The Outlaws
at the Weinberg Center,
Frederick, Md. (9 November 2012)

Veteran southern rockers, the Outlaws, came to Frederick, Md., on November 9, playing the city's 100-year-old restored movie and drama palace, the Weinberg Center. The good news is that the Weinberg Center survived. It was touch and go there for a while as the Outlaws made the rafters shake and the seat backs pulse to the rhythm. With their three-guitar attack, known to their fans as the Guitar Army, and their four-part harmony approach, the Outlaws take no prisoners. They come to make music and that's exactly what they do.

A little background: the Outlaws formed in 1975, were quickly assigned to Arista Records by Clive Davis and put out three very good and commercially successful albums -- their first one sold 2.5 million copies. For a while there, they were reasonably big time, spoken of in the same sentences with Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band. But then changing tastes, fatal illnesses and lawsuits broke the band up. Henry Paul, who formed the band, went on to work with spinoffs like the Henry Paul Band and the Blackhawks, until finally, not long ago, the stars aligned and, along with original drummer Monte Yoho, he reformed the Outlaws. Paul filled the gaps in the ranks with musicians he had worked with over the years in other projects: lead guitarists Billy Crain and Chris Anderson, bassist Randy Threet and keyboardist Dave Robbins.

Now, with a new album out, they are touring again, and believe me there is no rust to shake off. These guys are live performers, and when they take a stage, they have no intention of surrendering it. In fact, my 19-year-old daughter was astonished to see that "old guys could rock like that."

And they can rock like that. Here is the key: the Outlaws have been around long enough to have gotten beyond ego needs; they are still in the game because they love the music and they love sharing it with their fans. You can see the joy on their faces as they play, as well as the love and respect they have for each other and for their audiences. When one plays an extraordinary solo, the others salute him and call for a response to him. They play unison leads and, while Henry Paul does most of the lead singing, he is careful to let Chris Anderson take the spotlight also.

In fact, all of the members of the band get their chance in the spotlight, and each brings his unique personality to his playing. Billy Crain plays contortionist guitar; when he solos he comes to the edge of the stage, plays, drops to his knees and plays, bends to the side so he appears to be lying down on the stage. Then he rises like a phoenix, dances, duckwalks, whirls like a sufi dancer -- it is as amazing to watch as his solos are to hear.

Chris Anderson will follow Crain's solo with one of his own. He's a much less athletic player but just as fine. Together these two play some of the finest extended solos I have heard; they are magic.

After the soloists have their moments, though, it really gets interesting. The band shows its unity as Henry Paul and bassist Randy Thweet join the guitarists at the edge of the stage, lining up next to them in a four-man wall of sight and sound that is designed to remind you that you are listening to a unified group, not just a collection of soloists.

In all, my daughter, Dahlia, is right: these old guys can rock. The great thing is that after all these years, they still love to do it and appear to get as big a thrill out of their live show as the audience does.

The Weinberg Center show was one of those rare ones where all three acts on the bill were good. The Tommy Young Band opened and played a set of straight-ahead rock, then was followed by blues guitarist Billy Castro, who did a tight set highlighted by his guest, saxophonist Deanna Bogart.

Still the night was stolen by the Outlaws. When they come near you, be there. It's an experience you won't forget.

by Michael Scott Cain
12 January 2013