In 2013, when Eddie 9V was a high school senior, he’d pull into the school parking lot each morning in his second-hand Ford Explorer, blaring Killin’ Floor by Howlin’ Wolf.
“It was like my theme song,” he says with a laugh. “Meanwhile, all my friends were coming to school listening to rap, so they’re looking at me funny.”
For the 26-year-old guitarist born Brooks Mason Kelly (his stage moniker is a mash-up inspired by “mobster names and guitar pedals”), the feeling of being out of sync with the times started when he was 14. “I saw a YouTube clip of Howlin’ Wolf at Newport in 1966. He had that big old Firebird with the slide and was doing Meet Me in the Bottom. Man, seeing that made me want to just dive into the blues!”
And he did, studying licks by legends like Michael Bloomfield and Freddie King – “I went for the spirit more than exact notes,” he says – while cutting his teeth in clubs around his native Atlanta. His 2019 debut, Left My Soul in Memphis, and follow-up Little Black Flies, both D.I.Y. recordings, had plenty of raw grit and searing licks. But when it came time for his new album, Capricorn, Eddie wanted a bigger sound. So he booked an 11-piece band into Macon’s legendary Capricorn Studios.
“It felt like we stepped into 1969,” he says. “It was this time warp – same board, echo chambers, mics, the same carpet where the Marshall Tucker Band stood – everything down to the ashtray that Duane Allman put out a cigarette in. We cut the album live in two days, the same way they would’ve back then. It was magical.”
And standout tracks like Yella Alligator and Tryin’ to Get By radiate the honeyed warmth and immediacy of vintage records, while expanding Eddie’s songwriting palette from straight blues into more sophisticated Southern soul. He says, “Blending the elements – blues, soul, country, church. That’s the mentality of it.”
In keeping with the retro vibe, he’s been paring down his gear. “I play a Fender Custom Shop Esquire. I used to have all the pedals and stuff, but these days, with the music I play, I run my Esquire directly into a 1980s Music Man amp. It’s 50 watts, super loud, with great mid-range distortion. That’s my whole setup. One thing I learned from the great blues players – it’s more about what’s in your heart and soul.”
- Capricorn is out now via Ruf.