Although there’s certainly more to the story of how Chadwick Murray became the lead singer for local soul band Bastards of Soul, the Dallas music veteran sums up the essence of his journey and current status rather succinctly.
“So, yeah, after 30 years of being involved in music as a bass player in a supporting type of role,” he says. “I’ve finally become a quote-unquote ‘front person.’”
With that direct, no-bones-about-it brevity, Murray ruminates on the reasons the Bastards of Soul were born, not so much how the creation came about.
It just needed to happen, so it did.
Before making their official debut in February 2016, some of the Bastards were in a different band in a different genre. As longtime members of the classic country-leaning King Bucks, bassist Danny Balis and keyboard player Chad Stockslager had been working in more groove-intensive, classic soul material into their twangy performances by the time 2015 began to dwindle down.
Murray knew the guys in the country band for a number of years through many shared bills. He noticed the funkier direction the King Bucks were steering toward during that band’s long run of Monday night shows at Adair’s in Deep Ellum. Murray’s ears would perk up when he noticed an old soul song coming from the saloon's stage instead of a conventional honky-tonk tearjerker. He didn’t know it during those visits to the venerable saloon, but seeing how easily Balis and Stockslager weaved in and out of country and soul would form an impression that would lead Murray to take the sort of chance he wasn’t sure would ever come.
“I’ve had some opportunities to be a lead singer, but not many,” Murray says with a laugh, acknowledging his current station is a bit of a left turn. “People have mostly known me as a bass player, so that’s mainly what I have been asked to do over the years. I mean, you’re not going to ask the plumber to help you start a bakery, you know?”
When Balis and Stockslager decided to get serious about forming an old soul-focused band, it was Max Hartman, the leader of Mur, the band Murray was playing bass in at the time, who suggested they give his own bass player bandmate a shot as lead vocalist. Although Murray wasn’t known as a soul singer in town, he says, “soul music is in my DNA” thanks to his mother singing him nursery rhymes in the style of classic soul songs when he was really young. By the time he got the call to jam with the players who would become the Bastards of Soul, he easily accepted the invitation, even if he was unsure about diving into uncharted musical waters.
“I had some extreme excitement about singing, because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Murray says. “But at the same time, there were also insecurities because I hadn’t ever done that before. All the years before was sort of an unintentional wait for the right opportunity to present itself, and this was a gift-wrapped opportunity.”
“People have mostly known me as a bass player, so that’s mainly what I have been asked to do over the years. I mean, you’re not going to ask the plumber to help you start a bakery, you know?” — Chadwick Murray
Stockslager, a humorous fellow who has played keys for beloved North Texas bands of the past including the Drams, and currently in local Beatles tribute kings Hard Night’s Day, was admittedly surprised by what he heard when Murray joined the group for the first time.
“All of us had known him for years,” Stockslager says of Murray. “But no one had heard him sing like that. We started with some deep cuts just to get into it, and he came in swinging. I was pretty floored by his unbridled power. It was raw and rowdy in all the right ways.”
With Murray rounding out the lineup that includes Balis and Stockslager along with guitarist Chris Holt and drummer Matt Trimble, a course for the group’s future needed to be set. Up until late last year when the group released its debut 7-inch single complete with two new, original songs, fans knew them primarily as a cover band.
Taking a slower, more deliberate approach to releasing original music was the plan from the beginning, because first, Murray says the band wanted to “pick out songs and just see what would work for us.” Beginning with the band’s first actual gig on the small indoor stage of the Deep Ellum location of Twilite Lounge, marathon-length concerts gave the guys the chances to gel and to “see if this whole thing had legs,” Murray says.
Sure, the vast majority of a Bastards of Soul concert, especially in the band’s infancy, was taken from the best of the Motown and Stax catalogs. Well-known tracks and deep cuts from Sam Cooke, Al Green, Otis Redding and Howard Tate powered the group early on. But little by little, the band sprinkled in fresh songs of their own making. Murray says the band employed a slightly sneaky strategy to determine how effective the new songs stacked up against the timeless tunes.
“We got to the point where a two-hour set would have about 30 minutes of originals,” he says with a chuckle. “It was a little test to see if people would spot the new songs side-by-side with the covers. The feedback I got was that people really couldn’t tell the difference between an old soul classic they had forgotten all about or one of our new songs. We figured if the newer songs sounded and felt familiar to the audience and they enjoyed them, then we had done our job.”
Between the mix of old and new music and an energetic, fist-pumping live show that generated a great deal of buzz around town, the Bastards' first full-length album arrives with greater anticipation than any debut LP from a North Texas band in quite some time. Out on Friday, Feb. 7 via locally based Eastwood Records, Spinnin’ is a triumphant maiden voyage for the group.
The album is packed with the type of joyous, groove-laden, heart-thumping soul that fans of not only the Hall of Fame greats who inspired the band will enjoy, but with the sort of sonic fire which gave latter-day soul titans such as Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones and Lee Fields their devoted followers. The infectious, universal appeal of the band and its newest songs is evident, given the fact that the Feb. 8 album release concert at The Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff has been sold out for weeks.
Although the Bastards of Soul are far from a new band, it’s fair to think of this as an introduction to a new era. For his part, Murray is ready to roll — as long as he watches where he walks.
“I do still get nerves when I sing,” he says. “But as time has gone by, being the lead singer is something I’ve become comfortable with. I mean, I still worry about if I’m going to trip over something when I get onstage, because that’s something I’ve absolutely done.”