Chris Stamey’s musical love letter to the Gate City
Photograph and Story By John Gessner
“As a child, Greensboro seemed like a magical place to me, where we’d climb aboard behind the great locomotive in the evening and watch as all that was familiar slowly dissolved out the window,” says Chris Stamey, recalling family trips from North Carolina to New York or Boston, where his dad, a Winston-Salem pediatrician, had gone to medical school. “When the sun came up, we’d find ourselves deposited in an alien land, full of skyscrapers and taxi cabs,” Stamey remembers. After I finished school in N.C. and moved to the North, I’d still travel back sometimes by train, and it became a different voyage, where arrival in Greensboro would mean I was truly home once again.”
It was New York City where Stamey and another Winston-Salem native, his elementary schoolmate Peter Holsapple, formed the dB’s. They were (and still are) pioneers in the music industry who came together during a time of great change — the late 1970s and early ’80s. Around this time I heard their single, “Black & White,” and forever associated the band with the Big Apple. But Stamey owes Greensboro a great musical debt, describing it as “an oasis of nascent indie-rock culture, based around the vibrant, tiny club Fridays,” not to mention UNCG concerts, and, as he’s come to learn, the city’s musical legacy as “a sanctuary” for Piedmont Blues. “For me, the city’s mystique has grown,” he says. His memories, starting with those childhood trips by train served as inspiration for the recently released single, “Greensboro Days”:
Greensboro Days the leaves are calico and brown and I am New York bound. . .
The song is a sentimental journey by rail, wonderfully filled with Kodak moment snippets from the early days of his stellar career. What strikes me in most of Stamey’s lyrics, and in this song particularly, is his genuine love of place. He is able to distill fond memories, folks he has met, places he has been, into the few minutes of well-crafted songwriting and singing. He puts you there in the train to sit side by side with the uncertain excitement of leaving a familiar place for unknown territory.
Joining Stamey on the single, which was produced on his own Car Record label, are his buddy and co-founder of The dB’s, Peter Holsapple, on harmonies, and John Teer of Chatham County Line on fiddle and mandolin. Drummer Dan Davis (6-String Drag) and Jason Foureman on acoustic bass provide a catchy beat for the conductor of this ride, Chris Stamey, playing guitars.
I often refer to him as “The Wizard of Chapel Hill” (his birthplace, incidentally), given his numerous projects with musical luminaries of every stripe. Stamey’s vast creative palette as a musician and a producer includes albums such as Lovesick Blues and Euphoria, as well as Falling Off the Sky with the dB’s, and collaborations with the likes of with Ryan Adams, Alejandro Escovedo, Flat Duo Jets, Skylar Gudasz, Tift Merritt, Le Tigre, and Yo La Tengo. When he’s not on stage, Stamey can often be seen tuning guitars and pulling ropes in the background for his fellow musicians.
But for the few minutes of “Greensboro Days,” he is once again the young indie rocker, embarking on an adventure, eager to embrace the bright lights of the big city, while smaller ones pass before his eyes. “In this song I’ve used the specificity of the Gate City’s name as a totem for all the great Carolina towns, each reservoirs of mystery and romance to this day,” Stamey reflects.
Greensboro Days of endless summers, a North bound train rolls out of town. Greensboro Days, the leaves are covering the ground and I am New York bound. OH
Photographer John Gessner whole-heartedly suggests going to www.chrisstamey.com so you can catch Chris next time he rolls into your town. Until then you can hear “Greensboro Days” on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, watch the video on You Tube, or scan the bar code (right) on your cell phone.