Shh, quiet. Do you hear that? That distant rumbling coming down from the Appalachian foothills is the sound of The Georgia Thunderbolts. Their eponymous EP on Mascot Records hits the streets this Friday, August 21st, and prior to its release, the band and their sound is already taking the country by storm.
Lead singer TJ Lyle declares that the 5 piece band of Southern rockers is dedicated to putting a “modern twist and newer attitude” to a timeless sound. That sound is Southern Rock; the origins of which lie in a combination of country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel and soul music, all born and bred in the Southern US. Like many groups who inspired them, The Georgia Thunderbolts take the individual influences of the band members, meld them together with a blue collar work ethic and produce a sound that is not bringing Southern Rock back, but moving it forward.
“A lot of people are drawn to the blues by first hearing rock ‘n’ roll,” says Lyle. “I wasn’t drawn to it that way because I’ve always listened to Ray Charles and stuff like that but I’d always known of bands like the Allman Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd and knew they were in the same vein.”
Talking with TJ was like shooting the bull with an old friend. A man of few words, he seemed to have an almost identical taste and background in music as my own. Through speaking with him, he also came across to me as a humble and hard working man, openly giving credit where it’s due and speaking as the group rather than for them.
“I’ve been friends with Logan and Zach all my life and we met the other guys at an open mic,” Lyle says of the band’s origins. “We just hit it off man, and the rest of it was history.” When asked about the group’s name, he responded, “Actually our manager Richard Young had a lot to do with the name. We were fine with it. To me it’s a very boastful name, like throwin’ it out there on a limb. We’re all from Georgia and you know how folks are with their politics and football and all. We just took it on a whim I guess.”
The Georgia Thunderbolts are comprised of Riley Couzzourt [guitar], Logan Tolbert [guitar], Zach Everett [bass, harmony vocals, keys], Bristol Perry [drums], and of course TJ Lyle [lead vocals, piano, harmonica].
They’ve been together as a group for close to five years and this is their very first release. Like a rock ‘n’ roll fairy tale, they played a gig and were signed by a major label on the spot. “Actually we did a showcase in Nashville, Tennessee at a place called The Basement,” Lyle explains. “We did a thirty minute set and we were all nervous of course. Ron Berman (Mascot Records), who is a fantastic guy, came out and watched us. He loved us, we went out to dinner, and like I said, the rest is history.”
That’s not to say the band hasn’t put in some miles before their signing. “Some of our favorite bands to tour with have been tied between three. The Kentucky Headhunters are right there, and Black Stone Cherry is right there, and then there’s a band called Blacktop Mojo. Those guys are great friends of ours. We did a little run with them and they became just like our brothers.”
From listening to the Thunderbolts new EP it occurred to me that that they are set on bringing back the true Southern Rock sound. Their song “So You Want to Change the World,” is a killer ballad, while “Spirit of a Workin’ Man,” puts the band’s blue collar ethic on full display. “That song and ‘Change the World’ are more or less anthems pushing for better things,” Lyle says. “We’re just trying to spread positivity through it all. ‘Change the World’ is our favorite song to perform live because that’s when we can bring it all down. It’s a really intimate song. I enjoy that one. As far as charging up the crowd we have this one song, ‘Lend a Hand.’ Everybody gets into that one.”
While The Georgia Thunderbolts are influenced by everyone from Waylon, Hank Jr. and Merle, to Ozzy, Littlefeat, and even Sam Cooke, Lyle is pretty specific about his personal inspirations. “I really like Ray Charles. There’s just something about his swing of things, but for a band, I’d have to say Bad Company. If there was one band that we could play with or do anything with, I’d love to do it with Bad Company.” Now that might sound like a pretty wide gap in influences but TJ say, “It all goes back to the roots. They both have a real bluesy vibe and the way Paul Rodgers did those runs with his voice he reminds me a lot of Ray Charles.”
Why would the group choose releasing a five-song EP vice a full album? Lyle explained it succinctly, “Initially this was going to be a full album, but due to COVID we decided to just throw something to the wolves and see if we could get a bite. We don’t know when we’re going to get to tour again, and we didn’t want to give away all our inventory without being able to play it live.”
The EP has already been successful even before it’s out. The release of the single, “Looking For an Old Friend,” got the attention of major publications including Rolling Stone, who chose them as one of their “Country Music Picks” last week. That may sound odd but then one must remember that the band had some major country music influences as did their Southern Rock forefathers. Southern Rock is also categorized as a sub-genre of Americana, so the stretch isn’t really that far.
The Georgia Thunderbolts aren’t performing any virtual gigs at the moment, but are spending their down time writing more music. “We’ve been writing a ton – I mean a ton of new music,” Lyle shared. “I’m a strong believer in believe and you shall receive, so I’m trying to stay positive through it all. I’m just keeping my head up, and the band, we reassure each other that we will play again. We’re not just writing these songs for nothing. It’s a scary thought. I mean the world hasn’t seen anything like this in 150 years, but you know, we just have to stay positive. We hope when things open back up, it opens up full blast.”
Full blast. That could very well be a fitting title for The Georgia Thunderbolts next offering when it comes out. If there’s other bands on the sidelines, wondering how to get it done, they could take a lesson from these five gents from Rome, Georgia, who are keeping the faith, and taking Southern Rock to a whole new level.