published Friday, April 15th, 2011

Courter: McKenzie pursuing his musical dream

I try to keep a pretty good eye on the local music scene, and I’d like to think I’m fairly current, but I have to admit I was surprised when a local band called WTM Blues Band won the McKay’s Road to Nightfall Contest. Surprised because I’d never heard of them and because of the quality of the acts they beat out.

Turns out WTM is composed of some veteran players, and the band made its public debut at the contest. Digging a little deeper, the story gets even better. The band’s lead singer and guitar player, Thorpe McKenzie, was making his first public appearance playing music since his high school days, back in the ’60s.

“Yeah, I’m triple the average age of the guys in the contest,” he said earlier this week.

McKenzie said the band entered the contest to have some fun, “but after we won the first round, we got excited.”

McKenzie was born and raised in Chattanooga. During his high school days, he was in a folk/bluegrass band called The Innside 5, but when he went away to college, playing the guitar became simply a hobby.

“I always played,” he said. “My kids, when they were in school, would yell down to me in the basement to turn it down because they were studying.”

McKenzie and his wife moved back to Chattanooga in the late ’80s. Three years ago, he had some lighting work done at his house, and when Johnny Smith came back to check on the work, the two started talking. They soon learned they had a common interest in music. Smith is a drummer and told McKenzie he knew some other guys who liked to play. For the last three years, the two, along with Tim Starnes, Preston Parris and Jimmy Dormire, have been mastering about 100 classics.

“That’s the fun part,” McKenzie said. “We are playing all these old songs that sound new to some people. To look out and see girls 25, 35, 45 and 55 all really liking a Howlin’ Wolf song is pretty cool.”

McKenzie said the plan all along was to take the music seriously but to have fun.

“I’ve just been practicing. I had to learn a lot. When you sit around and play by yourself or even with one other person, you think your timing is great when really it is awful. I’ve tried to learn to be more professional.

“What I wanted was for it to develop into something I would be proud of. Maybe make a tape of us and look back and say, ‘That is not so bad.’”

After the contest, McKenzie said, the group may look to play out more. Its Nightfall headlining date will be July 29, but the band has signed on to play on the Bud Light Stage during Riverbend.

• Last week I wrote about the Cultural Plan being facilitated by Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga. It is looking at how things are done locally in the arts world, with the goal of creating a plan for the future.

The next phase is a call to all local artists to share their ideas. A meeting is planned for 5:30-7:30 p.m. April 25 at Loose Cannon Gallery, 1800 Rossville Ave.

Artists are defined here as people, such as painters, writers, dancers, poets, musicians, actors and photographers, who make all or some of their income through a creative pursuit.

As was pointed out last week, all ideas are welcome.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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