Music That Feeds The Soul

Music That Feeds The Soul

Rackensak is ‘medicine for your heart’


Special to The Free Weekly

Anyone who has ever driven down I-49 has seen the many flashy screens and signs that lets us know there is some sort of attraction in the near future. Some of us will pull over and go straight to the neon beacons knowing exactly what to expect if we pull in and place an order: Something that will fill our belly and get us through to the next stop.

Then there are those of us who drive past the neon signs, turning off the beaten path, around the bend, across the railroad tracks, to the far side of town just to find that one special spot where the “neighborhood Joe” is still cooking on a grill that was passed down to him from his father. This is the spot where all the good ol’ boys hang out, where stories are told, where sweethearts are found, where memories live on, time moves slower; this is the place where they serve up substance that will fill your soul.

For some, rooted substance seems to be fading beyond the horizon, but for those who seek it, the roots bear sweet fruit.

So maybe you’re asking yourself, “What does any of this have to do with music?” My answer is, “Everything!”

Northwest Arkansas is full of talented artists and musicians, some who have been seen and heard worldwide, some who are regional or local household names, some who rise fast and fade just the same, and others who work the scene for years, aging like a fine wine. Then we have those hidden gems we know will be around to hold the fort down — musicians like Rackensak.

Rackensak — which means “one from Arkansas” — is a three-piece group ironically made up of two from Arkansas and one from Oklahoma. Kevin Bonner of Northwest Arkansas and Vince Turner of Stilwell, Okla., have been playing together for over 30 years with Kevin on drums and Vince on bass. I first heard them as Left Of Center with Jesse Dean. I remember thinking, “Wow, those guys are reading each other’s minds.” It was rare to hear such priceless harmonies and solid beats come out of a drummer in a corner bar — or anywhere, for that matter. The music as a whole took me to another dimension, and somehow I didn’t mind spending the next two hours of my precious life sitting in a smoky bar sipping cold beer from an aluminum can.

Being from Arkansas, I would think that Kevin comes by his talents honestly with legends to learn from like Levon Helm and years of time spent watching Terry Cagle from the sidelines — and forming the band “Earl’s Garage” while literally spending time in Earl Cate’s garage playing with Vince, Dawn Cate, Devin Cate and Bart Keener.

Since Vince is an Okie, I’m really clueless as to how it is that he has come by his multiple talents. (Wink Wink) Maybe he grew up drinking the same water as JJ Cale or Leon Russell, who knows? Since I’m an Arkansas girl, I really can’t say, but there are two things I know for sure about Vince besides he’s a great bass player: I know that his guitar playing is one of my favorite sounds to echo through these Ozark hills. I also know that he is an inspired songwriter and writes songs that speak to the real-life soul. This statement from Kevin is priceless: “The first time I heard Vince’s song ‘One More Time,’ I knew I’d be playing music with him for the rest of my life!”

I’ve seen Kevin and Vince work together in several bands, including my own, but I must say I believe they finally found their third brother in arms when they met the new kid on the block, James Miller. James came along when he and his wife Karin moved here from Paragould a few years ago. He already had his own musical roots not only as a guitar player but also with lots of stage experience through running a large sound company, music store and club out of Northeast Arkansas. Vince was hosting an open mic in Springdale at the Red Door every Thursday where Kevin played drums, and James became a regular on his guitar there.

The first time that I recall meeting James was on stage in the middle of a show at Warren’s Rec Room in Alma. Kevin invited him up to sit in on a song or two. He started singing on those strings, and the skies opened up. My jaw dropped while singing a Bb, and we had to switch over to the key of C. OK, that may be a little bit exaggerated but not much!

The combination of these three together as Rackensak allows Vince to jump on guitar for some blues and rock while James plays bass, then they’ll switch it up. James will transfer to guitar throwing in a touch of country and alternative “take you to another place and time” tunes while Vince plays bass, then Kevin will knock out a few ’80s tunes on vocals. All three of the guys sing using three-part harmonies, and the dynamics create an experience that leaves those listening always wanting more.

Nothing fancy, no smoke and mirrors, just some very musical guys bending strings and slapping toms in just the right place putting it out there like medicine for your heart and soul. Just like the “neighborhood Joe” who is still feeding folks from the grill passed down to him from his father, the working musicians in this “two from Arkansas, one Okie” group called Rackensak are feeding the people’s hunger for live music.

When I get out to the novel remote places around our sweet little corner of the world and experience art of any kind that is truly rooted from our culture, it makes me wonder: Could our constant focus on flashy “screen time” like the neon stops along the way or the digital music world that comes from the computer screen I’m looking at right now really be taking that much away from what our souls are longing for? The answer flashing in my head is a big “golden arches” “YES”!! I think it would be good for everyone to get out and get some working man music in your bones for a change. If cheeseburgers, beer, smoke or alcohol is not your thing, get you some at the nearest non-smoking venue, full gospel church or outdoor music festival! Get out there! Seek and ye shall find!

Categories: Cover Story