The Cadillac Three creates its "Legacy"Print article

By Brian Baker, September 2017

William Shakespeare noted a few centuries back that a rose by any other name would be equally aromatic, and that general idea has musical implications as well. The Cadillac Three knows a thing or two about maintaining a sonic identity after a name change; the Nashville trio began as the Cadillac Black six years ago before legal entanglements forced them to switch to their numerically appropriate moniker.

"We couldn't get the trademark to Cadillac Black because there was a band called Black Cadillac," says TC3 lap steel/bassist/vocalist Kelby Ray Caldwell. "Lawyers ruin all the fun."

Of course, the switch from the Cadillac Black to The Cadillac 3, the reissuing of their debut album under their freshly minted name for their new label, Big Machine, the 4 year wait for 2016's "Bury Me in My Boots," and the 12-month turnaround for the release of their just-released third album, "Legacy," is all recent history. The link between Caldwell, guitarist/lead vocalist Jaren Johnston and drummer/vocalist Neil Mason goes back to when they attended high school together in Nashville 20 years ago.

The Cadillac Three perform "Dang If We Didn't" on Bobby Bones Show

After years of gigging around Music City separately, they coalesced as a quartet with guitarist Ben Brown to form Bang Bang Bang in 2005. They self-released their debut album, "I Shot the King," and shortly thereafter signed a contract with Warner Brothers, which began their painful education in the ways of the business.

"It wasn't the best of times, but it was a learning experience," says Caldwell. "We learned to not let people tell us what to do."

After the dissolution of American Bang (that band also had changed its name), Brown departed but Johnston, Caldwell and Mason remained together, forged a new sound and swore to remain true to their musical ideals going forward. That mission statement has guided their every move over the past five years.

"When we got dropped and decided to start the three piece and turn it into what it is now, we were like, 'Okay, let's just do what we want to do. We're not going to let anybody tell us how we're going to dress or sound or act,'" says Caldwell. "Big Machine has been the perfect label for that. (Label head) Scott Borchetta recognized that and was like, 'Look, I won't change you guys at all if you sign with me.' And we were like, 'That's all we really want.' It's been four years, and he's just encouraged us to keep on sticking our middle fingers up."

The Cadillac Three's triple bird salute to expectation has been in clear evidence on their three full-length and two EP releases to date. The trio has created an amazing hybrid of country traditionalism and southern rock volume and passion - as they sing on "Hank & Jesus" from "Legacy," to an accompaniment that recalls the Allman Brothers at their peak, "A touch of King James and a touch of King Elvis" - and the subsequent response has completely validated their our-way-or-the-highway approach. The Cadillac Three's debut album cracked the top 20 of Billboard's Heatseeker chart and "Bury Me in My Boats" hit the top 40 of the overall Billboard 200. It's still early for "Legacy" sales figures but airplay and critical response is strong, and its lead single, "Dang If We Didn't," so it could easily eclipse the accomplishments of its predecessors.

There are a variety of reasons for the very clear differences between "Legacy" and the first two TC3 albums. The biggest difference between "Bury Me in My Boots" and "Legacy" is that the former was written and recorded over the course of more than three years, while the majority of the latter was created in the year between releases.

"'Bury Me in My Boots' felt like it was kind of pieced together," says Caldwell. "We had put out a couple of singles, and by the time the album came out, it had been two or three years since we put 'The South' out as our first single. For us and for the fans, we wanted to make sure we worked on something pretty quick. We set a goal for ourselves to put (a new album) out a year from when we put out 'Bury Me in My Boots,' and we nailed it."

The more subtle difference on "Legacy" may well be a matter of confidence and growth. Johnston has become an in-demand Nashville songwriter and collaborator and his songs (some co-written with Mason) have been recorded by the likes of Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Steven Tyler, Meat Loaf and Lynyrd Skynyrd,. "Legacy" features more of the full range of Johnston's compositional and performance gifts.

"I think Jaren's getting more comfortable singing different types of songs live," says Caldwell. "I think for a long time, he wasn't quite mentally prepared to take on a song like 'Raise 'Em Up,' that Keith Urban cut, and I feel like 'Legacy' is our 'Raise 'Em Up' now. He's getting a little more confident and singing more emotional songs like 'White Lightning.' It just comes from experience and being out here doing it. I think he takes that more into consideration, but we're definitely keeping an open mind about which songs to keep for ourselves."

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