Even the best bands come and go but the Carpenter Ants have been around – with virtually the same lineup – for 25 years. The Ants have defied the odds and outlasted most of their peers for a number of reasons. First and foremost, after more than 2,000 performances, regardless of the occasion, the band never fails to have a good time – and that feeling is contagious.
The group’s new CD, Ants & Uncles, was again produced by Don Dixon and features guitarist Bill Kirchen on all tracks. Other guests include keyboardist John Deaderick (Dixie Chicks, Alison Krauss and Michael McDonald), famed peddle steel guitarist Russ Hicks and dobro/lap steel master Jerry Douglas.
WV’s premier rhythm & blues group, the Ants – guitarist Michael Lipton, drummer Jupiter Little, bassist Ted Harrison and vocalist/saxophonist Charlie Tee – have quietly amassed a resume that rivals many national groups. The group’s trademark country-soul sound – rich, soulful harmonies, stinging solos and a rock-solid rhythm section – captures that rare, loose-but-tight feel, and has won the band international as well as regional fans. The Ants have twice traveled to Moscow. The trips found the group performing at a variety of venues including the 3,500-seat Russia Concert Hall, the city’s most prestigious room, a Letterman-style TV show with a national audience of 100 million (!!), funky clubs and gaudy casinos. In the U.S., they’ve played all manners of venues – from church services and rallies for presidential candidates (Bill Clinton and John Kerry) to a biker festival and a nudist camp.
The group’s fans include famed singer/songwriter/producer Don Dixon (who produced the Ants’ last four releases), the Rev. Jesse Jackson (who enlisted the band for a barnstorming, 8-city tour prior to the 2004 presidential election, a Labor Day rally that drew 75,000 people, and a march in Atlanta that featured Stevie Wonder), Mountain Stage host Larry Groce, who often sits in with the band, and a host of veteran players (see below). In 2008, the Ants were asked to perform on the NPR show Whad’Ya Know? The Ants have performed twice on Mountain Stage.
The band toured in the U.S. and Europe backing rock legend Kevin Coyne, and played with original NRBQ guitarist Steve Ferguson off-and-on for 15 years. (Ferguson can be heard on 2007’s Ants in Your Pants.)
Thanks to Lipton’s two decade-long association with the internationally syndicated radio show Mountain Stage as both house guitarist and engineering assistant, a long, varied list of players have sat in at after-show jams for sets that ping-pong from rock ’n’ roll and blues to country and gospel. The list includes Radney Foster, Bill Lloyd, Don Dixon, Mollie O’Brien, Tony Furtado, Hayes Carll, Duke Robillard, Greg Martin, Terry Reid, Ben Sollee, Dwight Twilley, Bill Danoff, The Sweetback Sisters, The Alternate Routes, Rodney Crowell, Robyn Hitchcock, Taj Mahal, the late Luther Allison, English rock legend Kevin Coyne, Bill Kirchen, Curtis Stigers, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Howard Levy, ex-Replacement Slim Dunlap, Marshall Crenshaw, John Mooney and Chip “Wild Thing” Taylor.
The band has also opened shows for the Blind Boys of Alabama, Bill Kirchen, the Continental Drifters, Paul Thorn, Southern Culture on the Skids, Duke Robillard, Terry Evans, Charlie Musselwhite, the Holmes Brothers, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Gov’t Mule, Peter Case, NRBQ, the Spampinato Brothers, Delbert McClinton, the Roches, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
With an arsenal of classic and forgotten American music, the Ants wail through classic R&B, country-swamp and gospel-soul with equal conviction. In the mid-’90s, the band caught the ear of famed singer/songwriter/producer/rock ’n’ roller Don Dixon. The upshot was the band’s second record, the all-gospel Picnic With the Lord, featuring Hammond B-3 master Winston Walls. In 2003, Dixon signed on to produce the group’s third effort, Ants in Your Pants. Along the way, an EP with outtakes from the Ants in Your Pants session, live tracks and a dance remix of the band’s paean to midgets, “Rise Up, Little People,” was released in November 2004. Ants in Your Pants received its release in November 2005.
Since then, the band has contributed a pair of tracks to a gospel/shag compilation, and a song to the WV Music Hall of Fame’s first release which paid tribute to WV songwriter Blind Alfred Reed – and earned five stars from Mojo magazine.