BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES are a unique punk-ass blues duo from Tennessee, a soulful rock'n'roll outfit born in the junkyards of the South. The Heavies are John Wesley Myers (bass keys, Fender Rhodes, organ, and voice) and Van Campbell (drums and vocals). Van is from Louisville, Kentucky and comes from a family of bourbon distillers. He also holds a degree in Mandarin Chinese and has drummed professionally on three continents. John Wesley, the son of a Baptist preacher, was born in Port Arthur, Texas, and has been shaking his "testimony" all over the South, playing gospel as a child until the devil got hold of him.
Although they hail from the Southern States of America the Heavies see themselves as vagrant citizens of the world. They have spent years on the road, living in vans, and sleeping on floors. They bring their countless hours of live experience onto their music.
Again this fantastically charismatic duo have produced a big bucket load of punk ass blues. Myers is an awesome talent who taunts his Rhodes to produce a severely overdriven, low end grunt (you can imagine Gerry Lee’s piano sounding just the same after he’d set fire to it). Throw in Campbell’s solid, explosive drumming and this gives you a perfect example of a band doing what they do best.
A Touch of Someone Else’s Class is a brutal blow of Black Diamond Heavies’ howling, raucous flare kicked home by the heart and soul. Is this one for the record collection?… Every damn time! – Will Bray / Blues In London
It’s hard to tell whether Black Diamond Heavies keyboardist and singer John Wesley Myers was born with a greasy spoon stuck in his throat or if his gruff vocals are just the result of many years spent trying to sing along to Tom Waits records. Either way the result is impressive. With just Myers’ own pounding on a Rhodes piano and that of his partner Van Campbell on a drum kit, the Black Diamond Heavies have taken Waits’ tipsy blues cadence and injected it with the kind of r-n-r vitriol the old guy doesn’t muster much.
For their second album, A Touch of Someone Else’s Class, the East Nashville duo travelled to Ohio to record with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach at his Akron Analog Studio. If anyone knows something about making a two-piece sound bigger than it is, it would be Auerbach, but the choice of engineer was fortuitous in other ways as well. Joining the Heavies for one cut, "Bidin’ My Time," was Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney’s uncle Ralph, longtime horn player for Waits, and his contribution gives the song a touch of late-night noir that can’t be gotten from just anyone. Still Auerbach’s work is one of the keys (no pun intended) to the record’s success. Cuts like the leadoff "Nutbush City Limits" and "Loose Yourself" are imbued with a floor-shaking sound, just enough low-end rumble and in-the-red saturation to make the record come alive. Myers studies of the Waits catalog, Booker T and Muscle Shoals soul, and no doubt Nina Simone (the Heavies do a very worthy cover of her seminal "Sinnerman") has paid off in spades. Touch is a gritty triumph, the kind of record that can’t be made without more than a little blood and sweat. – Stephen Slaybaugh / The Agit Reader
Nashville’s Black Diamond Heavies spent a lot of time on the road after the release of their first album, 2007's Every Damn Time, and you can hear the lessons of dozens of sweatbox gigs on their second full-length set, 2008's A Touch of Someone Else’s Class. While James Leg (aka John Wesley Myers) on vocals and keys and Van Campbell on drums sounded tight and fiery the first time around, on their sophomore LP they sound tougher, harder, and practically incendiary; the duo’s blues gestures are just as solid as before, but there’s an emotional weight and an almost telepathic synergy between Leg and Campbell that makes their fine first record seem like a rough demo by comparison, and the songs rock harder and crazier than ever before. Leg often sounded like he was trying to channel Tom Waits on the BDH’s debut, and not in a good way, but while the raspy growl of his voice still bears more than a passing resemblance to Waits, this time he sounds more like an inheritor of the great vocal tradition of Howlin’ Wolf and Captain Beefheart, and it’s a welcome improvement. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produced and recorded these sessions, and while his approach feels pretty hands-off, the results suggest having a more sympathetic hand behind the board was a real help for the band. And when a band’s originals sound as good as covers of stuff by Tina Turner, Nina Simone, and T-Model Ford, there’s no question it must be doing something right. In short, if you want to hear some blues-shot rock that’ll kick your butt and make you love it, A Touch of Someone Else’s Class is one album you need to hear. – Mark Deming / ALL MUSIC
Black Diamond Heavies, though generally pictured as just two guys, seem to be a trio on their new album as well – in this case, supposedly from "the Southern States of America," though they sure do play live in Ohio a lot. James Leg is credited with "vocals, bass keys, Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, tack piano, knife"; Van Campbell with "drum, vocal, do things"; U.S. Justice with "background mouth, maracas, life." Helper-outers include Dan Auerbach from Black Keys (lending production assistance) and Ralph Carney from Tin Huey; cover versions include Nina Simone’s "Oh Sinnerman" (cabaret hell-blues salvaging its ludicrous Waits/Cave schtick with gothic proto-psych swirl ˆ la the Doors or Animals), T-Model Ford’s "Take a Ride" (likewise kinda Doorsy due to trashy organ); and some pachyderm plotz all over Tina Turner’s "Nutbush City Limits" (which Bob Seger did funkier).
Notable originals are plentiful: (1) "Everything Is Everything," a big stomp from the swamp, grumbled in the manner of Jim Dandy or Dr. John or Dan McCafferty from Nazareth atop huge drums hip-hopping in the manner of Run-D.M.C.’s version of "Walk This Way"; (2) "Bidin’ My Time," a jazz-leaning apparent chitlin’ circuit ballad tribute to our new Vice President-Elect, moaned slow and low a la Satchmo via Waits again; (3) speed-swinging Australian-style bogan-rock gutpunch "Make Some Time"; (4) lo-fidelity Count Bishops/Dr. Feelgood pub-punk murderer "Numbers 22 (Balaam’s Wild Ass)"; (5) likewise pub-homicidal closing boogie "Happy Hour," which concerns visiting either the "pawn shop" or "porn shop"; (6) "Loose Yourself," one of the hardest-rocking songs I heard in all 2008; (7) and "Solid Gold," which comes closer to "Train Kept a Rollin’" than anything on the (nonetheless quite good) Mudsharks’ album. Not necessarily in that order. – Chuck Eddy / RHAPSODY
As they proved on their ’07 debut, Every Damn Time, Black Diamond Heavies are unique within the field of two-piece white blues rockers not only because the foundation of their sound is John Wesley Myers’ keyboards instead of guitars but also because they have a firm grasp on old fashioned, greasy Southern soul. That advantage is on full display right off the top of A Touch Of Someone Else’s Class, with a bristly take on Ike and Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” directly followed by the storming “Everything Is Everything.” The fine, horn-infused ballad “Bidin’ My Time” shows some unexpected range, and while on this song in particular it’s easy to make Tom Waits comparisons, it’s just as fair to say that the Heavies’ approach to blues and soul is far less pretentious. There are plenty of booty-shakin’ moments elsewhere and in the end, that should really be all that matters. A Touch Of Someone Else’s Class is a pure adrenaline shot for any jaded rock’n’roll fan in need of one – Jason Schneider / Exclaim
This is the bollocks, rough ’n’ ready and as raw as f*ck yet richly coded in a vintage hue. Featuring the combined talents of John Wesley Myers (sometime member of the Immortal Lee Country Killers) a man blessed with a vocal that sits somewhere between The Black Halos’ Billy Hopeless, Screaming Jay Hawkins and Tom Waits and who swaggers and mooches like a brimstone burning sermoniser (check out the blistered blues boogie ‘smooth it out’ for further evidence) and his right hand mojo hobo Van Campbell formerly of the Invisibles and currently to be found moonlighting with the Rum Circus, these dudes it seems have a direct line to then devil’s own soul brew, across these 11 cuts they re-inject garage blues with a deeply resonant purging soulful edge that’s both undeniably sassy and trip wired with a bare arsed primitive grit that nods aplenty to the greats that graced the hallowed imprints of the likes of Chess, Sun and Stax. – Mark Barton / Losing Today
Black Diamond Heavies sound like whiskey sliding down the pulsating human hatch, and hitting an empty stomach with a discomforting thud. A shot of Detroit river water slipping down your throat and soaking into a slowly digesting meal – the type of meal that prepares you for a long night of slamming empty glasses on a waxed countertop – is a bit more kindly, but the blues don’t really give a fuck about that. The blues – especially after doing several lines of cocaine off of rock ‘n’ roll’s cock in a dingy and dimly lit bar bathroom – taste a lot like the type of puke-bucket magic that Black Diamond Heavies conjure up with nothing more than your basic set of skins and some smoothly played organ. And, if Black Diamond Heavies were the jukebox that rests in the corner of our barstool scenery, the 45s within that vintage machine would crackle and pop as they turned out Southern anthems of energy and sorrow played night after night through a distorted speaker that the barkeep never bothers to fix because it just sounds so damn good. – Ryan Patrick Hooper / Reax Magazine
I have listened to this album countless times and am truly blown away by his playing. As for Myers, he still delivers his vocals ala Tom Waits. In fact Ralph Carney, a horn player for Waits and Patrick Carney’s uncle is introduced on one track, “Bidin’ My Time” that oozes soul. Much like “All To Hell” from the first album, it gives off an Otis Redding vibe that makes me want to slow dance with my lady. Myers is equally adept when the boys turn it up a notch as well. “Nutbush City Limit,” “Make Some Time” and my favorite, “Smooth It Out” are all dirty, scuzzy blues rockers. Myers works the organ into a lather and delivers the vocals like he’s part demon. Much like BBQ joints, there are some people that like their ribs in a quaint, well-lit atmosphere with shiny sliverware. And then there are those of us who like their ribs slapped on some white bread in a joint where you can barely see the silverware. Black Diamond Heavies are that hole-in-wall BBQ place. – HEARYA
Best paired with sticky summer heat, the sounds of Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Black Diamond Heavies turn listeners into believers in dirty, destructive, sinful Southern blues. Made up of Fender Rhodes-bangin’ monster John Wesley Myers and drummer Van Campbell, this two-piece makes its Alive Records labelmates the Black Keys look like shoegazers as the Heavies writhe and shake their way across their latest release, A Touch of Someone Else’s Class. These dudes tour constantly, and their live show is a near-religious experience. Add Old Crow, devil horns and cutoff Daisy Dukes for full effect. – The PITCH
Moving leftfield apace The Black Diamond Heavies’ "A Touch of Someone Else’s Class" (Alive) offers a defiantly different take on the blues, but also impresses. The notion of a keyboard and drums duo instinctively conjures images of Raw Sex, the inappropriately labelled lounge band of French and Saunders 80's shows; but James Leg and Van Campbell put on one of the dirtiest, loudest, most feral live shows around, and here nail their sonic tour de force for home consumption. If Tom Waits, Howling Wolf and Animal from the Muppets serenading a jet engine in a tunnel makes your perfect Sunday morning (and why shouldn’t it, pop pickers?) then wade in here. – Leicester Bangs
Gravel-throated singer James Leg harbors a demi-doom perhaps due to having to hold together everything but the drums. He may be the only current broken blues carnival barker who heard John Lee Hooker long before Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits, or Man Man for that matter, and has yet to use a beard as evidence of purity-what with purity being something gutter boozers should rarely be concerned with. The razor-stabbed organ-fueled gutter-gospel, "Oh, Sinnerman," actually exudes some of the tempo meander of a rambling church sermon, but the sparse sound of a graveyard Bassholes kin.
Yes, smoky Hammond organ ballads like "Bidin’ My Time" are trotted out, loose "baby"s are pleaded upon continuously, and a humid tone over heated tunes is preferred. In general, such blues hammering is best served to a greener crowd not completely sick of this style from exposure to a decade of ’80s beer commercials. But mucho credit is given to these Heavies for retaining that storming, redlining fuzz to the point of something like a new kick. Especially on "Solid Gold" where the organ playing starts to whoosh in unexpected corners of the song, cymbals crash like garbage can tops, and for a few moments you forget you’ve heard this all before. Or maybe you haven’t.- Eric Davidson / CMJ
The Black Diamond Heavies are a favorite around here at MUD. They make the BLACK KEYS sounds like ABBA on a milk hangover. "A Touch of Someone Else’s Class" is their new drop. Raw, greasy, and full of gasoline. Play loud over a highball of whiskey. Now if they would only play Toronto, life would be really fuzzy. BTW – The Black Keys are actually involved in this recording. – Electric Mud
The 11-track album, the band’s second, features drunken blues-gospel inflected tunes with singer Leg’s Tom Waits-ian growl, which on songs such as Numbers 22 (Balaam’s Wild Ass) and the ballad Bidin’ My Time sounds eerily like an impersonation of Waits’ Small Change era. ‘It’s not a put-on. That’s how that (guy) talks,” Auerbach said, laughing. ”It’s not some bull where he puts on the voice, and I’ve heard a lot of people do that. He actually talks like that and when he laughs like that, that’s what it sounds like.”
Auerbach, who won’t be in town for the show because the Black Keys will be on their way to Australia for another series of sold-out shows, said he’s not particularly interested in becoming a hot hit-making producer. ”I just like to make records and work with bands, and that’s why I just want do it as much as I can.”
Highlights of the album include midtempo stomper Loose Yourself; Solid Gold, an amped-up shuffle that could easily be a single; and an organ-only cover of Nina Simone’s take on the old spiritual Oh, Sinnerman, which Auerbach said came from one of those spontaneous moments in the studio. ”They weren’t even planning on recording that song. [Leg] just came in one morning, sat down and started playing it and singing, and I started recording. I’m really glad that it made it on the record.” – OHIO.COM
To say John Wesley Myers has a rough, weathered voice is an understatement. It’s not your average gravelly, growl. Dude sings like he’s survived his adult life on a diet of unfiltered cigarettes, moonshine, gasoline, and shards of broken glass. While those pipes may be enough to distinguish the Black Diamond Heavies from the rest of the garage rock crowd, there’s also the matter of their unique set up. It’s just Myers on keys and Van Campbell on drums, responsible that raging and soulful, Southern holler. – I Rock Cleveland
One of the freshest records I’ve heard in a long time, which might seem a strange thing to say since it is also one of the most derivative I’ve heard in awhile. And that is a good thing. Part of the fun is picking out and identifying the many influences you hear. The most obvious is Myers’ voice, which is part Tom Waits and part Iggy Pop with a little Joe Cocker in there, too.
You also hear some Rolling Stones’ blues-rock phrasing, and every now and then Myers’ keyboards offer a hint of Ray Manzarek’s whirling-winding-constantly-building, trippy sound with the Doors Nothing is copied here, mind you, but whether intentionally or not, Myers and Campbell have managed to take some of the very best parts of tent-revival passion, demonic rock ’n’ roll, ’60s psychedelia and punk sensibility and made something all their own.
The beauty is how well it all works together. – Chattanooga Time Free Press
Their attack of drums and keyboards is a mean, fucked up, gospel punky hybrid and rocks with ragged, soulful passion. – Rock Sound
Black Diamond Heavies are an act that play rock as it is supposed to be played; heavy, grungy, and dirty. This is the music of bars and juke joints, instead of 40,000 seat arenas. – NEUFUTUR
From the distorted "whoo!" that opens the song "Guess You Gonna," it’s clear that the Heavies like to keep things as raw and ground-up as dirt – drums with a trashcan rattle that sound huge and far away (like they were recorded in a wide-open space down the street) and overdriven Fender Rhodes. That’s all there is to it, but then again, there’s so much more. For one, the absence of guitar actually enhances the Heavies’ sound and gives it freshness and guts. When keyboard player/vocalist Reverent John Wesley Myers cranks the distortion, the music kicks, spits, and growls like an angry mule. But when he holds back and dips into some vintage soul, the Heavies achieve a space and mournfulness that most garage bands could only dream of. For all the repetition that’s endemic to rock ‘n’ roll, the Black Diamond Heavies have the drive and spark to reawaken faith in even the most jaded listener. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni / Phoenix New Times
The Black Diamond Heavies will be legendary in years to come! Consisting of only a drummer and a singer who plays a Hammond organ, the group plays magnificently soulful blues. "Every Damn Time" by The Black Diamond Heavies is basically a live-in-the-studio album recorded in 2 days. Hailing from TN, the 2 musicians have created a classic masterpiece. "White Bitch" is a bluesy/rock swansong to a love affair with cocaine. The slow, romantic hearbreaking tenderness of "All To Hell" and "Stitched In Sin" will make listeners fall in love. Other standout cuts include "Fever In My Blood", "Leave It In The Road", "Signs", and "Might Be Right". Every single song on this album is incredible!!! You will love this album every damn time you play it! "Every Damn Time" by The Black Diamond Heavies is an absolute classic! – Todd E. Jones / The Tripwire
Black Diamond Heavies live in London – Spitz Festival 07
We miss the start because the bar upstairs is five deep and we are forced into the market downstairs for an emergency Weisbeer. When we return we are dragged through the doors and towards the stage by a wave of warm keyboard fuelled pleasure. This is huge, anthemic resonance is being orchestrated by John Wesley Myres on key’s and Van Campbell on drums. Apparently the duo used to be a trio before their guitarist departed but, as with so many of today’s finer blues rock outfits, the stripped down, bare boned riot that remains is more than capable of delivering the goods. Comparisons with Tom Waits (vocals), The Stooges (sweat soaked bare backed writhing) and RL Burnside would be easy but these guy’s offer so much more. The diversity of their set is incredible and sticks two fingers up at the marketing man’s desire for monotony. Melancholic, tumbling anthem ‘All to Hell’ gives way to free flowing jazzy stomps in the form of ‘Let Me Coco’ and the best is yet to come. What the Heavies really do best is rock’n’roll. And I mean real old fashioned, vintage, nail you to the wall rock and roll. Myres is incredible on key’s – pounding out a thumping rampaging bassline with his left hand while bending and whaling out sludge rock brilliance with his right. ‘Poor Brown Sugar’ is another standout track. For the finale, Biram and the Heavies (who toured together for a long time) conduct an extended jam of Muddy Waters covers which unite the two in perfect unison. An encore is inevitable and ‘Got My Mojo Working’ is the icing on the cake. – Lewis Hodgkinson / Blues in London
Call me a convert. Call me a sinner. Call me what you will. I have witnessed the devil’s music of the Black Diamond Heavies and am ready to testify. (...) Most of the set list came from the Heavies’ latest release, Every Damn Time. Notable was the performance of "Fever in My Blood," during which Campbell and Myers launched into a vein-pumping, cymbal-crashing improvised freakout — a jam apparently so powerful that it caused one whiskey-soaked patron to stumble out of control, resulting in broken glass and a capsized speaker. – Tristan Wheelock / CREATIVE LOAFING
This duo of self-described "vagrants/citizens of the world" makes gruff, scratchy, lo-fi blues and soul music like there was nothing else they ever wanted to do. It ain’t pretty, but it’s got balls. Like Hillstomp, they make a big sound for two people, but it’s dark and electrified and loud. While his left hand covers the bass parts on a bass keyboard, singer John Wesley Myers pounds a distorted sound out of his Fender Rhodes electric piano with his right, which provides the hoarseness that hard music normally gets from guitars. On vocals he sounds as much like Howlin’ Wolf as any white man I’ve ever heard, particularly on "Might Be Right" and the frenzied opener "Fever In My Blood." – Jon Sobel / BLOGCRITICS
With a sound that’s blues-rooted but steeped in Stooges sludge, the Heavies’ cranky, cranked-up sets burn black as tire fires. Stylistically, BDH is often lumped in with R.L. Burnside and Tom Waits. That’s a fine place to start, but the comparison misses the band’s joy and boogie. Instead, think Exile on Main Street recorded in Howlin’ Wolf’s casket. Nothing smooth or clean here. Just eight-bar skronk in bad need of a tetanus shot. – Alan Scherstuhl / THE PITCH
With a bottom end bigger than Homer Simpson’s arse and not a guitar to be heard it’s an album that’s heavily reliant on Myers’ keyboards for its colour. The good news is that we’re not let down and he’s a tremendous player. "Every Damn Time" is every bit as soulful as Sunday brunch in Harlem with the same attendant edge of risk if you wander the wrong way down a side-street. Fans of the Black Keys or the Soledad Brothers should cock an ear – with the proviso that "Every Damn Time" is less refined. Not a bad thing, that. – The Barman / I-94 BAR
While on paper they sound like yet another post-White Stripes blues duo, on record the Black Diamond Heavies offer an impressive range of musical material. Whiskey-soaked ballads give way to rollicking, floor-stomping tunes with ease. Sounding occasionally like Tom Waits on a mean bender, vocalist John Wesley Myers’s singing offers a distinctive flavour to the group’s songs. Rather than focus on a standard guitar and drums duo format, Black Diamond Heavies make keyboards the central instrument with both Fender Rhodes electric piano and Hammond B3 organ figuring prominently in their songs. The result is a textured and soulful sound that helps makes Every Damn Time an impressive album from this Tennessee duo. – EXCLAIM
Listening to Black Diamond Heavies’ debut, "Every Damn Time" sounds a bad night at one of those hole-in-the wall dives with a sound man who’s worked at about a thousand too many punk rock shows and keeps turning the sound up until the speakers rattle like a blow-out on your front tire going 80 down I-75 until your ear lobes fold themselves over on their own to muffle the feedback but you can still feel the bass drum thumping against your chest until it alters your heart beat and you either run from the bar with your ears bleeding – or you dance. "Yeah, that’s about what we were going for," said frontman John Wesley Myers. – OXFORD PRESS
John Wesley Meyers’ pounding keys and thick, raspy vocals sound like Tom Waits after sucking down a Molotov cocktail, and the tunes are an irreverent mash of gospel, blues and punk rock that creep into your belly. Holding it all together is Van Campbell’s sonorous, almost melodic, drumming. Close your eyes while listening to the new record, and you’re right there on the road with this constantly touring band, where each day culminates in a whiskey-sweating, soul-damning, arms-in-the-air carnival. – Eric Williams / Nashville Scene
Every Damn Time is an impressive set of messed-up 21st century blues. – All Music Guide