I fell in love years ago with a clip from the MTV mid-1980s show Cutting Edge featuring Flat Duo Jets frontman Dexter Romweber giving a tour of The Mausoleum, a backyard ramshackle fixture that served as both clubhouse and makeshift shrine to the purveyors of rock n roll’s big beat. Romweber’s affection for his forebears– Elvis, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, and Little Richard– is charming and infectious. Through his giddy, yet sincere reverence, we understand that for Romweber, music isn’t a phase; it’s an existence.
When talking about his heroes, songcraft, and latest album, Little Black Flies, Georgia-native Eddie 9V radiates with the same enthusiasm and devotion of someone born into fervor, rhythm, and song, whether he’s worshipping at the altar of Howlin’ Wolf or offering a gentleman’s nod to like-minded contemporaries like Eli “Paperboy” Reed. With two full-lengths to his credit– the suave, understated Left My Soul in Memphis and the searing caught-in-the-act Way Down the Alley (Live at Blind Willie’s), he dismissed any notion of pandemic ennui with 2021’s Little Black Flies, a platter that buzzes with the same hell-for-leather intensity characteristic of the urgent, muscular, and emotive music that comprises his record collection.
In the studio or on the stage, Eddie 9V is L-I-V-E and on the admirable mission to introduce soul-deprived audiences to something more authentic.
CF- So the obvious question– how did a young guy like you, growing up in Georgia, given Top 40 radio and what was left of MTV, fall in love with the blues?
E9V- Everything that was thrown at me was mainly rap, country, and Top 40 of course. That’s basically what I listened to until I was about probably 13, maybe a little bit younger. And I’m not going to lie to you, man, I played this game called Mafia II, and it had a hell of a soundtrack! It had The Andrews Sisters, Gene Vincent, “Ain’t that a Kick in the Head,” all this ‘40s and ‘50s music. I fell in love with it! And then YouTube! I would watch live concerts. I put on my headphones when my family was fussing and watch Woodstock or whatever. I got hooked up on the blues watching the Dirty Mac– I was a huge fan of The Beatles– playing a song called “Yer Blues”.
The performance from The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus?
Yeah! You got [Mitch] Mitchell from Hendrix on drums, [Keith] Richards on bass, and Eric Clapton! I’m loving it! I see the suggested videos, a large African American that looks almost evil and it says Howlin’ Wolf, Live at Newport. I clicked that video. It was him singing “How Many More Years?” It changed my life forever, man. And from that video on, I was thirteen years old, and I fell down the rabbit hole. I learned about Son House, Muddy Waters, Magic Sam. All these guys. I dove even further and discovered the Piedmont area and then the Delta bluesmen. It’s nonstop history!
That’s a great story. I think some people– fans of older– music begrudge technology as if it’s impossible to reconcile the past with the modern. But for you, technology allowed you the chance to dig, to become an archivist.
Yeah. Before, you had to go to the damn library! You just hoped they had a VHS!
Besides those classic blues figures, were you influenced by contemporary acts like Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Nick Waterhouse, JD McPherson, and Gary Clark, Jr.?
Hundred percent, man. I’ll be the first to admit, one of the first songs that tickled my ear was “North Side Gal” by JD McPherson. The video, the whole idea of these guys that were playing old-style music, but they weren’t making it sound lame. It was these younger players who were hella players. Even today, I base the music on a style similar to JD McPherson, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones, God bless her, who’s not here anymore.
What about the blues continues to speak to people even as music becomes more reliant on technology?
I call it the Soul Revival. I don’t want to call the music old. “Old” is not the right word. Roots music, blues, soul music. Everybody’s going to always want something authentic. They’re going to want to go to a concert and see somebody singing with sweat dripping off into their eyes. That’s never going to go away. It may be reduced down to playing to a small club of 55 people but there’s always going to be a need for the authentic, the genuine.
What was your first favorite song?
Probably something by Metallica, to be honest. I was a huge metal fan. That’s why my musical journey is so weird. When I was in sixth grade, we played in this death metal band. I was a drummer. We did that for a little bit and then it wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school and we got a gig just because somebody needed a singer. I barely sang and played guitar, but we played CCR, “Jailhouse Rock”, a lot of ’50s and ’60s music. I got on stage, and I had a mic in front of me. I wasn’t nervous or anything. It was fun!
Who are some local musicians who are important to you?
Oh, man! Probably Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Berry Richman, Tinsley Ellis. These are all people who have traveled the world, had their own successes as well, but I never really had a mentor per se, which is probably why it took me so long to start getting a little bit of success. It’s just a lot of learning. I talked to my booking agent last night, and he was just so surprised that at 25, I’d played all these clubs. For me and my brother [Lane Kelly, Eddie’s brother & collaborator], we’ve always been in the thick of it, and but we never really had anybody to say, “Hey, this is what you need to do as a musician.”
How important is a mentor to you?
We got a manager when I was fifteen years old, and he’s still my manager. He’s a wonderful guy named Tod [Elmore} who helped me with the record deal. He used to work at Atlantic Records and stuff. He’s been in the scene and all that stuff. Having him tell me how not to be an idiot, to tell me how to not waste my money, that’s been very crucial.
Do you consider yourself a southern musician? Some local musicians that I’ve played with or shared bills with are reluctant to acknowledge that locality. Others embrace it.
I consider myself a southern musician. I’m proud that I’m from Georgia. I think there’s a lot of amazing musicians and bands from Georgia. I’m proud to be from the south.
How did you hook up with the indie German label Ruf Records?
That was all not luck. I mean, just what do they call it? You know, the right amount of work…
Exactly. I had made this record out when I lived in Monticello and I lived in a double-wide, and we were recording everything in the trailer on a hundred-acre farm. So we could turn everything up. We could crank it!
I grew up close to Monticello. My dad worked at Georgia Pacific for thirty years or so. I can’t imagine anything other than smokestacks and the smell of plywood– and there you are out in a field, making an album!
We made this record in like three days. We had three or four mics, and we just turned everything up, turned the preamp up, and we made this record. I shared it with Tinsley Ellis, and he was blown away by it! He would call me every day, would text me, and say, “Hey, showed it to this guy.” He showed it to Charlie Musselwhite and Elvin Bishop, who was freaking out! I sent it to his label, Alligator Records, and [label owner] Bruce Iglauer, but he said my record was “too dirty,” which I thought was completely backwards!
Isn’t “dirty” the point?
Exactly! I was confused. So I had a little typewriter since I was fifteen is old, an old ’40s typewriter. I typed up a letter and sent a CD all the way to Lindewerra, Germany. I was thinking, “Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t.” He [Thomas Ruf] hit me back up, literally, like probably about three weeks later, and said, “I love this record. I want a meet you. Do you have any shows coming up?”
I was freaking out because it was March 2020, and I didn’t have any damn shows because shit was falling apart! The club Blind Willie’s was closed during the week, but I asked Spike, “Man, you got to open up Blind Willie’s to let this guy come and hear me play!” So he did, and Ruf flew over from Germany. He heard me, said I was the best bluesman he’s heard in the last fifteen years! He signed me that night. We talked and worked up a contract, and we were ready to go!
What’s the difference between Little Back Flies and your first record, Left My Soul in Memphis?
Basically, I recorded everything on my own for Left My Soul except for keyboard. Everything was done by me and mixed by my brother. Left My Soul was more of me just trying things out. I was in PREACHERVAN [Eddie’s previous indie rock band], and I wasn’t having fun playing that music. I had took some time off, and I made this record for me, you know? And everyone thought it was stupid, “Why’d you change your name to Eddie 9V?” Everyone thought it was dumb until they heard the music and thought, “Wow!” Then stuff began steamrolling. But with Little Black Flies, it’s funny, man, because the musicians on the recording– I mean, it was almost a trick–they had no idea we were recording!
That makes sense. The vibe seems loose with the studio chatter, the clanking bottles…
I invited everybody over and said, “I have pizza, beer, and weed. Just come over and we’re just going to jam, and we’re just going to have fun.” Because during COVID, nobody was playing! Everybody was sitting at home just depressed as hell. We had a little party. I didn’t want it to be a party because I didn’t want things to get out of hand. But it was funny! The first few musicians started showing up, started bringing their gear in. They saw me on all fours, micing the bass drum and putting mics under the snares, “What are you doing, man?” I said, “Nothing, y’all. We’re still just jamming. I want to record it and see if you capture anything.”
I had some ideas of what I wanted to do. I had all my lyrics written down and the songs I wanted to do. I would call out what I want to play, and we had the Alexa right next to us. I would say I want to do a song in the style of a certain song. We’d listen to the song that we wanted to kind of sound like and we just played to it. We were doing our interpretations of the greats that we were listening to. However, “Little Black Flies” and “3AM in Chicago” were the only songs done outside of those sessions, which is probably why they sound the cleanest.
Once the vibe for the blues session hit, I got a bottle of gin, and the other musicians, I don’t smoke and play, but they do. We wanted to record a blues record like I heard all the old blues like it’s back in the day, and I think we came up pretty close to it.
Did that blues mythology have an appeal to you when you were younger, the live-fast-die-young, the broken hearts and the booze, the crossroads?
Oh, yeah! Like I said, I wanted the right amount of looseness, the right amount of fun, not everyone being serious at a studio worrying about a beer falling over on the carpet or whatever. Because I’ve been in a lot of studios and there’s no drinking, no smoking, and it’s very…
Yeah! Put on your tie! But I wanted that environment to be completely different. I mean, hell, it was in the living room, so everyone felt comfortable.
What’s a good day for you creatively?
I always start a record off as a huge iPhone note. I always start off with what I want to sound like, how I can insert song titles into it. I’ll throw lyric ideas, recording, sonic ideas. I’ll start there. I like starting a record from song one. I don’t write songs in album order per se, but I’ll kind of figure it out before I even have it done. But every record changes. Little Black Flies was kind of a little bit planned… And a little bit sporadic.
But a good day for me is like today, man. You know, I woke up, I’m doing this interview, and as soon as I get done with this, I’m going right back into the studio and working on some new tunes. I’m really trying to do more of a soul record for this next one– more like Eddie Hinton meets Nathaniel Rateliff.
How are important are live performances when you’re writing a song, determining what makes the album? Are you looking ahead, envisioning which songs lend themselves to both studio and live settings?
That’s how we decided half of the freaking songs on Little Black Flies! We’d been playing all throughout COVID, packing these clubs. People are still coming out. You take a song like “Travelin’ Man”. I’ve always loved that song by Albert King. It ended up becoming our closer every night. It made people go freaking nuts! So we said, “Well, we gotta record it!”
But the studio is so different from live because you can’t get the feelings of people looking in front of you when you’re in a studio– you know, people watching you. You’re not going to have energy, which is really tough. But that’s why I say let’s do it live– vocals live, everything live– as good as we can, man.
How about your lyric writing process? Is it autobiographical? Or do you pull in fictional elements as well?
Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve only written about one song that was truly about myself. Everything else has always been third person, always just from that perspective. A lot of the blues stuff on Little Black Flies, I would really be willing to say 60% of that stuff’s all made up on the spot. The song “Little Black Flies” started out with this easy soul song. I wrote that song almost a year and half ago, and I don’t even really remember where my head was at a point. I think I was in a bad relationship, that’s for sure.
I dig the symbolism of “Little Black Flies.” I think you nail the misery and waste of a relationship gone terminal with the chorus: “Little black flies flying all around the kitchen, little black flies, broken wings, and bad decisions.” What about a song like “Columbus Zoo Blues”? Is that something the listener can take literally, or is there symbolism or metaphor at work?
Well, that’s a good point. You actually reminded me! That’s probably the second song I’ve ever written about actual life. Yep, that’s a funny story, man. I was up in Ohio, that’s true. I went to the Columbus Zoo with my girlfriend’s brother. We had a little pen, we hit it. We were baked, so we thought it would be so fun to go to the zoo baked, but it was all of a sudden, [we] just saw that [through] the animal’s eyes, and it was just terrible! It was the worst thing ever, and now I just have the deepest hatred of zoos. I’m not a PETA person. I like my steaks, you know? But it was just heartbreaking, man, so I just decided to write a song about it.
“3AM in Chicago” is another great song, but its subject matter is more political than romance-gone-wrong. You have verses like, “A house in the ghetto, no lights on inside. A house in the suburbs, you will hear no children cry,” and, “But who built the statues that look down on us? And who prints the money? Who gets to control us?” [Those lyrics] address a variety of social injustices and concerns. Do you feel artists have any political responsibilities?
That’s a good question. At first, I didn’t mean it to be [political], and it was one of those things where you start writing… I’m the worst at writing lyrics because I’ll just get too hung up about it, and I’ll start thinking way too hard. So that was one of the songs where I had the lyrics and said, “Leave them the way they are. Just move on.” It’s funny because after I got done, I just realized with all the statues, and how we were last year in the heat of Black Lives Matter. And now, looking back on it, the song does reflect on it. I think we were writing about that. I try to keep politics out of most of my songs. But I’m not going to lie, we’re going to look back and see how crazy, fucked-up 2020 was, at least we wrote a song about it!
Little Black Flies includes a few cover songs– Howlin’ Wolf’s “Miss James”, Albert King’s “Travlin’ Man”, and Muddy Waters’s “You Don’t Have to Go”. What’s your philosophy concerning covers? Some artists want to pay tribute to an artist, some want to update the song, and I’ve read some people only cover a song if they believe they can improve the song. What motivates you?
It’s funny because when it comes down to it, it’s the biggest arguments in the band, the hardest thing because we pick our cover songs, and we hold them graciously. We love the cover songs, and we want to do them right. My thing is, man, I want to do a cover song and get down to the exact bass drum sound because I’m a very technical sound guy. I can’t do what my brother does, but I like researching where the mics go, what will happen if you put this kind of mic on a bass drum. I’m always trying to chase that old sound. I’m thinking about covering a song by Don Covay, “Mercy Mercy”…
I love Don Covay! Underrated…
Yeah! I’m thinking about doing that. I want to do it live with my buddy and have him harmonize with me. I don’t really feel like people do that in the studio anymore, track two vocalists live in the studio at the same time.
What makes a song great?
Man… That’s a tough question. There’s plenty of ways to make different songs great in different genres, whether it’s the drop in a metal song, whether it’s the overall beat in a rap song… But to me, when I’m writing music, man, I want the listener to feel. I know that’s kind of cliché, but I want people to know that I may not be a black man from the ’60s, but I want people to still know that it’s authentic and coming from a place that’s authentic.
What song do you wish you’d written?
Oh, man, let’s see… Almost all the BB King’s songs. You look at guys like Alabama Shakes… That’s my main goal, my next goal, to take the roots and the blues music and take it further than the small clubs in Atlanta, and make the music in a way that it’s marketable. And look, it’s not about the money. Look, I’m sitting in my 2007 Mazda that barely works. I’m just wanting to travel the world because here’s the deal– if I can go and play Bonnaroo and play seven songs everyone can sing along to that everyone knows me for, I can stick in that one BB King tune that might turn a lot of kids on to BB King, and that’s really my plan.
What was the first piece of musical equipment that you were really proud of?
My Les Paul. It was– I remember counting it–37 shows at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. I saved every dime. With Fat Matt’s, I love that place as a barbecue joint, but that man does not pay his band’s! It don’t matter if you’re a four-piece or a five-piece, whatever, you always get $100 for the whole band. That’s honestly where I learned a lot of my stage banter and my frontman-ship. I’ll give ‘em that because we were starving, we were young, and we just wanted tips. And we knew if we talked to the crowd, got them in into it, they would tip. That’s how we made our money. But that’s how I saved up enough money. After 37 gigs, I bought me a Les Paul!
Do you consider Little Black Flies” a pandemic record? Was it a product of the anxiety, quarantine, and the lockdown? Or could it have existed by itself?
I tell all the press, “Yeah, I tried to get all the guys back from depression from COVID!” Which is true in a sense, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it had been 2001. I would have made this record. I noticed a difference. I wasn’t the only artist working. I’m not saying that at all, but a lot of people that I knew just stopped playing, stopped recording, stopped the hustle. I wasn’t gonna let that happen, so that’s why I wanted to get a record done. Like I said, it would have came out either way I believe.
What’s next for live shows?
I’m going to Germany in August for promo for a huge tour. I’m doing an overseas tour, a 50 or 60 date European tour next year. I can’t wait minute! It’s always been a dream of mine to tour overseas, man. We’re doing that with Ruf Records. When we come back, my booking agent wants to put us on the road with some pretty big acts.
Last question– this is my first interview for Sound and Soul, and I’d like to carry on a dialogue among the acts I talk to. What’s one question you’d like to ask the next person I interview?
I would say, “What is your soul to you when it comes to writing music? Do you really show who you are as a person when you’re writing music?”