Turning On to Magnolia Drive
by Susan Marquez
Magnolia Drive. It could be an address anywhere in the South. Or it could be the name of a hard-driving bluegrass band based in the magnolia state of Mississippi. Since you are reading The Bluegrass Standard, logic says that we are talking about the band. And logic will serve you well.
“We call ourselves Magnolia Drive because we wanted our band name to be representative of Mississippi, which is the magnolia state,” says band member Don Robinson. “The goal of bluegrass music is to have that pocket or that drive, so we came up with the name Magnolia Drive and it perfectly describes what we are all about.”
Magnolia Drive has been a driving force on the Mississippi bluegrass scene for ten years. “We have been playing together as a band for ten years,” says Robinson (banjo, guitar, vocals). But their relationships go back almost four decades.
“We’ve all known each other for a long time, and we’ve talked about playing together.” Robinson and Cory Burton (mandolin/vocals) were asked to play at a Mississippi Music Hall of Fame Event where they talked about getting a band together. It finally happened in August 2010.
The band is composed of Robinson, Burton, and brothers Steve Nowell (acoustic bass/vocals) and Mike Nowell (guitar/vocals). All are long-time professional musicians who have played in various bands over the years.
While they’ve played every event in Mississippi a dozen times according to Robinson, Magnolia Drive is still looking for their big break. “Our hope for a record company to take note of our work and give us a publishing deal. We’re hoping our phone won’t stop ringing!”
To make that happen, Magnolia Drive has been working on their first full-length CD. “We put out a six-song CD in 2011 that we used to send to promoters,” says Robinson. “But this CD we’re working on is much more intensive.”
With fourteen tracks so far, the CD is crammed full of original tunes as well as songs by other songwriters and musical artists. “We are all songwriters, so we bring our own work to the project,” says Robinson. “We also have songs from such notables as Buck Owens. “We have two of his lesser-known ‘B’ side songs on the album, as well as some Old Country Gentlemen songs. We think we have a good lineup of songs and we are anxious to get it finished.”
The album was recorded in Steve Nowell’s studio in Madison, Mississippi. “Steve’s an I.T. guy for C-Spire, but his goal is to retire and run his own recording studio. This album has been a learning experience for him, and for us too.” The group has been working on the album for the past three to four years. “We live far apart,” explains Robinson. “It’s not like we can get together every Tuesday night to work on it.” Robinson says that Ronnie Stewart is mixing and mastering the project, which is yet to be named.
“We’re hoping someone will hear it and want to publish it,” says Robinson. “If all goes well, our CD will be released before the end of the year.” The band is scheduled to do a showcase at the IBMA in September. “We are all praying that the conference still happens this year,” he says.
Robinson is no stranger to songwriting success. A song he wrote, Sunday Morning Without You, was on a GRAMMY®-nominated album Scratch Gravel Road by the Chicago-based group Special Consensus. The song was in the Top Ten for several weeks. Magnolia Drive’s upcoming CD will feature two of Robinson’s songs, along with original songs by other band members. “We’re just trying to make the best CD we can.”
All the band members live in Mississippi. Robinson lives outside Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and works full time as a financial consultant. Steve Nowell lives in Madison, and his brother, Mike Nowell, lives in Starkville. Cory Burton lives in Ackerman.
“We’ve all toured a good bit in the past, including playing at several festivals, and truthfully, we could play in churches every Sunday. But we are on a different path these days. We really want to pick and choose the right events for us.”
The band is inspired by bluegrass greats Doyle Lawson, J.D. Crowe and the Bluegrass Album Band. “Our music isn’t stark tradition but is more in the contemporary traditional vain.”
“We have big aspirations,” says Robinson. “We’ve all been doing this for so long, it’s time we take it to the next level.” From traditional bluegrass to country tunes and Gospel songs, Magnolia Drive is a band to keep an eye on.