back row baptists

In Memory of Chris Porter: Andrea Juarez #1704

Andrea Juarez never planned to release an album. The hair stylist and makeup artist made it happen to honor her fiance, Chris Porter, who passed away on tour October 2016, when their van was rear-ended on the interstate. Mitchell Vandenburg also was killed, and Adam Nurre miraculously survived the horrific wreck. Porter mostly finished tracking his album, Don’t Go Baby It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You.  He recorded it in marathon sessions with Will Johnson (Centro-Matic) , and Shonna Tucker (Pegi Young, Drive By Truckers), and John Calvin Abney (Solo, John Moreland). Bonnie Whitmore hosted a memorial concert to raise the rest of the funds to finish the record, which will be released on the anniversary.

In Memory of Chris Porter, Part 1

As most of y’all know, our friend, Chris Porter, passed away in a terrible car wreck while on tour (along with touring partner, Mitch Vandenburg, and survived by drummer, Adam Nurre). I’ve been going through my old hard drives to the early days of this show, when it was a daily feature on select country stations across the country, with a brief excerpt of my interview with one song from the band, called the “Daily Plate of Country Fried Rock.” Here’s the excerpt. I also found the full interview from around 2010, and I also have a long, un-aired interview with Porter — including video — from September 2015. I have offered that audio and video to the people who will hopefully be releasing his recently completed record, if they choose to use it.

Please support Porter’s surviving fiancee, Andrea Juarez, Adam Nurre Rehabilitation Fund, or the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians in his memory.


Here was my original post following this old conversation:

Much like it never occurred to us that iced tea could be “out of season,” it never once crossed our minds that someone might not know what “Back Row Baptist” meant.  These Birmingham, Alabama musicians chuckle (politely, of course, to themselves) every time someone asks about the “Backroad Baptists” or where “Bagrow” is.  The Ole Miss Center for the Study of Southern Culture is the academic authority on phrases, food culture, religion, and history in the Deep South, so that’s where we turned for a definitive explanation:

I can’t immediately find an answer to who, if it’s possible to identify anyone, first started using the term. I think it’s theologically meaningful, because the Baptists have so much emphasis on going forward to the altar–you can’t have “back row” Episcopalians or even Presbyterians. It’s also important because unlike other groups that emphasize going forward and making a commitment or testimony, various pentecostal groups for example, Baptists have a reputation for conservatism, so staying in the back is a way of being in between the action at the front and staying out of it altogether.  (Source:  Ted Ownby, personal email, 22 June 2010)

The Back Row Baptists bring together political controversy and kickin’ country music much like Lynyrd Skynyrd did.  Throw into the mix multiple lead singers, including the amazing jazz-influenced Sarah Green, and you’ve got crank it up, party down country rock that you will love, even if it might make you think or tick you off.  It’s hard to narrow down their standard three-hour live show to one CD, but their first label-backed release allowed them the luxury of a horn section and a less rushed atmosphere.  They are influenced by the subversive lyrics and themes of Boston underground hip hop, the multi-instrumentation of The Band, and punk-ish Black Flag, which unveils itself in dark, uncomfortable themes within a rocking country sound.  As Chris Porter says, “A sign of a good Southern city is a great cemetery.”

The band is defined by their Southern history, including the unpleasant and seedy reality of racism, exclusivity in religion, and eternal judgment in life and death.  They embrace their cultural history while throwing their more progressive, open-minded, and inclusive beliefs right in the face of fans who might be blatantly ticked off by it.  The Back Row Baptists’ music shamelessly challenges the status quo from within the culture.  Porter writes and sings from a character’s point of view rather than personal experience, while his sweeter love songs are generally sung by Green.  Porter is greatly influenced by literature, and uses those themes as conceptual starting points for many of his songs, taking a turn of a phrase and making it Southern, throwing in a touch of a Cops episode, resulting in a statement on the death penalty.  Tactful writing can get a controversial political message across without ticking off your audience.

Alumni Update: Porter & The Pollies

Sloane Spencer — What’s happening with your new album?

Chris Porter (better known as Porter) — Well, that depends on which one. I’ve had a busy year! I just released the new Porter and The Pollies EP. Shortly after my move from Birmingham, Alabama, to Austin, Texas, I was in a funk of sorts, and while talking to my brother-in-arms Jay Burgess (of The Pollies), we decided to go honest with this idea of a Porter/Pollies collaboration. We had kicked the idea around green rooms for a while, and were interested to hear how I would sound fronting a full band, and how the Pollies would sound with my country ass on vocals. We decided that the session was just what we needed, for ourselves and our bands. I bought a big ass red guitar and drove down to The Shoals with a handful of tunes. When I arrived we soon all realized what a state of disrepair we were all in. 2012 had been bittersweet to say the least, and it was cathartic to be around my brothers again. Somewhere in there we cut some tracks. We opted to go as live as possible with the tracking and forgot to turn on the click track. The product is more amazing than I could have ever hoped for. It’s buzzy and fuzzy, and a little drunk and surly — covers all of the bases we wanted it to, and represents the week that we shared making it to a T. I’m so proud of it.

I am also heading into the studio in December to cut my first solo full length record. For that I am blessed to be able to work with Will Johnson (Centro-Matic/ South San Gabriel) as my producer, along with Chris Masterson (Steve Earle/Son Volt/ The Mastersons), Eleanor Whitmore (Steve Earle, The Mastersons, and everybody else that’s great), and my lovely girlfriend Bonnie Whitmore (who needs no introduction). There is an Indiegogo floating around there somewhere, but I won’t solicit funds through here. You will be hearing a lot more about that in the coming weeks. (NOTE: I added the link to his fundraiser anyway. SS)

SS — It’s been a couple of albums since we featured you on Country Fried Rock radio show. What’s changed with your music?

Porter — WOW! When we spoke, I was in a smelly van with the infamous Back Row Baptists! It’s been a while and The Baptists are all doing really well! I still front Some Dark Holler with Helen Gassenheimer (the most talented lady ever), and have criss-crossed the country a few times with that. Last fall Helen and I gave birth to a very special little record called Hollow Chest [Explicit]
which we released on This Is American Music. We are still focused on touring and recording, so after the solo full length, expect to hear more from Some Dark Holler.

SS — What’s working for you? Where do you see things heading?

Porter — I’m doing my best to make my new material the strongest it has ever been. My move to Austin has thrown me in with an amazing cast of songwriters who not only inspire me to write, but force me to write better than I ever have. The tunes that I have prepared for this solo full length, touch on themes that my previous work passed over. Don’t worry, there is still plenty of fire and brimstone, but there are also some understated sentiments present that y’all might not expect from the guy whose band was once referred to as “the drunk Civil Wars.”

Where do I see things heading? Around in circles. In a good way.

porter and the pollies cover
Buy the album on Bandcamp:

1. Your Hometown
2. Fourth of July
3. Wood and Steel
4. Rest The Bones
5. When I Get Home
6. Blood on My Hands

Chris Porter – Guitar, Vox
Jay Burgess – Guitar, Vox, Producer
Chris James – Bass
Reed Watson – Drums
Daniel Stoddard – Steel, Keys, guitar, vox
Helen Gassenheimer – Fiddle, Vox on “Rest These Bones”

Recorded in Greenhill, Alabama
Produced by Jay Burgess
Mixed by TJ Mimbs and Jay Burgess
Mastered by TJ Mimbs at Easy Street Studios
Cover art by Jeff Moore – Green Olive Media