When she’s not recording or touring her own material, Eileen plays classic country music with her side-project, The Silver Threads. The band play weekly sets in the famous honky tonks on Nashville’s Lower Broadway, including Robert’s Western World and Layla’s Bluegrass Inn. They have released 2 albums, "The Silver Threads" and "Live At Robert's Western World".
The Silver Threads play country standards and honky tonk music by the greats that started it all in the '50s and '60s - Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Kitty Wells, Ray Price, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Party Cline, Earnest Tubb, Connie Smith, Buck Owens etc – to the outlaw mavericks that kept it going in the 70s - Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Lynn Anderson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and many more.
“There are a lot of reasons I like traditional country music - not this new stuff which is just pop music with cowboy hats!“ explains Eileen. “The song-writing is incredible. There are so many intense, dark, highly emotional stories delivered in concise, economical, punch-you-in-the-gut lyrics. All the fat is trimmed away in a country song – they’re short, melodic, full of hooks, seemingly simple but difficult to play. And vocally, it’s a real challenge to approach a Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, Connie Smith or Merle Haggard song. It’s not just that they’re technically brilliant singers – they are – it’s more the emotional gravity with which they deliver a song, largely because they were singing about real things in their lives.”
Eileen formed The Silver Threads with her Holy Wreck sideman The Legendary Rich Gilbert, soon after she relocated to Nashville at the end of 2008. Rich is known for his slash and burn, punk influenced guitar work with Frank Black and Human Sexual Response but, like Eileen, he has always harbored a love for country music, which he revealed with his band The Blackstone Valley Sinners. Since he moved from Boston to Nashville in 2004, he has become a regular and respected player in the honky tonks and has established a reputation for his fast country guitar picking, jaw dropping solos and beautiful pedal steel (he made the widow of pedal steel legend Don Helms cry and step up to the stage to shake his hand). In 2010, Rich appeared on the David Letterman Show, Conan O’Brien and The Grand Ole Opry playing pedal steel with the great Wanda Jackson and Jack White.
The band is completed by Johnnie Barber on drums and “Slick” Joe Fick on doghouse bass. Johnnie has played drums for some of the all time country greats: Earnest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and, from 1978-1984, with Johnny Paycheck. Having made his name as with popular Memphis band The Dempsey’s, Joe is now one of Nashville’s rising stars and is considered one the best slap bass players and soloists in the world. He played Elvis’ bass player in the Cash Biopic, ‘Walk The Line’ and performed at the 2011 CMA Awards in the opening song with Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.
The Silver Threads began playing on Lower Broad in January 2010, and have quickly become one of the Street’s “must see” bands, proving a hit with locals and tourists alike for their authentic country sound, top-notch musicianship and fun, high energy shows.
Many of the country legends that The Silver Threads cover started their own careers in the honky tonks on Lower Broad, and the street is steeped in country music history. On the corner stands the Ryman Auditorium, which housed the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, and the historic alleyway connecting the honky tonks to the backstage door of the Ryman has been well trodden by artists like Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams, George Jones, Bob Dylan and Ricky Scaggs, who have dropped into one of the honky tonks to relax after a concert at the Ryman. Today, honky tonks like Robert’s Western World are keeping traditional country music alive in a city that is now dominated by New Country.
“The Lower Broadway scene is really a unique, historic thing that somehow still survives”, explains Eileen. “In its own way, it’s very punk rock in that it’s doing its own thing no matter what anyone else thinks or says about it. And it’s continued to exist for over 50 years as all other trends come and go. It’s very much the kind of thing I gravitate toward. The street is a weird and wonderful mix of some of the best players in the world, a collection of unpredictable, bona fide kooks, homeless and misfits, honky tonk regulars who love the music and have embraced the scene as their own community, plus tourists, all wide-eyed and delighted at the players and general atmosphere and neon glow of the place."
The music begins at 10a.m and ends at 3a.m. Bands play 4 hour sets; sometimes two a day at different clubs. There is no cover charge – the honky tonks only ask that you tip the band in the tip jar that is passed around.
“It makes you better”, says Eileen. “You have to be. So many hours with everyone looking! Practice at home, though I still do it, is no substitute for stage time. That’s what playing on Lower Broad has done for me. Not only have I had to learn hundreds of songs from some of the all time great song writers and singers, but I’m in front of a crowd expecting to be entertained 20-24 hours a week. And if they’re not entertained, having fun and aren’t impressed, we don’t get paid.”
Venues like Robert's also serve as a musician community, which Eileen thrives in. “I’m surrounded by some of the greatest players in the world. AND, you’re playing songs that are technically difficult and subtle… you can’t help but get good. Plus, it’s competitive. There are hundreds of outstanding musicians here and they all want your job. You have to work hard and be great to keep it. But it is a generous community that looks after its own. There are no shortage of benefits and collections for those who have medical emergencies, flood damage or need a funeral paid for and folks really do give their time and money to support each other. I don’t know any other place quite like it and I feel really lucky to be a part of it.”