Though it feels sometimes like we live in a society that doesn't know it needs rock stars, diehard rock 'n' rollers itching for new music still abound across small towns. Sometimes, such fans of acts ranging from the classics (Black Sabbath and Blackfoot) to contemporaries (Black Stone Cherry and Blackberry Smoke) find each other in unlikely places, form bands of their own and create the type of music like-minded listeners crave.
Take for example The Georgia Thunderbolts: the quintet of TJ Lyle [vocalist], Riley Couzzourt [guitar], Logan Tolbert [guitar], Zach Everett [bass, harmony vocals, keys] and Bristol Perry [drums]. The band's five-year journey to debut album Can We Get a Witness (out Oct. 15 via Mascot Records) began in two Northwest Georgia towns not exactly known as rock hotbeds.
The story begins in Armuchee, a community north of Rome in Floyd County, Ga. that most can't pronounce (there's a second "r" sound, Ar-mur-chee), much less point to on a map.
"Me and Bristol went to school together at [Armuchee High School]," Couzzort told Wide Open Country. "I'd go in the locker room... We played football together. He'd be listening to metal, like Black Label Society and Pantera and stuff. I didn't know that anybody else in that school listened to that. I was like, 'Dude, you listen to this kind of music?' 'Yeah, yeah, I love this kind of music, man!' So he's like, 'Yeah, I play drums, too. You don't play any instruments, do you?' I was like, 'Well yeah, I play guitar.' We got together and jammed some Metallica, 'Seek & Destroy' and things like that."
Driving from Floyd Country to nearby Bartow and Polk counties to perform at open mic nights positioned the Armuchee contingent to meet future bandmates from Taylorsville, Ga. Lyle, for example, was discovered onstage while nailing the powerful high notes in Alice in Chain's "Man in the Box."
The rock 'n' roll dream became a reality as soon as the band finished its first co-write, "Looking For an Old Friend."
"Writing our first song really proved to ourselves that we can actually make something of this," Lyle recalled. "We got a reaction from the crowd after we wrote and played our first song. I think that kind of ignited a fire, and it was like, I think we can actually make a living out of this and do this and hopefully touch people with our music, you know."
Fast-forward to now, and five Northwest Georgia natives south of age 30 find themselves sharing stages with such home state legends as Jackyl and Drivin' N Cryin' while leaving their own mark on regional rock lore.
"It's crazy to think that there were so many great bands that came out of Georgia that actually did something and we've already got to play with them, dude, and we're only 25, at the [oldest]," Couzzourt said.
As for the new album, hard-hitting anthem "Can I Get a Witness" should appeal to classic rock purists and metalheads alike, while the country folks in the Kentucky Headhunters and Lynyrd Skynyrd audiences will eat up the bluesy "Take It Slow." Those safe bets aside, the band doesn't see itself as fitting a particular mold.
"I think we're called Southern rock because we play and write about how we grew up," Lyle said. "We don't try to shoot for a certain sound. We're just rock 'n' roll, and we're from the South."
Indeed, listeners starving for genuine rock 'n' roll from a fresh perspective will feast heartily when Can We Get a Witness expands the band's introductory five-song EP to 13 tracks (or 14, if you're spinning wax).
Can We Get a Witness Tracklist
1. "Take It Slow"
2. "Lend A Hand"
3. "So You Wanna Change The World"
4. "Looking For An Old Friend"
5. "Spirit Of A Workin' Man"
6. "Midnight Rider"
7. "Be Good To Yourself"
8. "Half Glass Woman"
9. "Dancin' With The Devil"
10. "Can I Get A Witness"
11. "Walk Tall Man"
12. "It's Alright"
13. "Set Me Free"
14. "Better Run From The Beast" (Vinyl Bonus Track)