Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Freddy Weller has always loved country music and preferred recording it to songs in any other genre. While he’s consistently made fine country singles and discs, he may be better known to rock and pop fans for his nearly six-year stint with Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Older listeners may even remember him as the lead guitarist on Billy Joe Royal’s hit single “Down In The Boondocks.”
Now Weller, who currently resides in Brentwood, is busy gearing up for a return to the country scene. He’s putting together a new band and discussing recording opportunities with labels in Texas, while also planning a return to touring and some live dates locally.
“It’s kind of a funny thing in that country has always been my favorite type of music, though I’ve played almost everything else as well,” Weller said. “I still really love the business and at this point if I didn’t want to perform and play I wouldn’t have to do it. So this is really now a labor of love and an opportunity to get out and do some more things.”
Weller’s start in the business came as a high school guitarist and singer in Atlanta, where he was a featured performer on the weekly radio series “The Georgia Jubilee.” Later he became a studio and session player working with Joe South, who at the time had a deal with one of the top publishing firms in the Southeast.
“That’s how I became Billy Joe Royal’s guitarist,” Weller said. “Joe had an ‘in’ back then and there weren’t many musicians around who got a chance to work with him. I eventually became not only the lead guitarist but the guy who would travel with Billy Joe and show the different musicians we worked with what the chord sequences were for the tunes we were doing for the concerts.”
Indeed, working with Royal led to Weller’s next gig, as well as forcing him to make a key career choice.
“Paul Revere saw me playing with Billy Joe at an event, which I didn’t even know at the time because they were so big they just kind of blew in and out. But he soon called and asked me to join Paul Revere and the Raiders. At the same time Joe was setting things up for me to do some country music sessions because I was the only one working with him at the time that liked and wanted to do country. But I figured if you’re going to get into the music business, you might as well get in at the top rung, and that’s where Paul Revere and the Raiders were at that time.”
Weller came aboard just as they began appearing regularly on the Saturday music show Happening ‘68 (it was later changed to It’s Happening the next year).
That evolved into a lengthy tenure in the hit group, including an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that came during Weller’s first week with the Raiders. During that time he also developed his writing skills, teaming with Tommy Roe on the hit pop singles “Dizzy” and “Jam Up and Jelly Tight.”
Eventually the lure of country prevailed again, and this time Weller took advantage of an opportunity.
“Everyone on the show had to do something kind of out of character, and for me that consisted of doing country songs in my segment,” Weller said. “The audience seemed to like it and finally Paul Revere decided to let me do some country tunes while the band was doing a session. I ended up doing two songs, one called “Home” and the other one a cover of Joe South’s “Games People Play,” which at that time wasn’t setting the world on fire, though later it sure did.”
It also jumpstarted Weller’s entrance into country music, eventually netting him a No. 1 country single and subsequently a Most Promising New Male Country Vocalist award from the Academy of Country Music.
“For a couple of years there I was, going back and forth between cutting country albums and recording and touring with Paul Revere and the Raiders,” Weller said.
While he still fondly thinks back on those days and maintains friendships with Revere and other group members, Weller finally decided on a fulltime country career and has stayed in that style since the early ‘70s.
He’s made numerous albums for such labels as Columbia and ABC/Dot, scoring more than 30 charted singles.
“A big difference between when I started recording and today is that back then you’d get with your producer and decide what songs you wanted to do, then you’d do them,” Weller said. “Now there’s about 50 different people that you have to go through before you can do a song, and you talk about clearances and image and all those things. It’s always been tough to get a song on the radio, but the playlists were longer in the ‘70s and ‘80s than they are right now. But one thing that hasn’t changed is I remember people saying back in the ‘60s how was the business different from the way it was in the ‘50s.”
“The music business has always been in flux and always been changing,” Weller said. “If there’s anything that’s different in terms of country now, I would say that the more pop side of things tend to be pushed a lot more than the traditional side. But a lot of the harder, traditional country that I hear is really good. All of it sounds a lot better today due to the caliber of engineering you have in the studios and the technology. The tunes that appeal to me are the more straight country songs.”
Among his many hit compositions, Weller has special feelings for the cuts “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers” and “Dizzy.”
“Both Bob Luman and Steve Wariner had hits off “Lonely Women,” and it was also used in the background for the film Rain Man, Weller said. “Dizzy” was the biggest hit Tommy Roe ever had, and later it was also a No. 1 record in England for two weeks during the ‘90s when Vic Reeves and the Wonder Stuff covered it. So those two are pretty special to me.”
Weller plans to start his own Web site (“I’ve got the name registered, but I may be the only person around who doesn’t have a Web site at this point,” he jokes) and he acknowledges almost all his releases are out of print today.
“You’ve got to go digging for those (albums),” Weller said. “You’re probably not going to find them in your average CD store.”
“You have to have a thick skin if you want to make it in the music business,” Weller said. “There’s so much rejection in this business, and it’s so easy to take things personally. If someone says that a song won’t work and you believe in it, you’ve got to be able to shake that off and keep on knocking on those doors. If you’re good enough, eventually you’ll break them down.”