Almost four years ago, John Satterfield tapped his foot nervously as he sat in an RV outside Williams-Brice Stadium. His breathing was labored, like someone hyperventilating.
Satterfield and his band at the time, Woodwork Roadshow, had just won the opening slot for Kenny Chesney’s 2008 concert at the stadium. Chesney will perform at Williams-Brice again in May, but instead of vying for an opening slot in a local competition, Satterfield will be attempting to do what Chesney did to become a stadium-sized draw: make it big in Nashville.
Tonight Satterfield will have a CD release show for “Goodbye Whiskey,” the 10-song album he recorded in Nashville with producer Mike Gossin, a guitarist and singer in popular country band Gloriana.
“A lot of the stuff is about leaving, moving on, new starts,” Satterfield, who moved to Nashville last week, said of the album.
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“Goodbye Whiskey” was recorded in the living room of engineer Mark Dobson, who engineered Santana’s “Supernatural,” among other records. The album, a mix of country, rock and Southern-tinged pop, is anchored by Satterfield’s storytelling.
“These are all songs that I love. So I don’t feel I’ve departed from the norm that much,” he said. “I think it was a matter of making a record that was more appealing to a large group of people. I think that it’s definitely something that just about anybody could be interested in.”
Since his days with Woodwork Roadshow, Satterfield, a Chapin native, has established himself as one of the local scene’s best and most reliable performers. But the former member of the Coast Guard wanted to swim with what he called the sharks in Nashville. In terms of his music career, it’s time for him to sink of swim after years of suggesting the move.
“It’s really easy to create a persona around yourself by saying you’re getting ready to do something,” said the 31-year-old Satterfield, who graduated from USC in May. “Nashville was the next step for me if I want to continue leading this life. Bottom line, I’ve been working my (butt) off for the last seven years doing 150-200 dates a year, and there’s not a lot of job security.
“At some point, you have to figure out if you want to do this recreationally or for a living. I don’t want to wake up 40 years old tomorrow thinking, ‘What if I had gone to Nashville?’”
Music City already feels like home to Satterfield, who mentioned that while hanging out at a bar recently he sat a few stools away from Zac Brown.
“The possibilities are endless, especially what I can do with music,” he said of country’s music capital. “You can take it as far as you want to. Not to say that I felt limited in South Carolina, but as far as the industry, the resources aren’t there. It was only going to be so long before I came down here.”
Tonight’s show will feature what has become known as Satterfield’s Damn Fine Band, essentially a rotating coterie of the scene’s most talented musicians. Herbie Jeffcoat, Jeremy Roberson, Les Hall, Mike Mills and perhaps others will back Satterfield tonight. Roberson, a drummer, and Jesse Isley, a Columbia native now living in Nashville, played on “Goodbye Whiskey,” which is being promoted as a solo record.
“It’s not being pushed as a band, because I don’t really have a band right now. And it is my music,” Satterfield said. “This record wouldn’t have been made as well as it is without all the guys who played on the record. I was fortunate to be supported and surrounded by some of the best musicians I have ever seen.”
The recording of “Goodbye Whiskey” was paid for in part by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $12,000 through online donations. Artists who have successful campaigns promise exclusive opportunities and access to donors of a certain level, but anyone who listens to “Goodbye Whiskey” will get a vision of a vulnerable but unencumbered songwriter.
“Til the Dawn,” a guitar-driven song is about driving from town to town to play different stages. “Goodbye Whiskey” is a farewell dirge, with the liquor serving as a metaphor. The lighthearted and catchy “Get Her Off” is the kind of song that would play well on country radio.
A high mark of the album, “High Horse,” was drawn from a low point of Satterfield’s life.
“I don’t think you can write a song like that without experiencing that situation,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people out there will know exactly what that song is talking about.”
Sounding despondent, Satterfield sings of a love who has taken up with his best friend. The song sounds so believable because it’s true.
“There’s no shame in being honest,” he said. “I think people can relate to fallibility. The problems they’re going through are not exclusive to them. I feel that it’s better to let things out and move on.”
He has moved on to Nashville. While he didn’t reveal specific details, Satterfield said he has met “with some people who can create excellent opportunities for me.”
The sharks are circling, which means he’s in the right place.
“I’m just a fish trying to swim with the sharks,” he said. “I’m just another sucker trying to make it out here.”