From 1999 to 2005 the Southern Kentucky region was treated to a wonderful blend of folk, country and Americana in the music of Dry Land Fish. Headquartered in Smiths Grove, KY DLF made a significant mark on local musical history. I recently sat down with the guys Mark Whitley (vocals, guitar) Jonathan Hodges (vocals, harmonica) and Darren Doyle (vocals, lead guitar)
How did you come together as a group?
DLF had three founding members. Jonathan Hodges and Mark Whitley met in kindergarten, and when Jonathan switched schools in the 10th grade, he met Darren Doyle. We have all been friends since then. DLF began by picking tunes and making up funny songs around the campfire, although we did not yet have a name, and didn't even know we could be a band.
How did you decide on “Dry Land Fish” as the name of the band? What is a Dry Land fish?
A Dry Land Fish is a morel that grows in the spring in this part of the world. Lots of folks collect them, bread them and fry them like fish-hence the name. Jonathan and I were at a KY Headhunters show one day when Fred Young let into this great song about corn, greens and taters, and Dry Land Fish. We were looking for a name, and knew right then we had found it.
From whom or from what bands did you draw your inspiration?
Our inspiration is wide ranging, from John Cash to Bruce Hornsby, and from Chris Knight and Pat Haney to Billy Joe Shaver. Our harmony is textbook southern gospel, while our acoustic drive came from bluegrass.
With regard to your sound, what do you think were you trying to achieve musically?
Musically, we always wanted to work with what we had, which was three voices, two guitars, and one harmonica. Along the way we had bass players and drummers to fill it out, but the magic of three voices that fit so well has always been the secret to great music.
I know you did a lot of original material. Who were the songwriters in the group?
In the beginning, all three of us would sit around the kitchen table and write. Along the way, Mark began to write most of the story type songs, and Darren would write the bluesy stuff. Jonathan has always been able to provide the perfect lyric to finish out a verse, and has always been in charge of the funny songs, which, even though they make you laugh, hold as much truth as the most serious song about life…
What was touring like? Where did you tour? Any great stories?
We played from Kyrock to San Antonio and from Atlanta to Lexington. Being a road band is tough, but touring is great fodder for songwriting. There are lots of stories, but some of the best shows were playing a sold out Mercy Lounge with Jack Ingram, right before his first #1 and playing all the way from Memphis to Texas with Hayseed Dixie. We always mingled with the crowd after a show, selling our product and signing autographs. Some of the best experiences came from John Doe coming up and saying things like, “man I love that one song ya’ll did tonight,” and then tell us how he related to that. We never had trendy clothes or hair styles; we looked the same on stage as we did on the farm or mowing the grass. People always recognized that we were genuine.
Did you work with a management company? Who did your booking?
For a while, we worked with Envoy. They booked and "managed" us. Having a booking agent can put a band on some great stages, but we always had more fun when we did it ourselves.
I’m sure you had many experiences as you were performing. Can you tell me about one or two that stand out in your memory? We did a CD release show one night for our local fans, the place was standing room only with folks listening outside the door, Obviously, we played our new stuff, but as we were playing one of our first originals, we stopped playing for a minute and turned the mics to the crowd. They knew all the words, and sang the last chorus. It still makes us smile.
There was another time at an outdoor gig, the crowd was huge. We had played for almost two hours, but it had gone by so fast. We decided to end the show with Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.” It opened up and began pouring. The sound crew never let up, we never stopped playing and the crowd sang along during the downpour. Everything we owned was soaked, and there wasn’t a dry thread on our clothes, but it didn’t matter, everyone stayed until we said, “Thanks, have a good night.”
I heard the corporate music world took a toll on you as artists. Do you have any advice for young musicians coming along?
The best advice we can give is to find your own place in the music world. Don't feel like you must fit into a specific genre or write songs you think will please someone else. Like Willie Nelson said "you can't write an album if you don't have nothing to say". Music is about an artist's voice and view of the world and the only way to have any lasting impression is to be yourself.
What about CDs? Anything new in the works?
Dry Land Fish recorded "The Album" over the course of two years. It was a complete independent project. The Album was finished about the same time the band went on an extended vacation, so we are excited to get this new recording out to the world. As for as the other albums, "Diggin' in the Woods" and “All U Can Eat", are available at www.cdbaby.com or on any of the MP3 download sites on the internet.
I hear tales of a reunion tour in 2010. Is this true?
It seems that DLF will only be doing one show next summer. Turns out 3 guys with 5 kids and their own businesses don't have time to have a band.
Is there anything you’d like people to remember about Dry Land Fish?
Dry Land Fish has always been about three guys searching for their roots. Through the years, that road has taken us in different directions, far and wide, and right back home again.
Thanks so much. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Dry Land Fish is a perfect example of taking what you’ve got, believing in it, and taking it as far as you want. None of us individually are stars, but people recognized that we lived what we sang about, and that we were three old buddies. As we’ve said before, our individual lives have taken different paths, but they still represent what Dry Land Fish stood for: Being true to yourself and standing firm on what you believe in.
Jack Montgomery is a librarian, author and associate professor at Western Kentucky University where he handles bookings for musical acts in University Libraries, Java City coffeehouse. Jack has also been a professional musician since 1969 and performs with a celtic quartet called Watersprite. Visit him at MySpace/shadowdancerjack