In a musical era run rampant by up-and-comers hell-bent on 2 a.m. spins by a DJ in a college bar, the art of storytelling is often lost. Until recently, country music songwriters have told the tales of the open prairies, heartbreak in rundown bars and run-ins with the law for decades. Yet, that is the current state of the vast majority of “country” music.
Those real-life stories of yesteryear are too often left to back porches and, albeit cliché, campfires, while songs about trucks, mud and someone's kid sister occupy the airwaves.
And then there are those who stray from the norm and scoff at the thought of fitting into a mold, let alone a single genre. Those such as Saints 11, a three-piece Americana band in a country world occupied by classic rockers who sometimes catch a case of the blues in between bluegrass riffs.
Although technically based out of Dallas, there are certainly a few common threads between Saints 11 and Ellis County.
First, there is Jeff Grossman, a Joshua native, who originally toured Ellis County and the surrounding area as the lead guitar player for The Dallahachie Boys.
Then there is former drummer Chris Bradley, who helped Grossman and Jeffery Mosley start Saints 11 about six years ago. Bradley originally played drums for the Tres Medlock Band, which was a local country group that has since disbanded. With the departure of Bradley came North Carolina veteran stick twirler, Alex Shepherd.
"We are definitely experienced, I would say, myself, I have been a lead guitar player for the last 20-plus years, but this is the first band that I fronted," said Grossman when asked how Saints 11, who will be at Rockett Cafe and Club Saturday, March 18, was founded. "About five or six years ago I started writing my own music and kind of wanting to do my own thing and that is where the band came about."
With a newfound desire to put pen to paper in hopes of cranking out his own hit tunes, Grossman is the first to admit that he does not yet have the ability, or even the desire, to fake his way through a song. Instead, he has elected to write songs from experience, his heart, and passed trials and tribulations — all of which come through the vocals to smack listeners across the face with a hand of truth.
"That is just the way I like to write, man. Even on the previous two albums, it was the way the songs were written. It is easier for me to write when I am telling about something that I know about or have experienced. I am not good enough of a songwriter to just make up shit," Grossman joked. "But I am getting there."
Ribbing aside, Grossman said he enjoys hearing fans of Saints 11 tell them that a song they have written has helped them through a difficult time or an unplanned experience.
"I think when you write from the truth it is easier for people to connect with your music,” he explained. “It has definitely been a cool experience for me."
Now, that is not to say that every song was written about his time in a honky-tonk, dealing with heartbreak or ordering another round on a Friday evening — these are real experiences put into lyrical form. For those skeptics in the audience, take a listen to a song found on their newly released CD, "Strange Round Here." The song begins with Americana-style guitar picking that soon unfolds into the dark and twisted story of a former coworker, his infidelity, a tragic decision and eventual incarceration.
"I was working in construction about 15 years ago and at a job out of town, down south of Waco. Me and one of the guys who worked as a general contractor, he was from Dallas, and they gave us an apartment down there," Grossman explained. "One night and he hooked up with the barmaid at a local bar down there and he got her pregnant. He didn't want his wife to find out, so we killed her (the barmaid). They (the police) ended up finding him and arresting him, and now he is in prison.
"Sometimes I'll come up with a melody but can't think of anything to put with it. So I'll just start to think that I need to just tell a true story. I started telling that one and it worked. I thought it came out good."
Saturday night will not be the first appearance on the intimate Rockett Club stage for Saints 11. In fact, Grossman considers the Rockett Café and Club to be their home bar and often looks forward to returning to his "old stomping grounds."
"When we started Saints 11, Garry [Green] was the one who let us do our first show as a band and it was at the Rockett. That was about five years ago," Grossman said. "Obviously, our favorite place to play is that a big festival with a wide-open stage, but when we get to the rocket it is kind of like our homecoming every year and every time we play there our friends and family always come. That is where we started out and I think we gain a bigger fan base every time we play there. We love it there. It is absolutely one of our favorite places to play."
The new album, "Coming Back Around," will be available on CD and vinyl during Saturday's show. The show starts at 10 p.m. and is $10 at the door. The Rockett Cafe and Club is located at 5790 FM 813 in Waxahachie.
---- Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith (469) 517-1470