the guy he used to be is still a part of him, he told us. “The dude in the cage, inside my head, is still there,” he said. “He still wants out. I’ve just got to keep him in there. And if that thought creeps in while I’m driving down the road — ‘you deserve a beer’ — I know that’s the guy talking. And I just tell him to shut the hell up and get back in the cage. He’s the reason I have a chair in the rooms — but I also get to be there when somebody reaches out for help, like I did. And that’s what it’s all about. That’s the only way you really get to keep it, is if you give it away.”
Art Alexakis, "Look At Us Now"
In the 1990s, Everclear was a modern rock juggernaut — and if frontman Art Alexakis hadn’t found recovery before he found fame, he told us, he might not have survived. “Recovery saved my life, because I didn’t know what success looked like,” said Alexakis, who released the solo album “Sun Songs” in 2019. “I grew up poor, abused, abandoned — all that good stuff. I still had my mom’s love and strength, so I had that in life, which was great, but I never saw success. So when I became successful and actually had money for the first time, I had no idea how to deal with it. I had some not-really-great people advising me who kind of took advantage of me, so that didn’t help. They pushed me in a direction where I made uninformed, bad choices, but I’ve got to say, as far as recovery and alcohol and drugs go, if I had still been using, I would have ended up killing myself, one way or another — a gun or a needle or jumping off a bridge or something.”
J-Birds, "Don't Count Me Out"
Ryan “Tater” Johnson experienced fame and fortune as the guitarist for the rock band 10 Years, but he never found peace until he left the group and returned to religion. These days, he’s working as a producer in his hometown of Knoxville and playing in a new project, J-Birds. “I like being high on life and music and exercise and God,” he said. “I did all that other stuff for so long that I know there’s nothing down those roads for me. Back in October, J-Birds played in a bar and not one time did I want to go drink. There’s only one kind of high for me from now on, and that’s through God and church and that connection I have with the Holy Spirit.”
The best of the rest! David Easterling
As a songwriter who’s penned somewhere between 400 and 500 songs, singer-songwriter David Easterling applies his recovery to many of them, because the results are life-affirming for both Easterling and the audiences for whom he plays. “Recovery was more than just getting sober,” he said. “It was an opportunity to change a whole lot of things in my life.”
As a singer-songwriter working on almost two decades sober, he’s one of the most active members of the recovering music community out there today, as well as an individual whose humility makes his message all the more poignant. “I’ve vowed to spend the remaining time I have left fighting the disease of addiction with my story through music to anyone who is willing to listen,” he said. “I swallowed a lie that I had to be free and distort my mind with drugs and alcohol to make music, and I traded the best parts of my youth to do it. I am living proof that there is life after the party, but the tremendous price I had to pay for it has not been worth it. Addiction is slavery where you pay a master the best parts of your life and then get handed back the worst, mainly because the doorway to the party seems like a lot of fun.”
At 36 years old, the guitarist/singer for the Southern California punk outfit Kut U Up came to after 48 hours of sleep in a mountaintop detox ward with his body a wreck. “I saw two roads: one was immediate relief with getting loaded and potential jail or death, and the other road was a lot of discipline and work with the potential to have a good life,” he told us in March. “What I noticed was that I had been trying to find my own road in the middle of these other two roads, and that it would never work. The longer I tried to stay in the middle, the worse it got. That’s when it became clear to me, I’m in. I’m all in.”
Working with Rock to Recovery, actively participating in his own program, being of service to his fellow human beings, training to be a certified breath work healer — Sonny Mayo told us a hell of a story of addiction recovery in April. There are still days when his mind clouds, but thanks to recovery, he’s learned to love himself more than he ever has in the past. The life he lives today is proof that he’s on the right path. “Everything is in its place: I’m not broke, and relatively speaking, I’m still healthy,” he said. “I like to tell people that I am not suffering today. I am not recovering — I’ve recovered. I’ve been clean and sober for 17 years, I work a program, I help other people. The 12 Step program of which I am a frequenter states in the book that we have recovered, and showing others how we have recovered is the purpose. If anything, it’s a human sickness now, and I have to treat my humanness."
In addition to his duties overseeing Rock to Recovery activities in Orange County, Clinton Calton spent 2019 making a new record with the SoCal punk band D.I. — a covers album of old favorite done D.I. style — and the guys have asked Calton to mix it. He’s hanging out with his Rock to Recovery brothers, guys like Sonny Mayo and Brandon Parkhurst, and celebrity advocates of the organization, like actor Danny Trejo. “I’m living the dream, by all accounts of the Promises,” he told us. “What my sponsor still reminds me of, though, is to be careful what you wish for in sobriety, because you’re gonna get it. That’s the good news, but the bad news is, that stuff is not going to keep me sober. I’m living the dream, but I’m working hard at it.”
As a member of the Southern California rock band Killradio, Brandon Jordan found that the power of belief was his biggest ally in recovering from addiction. “The final ingredient that allows me to stay clean and sober is a belief that there’s something outside of myself that did not want me to drink or use, and that if I did not, everything was going to be alright,” he told us. “I’m not talking about God, and I’m not talking about religion, although it could be. It could be for anybody coming into treatment or recovery. But what I’m talking about is the power of belief. You have to have that if you want to stay clean and sober, and it doesn’t have to look, taste or smell like anything, but you have to believe in something.”
When Ingram Hill veteran Phil Bogard entered a Nashville alcoholism treatment facility on Aug. 1, 2008, he was near death. He gained 28 pounds in 28 days, and doctors told him that at 28 years old, he was in the top 10 percentile of liver damage because of his alcoholism. More importantly, he added, he discovered his tribe — a group of sober peers with whom he could identify, bond and recover alongside. “I found a circle of friends who cropped up around me with a common problem and a common solution,” he told us. “Those people are out there, if you’re looking, and they’re not hard to find. It was all about a lifestyle change, and even though that’s been a buzzword of the last 15 or 20 years, it’s not about a fad diet, as it were. I had to rearrange the ideas of principles by which I had run my life up to that point, and more important, I had to really focus on being available to help others, which is not a natural inclination of an alcoholic. But the key to it is helping others.”
As the former frontman of the classic rock juggernaut Foreigner, Lou Gramm is enjoying semi-retirement these days, but he always finds time to share some experience, strength and hope with those who need it. “Every once in a while, someone will say, ‘Can I talk to you later? I have this problem, and I know you’re clean and sober, and I want to know how you did it,’” he said. “For a while there, I also got a number of people that had just found out they had brain tumors and didn’t know what to do, and I would give them the hospital and the doctor that I went to. And that’s a great feeling as well. All of it has been God’s will, and looking back in hindsight, I see that there was a reason for all of it. I accept that, and I’m so grateful I’ve come out the other side a better person and can encourage other people, whether it’s something going on in their brains or, ‘Lou, how did you get sober?’ I’ll always take the time to talk to somebody about that, and I try to lead by example.”
Cecilia Ebrahimi, the artist known as C4, is grounded in Nashville recovery circles, but she’s got her eyes on bigger things as her music career progresses. “I want to go to areas where there’s a lot of prevalent drug abuse and start getting women clean, and that’ll propagate itself,” she said. “I have a knack for community, so why can’t I go use that knack and go to West Virginia or Indiana or wherever? I don’t have to win the war; I just have to win one person at a time. The fact that my Higher Power put me back into music blows my mind. Basically, I feel like God told me that if I use, it’s game over — so I’m free to roam the earth, but I understand the repercussions of a relapse very clearly. But at this point, I’ve been clean longer than I used, and I’ve just decided that I like this road, so I’m staying on it.”