Local high school coach spends family time on the music stage
By Tim Gayle
During the day, Andy Whatley juggles teaching and coaching duties at Evangel Christian Academy, teaching a little history while coaching football and baseball at the small private school on Vaughn Road.
On weekend nights, Whatley often spends time with his three oldest children — Kyle, Karson and Kirkland — as the quartet plays private parties with their rock band “Whatley & Co.”
“We’re just a family who likes to play music,” Whatley said. “So, as we’re recording, we’re like, we’ll just book a show and somebody with 50 people at a party will just pay us money and we’ll just get together and play music. And in the middle of that, we’re recording an album and putting it out. That’s the extent of it. If that wants to go further, who’s going to argue with that? But if that’s all it does, we’re very happy playing together.”
It all started for Andy years ago, he said, as he listened to his father Ed strum a guitar and sing country songs.
“He always played,” Whatley said. “Me and brother grew up in bands all through school. When I had my first two (children), I was still in a band, playing 150 times a year. We didn’t play a lot in Montgomery. We liked to get out of town and play at colleges.”
Before long, his children picked up on their father’s favorite pastime and now Kyle (25) and Karson (23), who both work for Target Exterminating and Lawn Care, and Kirkland (20), who works with Montgomery Water Works, juggle daytime jobs and squeeze in a few recording sessions and live concerts between work duties.
“I was in the meat business and I ended up trading a box of pork chops and, I think, $20 for a drum set for Kyle,” Whatley said. “That’s how he got started. And then we got a bass for Karson. I was the lead guitarist. Then Kirkland kind of took over what I do and he does it a lot better.
“We do have other people help us from time to time. That’s why we added ‘and Company’ because you never know who that’s going to be. On the album, there’s two girls that help us sing and when we’re live, they’ll be a guy helping us on organ.”
Whatley’s love for music and history offer a unique blend on the group’s debut CD. He laid the foundation for the CD back in 2012 during the six months after leaving a job at South Montgomery County Academy and before he was hired at Evangel Christian. He founded Whatley Publishing Company to protect his lyrics and started a record company he named Electric Park Records. He gathered a few friends to help on instruments and produced a bluegrass CD.
“Some of those songs showed up on this album,” Whatley said, “but now it’s my sons so now it’s rock.”
The music blends a mix of the rock he grew up with, such as Pink Floyd or Yes, and the Southern Rock that was popular when he was a child. The lyrics are often personal, such as “Humble Shack” that reflects on the early struggles of Andy and his wife Rachelle or “Big Fam,” a reference to Andy, Rachelle, five children (including 19-year-old McKenzie and 14-year-old Trevor), two wives, two grandchildren and another on the way.
“There’s a lot of us,” Whatley said. “Five kids, now two people married into it and two grandkids, it’s getting bigger and bigger.”
And as their music spreads, they often find personal references (such as the one in “Big Fam” to Kyle’s daughter Margaret) can generate all types of responses.
“I said, ‘Little Maggie’s coming over tonight,’” Whatley said, “and I had somebody email us from North Dakota and said, ‘Hey, who’s Maggie and what’s she look like?’ When somebody hears it on the radio, we get some type of response.”
All of the songs can be found on the group’s Web site, www.whatleyandco.com. In addition to “Humble Shack” and “Big Fam,” there is “Grand Stands” (written by Kyle, it is the title song that includes an old photo of Cramton Bowl on the cover), “Oh Mountain,” “Fast,” “Kilby” and “The Garrett,” the latter two referring to the old Kilby Prison on Federal Drive and the adjoining Garrett Coliseum, constructed in the early 1950s.
Two others have a special meaning for Andy and are a slight departure from the rock roots of the band.
“Play Me a Song” is one of his favorites.
“I was just writing,” Whatley recalled, “and (Rachelle) pops in – she has no musical ability, whatsoever – and she says, ‘What are you writing?’ And I tell her I’ve got a guy and he’s either in prison or he’s in the hospital. Either way, he’s dying. So she says, ‘Put him in prison, it sounds better.’ I finished writing the song and it sounds like a Merle Haggard song.”
Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” one of the late country star’s favorites, has a similar theme. Whatley’s version includes additional lyrics from his sister-in-law, Nikki Falcione.
The last addition to the CD was inspired from a personal story involving Rachelle and her father during his battle with cancer.
“Can I Have This Dance” includes lyrics from Ashley McCullough, the worship leader at Gateway Baptist Church. It has been the best received of all the songs, but ironically is a departure from their normal style of music.
The CD was recorded by Whatley and his children in his house, but was mixed by a studio in Miami. He plans to schedule a trip to a recording studio soon, but may face a scheduling conflict as Karson, a Marine Corps reservist, is set to deploy to Afghanistan early next year.
“When I released that solo deal in 2012, I made decent money,” Whatley said. “Now, it’s all streaming. Everything is online. Obviously, with Facebook and social media, you get a lot of people streaming your stuff. But we’ve all got our day jobs.”
The CD was released over the summer but Whatley’s “day job” of coaching the Lions’ football team kept him busy on the weekends. The group played some private parties during the fall but on Friday, Whatley and Co., will make their first public performance at The Sanctuary on Goldthwaite Street in Five Points.
Whatley, always the history buff, looked around carefully before choosing The Sanctuary.
“Let’s find a cool spot in downtown Montgomery,” Whatley reasoned. “Then we find out Karson was going to Afghanistan, so let’s do this before he leaves.”
The band will play approximately nine original songs and four cover songs, including a tribute to Tom Petty. The concert starts at 7 p.m. and admission is $10.