Ed Roland, Southern Gentleman

I have to admit it. I was one of those kids who pigeonholed Collective Soul as a wanna-be Pearl Jam. And it was mostly because of the husky and (what I felt as) postured grunts and yawps of its lead singer, Ed Roland. I was young and, unbeknownst to me at the time, looking through boxes while shaping my aesthetic tastes. In the 80s, I was into U2, The Cure, and (good night, sweet princes!) R.E.M. I was all about New Wave. And the 90s found me interested in the musical explorations of The Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler and the New York City jam scene. If you weren’t a “cool” alternative band or weren’t improvising, I probably wasn’t listening.

You can imagine how surprised I was when a wonderfully-charming and personable Ed Roland confessed early on in a recent phone interview that he used to “sit around all day and play Cars riffs on the guitar” and how “Elton John is my hero.” We continued to speak for a good twenty minutes about the beauty of INXS, R.E.M.’s recent breakup, early 70s Jackson Browne, and newer bands that spark his interest like The Head and The Heart. I hid away a bit of pleasant embarrassment. Did I expect some kind of self-absorbed rock god? Perhaps a demagogue whose creed made lovers of true art and soul and originality cringe and fall to the ground in despair?

I dramatize. I jest. Forgive me. I knew Ed would be cool. You can’t be around playing music for that long and not have learned a thing or two. (I want to publicly thank my friend and fellow Pulse writer Brian Kelly for that bit of wisdom/reminder.)

The reason we were on the phone is because Ed is about to perform in the New York City/Long Island area for two shows—one at The City Winery on October 23rd and the other at The Boulton Center in Bay Shore on Friday night, October 28th. He has teamed up with longtime friend and Better Than Ezra front man Kevin Griffin on what is appropriately titled “The Southern Gentlemen Tour.” If Kevin (who has a rockin’ voice, by the way) is half as kind and gracious as Ed is, audiences will certainly be witness to some genuine gentlemanly rapport up on the stage. Ed says the gig is “a little like hanging out in our living room,” and I totally believe him. They play each other’s songs (hits like Roland’s “Shine” and “The World I Know” and Griffin’s “Good” and “Desperately Wanting” will assuredly show up) and throw in a couple of covers too.

And speaking of bearing witness, I also learned that Ed “grew up in the church” back in Georgia. His dad was a minister, so before Elton and Bernie it was all about church music. That fact (paired with the southern roots = southern drawl), explains the emphatic pizzazz in his archetypal baritone rock voice. While playing with the band and the frenetic maelstrom of guitars and noise it can spin, one might need to borrow some chops from experts who know how to tell a good story, so to speak—personalities who know how to share the good word with large groups of people. That being said, I’m eager to hear the songs stripped down and the voice unburdened by a sometimes-distracting wall of sound.

The “About” page on the Southern Gentlemen website states that the tour “will make a dozen stops around the country, showcasing a different side of these artists: Intimate acoustic performances that are a unique departure from the rock bands they made famous.” If you’re anything like me, you gravitate to these types of affairs because these are the kinds of evenings that surprise, delight, and maybe even teach us a thing or two about ourselves. Listening to the music makers of our past make music in our present helps connect the disparate dots that make up our life—the assumptions that limit us and the ones that ultimately help us grow.


alan semerdjian

Alan Semerdjian is a writer, musician, English teacher, and occasional visual artist. Besides LI Pulse, his work has appeared in Newsday, Adbusters, Chain, The Lyric Review and numerous other print and online publications, anthologies, and chapbooks. His first full-length book of poetry is In the Architecture of Bone (Genpop Books 2009). You can visit him digitally at alanarts.com and find out about his music at alansemerdjian.com.