Mike Stinson - No more drummer jokes

Across the North Hollywood diner, a man is staring at us. Across the table from me is Mike Stinson, who looks so much like Gram Parsons that his recent participation in Gram Fest at Joshua Tree seems as unnecessary as an Elvis impersonator going to Graceland. But those who dress up as The King rarely have talent. Stinson, on the other hand, has talent to burn. A 34-year-old Virginia native, Stinson was playing drums not long ago with Waynesboro, a band fronted by Ramsay Midwood (whose debut CD recently was picked up by Vanguard Records). One of Stinson's first gigs with Waynesboro was at the Cinema Bar in Culver City, just south of Los Angeles. When Stinson belted out Chuck Berry's "Going Back To Memphis", the big crowd in the small dive was stunned. With his nasally twang and high-voltage spirit, Stinson instantly proved a welcome addition to the band. Stinson played drums in a succession of no-name bands for more than a decade. He moved from Virginia to Los Angeles in 1991, and in 1997 began making the transition to guitarist-singer, including a couple of projects with Johnny Irion (whose solo debut came out last year on Yep Roc Records). Some seemingly promising recording sessions resulted, one with Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes producing, the other with members of both the Crowes and Little Feat participating, but nothing ever was released. Finally, Stinson has his own solo debut, the self-released Jack Of All Heartache, and his own band, which includes Tony Gilkyson (from X) on lead guitar, Lucas Cheadle on bass, and Jason Moore on drums. Stinson opted to not play drums in his own because he sensed audiences found it odd. "I know they're thinking, 'Is he the singer or the drummer or what?'" he reflects. "Besides, it's easier to lead a band when you're standing in the front as opposed to sitting in the back." Jack Of All Heartache features nine honky-tonking tunes, and Stinson hits the sweet spot on damn near all of them. "Late Great Golden State" portrays Los Angeles as a place where dreamers never get over the thought of starting over: "Nice place for a clean slate/But leave your expectations at the gate." Stinson hasn't given up the drums completely; he spent some time in November in the studio with Vic Chesnutt (whose new album is tentatively set for a late March release on New West). As we're about to leave the diner, the guy who's been eyeing us all evening tentatively approaches and quietly announces, "I'm a huge fan." My pleasantly surprised companion thanks the stranger and shakes his hand. Tangible proof that Mike Stinson's long years of hard work are starting to pay off.