D.T. Pennington

Writer – Photographer – Creative Coach

Murder by Death with J. Roddy Walston

Thoughts and such from the June 7th, 2024 show at The Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC.

What does it take for a musician to make a decent living in this always-streaming, algorithm sucking, Ticketmaster-gutting world we live in? For one, they ask for money.

“I don’t have any merch,” Walston says. He’s on stage, alone, with his trademark look distilled from that Great Balls of Fire scene in Top Gun. “But, listen, if you each give me five dollars, that would be mathematically awesome.”

The next song, a new creation grown from the roots of an acid trip, Walston is asking for six bucks. One woman comes forward mid-song and leaves some bills on his piano (not keyboard, but piano, this thing is a monster). This tips off a wave of, well, tips. By the end of the song he easily has $150 – not bad for forty minutes of work.

***

J. Roddy Walston and The Business is one of those bands I would have loved to see live. As luck would have it, the band stopped touring and more or less broke up right as I was discovering them. The closest I managed to get was a Christmas show Walston was touring on with the Tennessee Tinsel. It was an hour of Christmas Music – mostly rock, some covers – followed by 20 minutes of hits from The Business.

On Friday night at The Grey Eagle, he opened up as a solo act for Murder By Death. It was strange, but not surprising. Five songs in all, opening with Don’t Break The Needle so as to not piss anyone off. The rest of the set was wandering and chaotic, but worth watching.

But Walston needs a band, badly.

***

I don’t remember much about the first time I saw Murder By Death live, but I do remember the second time. The first was with my wife Carly when we first started dating – well over a decade ago, somewhere in Denver. A few months later things fizzled out and the dating stopped for no particular reason until I butt-dialed her phone around 2 in the morning on New Year’s Day. This was back when phones still had buttons, and my Blackberry Curve was all kinds of problems.

Our next date was on Valentine’s Day but neither of us looked into it too much. Murder by Death played a sold-out show at The Bluebird where we watched from the pit, maybe ten feet from the stage. It was a sticky and sweaty affair. We got married (later, much later).

Since those days, MBD has released all manner of records and recordings that I’ve had difficulty keeping up with. I can only assume they were touring for a new record (they are, sort of, a collection of covers) but that didn’t stop them from playing the familiar back catalog. There is that thing about music that is supposed to take you right back to where you were when you first heard it. Well, it was that. It was great. It made me want to drink a mess of whiskey and wake up in my girlfriend’s bed. It made me remember that their earlier work, Red of Tooth and Claw, all but inspired my Songs About Whiskey short story collection.

It comes back to you in a hurry. Maybe this time you feel it a little more the next morning.

They’ll be back, and so will that guy.