Column, Rockin' The Region

Rockin’ the Region with the Mean Waltons

Every second Friday night of the month at 7 p.m., you need to head to Taps Tavern in Poultney  to see the Mean Waltons. They’ll be nice to you and your ears as you listen to some great folk covers. The Mean Waltons are Wayne Surrell, guitars and vocals; and Earle Provin, slide guitar, mandolin, and vocals. They’ve been doing the gig at Taps Tavern steady for the past two years. I have not had the chance to see the band yet, but I did see Wayne Surrell play at the Paramount last month, part of the Steve Audsley Memorial Concert, and his voice blew me away. I had the pleasure of speaking to Surrell to learn about him and Provin.
Surrell and Provin have been playing together for 20 years. Surrell says they play a pretty big mix of music. “We throw in a classic rock song, a bluegrass song and then we’ll follow it with a Steve Earle song. It’s really a big salad of music from all the way back in the 20s into our time.” About 15 years ago, the duo were part of a bluegrass band from Middlebury called Lincoln Gap. They knew each other way before that though. Surrell said of Provin, “He really is a fine, fine player.”
Surrell likes to mix it up with his instrument playing. Besides the guitar, he can play the dobro, mandolin and banjo. He said, “Most of the string instruments, I can throw something at you.” They each have a few originals to their credit but really enjoy playing covers.
The Mean Waltons were born six years ago. I always enjoy hearing how a band got their name and this is a good one. Surrell explained, “Earle comes from a large family, and at one point, one of his brothers brought a date to dinner. Two girls in the family were bickering and picking on each other all throughout dinner. On the ride home, the girl told Earle’s brother that his family is really nice. She said they’re like the Waltons, except they’re mean.” Surrell said he laughed so hard, he knew right there that had to be the name of the band.
Surrell got into music because his father and uncle both played. He said, “When I was young, there were always guitars around the house. I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t a guitar in my bedroom. My father got me started but I met Duane Carleton in the ninth grade. We palled around for a long time playing music together. I’m pretty much self taught but I also learned by playing with other musicians. I ended up migrating towards acoustic music when others were playing rock ‘n’ roll and electric blues. I played in some electric bands but it was easier to play acoustic and not lug all that stuff around.”
Surrell and Carleton were in a band together called Personal Ads—the band I saw play at the Paramount. That was Surrell’s first full blown electric band. He wasn’t in any others outside of high school. Surrell moved to New York City and took a class on slide guitar and open tunings. He said he went backwards for a long time, researching old blues and looking into all that stuff. After that, he kind of landed in bluegrass land. He really likes that style of music.
Surrell has a few favorite tunes he likes to play. He’s a big fan of Steve Earle and loves his song “Someday.” He also likes to play John Hiatt’s “Lincoln Town.” He grew up in the 80s so back then he was into Journey and other rock that was played on the radio. His grandfather played the harmonica and that was the first time he ever heard bluegrass music. Between his dad, uncle and grandfather playing music around the house, it was quite the musical household.
Surrell says, “Musically, I’ve always been around musicians. Jim Gilmour and I spent a lot of time together. I would do sound gigs with him and see different music. It’s always been there and always been a part of my world. I truly enjoy every kind of music. I’ve seen the Butthole Surfers five times. I’m not really limited, I’ve seen the opera. I really enjoy it all but you can’t play everything, you have to focus in on something eventually.”
I personally love music that moves you and when I saw Surrell sing “People Get Ready” with Personal Ads at the Paramount, that really moved me. His voice was so soulful; it was an amazing song. I asked Surrell what he likes best about playing live and he said, “I can tell when music is moving the audience. You can hear the audience murmuring or whatever but that gives me such a thrill. I’ve touched somebody with a song and made them think about something else or reminded them about something good. That’s what I really enjoy the most.”
Surrell really enjoys playing at Taps because of the wide mix of people that come to see them, and, he said, “The food is really good and I love Serena [Serena Gallagher, the owner]. She’s been really good to us there.”
He also loves playing with Provin. “Playing with Earle is such a pleasure. I can throw anything at him and he’s going to be there. Any kind of song or any kind of musical idea and he is off and running. We’re just so comfortable after playing so many gigs together that it’s not really work. You don’t have to worry if he’s going to be there at the change. Not familiarity but comfort in that I know he’s going to be there. It’s freed me up to try all sorts of stuff.”

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