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Old Smoke Band Takes Time To Craft Impressive Debut Album

Adam Humphreys and Jessica Wheet of Old Smoke
Adam R. Day, Betania M. Carvalho
Adam Humphreys and Jessica Wheet of Old Smoke

The now five member blues-rock outfit Old Smoke has been headlining central Illinois shows and opening for national acts including Samantha Fish and Tommy Castro at the Castle Theatre for roughly three years -- despite no album to sell or promote.

That has changed.

Album cover for Old Smoke's debut album "In My Own Time"
Credit Half Hazard Press
Album cover for Old Smoke's debut album "In My Own Time"

Old Smoke debuts "In My Own Time" August 11 at Nightshop in downtown Bloomington.  Group members Adam Humphreys and Travis Wheet stopped by GLT to review songs and discuss the songwriting process they completed with fellow members Heath Brandon and Chris Lackey.

Humphreys said the long wait to release original material was intentional.

“We’ve been playing mostly covers for the last few years. Covers we want to play and think other people want to hear. We weren’t in any huge rush to get this album done, as we wanted to make sure to spend the right amount of time on it, and make sure it was the right thing to put out into the world,” said Humphreys.

Wheet said the song “Can’t Be Alone” was actually something Humphreys had in his pocket for a while. Humphreys recalled writing it with Chris Corkery, another prominent central Illinois singer/songwriter.

"Adam had it in the hole and revisited it. It turned out to be one of our favorites, so we definitely kept it on the list,” said drummer Wheet. He drives the mid-tempo blues rocker that’s an ode to Bloomington.

Meeting my girl in the city/Yeah it’s going down tonight/ Don’t you tell me baby/That I’ve been gone to long/ Cause there ain’t nothing but a moon between us/ Four or five days too long - Can’t Be Alone from “In My Own Time”

“There was a period maybe a year or so ago where Chris and I were hanging out a lot trying to write music for both of us,” said Humphreys. “Either for Old Smoke or for him. We were just having fun and this is one of the songs that came out of that.”

One listen to Old Smoke in concert or on this debut album reveals the bluesy, southern rock band members say is ground zero when writing and choosing covers. Little Feat’s gumbo of rock, blues, R&B, country, folk and other influences is what Wheet cut his teeth on when listening to the LP collection of his father, who he said had a T-shirt that included the date of every year he saw the band.

“I grew up in a Little Feat household, so needless to say I got my share of those records growing up, and it just stuck,” said Wheet. “It definitely played a big part to me individually and how I approach my instrument. But also for my love of music in general, it serves as a base for the music I love.”

John Lee Hooker seems the inspiration for the feel-good party boogie of “Alright, All Night.”

Well it’s dark ass thirty on a Monday morn/ Clock’s been screaming, just like a horn/ My head is pounding, and I wonder why/ ‘Cause I can’t say no when my boys is getting torn/ No, I can’t say no when my boys is getting torn/ - Alright All Night from "In My Own Time"

“It’s a party lyrically and musically, and the whole vibe of the song is to enjoy the people around you. It’s just really fun tune,” said Wheet of the infectious groove he begins with 16 drum hits before bassist Heath Brandon joins and is followed shortly by Humphreys on guitar and Chris Lackey on keys.

“As with most of the songs on this album, we kind of started with the groove,” said Humphreys. “We picked a whole handful of grooves that we liked and tried to add lyrics to it that we thought fit.”

Wheet’s wife Jessica adds soulful background vocals to this song and a few others, including the title track where she’s featured more prominently. It’s a nice counter to Humphreys’ bluesy tenor that has a quality similar to Noah Hunt of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. Her role evolved somewhat unexpectedly.

“We wanted some really powerful vocal help on the album to serve the forefront or the background. She ended up having such a large role on the record we said ‘why don’t you just come along?’ She’s really grown into that role and really glad she jumped on,” said Wheet of his wife.

Another new development among band members is Humphreys’ four-month-old daughter Hazel. It’s the first born for him and wife Mandy Jo. He said the new addition changes their lives in all the obvious ways. As she was born after the completion of “In My Own Time," no odes to Hazel on this album.

“I’m on the road a lot for work,” said Humphreys, a commercial pilot for Trans States Airlines. “I just keep a notebook with me and write whatever comes to mind when I’m out there. She’s almost all of it now.”

So a song titled “Hazel” on the follow-up album?

“You never know,” laughed Humphreys.

In the meantime, band members are reveling in their debut, which Wheet said came about slowly, if naturally. Which made choosing an album title obvious to one member.

As the sun sets on another day/ I wonder how it got this way/ I’ve been lonely for such a long time/ My heart’s been hurting, without no love to smile/ When you brought your love my way/ I knew the good times were here to stay/ - In My Own Time from the album of the same name

“The band as a whole came together in its own time, the songs came in their own time, and now this album release is coming in its own time,” said Wheet. “We kept revisiting this unknowingly and Heath finally sat up one day and made the argument and said ‘look, this has got to be the title because it really summarizes the whole process we have been on the last couple years. Everything has come in its own time.”

Old Smoke's "In My Own Time" CD release party is Aug. 11 at Nightshop in downtown Bloomington. Local favorite Wildermore will open the show.

Listen to the entire GLT interview with Adam Humphreys and Travis Wheet of Old Smoke.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.