By: Dana Himrich, Contributor, Regional Music Journal
On the evening of November 21, 2018, Regional Music Journal made a trip to see Wayne Garner and his band perform at Riffs inside the Hard Rock Casino and Resort in Catoosa, OK. Riffs styles itself as a country music bar, but calling Garner a purely country artist is doing him a disservice. Combining the lyrical traditions of classic country with the instrumentals of classic rock, Garner’s music refuses to be sorted into either genre and instead pulls the best it can from both.
Garner considers Texas to be his homeland but is originally from eastern Oklahoma. He has Cherokee and Choctaw roots and grew up with the musical and cultural influences of those communities. By age seven, he was playing the drums and learning to play guitar. Garner continued to write and perform throughout his high school and college years, and in 2013, he released his first album, Senorita Dreams. His second album, titled Love Drunk Fool, was released in 2016. Since then, Garner’s music has been featured by the UFC and by Country Music Television, MTV and Great American Country.
Garner’s down-to-earth, blue-collar image might make him and his band – which includes Kyle Brown on lead guitar, Corey Spears on bass guitar, Ted Cummings on drums, Donnie Vouklizas on keys, and Dan Johnson on steel guitar – look out of place in a venue like Riffs. The décor of the bar is sleek and futuristic, the main stage is suspended above the crowd with the noise of the main casino floor only feet away, and between sets, a drop-down screen plays music videos from the likes of AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne. Once he starts playing, however, Garner quickly establishes his own musical footprint and places himself in conversation with the country/rock artists of decades past. While the studio versions of Garner’s music lean more towards traditional country/bluegrass and has an acoustic sound, the live versions are noticeably louder and more influenced by rock. The drums and the lead guitar, for example, are almost fighting for dominance much of the time. But this isn’t a case of Garner simply altering the sound of his music to suit the venue he is performing in. Instead, there exists a sense of two genres meeting in the middle as Garner adds a country twist on classic rock songs. During the set that RMJ observed, for example, Garner and his band performed a cover of “I’m On Fire” by Bruce Springsteen. They gave the song a more upbeat, swinging tone and prominently featured the steel guitar, hearkening back to the style of 20th-century country artists like Johnny Cash.
Garner’s live instrumentals may be considered rock, but as a lyricist, he is still definitely a country artist. His discography is worldly, nostalgic, colorful and pays tribute to the American South and Southwest. It’s clear that Garner prefers to focus on regionalism and personal narratives: songs like “Voodoo Queen,” “Red River Band” and “Kaw-Liga” are all about the people, places and cultures of traditional Americana. He can also be brutally honest about his own experiences growing up and navigating the music industry, as he does with songs like “Building a Castle.” His rough, gravelly vocals make him an ideal fit for his chosen genre, and his backwoods image makes him and his music feel warm and down to earth. The atmosphere inside Riffs was relaxed as well: people of all ages, country fans and rock fans alike, were dancing in the middle of the room with each song. It really demonstrates Garner’s versatility as a performer. He may be a country artist at heart, but he knows how to slide between genres and fuse the traditional with the modern to create the most effective sounds possible.
Garner’s official website is www.waynegarnerband.net, and his albums are available on most online stores and streaming services.
© Copyright 2018 Regional Music Journal