Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
Antsy McClain & the Trailer Park Troubadours are based in Nashville, TN, but they're as far from country's mainstream as you can get. The band's moniker is a tip-off that everything isn't exactly serious, but McClain isn't a novelty act. The Troubadours are a revolving cadre of top-notch pickers who can play cowboy jazz, Tex-Mex waltzes, country ballads, and soulful R&B dance tunes without breaking a sweat. McClain adds his songwriting, a relaxed tenor with the understated elegance of all good country singers and a storyteller's gift of gab to the proceedings for a show that's both down-home and high tone.
Antsy McClain was born Ronnie Joe McClain in 1962. He grew up in a succession of small trailer parks in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee with his Avon-selling mother and a father who drove a Wonder Bread delivery truck. His upbringing has colored his music and outlook on life ever since. "People hear the phrase Trailer Park Troubadours and expect to see something out of an episode of Cops or Jerry Springer," McClain says in his good-natured drawl. "But we don't take the low road. There's no blue material. When we sing about adult themes and relationships gone wrong, it's not in a jaundiced way. We always deliver some semblance of hope. We're about lightness and laughter and positive energy. Our shows stir up the endorphins and get you interested in living. Life is too short to dwell on the negative."
McClain grew up with eight-track tapes and vinyl, falling under the spell of '70s singer/songwriters in his youth. Jim Croce, still a big favorite, led him to James Taylor and John Denver. As he got older he discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC and other noisy rock bands. His mother's collection of Motown albums and groove heavy music was complemented by his dad's interest in George Jones, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette. Although they lived in secluded small towns, his musical taste was as eclectic as the music he makes with today's Troubadours.
McClain's first instrument was a '70s Sear's guitar that he mowed lawns to buy. He knew if he wanted to be an artist he'd have to do it on his own. Both parents always encouraged his creative endeavors, but lacked the disposable income to help him out financially. McClain was a songwriter and storyteller, even back in high school, but got a late start in show business. "I've only recently been able to admit that I'm an entertainer," he says. "I was embarrassed for a long time. I started getting serious about music in my late twenties, while I was in college studying art. I don't take rejection well and I wanted to work on my craft before I threw it out, so I was a closet singer/songwriter guy for a long time."
McClain worked on farms, in factories, and restaurants. He's been an artist and still designs the album art for his CD projects; he's been a teacher, a tour guide and a Japanese interpreter. "When I was traveling as a Japanese interpreter for the auto industry in the '80s, I took my guitar with me and wrote in hotel rooms. In between I'd soak up the stuff by Guy Clark, Kristofferson, and other great songwriters."
McClain started doing Parlor Concerts and House Parties as a duo with his pal Flem (Stephen Fleming) playing second guitar and singing harmony. They began drawing bigger and bigger crowds and when McClain landed a songwriting deal with a Nashville publisher, the duo moved to Music City. The publishing deal didn't last, but it got McClain into the center of the action. "When we first got to town, we went to a writer's night open mic where everybody gets to do two or three songs," McClain recalls. "We sat through hours of crying in your beer and slit your wrist kinda sad country songs. I had two of the same type things and I threw 'em out and started developing more songs about trailer park life to get peoples attention and stand out." That's also the reasoning behind using McClain's nickname, Antsy, given to him in high school or his uncontained energy and his jittery dance moves. McClain and Flem slowly built a fan base and began adding players to the lineup. The band evolved into the Trailer Park Troubadours. At first they billed themselves as a comedy act, but McClain saw the limitations of the label. "Comedy is a guy in a clown suit; humor has a more literate attitude. I'm a storyteller with a self-deprecating approach. I was voted class clown in high school, but I consider myself a humorist and don't take myself too seriously. I love making people laugh, but I want to be taken seriously as a writer."
In 1993, after winning a sizable underground audience in Nashville, the Trailer Park Troubadours won first place on a Nashville Star Search show hosted by Charlie Daniels. The prize was $25,000. The money enabled McClain to make the first Trailer Park Troubadours album. "That was nine albums ago, and we're still at it," McClain boasts. The Troubadours have toured relentlessly, mostly in the South and on the West Coast, supporting titles like Doublewide & Dangerous (1998), Way Cool World (2000) and Trailercana(2007). Most came out on McClain's own DPR logo, but until Trailercana, he never sought a national distribution deal. "I believe in the old fashion way of attaining success," he explains. "Build a fan base in your home town, spread it out to a regional level and then take it national. Having your own label and co-producing your own music is challenging and liberating. We had deals with some smaller labels that went under along the way, so I was able to watch and see how they did things."
Trailercana's sound blends traditional country, blues, doo wop, R&B, Tex-Mex, honky tonk, gospel and more into a style with a friendly, down-home feel. It's the slickest, most cohesive album he's made, thanks to the help of longtime bandmembers and a selection of Nashville session regulars.
"I had a clear vision of where this album wanted to go, but you rely a lot on the other guys in the studio. Everyone who plays has a limited vocabulary, and you often hear the same licks on every record made in Nashville, but if you come in with fresh upbeat music, it catches 'em off guard and they do something new."
McClain raised the money to record Trailercana by soliciting donations from his fans -- dubbed Flamingo Heads, after the plastic pink flamingos often seen on the lawns in front of trailers in the south. Hundreds of fans kicked in about $100 each, and they're all thanked on the CD booklet with tiny photos dropped into a tiny map of the mythical Pine View Heights Trailer Park. "I went into hock to get this album out," McClain says. "The fans chipped in to help, so we owe this one to the Flamingo Heads."
McClain supports his releases with two versions of the Troubadours, one based in Nashville, one in California. He also does solo and duo "Kitchen Table Tours" that reconstruct a trailer park kitchen on-stage, complete with fridge and lava lamp, creating an intimate experience for his songs and stories of Trailer Park life. McClain released a solo album of serious country tunes, Time-Sweetened Lies in 2005. A new solo project and a new Troubadours set are scheduled for spring of 2008.