“...Partridge sounds like a prodigy of Townes, Guy and Rodney the way his lyrics poetically twist and turn via a grizzled and lived in voice over a jagged acoustic guitar”
— Alan Harrison - THE ROCKING MAGPIE
“I Need to construct no tale"
In my short 37 years, I have lived a tale that few before me could have claimed. I'm a son of the deep south. On both sides, my family traces its roots back generations to the cotton fields of Alabama. I was born and raised in the port city, Mobile. She is lined with Spanish moss-covered oaks that date back further than the Confederacy, antebellum homes, and remnants on every corner of her troubled past. Held by the French and Spanish, it holds much the same character as its sister city, New Orleans. Earning her the title “the Southern Baptist New Orleans”.... because just as thick as the culture in this town, is the religion that has tempered it. Like most other southern towns, it is saddled with churches of every sort and bridled by their politics.
My mother was a piano teacher/church pianist. She took me to church every week where I was saturated with the hymns of the old red-back hymnal. My father had an extensive collection of rock n roll records. He had dubbed a cassette of the White Album that I would play on a toy cassette player next to my bed as a kid. I guess my earliest musical memories are Precious Lord and Helter Skelter. Then came the year punk broke. I fell hard for rock n roll when I picked up Nevermind, and I really haven't been the same since.
Baptists and punks don't really jive that well. And after a few years of trying to force them into compatibility, I had a religious experience and put aside rock n roll for a leather-back bible. After graduating high school, I headed off to bible college. It seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't do so hot in bible school. I transferred out of the first two I attended after only one semester. I spent two years in another, and one final year in yet another. That's right... 4 bible colleges in 4 years. Partly because I knew better, partly because I couldn't stand to be told what to do, and partly because I am a drifter at heart – I just never could get comfortable in that type of environment.
There was a pawn shop just down the street from one of the bible schools I attended.. I went down on one rainy afternoon and bought a banjo. I thought it was cool. I was playing Cripple Creek in a few weeks. My love for making music began.
Right here, I should say something about my religious background. I found that kind of old fashioned, bible thumping religion that hardly exists outside the South. A religion that forbade televisions in home, pants on women, absolute literal interpretation of the bible, complete rejection of pop culture … you get the idea. Also prevalent in this sect of christianity, is the fervent and passionate worship experience. A preacher of this cloth was expected to preach with his whole being. Often memorizing blocks of scripture, then reciting it on Sunday morning in dramatic fashion. Driving his congregation to shouts of joy, and the silence of conviction. Begging and pleading for individuals to make decisions for Jesus. Breaking sweats, waving handkerchiefs, and screaming to the point of losing their voices week after week. That was me. A red knuckle preacher with leather lungs.
I married the day after I finished bible school. We settled in northwest Georgia – in a single-wide trailer – in a backwoods holler – with nothing but hope and love. A degree in ministry doesn't get you far in any corporate HR department. I took every job I could find while balancing church work. I had around 15 different W-2's in 3 years. We scraped by on minimum wage and started having babies.
A little church in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky called me to be their pastor when I was 25 years old. I proudly took it. I was a young man in an old man's game. I went there with fire in my bones and a dream.
I don't like to talk about what happened after that. Suffice it to say I became acquainted with a depression I'd never known. I failed – in that calling, you only succeed if you die in the field. A failure that was hard to swallow. I'd spent 9 years of my life pursuing ministry. I became acquainted with Dylan, Townes, and Son House. To cope with my own struggles, I began writing my own songs and making folk art.
Broke emotionally, spiritually, and financially, I packed up a rental truck with every possession I had along with my wife and two children. I headed back to the only place I was welcome. Home.
I moved in with my Mama as a 27 year old, an abject failure.
Devoid of any opportunity to provide for my family, I joined the military. Yeah, I spent some time in the desert. Don't really like to talk about this either...
But, while I was over there in the desert, I realized that I had spent my entire youth bringing negativity in this world by the type of preaching I did and violence in the world by participating in war.
I made a promise to God, that if He would let me get back home... I would share the gift He gave me of music and art.. and for the rest of my life, I would try my best to bring beauty in the world.
Now I am here... Abe Partridge, the songwriter/artist. I got a bunch of stories to tell. At 37, I finally found my calling. You’re seeing it and are listening to it. I ain't faking it. I live it. Love.
Cotton Fields and Blood for Days
People have said that Abe Partridge sounds older than his chronological age, and there’s a very good reason for that – he’s packed a lot of living into his 37 years.
Those experiences, ranging from the earthy to the surreal, the spiritual light to the depths of depression, come together with gripping intensity on Partridge’s second full-length album, Cotton Fields and Blood for Days. Over the course of ten songs, this troubadour draws listeners in with a combination of southern gothic storytelling and a dark humor reminiscent of the late Townes Van Zandt – delivered in a gravelly tone that conjures up images of Tom Waits in his barstool warming days.
Partridge may have a gift for communing with ghosts, but he’s not consumed by them. Listening to him unspool tales like “Prison Tattoos” and “Out of Alabama Blues,” it’s impossible to ignore his knack for separating the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the muck as he ponders the further reaches of the region where he’s spent so much of his life.
“There’s a lot of history here and a lot to consider,” says Partridge. “People like to hold on to certain things, and some of them are beautiful and worth holding onto. There are some things that are … not so beautiful, and those need to be looked at, too. You can see that by walking around Mobile, where there are wonderful old buildings, then a few blocks away, total decimation.”
Cotton Fields and Blood for Days gives listeners a tour of both the bleakness and the beauty – all couched in character studies that could pass for short stories, narrated by folks as varied as the suburban everydude of “I Wish I was a Punk Rocker” and the pensive inward-looking protagonist who muses “Our Babies Will Never Grow Up to Be Astronauts.”
And while he grants that he doesn’t use a heavy hand with autobiographical detail, he admits to weaving himself into the banjo-laced blues “Ride Willie Ride or Thoughts I had while Contemplating Both the Metaphysical Nature of Willie Nelson and his Harassment by the Internal Revenue Service.”
“That’s one I wrote after my own issues with the IRS,” he says with a chuckle. “I had a job where I did a lot of driving around to little towns in the middle of nowhere and ended up hitting a lot of thrift stores where I developed a knack for finding rare records. Some I kept, and some I’d sell on e-Bay, doing pretty well – until the tax man showed up and socked me with a huge bill. Since I was listening to a lot of Willie at the time, it seemed kind of ironic – and kind of appropriate.”
Abe Partridge grew up in Alabama, a grunge-loving child of the early ‘90s, until he had an awakening that sent him miles away – both literally and figuratively. By his early twenties, he had completed divinity school and moved to a rural enclave of Kentucky – no high-speed internet, no jam-packed cable systems – in order to pursue his calling as an evangelical minister, preaching the gospel to a small-but-fervent congregation of true believers.
It was there that he discovered what would be one of the biggest influences on his musical personality – the dark and stormy acoustic blues of pioneers like Son House, whose cut-to-the-bone performance style really resonated with Partridge as he progressed on his journey, both musically and spiritually.
“It’s funny, once I got to be part of the [religious] community, all of those rock records had to go, since they were evil.” he recalls with a laugh. “But they had no problem with the old blues stuff, even though the material wasn’t all that different. They were okay with me listening to these old records, because they grew up with them too. Besides, Son House was actually a preacher before he started playing for people, so…”
Like his forebear, Partridge slowly found himself in a period of questioning, not so much his core beliefs, but the way in which he was pursuing them. Experiencing a second awakening of sorts, the pharmacist’s son walked away from his post and returned home to examine his spiritual self, moving back to his childhood home and essentially rebuilding from the ground up.
“I had a wife and two children, and no real idea of what I wanted to do, and that’s when I really started writing songs, though it took a while for me to let anyone else hear them,” he recalls. “But I knew I had to do something. I resorted to songwriting because it helps me express myself in a way I could not in any other form.”
While that period of his life certainly had a profound impact on him, he was also shaped by the stretch that would follow – serving with the Air Force in Qatar in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, where the desert gave up secrets that would find their way into some of his darker material.
Upon his return to the states, where he’s still part of the service, he began taking his stories to the streets – literally. He’d take his first shot at live performance with a roll of the dice – by sending a cell-phone recording of some of his original songs to the folks at the Gulf Coast Songwriter Shootout, an Alabama conclave that brings together some of the region’s most acclaimed up-and-coming talent.
“I took the stage last. I was well aware that my songs were different than everything else that anybody did that night,” he recalls. “I had no idea how they would be received, and I had to fight back anxiety like I had never had before to get on the stage. I was inwardly preparing myself for embarrassment. Well, I played my 3 songs, and the crowd went wild.”
As luck would have it, the Nashville-based songwriter and producer Shawn Byrne was also a participant at the Shootout and immediately approached Partridge about recording him. “I thought he was full of it,” recalls Abe, “but I googled him and found out he was legit, so I went up to Nashville and recorded having only played that one show.” The result was White Trash Lipstick. That recording would end up in the hands of movie producer Scott Lumpkin, who instantly became a rabid fan.
Meanwhile Partridge started playing around his hometown – “lucky enough to start off in places such as The Listening Room where people came to listen, not to drink to background music,” as he puts it –then began expanding his comfort zone in ever growing circles, hitting Georgia to Texas, Florida to Tennessee.
In the spring of 2017, Abe returned to Nashville to record with Byrne, who brought in some of his favorite session players for what would become Cotton Fields and Blood for Days. It would be this recording that would prompt Lumpkin to offer Partridge a deal on July 4th of 2017 on his newly formed Skate Mountain Records. Lumpkin says, “He’s absolute magic. He simply has so much material, he’s a real gem. I love his music.”
But for Partridge, it is still all about the live performance. “Playing for people, striking a chord with people, for me that’s what it’s really all about,” he says. “It’s like with preaching, you need to reach them emotionally, you need to make a connection, to make people feel and believe. That’s always what I’ve wanted to do.”
That connection is undeniable on Cotton Fields and Blood For Days. Plug in, and its power will flow through you and keep you energized for a long time to come.