Downtown Dirt by Manhole: You don’t know Jack

Here’s a stumper for you: What do Frank Sinatra and Winston Churchill and Ke$ha and William Faulkner and our very own Preservation Pub all have in common? The answer is that each one—in his/her/its own colorful and inimitable way—has laid burnt offerings at the altar of Jack Daniel’s, paid sacred homage to that potent Tennessee-born elixir generally recognized as the World’s Finest Whiskey.

Which is very relevant to the times, Jake, seeing as how we’ve come upon the 125th anniversary of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, TN. We are recognizing the anniversary month with a special celebration on all three floors of the Pub on Sept. 18, with J.D. swag and Jack Daniel’s Girls and J.D. drink specials all night long.

Discerning the history of J.D. is akin to grasping at so many wafting white billows of smoke; the story of the infamous distillery is a strange arabesque of myth and mystery, as powerfully intoxicating as the sweet brown liquid itself. That history is such an enigma, in point of fact, that it is entirely possible that everything I am about to tell you is horseshit.

But that’s okay. Because history is written by the winners, Jake. And we are nothing if not winners.


Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel, as best anyone can tell, was born in 1850 in Lynchburg, TN, the youngest of 10 children, descended from Welsh and Scots-Irish forbears. He began learning the distiller’s trade early in the game—at age 10, by some accounts. Some historians claim his father “hired him out” to a man named Dan Call, a Lutheran lay minister, shopkeeper and whiskey-maker who ran his own moonshining operation when he wasn’t banging on the pulpit or minding the store.

Others say Daniel ran away from home, driven to near-madness by a shrew of a stepmom, and joined the good Reverend Call of his own volition. In any case, what would eventually become the J.D. Distillery was a product of that early apprenticeship, which turned into a full-fledged partnership as Daniel’s skills grew to rival those of his mentor.

Sources say there were a dozen or so distilleries in the Lynchburg area around that time, all of them employing something called the Lincoln County Method—a process whereby whiskey was filtered through layers of charcoal derived from burnt sugar maple.

But Call and Daniel distinguished their own product from the rest of the pack—and the Lincoln method was already pricier and more labor-intensive than other common whiskey-making processes of the era, just-so-you-know—they set themselves further apart by using better grains and a thicker (10 feet, or so they say) filter, and by scrupulously replacing the used charcoal with fresh on a regular schedule.

And when the pair finally set out to turn Call’s moonshining sideline gig into a full-fledged, legal distillery, they chose a strategically situated lowland—a spot now known in Lynchburg as Stillhouse Hollow—where fresh spring water spouted from a limestone cave, the limestone having the effect of filtering out trace iron from the water and making for a purer, sweeter, better-brewing brand of H2O.

Call left the business soon thereafter, the popular narrative being that he was forced out by temperance-minded congregationers who felt ill at ease with a Sunday morning preacher who manufactured the Devil’s Brew on other days of the week. But Daniel, already a shrewd businessman at the tender age of 13, stayed the course, became the face, the name, and the colorful driving force behind the growing brand.

Daniel was a little man, at only 5’2, but with an out-sized personality. He was a self-styled dandy, and took to wearing the trademark ensemble of a formal knee-length black frock coat complemented by a broad-brimmed planter’s hat at the age of 21.

He was a clever P.R. man, too—long before Goodyear had its blimp, he used hot-air balloons to advertise his product. But his shill instincts were balanced by the fact that he was also a community minded sort—he founded Lynchburg’s town band, Jack Daniel’s Original Silver Cornet Band, with nickel-plated instruments he purchased himself, and was recognized for many philanthropic efforts over the course of his life.

When he died in 1911—from a gangrenous toe, legend has it, infected when he kicked a heavy office safe in a fit of pique—the J.D. brand was well on its way to becoming an international sensation, having won the Gold Medal in a hotly-contested whiskey-tasting at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

The legend of the J.D. distillery continued to grow, even after its namesake passed on. Daniel’s nephew, Lem Motlow, took the reins from his uncle, and guided the business through the misbegotten national experiment that was Prohibition by turning the distillery into a first-class mule trading operation, then returning to business-as-usual when the nation had recovered from its moralizing tizzy.

The brand gained yet more momentum in the 1950s, when a pair of magazine articles, in Fortune and Time, brought J.D. to the attention of millions of readers. And then the Beautiful People caught the fever; the hiperati; the artists and the writers and the actors and the World Leaders… It’s said that Winnie Churchill irked his countrymen in Ireland and Scotland with his love of J.D. It was also the favorite brand of a hard-drinking Mississippi scribe by the name of Faulkner.

Sinatra famously called J.D. “the nectar of the gods”; he set the pace for generations of musicians to come—Dino and Keif and Slash and Lemmy, to name but a few—rappers and rockers and guitar gods who would sing the praises, literally and figuratively, of Lynchburg’s Pride.

Nowadays, sales of Jack Daniel’s number in the tens of millions, across all products. And so shall it be, forevermore, until someone figures out a way to brew brown whiskey with more flair and flavor than that first crafted by the diminutive man in black, in Lynchburg all those years ago. Not gonna happen soon, Jake. Come out and have a drink.

Heavy Rotation: What’s in your earbuds?

DJ Wigs

DJ Wigs


Jonathan Ives, aka “DJ Wigs” of The Theorizt

1. Mad Lib: “He’s one of the greatest beatmakers, to me. I can get lost in whatever he does.”

2. People Under the Stairs: “Great traditional boom-bap hip hop.”

3. Blockhead

4. Bill Withers: “The depth of his voice and the quality of the musicians he surrounds himself with is next level.”

5. Clipse Radio on Pandora: “It’s crack rap for hip-hop heads.”




Now Playing: Ian Thomas and Band of Drifters

Knoxville-based (sort-of) singer/songwriter Ian Thomas currently fronts two bands in two cities, in two geographically distinct areas of the country. For most artists, that arrangement would surely be a recipe for madness—or at least a few prematurely gray hairs.

But for Thomas, a Connecticut-born troubadour afflicted with a chronically restless soul, his present condition is par for the course. “It’s typical of my life,” says Thomas, speaking on the phone from a bar somewhere in the Midwest. “I’m always moving around a lot. Which does make it hard to get anything done in a consistent and focused way.”

In fact, it’s hard to fathom anyone who seems as plainly comfortable with confusion and random mutability as Thomas. But hearing his story, you have to believe it’s an elemental trait, encoded in his DNA.

“I have no recollection of ever having not wanted to play music,” Thomas says. “There’s no defining moment. As far back as I can remember, it’s been a passion of mine, but in a totally unfocused way.” Thomas says he started learning to play music, after a fashion, in grade school; his father worked in flea markets, and a young Ian would rummage through merchandise tables and acquire battered old instruments on the cheap. “I’d get them for little money—guitar, drums, mandolin, an autoharp, and I didn’t know how to play them,” he says.

“They were kind of shitty, and I’d maybe get some old Mel Bay books, but I never really learned to play—I couldn’t even tune them. It wasn’t until I was 18 or 19 that I could really play anything.”

Having acquired at least rudimentary skills on guitar and drums, Thomas was afflicted with his first bout of serious wanderlust in his late teens, when he set out on the meandering journey that has come to define his adult life. “I was young; and I just started hitchhiking around the country, working odd jobs and playing music in the streets,” he says.

He describes his earliest efforts as a musician as “sort of a one-man-band folk/ragtime with a kazoo,” informed by the ‘60s and ‘70s folk music he learned from his parents’ record collection back home, flavored by bits of Chicago blues, which he says was “the first music I discovered on my own.”

But as he roamed—to Colorado, California and Oregon, Canada, back east to New Orleans (“the biggest music lesson I ever got”) and then north to NYC—his horizons broadened, as he absorbed regional styles and other influences: Western swing standard-bearer Bob Wills; country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers; southern honky-tonk and Cajun zydeco and swing…

“I got tired of lyricism, I suppose,” Thomas says. “I got disgusted with the pretension and self-importance that went with that particular folk-music scene. I got into using simpler words, and more rhythm.”

He also discovered a city where he felt more at home than any other in the course of his travels. “I met people like Jon Whitlock and Matt Morelock,” Thomas says of his earliest trips to Knoxville. “I had a really good feeling about the town. I liked the energy; I liked the spirit; I liked the people; I liked the parties.

“I’d come into town to play a solo show at Preservation Pub, and I’d run into people I’d met. And they were all like, ‘I’ve got a mandolin in my car,’ or whatever, so my solo shows were almost never solo. I’d never seen a town where everyone was so welcoming and cooperative, so musically open. I was like, ‘F@#$ yeah, I’m ready for this.’”

Thomas moved to Knoxville in 2008. His Knoxville regulars are known as Band of Drifters—the aforementioned Jon Whitlock on drums, plus pedal-steel ace Brock Henderson and bassist Chris Zuhr—and they’ve released one album since getting together, 2011’s Live at Preservation Pub. Theirs is a winsome brand of Americana that sounds at once comfortable and familiar, yet maintains a potent, singular character.

But Thomas has a whole other musical family—also with a couple live releases to their name—stashed away in the wilds of Montana. The Bus Driver Tour began as a sort of side project, when a booking agent introduced him to fellow songwriter Danny Freund. “She kind of gave him a bad build-up,” Thomas laughs. “But then when I met him, here was this guy who really had his shit together, just a solid gold dude. We’ve been like best friends ever since.”

But for all his travels and all of his projects, Thomas “only” has three proper studio releases to his name, a fact he attributes to “a lack of money and organization.” It’s a fact that he rues, acknowledging that his current circumstance—with two bands in two states—tends to diffuse his attentions further, rather than focusing them.

He also suggests he may have no other choice. “Things are pretty confusing for me right now,” Thomas says. “Ideally, I’d like to write my songs and then tour the world playing them. But meanwhile, I’m doing things the way I know how to do them.”

Ian Thomas and Band of Drifters will play Preservation Pub Monday, Sept. 29 at 10 p.m.

Who do you think you are: Pub server Rachel Williams

Rachel Williams: the anti-Hudson

Rachel Williams: the anti-Kate

Q: Do you know any jokes?

A: How does NASA coordinate a party? They planet!

Q: Who’s your favorite superhero?

A: Wonder Woman. She’s really strong; I think she’s beautiful; and I love her hair. She can also hold her own with all the men.

Q: You’re having a Moonshine Roof Garden Party at Preservation Pub. What three guests would you like to host?

A: Johnny Cash… and June Carter. And Bill, the Appalachian Hippie Poet.

Q: What actress would you like to play Rachel Williams in a movie?

A: Zooey Deschanel.

Q: Describe your worst date ever.

A: I went out with this guy a lot taller than me. And whenever I went to give him a goodbye hug, my head went under his armpit. Then I kept smelling body odor the rest of the night. He got B.O. in my hair. My friends all noticed it, and I had to wash my hair three times to get it out.

Q: Who is your least favorite celebrity?

A: I can’t stand Kate Hudson because she was on that late night show and said Knoxville wasn’t worth a dollar. I found that very offensive.

Q: If you were going to torture someone, how would you do it?

A: I’d lock them up in a room where all they could listen to was Nashville poppy country. Very, very loud.

Q: What three things scare you the most?

A: Snakes, being stuck, and being forced to listen to things I don’t like.

Q: Describe Hell.

A: Being stuck away from my friends and family and my dog Daisy, surrounded by snakes and being forced to listen to dubstep and Nashville poppy country.

Q: What is your spirit animal?

A: An owl. They’re nocturnal; they can fly; and they’re supposed to be wise. Which I hope to be one day.

Q: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?

A: I think the worst is just being fed the Great American Dream, of getting married and being happy and having a 9 to 5 job. I think life is about figuring out who you are and trying to find your passion. And being happy shouldn’t be the only goal in life. Because there’s a time and a place for everything.

Q: What’s your least favorite song?

A: Any song that calls women ‘bitches.’

Q: Describe your most embarrassing drunken moment.

A: I was pretty young, and I got so drunk once that I got talked into entering a booty-shaking contest at a bar. And I won first place.


Go Hugo

10406530_1622615997964497_5756132644778867347_nAnyone who has read this column in times past knows there’s usually a lot of nonsense going on in this space, much foul-mouthed ranting about drinking and sports and celebrities and other insignificant crap. But this week, we’re setting aside the bullshit. Because Real Life has reared her ugly head, and She can be a real bitch when She sets her mind to it.

If you patronize local music on a regular basis in Knoxville, you’ve probably heard of the Coveralls. Lifelong friends, the members of the band have been playing together in one configuration or another for 20 years, and as the Coveralls proper for 13. You could argue that they’re not the best-known and best-loved party rock outfit in town, but you would probably wouldn’t, because it sucks to be wrong.

The band’s longtime guitar player is a talented guy named Chris Canada; besides the Coveralls, he’s played in more local bands than he can easily remember, The Uptown Bogarts and Big Bad Jukebox and his current, eponymous project, the Chris Canada Jazz Trio, etc.. But better than all that, Chris is the proud father of Hugo Canada, an elfin little blonde guy with Anime-sized blue eyes.

Hugo celebrated his first year on the planet in June. The day after his first-ever birthday party, his parents noticed blood in his diaper. They took him to a local hospital for tests; for their diligence, they were rewarded with the kind of news that every parent prays they’ll never hear.

Hugo was diagnosed with something called Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor, or AT/RT. AT/RT is a rare form of cancer, usually found in very small children, and it can manifest in many areas of the body; Hugo was found to have several growths, both in his lungs and on his kidney.

AT/RT is an aggressive, merciless affliction. So much so that doctors are often forced to treat it with radiation, in addition to surgery and chemotherapy—in spite of the fact that radiation is generally considered too dangerous for toddler-aged kids. The survival rate for children of Hugo’s age afflicted with AT/RT is somewhere between 11 and 17 percent, depending on how you interpret the double-talk that passes for explication in medical literature.

For Hugo, there has been good news of late, though even that has been tempered by some less heartening events, brutal reminders of the severity of his ravaging illness.

The good news is that after a round of chemotherapy, the tumors in his lungs have disappeared, meaning that his prognosis is better than it was at the start, by a considerable margin. Next up is a trip to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in September, where Hugo will undergo a nephrectomy, to remove the cancerous kidney, and have his stem cells collected for future deployment; they will be used to strengthen him during the enervating rounds of chemo to come.

What’s troubling is that, even with the positive results, the little man is having a rough time of it. On August 29, according to his mother’s updates on the GoHugoCanada Facebook page, he was admitted to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital with a fever and mouth sores.10561709_1660679034158193_4487058874066454391_n

What does all this mean for the rest of us? Well, it means plenty. First, know that the good energy you project, whether it be in the form of prayers, meditations, or simple well-wishes, can accomplish a great deal, more than any of us will ever comprehend, at least on this side of the Veil. Call it God or Dharma or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or just one of the many dark mysteries of quantum physics our limited human intelligence has yet to unravel, but simply believe that, for good or ill, we all help create the Reality we live in, in ways both profound and simple.

Next—and this is where the rubber meets the road, Jake—know that the Canada family needs help. Thanks to a publicist friend of the band, the effort to aid the Canadas has launched in stellar fashion, through a viral campaign featuring celebrities, politicians, and plenty of us normal folk, too, holding up “Go Hugo” signs in digital photos, not unlike the Ice Bucket Challenge currently making the rounds virally on behalf of ALS.

So far, the list of Go Hugo celebs includes Liv Tyler, U.S. Congressman Jimmy Duncan, Toby Keith, and Vince Gill and more, all of them viewable on the aforementioned Facebook page. You can go to the page and upload your own Go Hugo photos there, as well as leave messages for the family. There’s also a fundraising link, where you can make donations for the Canadas’ mounting medical bills.

In the meanwhile, there are a number of benefit shows and events upcoming, including a Coveralls performance on Sept. 12 at Preservation Pub. Also on tap is a big Go Hugo multi-band event at the Bijou Theatre on Oct. 2, featuring fellow cover-band rockers the Dead Ringers, the most excellent King Super and the Excellents, long-running Talking Heads tributeers Same As It Ever Was, and a host of other guest-starring local musicians and artists, plus a raffle and other goodies. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster at the Bijou website.

And that is all there is to say for now, other than to remind all of you to hold the Canadas dear in your hearts and minds. Because it doesn’t matter how much time any of us have been given, Jake. It matters what we do with it while we’re here.