Photos: Derek Bell, Genevie Lopez, Zolu Photography
It is both encouraging and invigorating to see the streets of Downtown Rome buzzing with its citizens on a daily basis. Locally owned shops are filled with people fingering through racks of clothes, families stroll the sidewalks as their laughter bounces off the historic buildings across the street, and our wonderful eateries on Broad Street fill our bellies with goodies.
A common element of any night on the town in Rome is the tunes that so often accompany the celebration. Even on weeknights, the soothing sound of an acoustic guitar, the hum of an amplifier, or the ring of the ride cymbal pours out of the open windows and doors of popular nightspots and watering holes. The air is alive with music.
It seems that the implementation of the First Friday Concerts and downtown block parties has drawn an inspired pool of musical artists from near and far. One foursome that often makes the trek from Chatsworth, Ga., to share their craft is a group of friends that call themselves Blackbird Revival. Just as the name implies, this diverse group wishes to show their rock and roll congregation the way to foot-tapping heaven.
When you first lay eyes on this four piece, it is apparent that it will be no ordinary night at the bar. Ryan Scoggins wields a six-string electric banjo that he strums like a traditional guitar. There is no finger-picking, commonly associated with the five-string variety of banjo often seen in bluegrass sets. Johnny Briggs mans the drums and Richard Hall falls in lockstep with his tempo on the bass. Craig Pratt sways to the music as his fingers pick away at the fretboard of his electric guitar. Then, out of four gentlemen who look like they stepped right out of a CMT video, comes an early-90s R&B song titled “No Diggity,” which was performed and produced by Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen.
The surprise almost slaps you out of the bar stool, and to top it all off, they actually give the cover its proper treatment. After a drive up to their practice room in Chatsworth for a chat, the reason for this left-field rendition becomes clear.
Ryan Scoggins, 30 years young, began his music career by falling in love with the country\southern rock genre. However, a couple of his high school buddies would soon inspire him to change his tune.
“Johnny and I use to hang out quite a bit, and he played in a band. So, when I was about 21, I decided to pick up the guitar because I was around his band all the time,” Scoggins recalls. “For whatever reasons, Johnny’s band didn’t work out, so he and I formed a bluegrass band with another one of our buddies. We started out doing some weddings around the area, but we really didn’t have the focus we have now.”
Somewhere between receptions and bridal parties, Scoggins and Briggs ran into another classmate from Murray County High, Richard Hall.
Hall, 28, had been out of the loop for roughly six years, but he saw an opportunity to connect with a dream he’d had since the was 15 years old.
“Everyone I knew was a guitar player and my ultimate goal was to be in a band,” Hall says. “So, I picked up the bass because I figured it would be easier to get in a band. Guitar players are a dime-a-dozen. My uncle managed a music store in Dalton, and his brother started giving me bass lessons. Soon, a couple of my friends asked me to join their punk band. I was the singer and filled in on bass from time to time, but we only stayed together for about six months. Ryan, Johnny, and I have known each other for a long time, and even though we never played together, there was already a natural friendship because of our history.”
Briggs, 30, was tasked with playing the harmonica, kick drum, hi-hat and guitar simultaneously for the duo he and Scoggins formed early on, so the addition of a bass player was welcomed by the multi-tasking musician. He would later take on the duties of drummer, but he was first impacted musically by another artist.
“The first instrument I was inspired by was the bass because Paul McCartney had a bad Rickenbacker and I wanted that set up,” he explains as he reaches into a mini fridge and pulls out two cold brews, “but I think drums are way more fun!
“We really didn’t start making decisions on what instrument we would take on until Craig joined the band. He changed our entire sound,” Briggs continues. “We would always try to find battle of the bands contests and open mics to play for, and we would do well in some of those shows. However, I don’t think we initially took it serious enough to call our music ‘our art.’ We were mostly in it for the beer drinking and the attention.”
As fate would have it, Pratt connected with Blackbird Revival, a band that had not yet found its groove, at a local bar that was hosting an open mic night. As the anchor on guitar, Pratt impressed Scoggins. The two exchanged numbers and when Pratt’s band dismantled, the next step was obvious.
Pratt, 24, got his start by following in the footsteps of the one person many young boys look up to – his old man. “My dad plays in churches, so I picked up the guitar when I was 9 years old because I wanted to be just like him. I know what I do now is the polar opposite of what he plays,” laughs Pratt, “but he exposed me to musicians like Chet Atkins and more of the older country stuff. When I met these guys, I was playing in a band that played only folk music. I guess I was an unfaithful musician because when I heard those guys – with a bass player and everything – I jumped ship and got with them.
“I still jam with my buddies in the other band,” continues Pratt, “but this band is like a melting pot of influences. We all have similar tastes but when we write together, we sometimes come up with something that is twangy or a really rockin’ song. I’ve found a lot more freedom to create.”
Musically, their sound is as organic as the way they were all brought together. Briggs, a fan of funk and blues, mixed with the punk-rock roots Hall brings to the table gives an interesting twist to popular covers like “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix. Scoggins, strumming away on the banjo, takes Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” down a country road – that is, until Pratt fills the solo with a silky smooth lick.
And the harmonies they create are spot on, as Scoggins and Briggs often share two parts that make it hard to sit still while they play. All of them sing and they all share the responsibility, so they are able to add different layers to the vocals during their stage show.
“We are very versatile but we really lean more toward rock,” says Scoggins.
“I don’t know that I can put a label on it,” Hall chimes in with his finger to his temple. “Our style is always evolving.”
“One thing I can say about the way we make music is that we are all from the Deep South, so a lot of our music has a country twang,” Pratt adds.
Scoggins laughs. “Hell, I really can’t put a finger on what to call it,” he says, “but what I can say about our band is that we can reach out and touch the younger crowd and the older crowd. We’ve got folks Craig’s age and younger who love our music and folks my dad’s age enjoy our shows. So when it comes to covers, you can expect just about anything you can imagine.”
“I play with one objective in mind, to have fun and watch others have fun while I’m doing something I love,” Briggs says with a genuine smile. “We want to see the folks who come out to hear us have a great time, and so far we’ve accomplished that goal.”
Blackbird Revival is not a cover band. They have penned some originals and in the two years they have been a group, they have managed to pour a little of themselves into the songs they consider personal accounts of their lives.
“One thing I can say about the songs we write is that they are very relatable,” Scoggins explains. “We’ve got one called ‘Renegade.’ It’s about a truck driver who has to do some questionable things to get by, and he has a woman at home who isn’t very happy about the things he is transporting. But, he can’t stop because the road keeps calling him; he’s gotta make that money.
“We put our heart and soul into all of our songs so, many times, they are very emotional,” he continues. “The songs that are personal to us come out that way because that’s our story, and the strong feelings behind the music often make a great song.”
One of those songs, “Day by Day,” explains the perils of being strapped for cash when bills are due.
A future goal for Blackbird Revival is to get in the studio to record their first album and, as much as they are on the road, it won’t be long before they have put away enough scratch to fund the project.
You can catch them at local night spots like the 400 Block Bar and the Schroeder’s Deli courtyard. And if you want to venture north, you can see them at the Dalton Depot and T-Bone’s in Chattanooga on a regular basis.
“We play a lot of shows north of Rome but I have to say that we had had a great response from the crowds in Rome,” Scoggins says. “They always comment on our harmonies and sometimes, when we go to pay our tab, someone has taken care of everything for us. We really love coming there to play because the love for what we do is always there.”
For upcoming shows and booking information, like Blackbird Revival on Facebook or call Ryan Scoggins at 706-537-3525.