It’s not every day you get intimidated by a musician. Sure, Bowie, Mick or Paul might do it for me and just about everyone else, but what about unfortunately one of Chattanooga, TN’s best-kept secrets? Bethany Kidd has been fronting rock and roll bands for quite some time. Many of us, but not enough have seen her as the front woman for River City Hustlers for many years and now fronting the Tennessee Tremblers. Kidd is more than the face of the band. Yes, I know it’s a team effort but usually whoever sings gets most of the attention. Kidd is a triple threat – beauty, brains and talent. It’s not every day you carry on a conversation with a musician local or international with a Masters Degree. Yes, the singer and principal songwriter/lyricist for the Tennessee Tremblers has a Masters in English Literature. Talk about having to watch what you say around someone. Kidd is indeed a hustler and not in band name only and we were lucky enough to speak with her about her band, her love of the music scene and Chattanooga as a whole, all the while minding our grammar.
What is your first recollection of music in your life?
Riding around in a truck with my dad probably. I would ride shotgun and he would teach me about Percy Sledge, Patsy Cline, The Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, Ray Charles – all that good stuff. I was a big classic rock fan too.
You’re a singer and songwriter. Which of those came first to you?
They were kind of simultaneous. I guess the singing came first, but I remember writing my first song when I was real young on my swing set. I had little lyrics and a melody. It wasn’t the greatest, but I still remember it. I knew it was something I left inclined to do for sure.
What inspired you to write the song?
Life, I think. I had this pretty little melody in my head, being a kid and daydreaming. I think the name for it was “In Storybook”. It was very much limited to my five-year-old old point of view. (laughs) Just a slice of life, I guess – a very short one at that. (laughs)
What point and time did you take music more seriously than just riding along in the car with your dad?
My parents had put me into things like piano lessons, ballet and tap, jazz while I was growing up, so I was starting to learn “the craft” of how to do it – music in general dancing and performing. I started vocal lessons to get out of P.E. one day a week. And I loved to sing anyway. I was going to do that regardless. It was good that I had four solid years of that and by the time I got to high school I joined my first rock band. I was about 14 or 15. I wouldn’t say we took it seriously. (laughs) We had a couple of gigs but we weren’t determined like I became later in life. I went to college, did that, did some coffeehouse singer/songwriter showcases but nobody wanted anything from me when I was in Tuscaloosa. I waited until I got back to Chattanooga and I started auditioning for bands. I saw the city had a booming scene here. We talked about going to the CIA Awards (Chattanooga Independent Artists) and seeing all the folks like the Orange Julians and UP With the Joneses. That was my introduction into the Chattanooga music scene – and I wanted a piece of that.
You have a Master’s degree in English Literature. How did your literature studies and your education affect on your writing musical compositions?
Well, I would say it’s helped and hurt my career as a musician. (laughs) If I had it to do over again I might not have gone to college (laughs) – just gotten in a band and done that and started pushing harder/sooner I guess. As far as the literature studies of all these great authors, writers and thinkers, it’s a big benefit to songwriting. It’s like, “What I Do Best”, a nod to Maya Angelou in one of my songs. It’s about how tough you feel and when you have just the right amount of cocktails, but I put a little nod in there to something serious even though it’s sort of a tongue in cheek, honky tonking, good time song.
Do you find yourself over-analytical as a songwriter because of your education and how do you listen to other’s music lyrically?
It depends. I can like a song that isn’t super deep as long as it sounds great. Sammy Hagar, I read in his autobiography sort of hating on the lyrics to “Jump”, saying they weren’t that “deep”. Lyrics don’t have to be deep. The deepness comes in that connection of universality where we cam all relate to heartbreak or happiness – whatever it is the song is trying to convey.
You came into the Chattanooga music scene a few years ago. How were you welcomed and how have you seen it grown since you first came to town?
I felt very welcomed. The CIA Music message board was a big thing when I first came aboard on the scene. People were giving each other some good-natured ribbing, let’s say. (laughs) It was a little intimidating felt if I jumped in the pool they might start trying to dunk me. But everybody was super-welcoming. People like Eric Scealf treated me like a little sister. Leticia Wolf came out and was one of the two people that came out to a show in February at Rhythm & Brews – just because she heard I was legit. She didn’t have to support me. She could have seen me as “competition”… to any of these musicians in town. That’s one of the things I love about Chattanooga is that it’s really like a family. Sometimes we don’t always love our aunts and uncles. (laughs) No, it’s like a big family.
What do you think is the most challenging thing in being a musician in a town like Chattanooga?
It’s not like you’ve heard – “gig” city. No, I’ve never had a hard time finding a place to play. There are all sorts of venues in this town that support local music and I get the impression it wasn’t always like that back before I came along and it was hard to get a club owner to book anyone who was playing their own song. Even though we do a lot of covers, most of the bands I’ve been in, it’s primarily songs we’ve written ourselves and I love so many people are willing to take a chance on something new. I will say a lot of people get disillusioned – or a lot of musicians have moved off, saying Chattanooga is tough – tough to get people out. I’ve got to do this. I don’t have a choice, so it doesn’t matter – tough/easy…. I’ve got to do it.
Why do you write and perform the music that you create? What’s your motivation?
All sorts of things… I can definitely say there’s been some heartaches and anger that can write a song pretty quickly. I set out with River City Hustlers to write a “feel good” anthem/party anthem – “I want to rock and roll and party everyday kind of thing”. I wrote a song, “Alright With Me” where all these people are coming down on me, preaching to me. I just want somebody to say it’s okay to have a good time, so I wrote the song, “It’s Okay to Have A Good Time”, giving both me permission. And if I feel that way, other people feel that way.
You’re one of the female “rock” girls in town. There are a number of female musicians and performers in town, but you’re more rock and roll compared to others in town that are strictly singer/songwriters, blues, jazz and country. What’s it like being one of only a few girls in a crowd heavily populated by guys?
I’m just one of the guys. I’ve been for a long time. I spent a lot of years in band rooms with guys, so I can definitely be one of the guys. I’m just always grateful that I’ve gotten a lot of respect even though it might be easy to write me off or, “she’s trying to run with the boys” or whatever. I never got any of that attitude. I can hold my own with these fellows and they appreciate that and I respect them. It does both ways. I’m still rocking. There’s more of a “twang” these days now.
You’ve been in a couple of bands since you’ve come to town. Must the most difficult part of keeping a band together as a cohesive unit?
You’ve got three to five people in a band room – usually in my experience it’s four or five and you’ve got to be on the same page or at least on the same chapter. (laughs) You have to work together. You have to love it – you have to love what you do otherwise you’re going to get burned out when you have to travel all the way across town in traffic to practice. You load all your gear in to a gig and three people show up that night. If you don’t love it you’re not going to keep doing it one hundred percent. Relationships are tough – especially if there are five of you in it. (laughs)
What do you think is your end goal as a musician?
To make a living with music – and I know of lot of folks who do. It’s so hard to get a game plan for doing this musician thing. I don’t need to be the biggest star on the planet in order to be fulfilled. Even though it’s just been on a local level, it’s just a blessing to get to do this and get to live this life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world even when it’s hard. The end goal is to just keep doing this because I love it so much and I do see certain bands and performers who are doing big things. I’m getting to see how they go about that and so I’m learning. And who knows? I might just strike oil.
Your last two bands – you’re currently with the Tennessee Tremblers and before that River City Hustlers seem to have a regional title to the band’s name. Whose idea was that and what benefit do you feel it has?
I do love Tennessee. I love Chattanooga. Tennessee is amazing because I feel like we were so instrumental in the creation of rock and roll. We’ve got Sun Records and all the Country & Western stuff with the Grand Ole Opry. You’ve got soul and rhythm and blues from Stax from Memphis and things like that. It’s just a great mix of those two – Country & Western and R&B that’s rock and roll. Born and bred here in Tennessee. Some of my bands sound like a women’s softball team. (laughs) The shorter answer it’s hard to get everybody to agree on something. But we all know where we’re from. We can at least find common ground there.
How do you feel your writing has evolved the last couple of years as you’ve changed bands at the end of 2015 with the dissolution of River City Hustlers and now being with the Tennessee Tremblers?
It’s like anything – the more you do it the better you get at it – or the more satisfaction I’ve had… more pride I’ve had. You write a line and you pat yourself on the back – or a whole song. Some great idea comes to you – the more you live; all these experiences – the more you can sing about, the more you can say.
You were a “Hustler” and are now a “Trembler”, so you’ve added a “twang” to the mix. Is that the direction you always wanted to head?
Mainly it was just the personalities that got together. Dave Dowda and I – he’s the drummer of the Tremblers both had this idea of roots rock: down to the basics of rock and roll, like early Elvis and Johnny Cash… that sort of thing. Just those bedrocks of rock and roll and it was basically the genre of people that got together and started working together towards a common goal. I tried to start a couple of heavy metal bands in the interim of the Hustlers and the Tremblers. I played around with an all covers band. There were all kinds of experimentations going on at the time to see what was going to stick because I love all kinds of music.
Which are you more comfortable?
Rock and roll. I didn’t grow up with a huge knowledge of country music. I knew Johnny and I knew Patsy. I really had to go back and study things like Waylon [Jennings] and all the greatness that Waylon was. My dad was listening to Black Sabbath and Joan Jett – things like that… things that were a little tougher – not that Waylon’s not tough – don’t get me wrong. But yeah, I do have an affinity towards it. I grew up in Alabama, so I am a little country girl at heart. I would say, though the rock and punk rock comes pretty easy. It’s kind of like the Rolling Stones. They have their burners and they have their country/honky tonk stuff too.
They also went through that disco phase as well.
Oh yeah. (laughs)
Not that many talk about it.
I do love disco, too. It’s a guilty pleasure I can’t hold back. (laughs)
Do you find writing for a different genre is easier than another one? Or are they all basically the same?
I wouldn’t say it was exactly the same, but kinda. When I’m writing a song, I’m not considering genre for the most part, just whatever way it sounded,
Do you consider yourself more of a lyricist?
Yeah and thanks to the Tremblers for backing me up and letting me have a lot of creative control on the sort of stuff we play and play these songs in just a few chords. You know – a few chords and the truth. They embellish those and make it sound so much better than it ever was. It blows m mind and I get super excited. I get really beside myself on something that started out just a guitar and me and morphed into something really badass.
Being a writer and a performer do you like hearing the sound of your voice when you hear it on the radio or coming through the speakers?
Sometimes, yeah. I remember the first time in the answering machine days when I recorded the outgoing message I was horrified. It didn’t sound like anything like it sounded in my head. (laughs) But I’ve been recording so many years that I know what I sound like at this point. I know when I hit a sour note. (laughs) I’ve got some live performances preserved that I can listen to forever again and again. I know when I hit a sour note and I know when I’m tearing it up too as well and can be proud of myself as well.
How has being in Chattanooga helped you as a musician and an individual?
If it weren’t for people out there who were so encouraging out there it might be hard to not break out of playing other people’s songs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love cover bands, but there’s this real satisfaction I get from creating something from the ground up. Chattanooga is a really beautiful city. There is inspiration everywhere. I don’t want to be in Nashville, to be honest with you. I know they give out a lot more record deals there. You’ve got to be on the road any way wherever home is, it’s going to be far away all the time if you end up hitting it right. I love Chattanooga. It’s home. The whole city – there are people out there that are hungry for original stuff and I love that.
If you had to pick one of you’re compositions to be your theme song, which one would it be?
It’s a Hustler’s song. It’s always me. It’s called “Bruiser”. “I’d rather be the user than used. I’d rather be the bruiser than the bruised. And I like it best when I have nothing to lose.” It really just describes how I don’t want to be that vulnerable, I guess. There’s vulnerability in telling people that, I guess. But not only that, if you can’t take a risk, you’re missing out on some really good stuff in life and I really have to check myself and make sure that I’m taking chances with my heart and just life in general, but definitely feel that’s the theme song. I’ve written one recently with the Tremblers called, “What I Do Best”. It’s a true story. “I know I did some wrongs, but that’s what I do best”, kind of thing. (laughs) We’re all human and we’re all flawed. And I like to celebrate those flaws as much as possible. (laughs) It can be a good time.
– Dave Weinthal