It’s almost a Rock & Roll cliché — a hungry young band is motivated to broaden its exposure, gain fans and shine a brighter, more expansive light on its original music. In a sense, The Magic Lightnin’ Boys are that archetype, and while they harbor no illusions about widespread success, the Fairfield, Ohio-based Blues/Rock foursome know that only hard work, perseverance and a little luck will win the day.
In every other sense, The Magic Lightnin’ Boys flip the clichéd script. The band is just two years old, but its members are local music veterans. They work hard on their music after they’ve put in long days at full-time jobs. And their hunger for success has been growing over the past two decades.
“Some of us come from Metal and Hard Rock backgrounds, but we’re in our 40s now and I get into older music,” guitarist/vocalist Brian Tarter says in his Fairfield basement, The Magic Lightnin’ Boys’ recording studio/business office. “Everyone’s got their own backgrounds — Blues, R&B, Funk, Hard Rock — and it all comes together. But a lot of bands say, ‘What’s popular? What are kids going to buy?’ We wrote what we liked and didn’t care if anyone liked it. We hoped people would like it, and we got the response we were going for.”
Over two years, The Magic Lightnin’ Boys — Tarter, lead vocalist/piccolo bassist/harpist Casey Gomez, bassist Richie Lee and drummer Kurt Lipphardt — have made incredible strides. The band has already self-released two full-length albums — last year’s eponymous debut and this year’s impressive Stealin’ Thunder — and built a loyal local audience. The band’s sound is a Blues-based amalgam of collective influences that erupts with a Southern Rock rumble reminiscent of The Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Blackfoot and Govt Mule, plus a dash of Black Sabbath, without actively emulating anyone.
“It’s like everybody has their own little ingredient, and that’s what comes out,” Lee says.
“It might remind you of an Allman Brothers or ZZ Top song, but it’s still different,” Tarter says. “From the beginning, that was the idea. We’re not going to try to be popular or fit in any niche, we’re just going to do our thing. It’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel.”
The band coalesced in 2014 when Tarter and Gomez forged a friendship after meeting at an open jam. They started a brief cover band with Lee, Tarter’s bandmate in a Stoner Metal group, and a drummer. They began formulating plans for bigger things, but Gomez confessed his focus would be diffused.
“We were talking about doing some of my original songs or writing some, because Casey had ideas, but he said, ‘My wife’s sick with cancer and I’m limited in how much I can play. My priority is her,’ ” Tarter says. “We played a few shows, she got worse and passed away.”
During his wife’s illness, Gomez wrote down lyric ideas, framing his pain, doubt and fear with words. With her tragic passing, he desperately needed an outlet to vent his grief.
“He called and said, ‘I’m tripping out. I’ve got to get out of the house and play some music,’ ” Tarter says. “We started doing covers again, but he was like, ‘Let’s do some originals. I think I can sing, but I don’t think I can play and sing.’ When he sang, that was it. He had this big Blues voice so we thought we were onto something special.”
Just as writing had helped Gomez deal with his wife’s catastrophic illness, setting those words to music and singing them from the core of his sadness was even more important. When he did, Gomez’s untested frontman voice, somewhere in the Warren Haynes range, came roaring out.
“A lot of the songs I wrote while I was in the hospital with Angie,” Gomez says. “After she passed, the initial part of it was just getting that out and talking about it, and then singing the songs I wrote. I kind of swore off grieving meetings and all that. I didn’t want to do any of that, but the music was definitely therapy. It still is.”
“The first night, two songs came rolling out, and we looked at each other like, ‘Wow!,’ ” Lee says. “He’d never sang and I was in awe of that, and then for him to sing what he’d been writing. When we walked out of there with a couple of songs, we couldn’t wait for the next practice.”
The band’s original hobbyist drummer was quickly replaced by Lipphardt, who had played previously with both Gomez and Lee. He quickly lived up to his “Animal” nickname.
“I got lucky at the beginning because they already had five songs,” Lipphardt says. “So we went over those and they were like, ‘Do you want to do this?’ I was like, ‘Yeah! This is awesome!’ Brian would start in, and 15 minutes later we’ve got a new song. And it’s just, ‘Cool, I like that, I’m going to play this.’ “
Since then, The Magic Lightnin’ Boys have rolled relentlessly, packing local clubs and recording two albums in short order. Both LPs were recorded in Tarter’s basement studio; the first album was done entirely in-house, but Stealin’ Thunder, which recently received a nice review from The Huffington Post, has a richer, more expansive sound thanks to some outside magic.
“We had Dave Cornett from Third Steet in Hamilton mix it, and then we sent it to Brian Lucey, who mastered the Black Keys’ Brothers album, and had him master it,” Tarter says. “We thought that was cool, because he’s from Ohio originally.”
The key to The Magic Lightnin’ Boys’ relatively fast rise has been their organic approach to songwriting and performance. They have no preconceived notions about their material or presentation, and the songwriting process is democratic and loosely structured.
“During practice, Brian went to the restroom and I started messing around, and he came running out and he was like, ‘Keep playing that,’ ” Lee says. “That was the first practice.”
At this point, nearly everything in The Magic Lightnin’ Boys’ enterprise is done by the band members. They’re an LLC, they own their copyrights and publishing, Gomez does the design work and they book and manage themselves. Their next goals are to work up new material, grow their fanbase even more and hit the lucrative festival circuit.
“Obviously, we’re not going to be Rock stars because we’re ugly 40-something dudes,” Tarter says. “But there’s people like JJ Grey, Govt Mule and Rival Sons who are doing the festival circuit that are making a damn good living and they’re not on mainstream radio. If we could get into that kind of thing, we’d be tickled to death.”
For more on THE MAGIC LIGHTNIN’ BOYS, visit magiclightninboys.com.