Michelle LaRose talks with Bobby Golden for Road To Jacksonville
Photographs by Jason Shattles
If you saw Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous you were undoubtedly left asking yourself, “Is Stillwater a real band?” Well, yes and no.
Stillwater is a southern rock band that formed in the early 70’s. Cameron Crowe had seen the band play and asked permission to use their name for the fictitious band in his movie Almost Famous.
Stillwater reunites at the end of every year for the “Annual Stillwater and Friends Reunion Concert” in Macon Georgia. We were able to chat with guitarist Bobby Golden to find out more about the real Stillwater band.
Bobby: Good! And we’re still doing it. We’re heading to my wife’s dad’s house.
RTJ: Is he local?
Bobby: About two hours. Christmas day was with my family. Now we’re going to spend a little time with her family.
RTJ: On December 27th, four years ago today, the Mayor of Macon Georgia proclaimed it Stillwater day.
Bobby: Yeah, he came out and gave us a plaque or a key or something. It was pretty cool. It was on the news. It’s usually carried on the local news that we are playing. They’ve always supported us around there. The television stations and such. We have friends down there too.
RTJ: Stillwater was a band in the movie Almost Famous but the band wasn’t you guys. Can you explain this?
Bobby: They just used our name. Cameron Crowe and I suppose his wife [Heart’s Nancy Wilson]… I know Cameron Crowe was aware of the band. He came down to Macon during the seventies at the Capricorn Records picnics. He came down there as a writer for Rolling Stone but he was a kid and that’s what the movie was about. He met us but he was really down there to see The Allman Brothers and hang out with them I believe. It’s my understanding that the band was modeled after The Allmans, Zeppelin and Skynyrd. He had gone out on the road with a few of the bands. I was actually in Italy and got a tax bill and I called up asking what this bill was about and Steven Spielberg, his office, had tracked down Sebie our lead singer, their office called him and was telling him about the movie and they were wanting to use our name in the movie.
RTJ: Yeah they needed permission didn’t they?
Bobby: Yeah. Well… They could have probably done it without permission but they probably would have had a bunch of different lawsuits. Our lawyer got in touch with them. They wanted us to do it for free and I said, “No we’re not doing it for free.” So we got a little bit of change out of it. We tried to get some music in there but his wife had already written the music. I understand it now. Music is real big in a movie and she’s a big songwriter. We tried anyway. [Laughing]
RTJ: Now what’s this about a tax bill?
Bobby: Oh yeah. I was living in Europe, in Italy and we got paid. I didn’t know anything about it. I had heard that they were wanting to use our name in the movie and I didn’t hear about any money until I got a tax bill. The guy said, “We’ll pay you when you get home.” And that’s what he did! So I had to pay taxes on it before I got the money!
RTJ: That’s funny! Did having your name in the movie rekindle people’s interest in the band?
Bobby: It actually did! Especially in different places like around Europe. I’ve seen stuff on the Internet, they’re questioning, “Is that the same band?” So it rekindled it a little bit.
RTJ: Do you think it would be wise to take a journalist on the road with you like that?
RTJ: They still don’t.
Bobby: I don’t think there’s anything to hide there.
Bobby: My eighteen-year-old nephew got in touch with me and said, “Man! Are ya’ll going to do Fever Dog at the show?”
Bobby: He wasn’t familiar with our music. He thought it was the real thing.
RTJ: How funny! I read the band’s name was originally Stillwater Junction.
Bobby: No. We had a group called Coldwater Army right before Stillwater, it was some of the members from Stillwater and we were in college. When we got Stillwater together we broke up Coldwater Army because we quit college. Some of the guys stayed in college then that’s when we formed Stillwater. Mike Causey actually came up with the name. I really can’t remember how it happened. I think we were just kicking around a bunch of names. Somehow he came up with that name. We were out in the country, it wasn’t a country band but it was kind of laid back, in a farmhouse out in the country. And we said, “Hey that sounds ok.”
RTJ: Stillwater basically dissolved when Capricorn records dissolved. Why?
Bobby: We had one offer from Atlantic or another label that we didn’t take. It was in the early eighties and it was just hard to get a record deal. Southern rock was kind of over. The only group that was selling anything back then I think was .38 Special. They were selling a little bit. We were told that the record companies in the early eighties were looking for these bands from England that were coming out. The sound had changed a little bit. We kept trying. Actually we had a couple of close ones. We got back with some of the guys from Capricorn actually and they shopped the deal for us. Where they shopped it they heard, “Well we hear one hit but we want more than that.” So we kept trying and finally it just got to where you beat your head against the door for so long. We stayed together about three or four years without a record deal. That was hard enough.
RTJ: We heard that the master recordings of Stillwater’s first two albums are nowhere to be found. Is this so?
Bobby: Who told you that?
RTJ: I read it on the Internet that’s why I’m asking if it’s true or not.
Bobby: I don’t know. Universal Music is the last that I knew who owned the rights. That would be up to them. I think we own a copy. I don’t know what Universal has. Whoever got Capricorn’s rights. I guess they had Mindbender, I don’t know, they released it last year finally. That’s the only song that’s been released digitally. Search Amazon.com for Stillwater, I don’t know the name of the CD it came out last Christmas. It’s got southern hits… something with Gold… Southern Gold I think. It was an offshoot of a label owned by Universal Music. It had The Allman Brothers, Skynyrd and I think .38 Special. You know, all the bands that were on the radio. That’s the only time we’ve had something released digitally.
RTJ: Your last album was Runnin Free in 1999. Will we ever see another Stillwater album?
Bobby: I don’t know. We might. We’ve talked about it but we haven’t done anything about it yet. It takes time and expense. I would like to do another one. I think everybody would. It’s just a matter of finding the time and putting the money together before we could do another one. I really enjoy going into the studio and recording. I get a big kick out of it.
RTJ: You’ve worked closely with the legendary Buddy Buie. Do you feel he’s had a hand in shaping Stillwater?
Bobby: Well certainly he had a hand in the songwriting for sure. He took one song, I know in particular, he loved the song but didn’t like the lyrics and he had an idea for it, the song called Fantasy Park off the first album. He liked the music so he switched the lyrics on that. He’s a songwriter and a great one at that. He had a lot of influence on the lyrics and some of the songs. Getting Buddy Buie to produce us… Atlanta Rhythm Section at the time, before we met Buddy, we really liked their music. We were excited to get him involved.
RTJ: We’re good friends with ARS.
RTJ: I saw him on your myspace page. Ronnie was on the way out when I started becoming friends with ARS. I know Andy and Steve and all them.
Bobby: I don’t know the new ones very well; I know all the old ones… Barry…
RTJ: Barry just quit this year.
Bobby: Is it because of his wife?
RTJ: He quit shortly before she died. The only one left from the original line up is Dean.
Bobby: Dean’s quiet a character.
RTJ: Yeah he’s great. I love Dean.
Bobby: We had some fun times with those guys. I remember Paul Goddard, we were staying somewhere and I forgot which city it was… It was before the show and I saw room service was bringing two big steak dinners to his room. I think someone made a comment about it or something and they said both of those were for Paul.
RTJ: If somebody wanted to get one of the Stillwater albums where would they get it?
Bobby: I don’t know. There’s some that float around the show in Macon. They bootleg em’ in Europe. I bought one from what used to be a Soviet Country… some guy out there made a good copy and was selling it on eBay.
RTJ: You bought a bootleg copy off of eBay! [Laughing]
Bobby: I wanted to see what it was like. He did a really good job. Around Macon there’s some copies floating around. There’s no place you can order copies. A guy in New York tried to do it, it hasn’t been done yet. He’s got a website, all the southern bands he’s trying to hook up and trying to get their CD’s available. We’re on his website but our CD’s not available yet.
RTJ: You do the “Annual Stillwater and Friends Reunion Concert” at the end of every year. Why don’t you do more shows?
Bobby: Well we did actually this year. We did a National Fair down in Perry, which is right outside of Macon. It’s like the Georgia State Fair but it’s bigger than the State Fair, it’s called Georgia National Fair. It’s fair grounds that were built for the agricultural people for showing horses and cows. It’s a huge fair. They had like 450,000 people show up this year. They did a special thing… It usually opens on a Friday, they opened it on a Thursday and we had a preview show and a concert that was included in your ticket price. A lot of big country groups play there. Gretchen Wilson headlined this year and I think The Beach Boys. They get a lot of people there so they usually get a couple of good headliners to play music. They just stuck us in at the beginning as a special concert. It’s hard for us to get together, our drummer lives in Colorado; I’m busy up here in Atlanta. One of the guys, Rob, is in the Air Force Reserve Band. He’s got his obligations. He just got back from Turkey and Iraq. He’s pretty busy with that. The Air Force has to fit in our schedule. He can’t just pick up and go.
RTJ: Who are some of the ‘friends’ that can be found with you at the reunion concert?
Bobby: Well The Winters Brothers are coming down from Tennessee.
RTJ: Johnny and Edgar?
Bobby: No. Not those Winters Brothers. They’re from Texas I think.
RTJ: They are from Texas. Yeah.
Bobby: The Winters Brothers Band. They’re a country rock band from the 70’s. They didn’t have anything on the radio but they played a lot. They’re coming down. Jimmy Hall from Wet Willie, he’s coming down. Hopefully Ronnie Hammond will be back out if he’s able to make it. His health is not real good; he’s kind of up and down. Chris Hicks who played most recently with The Marshall Tucker Band. Chris Hicks is known a lot around the south. He’s a really fine southern rock guitar player and singer. A lot of other local musicians that are around Macon. Some of our friends that have moved to Florida or someplace that are gigging down there; they’ll come home to play. There’s a local band that a couple of the Stillwater guys play with that’s called The Wall. They do local gigs. They do weekend club dates. I used to play with them until I moved to Italy. Then when I moved back to Atlanta it was just too far to drive on the weekends. It’s a really good band that does a lot of covers, just a lot of club work. They just keep going and playing.
RTJ: Well Bobby, we’d like to thank you for speaking with Road To Jacksonville today.
Bobby: Jacksonville… The last show that we did in Jacksonville, it was Stillwater, .38 Special and Rossington Collins. It was their first show home after the plane crash. We’d just played with them a few months earlier in Nashville at the Volunteer Jam, The Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam; we toured a lot with Charlie. But that was their very first gig playing live and it was really chilling, they put the Ronnie Van Zant mic out there with the spotlight on it. They did Freebird without the singing. It was a fun night though all their closest fans were there. It was a good show.
RTJ: Thank you for your time Bobby.
Bobby: I appreciate it and I appreciate you taking your time to do this. Have a good day.