Capitol Records artist Eric Church is glad to be back on the East Coast after recently driving through the fires in southern California and jogging in a dust storm in New Mexico.
He will be one of the performers at the WKXC-FM Million Pennies For Kids Guitar Pull, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center. Tickets can be won by listening to the station. Details can be found at its Web site, kicks99.com.
Mr. Church has yet to have a Top 10 single, but his debut CD, Sinners Like Me , has sold 250,000 copies. Singles How 'Bout You and Two Pink Lines (a song about a pregnancy test) have been radio favorites and Top 20 hits.
The strength of that album has been carrying the North Carolina native far from the Appalachian Mountains and rural country life he loves.
"I've seen two things on this West Coast run that I've never encountered before being a Southern boy," Mr. Church said in a call from near Portland, Ore., "and those are the fires in California and a full-blown dust storm in Las Cruces, N.M."
He encountered the dust storm while out jogging from his motel in Las Cruces.
"It was kind of misty and sandy and didn't seem that bad when I was running with the wind to my back," he said. "But when I turned to run back to the hotel, it ate me up. I ended up having to take my shirt off to cover my face. It was an absolute mess. It was kind of like being sandblasted."
Mr. Church said he had a great life for the most part growing up in Granite Falls, N.C., and going to high school in nearby Hudson and to Appalachian State University in Boone, where he got a degree in marketing.
Music filled his house and life with his dad loving the classic soul sounds of Smokey Robinson, Sam Cooke and The Temptations, and his mother loving bluegrass and old style country.
Mr. Church said his musical tastes are eclectic because of his various influences and admitted listening lately to '70s rock band Little Feat, which featured guitarist Lowell George.
"It's absolutely brilliant," he said.
"I dabbled some in bluegrass when I was in college in Boone," he said. "That's a pretty artsy school from a music standpoint. The first time I ever figured out who (bluegrass guitarist) Tony Rice was was up there. I bought his (1979) album Manzanita in college, which is one of the best-ever guitar records."
Other great musicians playing on that album as part of The Tony Rice Unit include Jerry Douglass on dobro, Ricky Skaggs and Sam Bush on mandolin and fiddle and David Grisman on mandolin.
While in college, Mr. Church had a memorable chance meeting with legendary guitarist and vocalist Doc Watson, who lives in nearby Deep Gap.
"I took the first Martin guitar I ever had to get worked on by this guy who had a little music shop in Boone when Doc came in," Mr. Church recalled reverently. "There was another Martin lying on a table all strung and everything, and Doc picked it up and just started playing it and talking about the guitar. And I was just there dying. He is just a sweet guy and a true treasure."
Don Rhodes has written about country music for 37 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to listen to part of the Eric Church song Two Pink Lines.