A young Jason Ringenberg leaves his folks' hog farm in Illinois to try to make a go of it in Nashville. Upon hitting the big city, he comes upon Warner Hodges and Jeff Johnson--the rowdiest guitar player and bassist, respectively, in town--lying in the gutter, and three quarters of Jason and the Nashville Scorchers is born. John Howie Jr. emerges from behind his drum kit, from where he has proudly served a number of Triangle bands, to lead the best country outfit in North Carolina, the Two Dollar Pistols. While attending the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, Thad Cockrell (pictured) decides he wants to try his hand at being a country singer and releases an acclaimed album a short time later. The young bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers sweep the Bluegrass division of the Mountain Music Contest at the N.C. Mountain State Fair, winning the overall competition and every other category they enter, including banjo, fiddle, guitar, stand-up bass, and mandolin.
OK, first rule: Always separate the facts from the myth. "When I came to Nashville, it really was a guitar-slung-over-my-back kind of thing," Ringenberg once told me, adding with a laugh, "[The gutter] is where they (Hodges and Johnson) spent a lot of time in those days." So there you go. And the rest of the stuff in the first paragraph is the absolute gospel truth.
A rare quadruple-bill on Sept. 27 gathers all of these acts at Raleigh's Lincoln Theater for a look at country music from four different perspectives. Howie and the Pistols supplement their top-shelf honky-tonk songs with covers ranging from late Southern soulman Z.Z. Hill's "This Time They Told the Truth" to a rugged take on "When It Began" from the Replacements' last record. Ringenberg has survived the arrows taken as a country-punk pioneer, and his latest release, All Over Creation, finds him collaborating with such kindred spirits as Steve Earle and Tommy Womack as well as Nashville's roots-soul collective Lambchop. Cockrell's voice has, to rearrange a Rumour album title, the essence of purity; "high, dry and lonesome" is how The News & Observer's David Menconi has described it. And those Steep Canyon Rangers are about as award-winning as you can get. --Rick Cornell