Raleigh’s 6 String Drag helped spearhead the alternative country boom of the early ’90s, a hugely popular sub-genre that sprouted the Americana moniker and bridged bluegrass and folk with fiery rock and punk. But Kenny Roby can trace his punk rock roots to Charlotte where, at 15, his band the Lubricators was opening for Jane’s Addiction and Danzig.
The frontman for 6 String Drag — which plays a free show at Tipsy Burro with Temperance League Friday — looks back on that time on the song “Small Town Punks,” from the band’s new album “Top of the World.”
“We were hanging out in other scenes, out of our little bubble (in Clemson, S.C.). I was 15 and everyone else was 18 to 23 years old. My second show was opening for (Carolina metal vets) Corrosion of Conformity. My fourth was opening for Suicidal Tendencies. By the 10th, it was Danzig,” Roby remembers.
“I was just talking to my wife about it. Imagine if we let one of our sons (now 18 and 21), at 15, get in a van and travel three hours on a school night to open for the Circle Jerks?” says Roby, the youngest of six kids. “(My parents’) ignorance was my bliss.”
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Trips to Charlotte became less frequent once Roby started 6 String Drag with Rob Keller in 1993. They played Double Door and Tremont a few times and Jack Straw’s with Charlotte’s Lou Ford, but many of the club of the ’80s and early ’90s had closed or fallen on leaner times.
By the time Visulite and Neighborhood theatres came along, 6 String Drag had pretty much called it quits, parting ways after the release of its 1997 album “High Hat” on Steve Earle’s E-Squared label.
But what’s old is new again. “High Hat” celebrated its 20th anniversary with a reissue earlier this year (E-Squared having returned the rights to the record) and 6 String Drag is on its second album since reuniting. Roby’s ties to Charlotte are once again stronger than ever thanks to the Charlotte musicians he worked with on his 2006 solo album, “The Mercy Filter.”
During that time he formed a close friendship with longtime Charlotte band the Houston Brothers’ Justin Faircloth, who helped him make the record. Locals Shawn Lynch and David Kim (formerly and currently of Temperance League, respectively) also played on that album.
Listening to “High Hat” and “Top of the World” back to back, it’s interesting to see where 6 String Drag was in 1997 and where it is now, although Roby points out that it’s back to a four-piece rock band. In fact, for all its shades of Americana, it’s the British rock of Elvis Costello, Mott the Hoople, and others that permeates “Top of the World.”
And like Roby’s one-time mentor Earle, there are shades of political commentary as well. On “Jennifer Wren & the Crow I Know,” Roby parallels our current government with the plight of peasants in 18th-century England while juxtaposing his own Southern Catholic upbringing with what shoehorns its way into religion today.
“It’s about what’s good about tradition and what’s not, with (regard to) religion and patriotism. It’s not really judging, but asking a question,” he says. “We’re a punk-rock band doing this traditional music, too, that we learned through embracing other cultures.”
But that same culture is often the one embracing policies that can’t benefit them.
“I grew up around these places where people are holding on to tradition in spite of themselves, embracing things that are hurting them, not helping them do well financially or whatever it is,” Roby says. “I just think that some people that embrace traditional music don’t get that it’s a two-edged sword.”
6 String Drag
When: 9 p.m. Friday.
Where: Tipsy Burro, 2711 Monroe Road.