Paul Janeway showed signs early in life that he might be a born performer.
“My mom was telling a story, and I don’t remember this, but she said when I was about 4 years old, I’d line up my stuffed animals, get on the bed and I would preach to them,” Janeway recalled in a late-April phone interview. “She said she always knew I’d do something like that.”
What neither Janeway nor his mother saw was that this inclination toward performing would lead him to a career in music. In fact, Janeway didn’t start thinking about a music career until less than two years ago.
That’s when a bandmate from a former group, bassist Jesse Phillips, contacted Janeway saying he had gotten some free time in a studio and invited him to come over for the day. The idea was to try to finish writing and record a song they had started writing during their time in the previous band, which specialized in Led Zeppelin covers.
That song was called Broken Bones & Pocket Change, and when recording was finished that day, Janeway knew his life path had just taken a surprising turn.
“I think we had flirted with (finishing) it in our previous band,” Janeway said of the song. “But we just didn’t have the band to do it. When we did that song, yeah, we just knew when we did that, it was like this could be something. So now it’s turned into whatever this is.”
“Whatever this is” is called St. Paul & The Broken Bones, the soul-infused band that Janeway and Phillips started immediately after finishing Broken Bones & Pocket Change.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones are among the performers for the 21st annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival this Saturday, May 10, on Stagecoach Road, 300 yards off Washington Road, north of Thomson.
Also in the lineup are Sugar Ray and the Blue Tones, Tony Furtado, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Madrid Express, The Campbell Brothers and Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band.
Tickets are $30 advance from tixonline.com or (803) 278-4849; or $40 at gate. Ages 12 and younger are admitted free. See blindwillie.com.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones are now looking at a very promising future. The band’s full-length debut album, Half the City, is one of the year’s best albums and word of the band’s spirited live shows has been getting around.
It’s quite a turn of events for someone like Janeway, a native of the small Alabama town of Chelsea who planned to be a preacher until he was about 18 and was nearing an accounting degree on that fateful day he and Phillips finished Broken Bones & Pocket Change.
Things progressed quickly from there. Janeway and Phillips continued writing, finishing enough songs for a four-song EP, which was released in December 2012. A soul-rooted sound emerged naturally as the first few songs were written.
“Obviously, I sing the way I do,” said Janeway, whose potent voice can range from an Al Green-ish croon to the gritty tones of Wilson Picket. “I’m obviously a huge fan of soul music, and I think everybody, I mean, who’s not a fan of soul music? But it happened very organically, and I think when I said hey, I want a band with horns, I think that really kind of clinched, OK, that’s what this is.”
Janeway and Phillips quickly assembled a band for the EP. Phillips knew guitarist Browan Lollar (a former member of Jason Isbell’s band, the 400 Unit) and drummer Andrew Lee. Janeway approached trombonist Ben Griner, who then recruited trumpet player Allen Branstetter to join the group that would soon take the name St. Paul & The Broken Bones. Keyboardist Al Gamble completed the lineup.
The group found early allies in John Paul White, who signed the band to his start-up label, Single Lock Records, and Ben Tanner, keyboardist with the Alabama Shakes, who produced Half the City.
Planning a June 2013 release for the album put the project under a deadline that forced the band to write most of the songs between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2012 and record the album in January. But the release of Half the City got pushed back to this past February.
Despite the severe time crunch, the group made an album filled with stirring horn-accented soul ballads and lively uptempo tunes that will make St. Paul & The Broken Bones a leading contender for 2014’s best new band.
“It’s so weird, doing that in a month,” he said. “I think we’re all really happy with the result. But it was kind of like making music with your hair on fire. It was just crazy doing it that way.”
Janeway said the group has been gaining polish and confidence as it tours behind Half The City, with Janeway’s commanding vocals and ability to work a crowd leading the way. Janeway credits the preaching he did as a teen at his church with helping him relate to audiences.
“It’s all about having to connect with people on a very real and raw emotional level,” Janeway said. “I’m not smart enough to be all artsy and create things. I’m kind of a simple kind of fellow. I want to connect with you on a very basic, a very basic human emotion, on basic human level. That’s what I love about soul music.”