It may be a cliché to say someone's got music in his blood, but in the case of Zeke Sayer, it's entirely true. Sayer, guitarist for and founder of garage-rockers The Humms, was raised on the Lavonia, GA property that's home to Clem's Shoal Creek Music Park. By the time his father, Clem Sayer, acquired the park in 1989, the land was already legendary. The park was founded in 1961 and was host to Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Loretta Lynn, among many others. The Georgia State Bluegrass Festival was an annual event that drew fans from all over the world. When the indoor auditorium was built in 1971, the inaugural performance was by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner. Legend has it that Tammy Wynette finally left George Jones for the final time at Shoal Creek, too. Although times changed for the park in the 1980s, and things weren't quite as rowdy, the park became more of a hobby for the late Clem Sayer than a business venture. This was the legacy that surrounded the young Sayer.
The Gypsy Farm recording studio is located in a room at the front of the auditorium. Sayer's first recording experiments began when his father bought him a used Fostex four-track recorder at a Pickens, SC flea market circa 2000. His hardware is more modern now, but the live room is as homey as ever, with wood paneling on the walls and braided rugs on the floor.
“Everything goes straight to hard disc [now],” Zeke says. His recording style is traditional. “I like to get everyone in the room playing live and then handle overdubs and vocals later," he says. "I like to have bands do a lot of songs quickly while they have the energy. Some bands come in and labor over one song forever… I'm a big fan of the Sam Phillips-Sun Studios way of recording. Just play the song and record it.”
Listen to anything done at Gypsy Farm, especially tracks from the bands that Sayer has put out on his Gypsy Farm Records label, and the immediacy and urgency are palpable. While the bills always need to be paid, Sayer is in no hurry to bring in acts to record that he flat out doesn't dig.
“There's a slight luxury of being able to turn down clients, but I do want people to record here,” he says. “When a band gets in touch and I like them, I want to get them in here as soon as possible. My main thing is authenticity—whether it's garage, old-time bluegrass, country or gospel.”
The label and the studio are closely related but separate operations. He doesn't release records by everyone he records but enthusiastically promotes those he does. “There's no contracts with anyone,” he says. “The idea is to push stuff out there and get people to hear it.”
There's a distinct feeling of being someplace truly special when walking the grounds at Shoal Creek. This is, after all, family land with a huge legacy. Celebrity tales and lore haunt every dirt pathway and stage. Sayer operates Gypsy Farm with immense respect for this past, but with an eye on the future. He knows that along with all the ghosts, there is also a lot of living to do.
WHAT: Gypsy Farm Presents: The Humms, CCBB, Timmy and the Tumblers, The Rodney Kings, Koko Beware
WHERE: Little Kings Shuffle Club
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 24, 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $3–$5