In the winter of 2011, Grammy-nominated songwriter and Nashville Pussy frontman Blaine Cartwright found himself snowed in, as a freak winter storm slammed his home town of Atlanta. “I suddenly had a lot of unexpected time on my hands. Alone.”
Cartwright had just returned from a successful, if odd, tour of Europe with his seminal cow punk band Nine Pound Hammer – having been unwillingly thrust into the role of singer due to contractual obligations. The turmoil inspired introspection. “I had wanted to do a gospel album since I was a kid. Johnny Cash did one. So did Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis – all of my heroes. And, I’m from the South.”
Cartwright knew he had a concept and some great songs. Plus, he had a crack band and a kick-ass studio at his disposal. “When you make your solo album, you can hire your dream team. Of course, my dream team got paid in cigarettes and Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
By spring, Cartwright had assembled the Kentucky Bridgeburners: Earl Crim, Rob Hulsman and Todd Gorrell, with very special guest Ruyter Suys on vocals, keys and guitars. Also joining the mission were Brian Pulito as producer, and Erin Reynolds on backing vocals. The joyful noise was laid down at Slinging Pig home turf, Nitrosonic Studio in Lexington, Kentucky. The result is Hail Jesus, a ten-song rock-n-roll gospel record that includes original songs by Cartwright as well as covers of songs by The Staple Singers, Fred McDowell and Reverend Gary Davis, Black Oak Arkansas and Woody Guthrie. It’s pure rock-n-roll, with huge tones and a mix of rock, punk, soul and attitude that can only be described as Southern Rock.
Look It Up In the Bible is Cartwright’s attempt to wed Jesus Loves Me (“It’s so catchy!”) with the Sex Pistols. The result is a snarling Chuck Berry rave-up – three minutes of basic bible instruction. “When I grew up people would argue about what’s in the bible, and, there’s a bible sitting in the corner. I remember thinking, why don’t you just look it up?” We All Know What Jesus Did was Cartwright’s reaction to seeing a WWJD bumper sticker.
“I was thinking, ‘Well, we all know what Jesus would do. What would you do?’ I originally wanted to do the song in a very traditionally ‘gospel’ way, with a big choir. We figured out, really quickly, we can’t afford that! And, in the meantime, the only video in the studio the whole session was a Van Halen documentary that we had watched many times. So, we decide, ‘Why not try it like Van Halen?’ It was a jam. You can hear me asking the producer if the tape is rolling. It’s such a great band – you’ve got both Ruyter and Earl playing guitar. I’m like James Brown, singing and pointing to who’s going to solo next.”
The title track, Hail Jesus, was inspired by a melody from an old Bruce Springsteen demo and a snippet of lyrics by Dylan. It’s credited alphabetically as Cartwright / Dylan / Springsteen.
As Hail Jesus was being mixed, Cartwright previewed the record for friends at a seedy Nashville hotel. His faith in the band was bolstered when, spontaneously, a local DJ got up and began “booty dancing.” She made the whole room shout, “Hail Jesus!”