MUSIC BOX: Rockingham in the USA

By on June 7, 2017

American Aquarium’s BJ Barham performs in lower 48 states in 59 days.

BJ Barham

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Emotional sparks derived from haste are often straight-from-the-bone. When it came to writing his first solo record, Rockingham, American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham wanted the immediate satisfaction of totality as quick as the inspiration hit him without sacrificing authenticity, and without the frills of studio magic.

The impetus for the eight-song set Rockingham—a fictional narrative depicting Barham’s home town of Reidsville, North Carolina—came during American Aquarium’s fourth European tour in 2015. They were in Belgium less than two hours from Paris when bad news arrived. A series of terrorist attacks, including one in a rock club, had left more than 100 dead. Family members, friends and the fans American Aquarium had amassed from a decade of touring immediately reached out to make sure the band was safe. That onslaught of text messages and voicemails was the spark that left Barham piecing together composites of folks and places he’d known since childhood who had impacted his life in fundamental ways. Forty-eight hours later, Barham had written a batch of songs that were glued together in subject matter.

“I wanted to do something honest, I wanted to catch something raw,” Barham explained. “The record was written in two days, and so I wanted the recording to reflect that. I met the band on Sunday. We rehearsed on Monday and Tuesday; Wednesday and Thursday we tracked it, Friday we mixed it, Saturday we mastered it, and in less than a week I had a finished copy from the time I shook the guys’ hands [in the band] and met them.”

“I’ve never done a record that way,” he continued. “It has always taken months and going through it with a fine tooth comb. I wanted this one to be real, not perfect. The coolest thing about this record is that there’s not one single comp on this record—it’s 100 percent live.”

In the title track, Barham sings about his father, though it could very well describe a touring musician: “I worked a 40-hour week selling auto parts / nobody ever told me it would be this hard / Raise a wife and two kids off an honest wage / twenty-eight years old feelin’ twice my age.”

Lyrical prowess is around every bar of this album; alt-country-folk to the core of a blue collar town and the everyday Southern characters that inhabit it. It’s a laidback cousin to American Aquarium’s twangy, rusty rock that draws influence from Whiskeytown and Drive-by Truckers.

The biggest divergence comes in the form of touring for his solo record. Instead of the six-piece and crew, it’s Barham’s wife and dog on a family road trip. Performing 53 shows in 59 days in all 48 continental states is a serious grind.

Bo Elledge

“I think it was one part ambition one part ignorance,” Barham responded when asked about the tour concept. “I’m doing it quicker than other folks that have done it previously. On paper it looked much easier, but it’s week four and we’ve only had two days off. Exhaustion is setting in, but so far it’s been easy going. We’re driving through 31 of the 59 national parks, so it’s really spoiling me to be able to do this with my wife and my dog.”

Bo Elledge, lead singer/guitarist/percussionist of Canyon Kids, opens the show. Elledge has co-penned two albums of material for Canyon Kids—a self-titled in 2014 and Best Loved Poems of the American People in 2016—as well as a seminal Jackson Hole album from his first local project with Elk Attack, Second Born. One of the strongest male vocalists in the region and a prolific writer, Elledge will be recording a solo EP this summer.

BJ Barham with guest Bo Elledge, 9 p.m. Thursday, June 8 at Town Square Tavern. $10. PJH

Aaron Davis is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, audio engineer at Three Hearted Studio, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.


Vinyl Night (The Rose); Karaoke (Virginian)


BJ Barham & Bo Elledge (Town Square Tavern);

Major Zephyr

(Silver Dollar)


Sneaky Pete & the Secret Weapons (Silver Dollar); Charles Ellsworth (Town Square Tavern)


Divinity Roxx

(Knotty Pine)


Derrik & the Dynamos (Silver Dollar); Open Mic (Pinky G’s)


JH Hootenany (Dornans)


Dopapod (Pink Garter);

One Ton Pig (Silver Dollar);

The Workshy (Town Square Tavern)

About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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