Aces Wild at Mugsy’s

By Gus Bode

The Amazing Rhythm Aces to bring their self-defined brand of country-rock to Mugsy’s Saturday

Factoid:The Amazing Rhythm Aces, along with Greg Allman, will open at Mugsy McGuire’s at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20 and are now on sale at Mugsy’s

Roots music and Americana. Jeff Davis wasn’t really sure what either of them were defined as all he knew was that he woke from hibernation to find himself and his band in that niche.

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This was in 1995. Twenty years ago, when his band, The Amazing Rhythm Aces, was dealing a full hand at venues all across the country, nobody even thought to put them in a genre. They were a bit too eclectic, their musical influences a little too widely flung.

Now, two decades later, some journalist or promoter finally gave them a home. Did their music change in those intervening years? Not really. They still stir a hot stew of country, soul and poetry. This was just for the sake of convenience. A way of clearing up confusion.

They didn’t have a name for us before, said Davis, the bass player for the Aces who has long gone by the nickname Stick (he’s a skinny guy, after all). Now it’s old-time Americana or roots. It doesn’t really make too much of a difference to us. We’re just playing music.

That hodgepodge of sounds is what The Amazing Rhythm Aces will be bringing with them when they step into Mugsy McGuire’s at 9:30 p.m. Saturday for a show, along with Devon Allman, son of Greg Allman.

There have been highs in the band’s history most notably its hit Third Rate Romance, which climbed the charts to No. 14 in 1975 and a Grammy for its 1976 tune The End Is Not in Sight and lows that included managerial problems in the late 70s that practically laid the group to waste. Regardless, it comes into the new millennium with more proficiency than ever and, unlike most groups from those days, with most of its original members intact.

It was an innocent thing, Davis recalled of the band’s early days and the enthusiasm with which it made its first record, 1975’s Stacked Deck. We were all young, and we probably know too much about music to make a record like that now.

Davis attributes this to experience. When the band started out in 1974, it was mostly a scrappy bunch of boys led by frontman Russell Smith, a talented songwriter and distinctive singer who had come up as a DJ on a Lafayette, Tenn., radio station. The band followed up Stacked Deck almost immediately with 1976’s Too Stuffed to Jump and 1978’s Burning the Ballroom Down. However, despite the band’s grueling studio schedules, its early successes would not be repeated, and it peacefully disbanded in 1981. Davis said this was a strict business decision and that it didn’t hurt the band’s internal friendships.

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Afterward, each member went down his own road. Russell cemented his songwriting chops by penning tunes for artists like Randy Travis, Ricky Van Shelton and John Conley, while Davis hit the road with the likes of B.B. King and Bob Dylan. But a CD compilation of all the Aces’ hits shocked Davis in the middle 90s when he carted off a thousand of them to markets in Australia and New Zealand and surprisingly sold every one. After that shock, the band knew it was time to get back to business, and it hopped right to it.

Now, three CDs after their regrouping, the Aces continue to ride high with 50 to 60 shows a year (Davis confesses that it pales in comparison to the 150 a year from their heyday, but hey, they’re older and they’ve got families now). While Davis says there are no aspirations of hitting it big, the band does aspire to play the same songs that nailed the jackpot 20 years ago, and it hopes to pick up a few new fans along the way.

We don’t have visions of grandeur, Davis said. We’re long in the tooth, and we’re just trying to make records for people who have always been there for us.

Reporter Geoffrey Ritter can be reached at [email protected]

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