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Black Stone Cherry's Jon Lawhon: "As a bass player, it’s your job to be the foundation – if you mess up, the whole band will come off the tracks"

Jon Lawhon
(Image credit: Andrew Benge/WireImage)

The Kentucky-based quartet Black Stone Cherry have spent close to two decades reaping the rewards of their successful blend of rock, metal, country, and blues –with a stable line-up that shows no sign of deviating from their chosen path. 

Bassist Jon Lawhon, joined by frontman Chris Robertson, guitarist Ben Wells, and drummer John Fred Young, is on super-solid form on BSC’s new album, The Human Condition, recorded in his own facility, Monocle Studios.

If you’re interested in finding out about the principles that have kept this band sane and loaded with epic bass parts, read on...   

Find the right band

“It’s essential that you find like-minded people to play music with. The goal is to achieve a level of success that will allow you to travel all over the world and do what you love on a daily basis, right? Imagine that: You spend years of your life rehearsing, writing, playing local venues, and nearly starving at times, all for a chance to secure a future in this industry. 

The point is that when you’re starting out, spend quality time with your band-mates. Go to movies, discuss politics and religion, get it all out there. Even if you disagree, it doesn’t matter

“One day, you sign a deal, record an album, find a label, and before you know it, you find yourself on a real tour in a van. Everything’s great, life is good, you’re finally, really, doing it. Then you witness the decline of western civilization... you wake up one day, and realize that you can’t stand half of your band. You disagree on everything. You find yourself stuck in that van.

“The point is that when you’re starting out, spend quality time with your band-mates. Go to movies, discuss politics and religion, get it all out there. Even if you disagree, it doesn’t matter. The point is to find out whether or not you can live together and respect each other’s views and space. You have to love each other and accept each other like family – because that’s exactly what you will become.”

Write cool music

“For the love of God, be original! Record labels have made a habit out of searching for bands that sound far too similar to other ‘currently successful’ acts. There are a million reasons why that’s wrong. Be different. 

“Stick out like a sore thumb. It’s okay – actually, it’s really refreshing. Sure, let your influences ring out loud, but make sure those influences come from an era long gone and not from two weeks ago. Cover the unexpected, and leave the common and average to the other bands.“

Build your show

“Sounding good live is top tier. Employing the right techs and sound guy are the root of success, and just as important as rehearsing and being able to deliver a performance. As a bass player it’s your job to be the foundation, so make sure you’ve got it together. We all make mistakes, but if you mess up, the whole band will come off the tracks.“

Know the business

“The agencies and people you need when you’re starting out are as follows: Merch, accountant, attorney, booking, management and then either a label or a distribution company. You should put these items in place in that order. Most artists think, ‘We’ve gotta get signed to a label’. Not true at all. While that can be extremely helpful, you can easily self-release your music if you’re proactive enough. 

“A label can bring a lot to the table, but they are by no means your first step. Killer merch designs and the capability to manage online sales is step one. Without that, you can’t earn enough money to survive. 

Without management, you will have no guidance through this difficult industry: They can help you find bigger and better companies to run merch, book tours and grow as a band

“A certified public accountant (CPA) will help you manage your money and keep your bills paid. The attorney is of utmost importance, because without them, you could literally lose everything. Booking, of course, keeps you on the road supporting your album and earning a living.

“Without management, you will have no guidance through this difficult industry: They can help you find bigger and better companies to run merch, book tours and grow as a band. I could literally go on forever about this, so I’d suggest finding an experienced advisor to further your knowledge about the way it works. Feel free to find me on Facebook.“

Stay in control

“Never forget who the boss is. You and your bandmates call the shots. All the people and companies I mentioned in the previous column work for you. You are the best advocate for your own career. Their job is to assist you. 

“At the end of the day, it’s your name, face, and voice that the people will be paying attention to. Make sure you’re being represented in the way that you want to be. The more hands-on you are with everything – from content creation and songwriting, to which tour you’re going to do and where the marketing money will be spent – will only grow your brand in the ways and avenues you want it to grow. Never become complacent.“

Appreciate your people

“Thank you guys, for taking time to read my ramblings. There’s far more where that came from! I hope everyone is staying safe through these uncertain times, and I look forward to seeing you on the road.“

  • Black Stone Cherry’s new album, The Human Condition, is out now via Mascot.