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Fifth on the Floor is Southern and proud of it

WANT TO GO?

Fifth on the Floor

With Sasha Colette and the Magnolias

WHERE: The Empty Glass, 410 Elizabeth St.

WHEN: 10 p.m. Friday

COVER: $5 before 11 p.m., $7 after

INFO: 304-345-3914 or www.emptyglass.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It takes more than conjuring up the right accent and raising the right beer to create music that's real country. Ask Justin Wells, frontman for Kentucky-based alternative country/Southern rockers Fifth on the Floor and he'll tell you sometimes all it takes to get country cred these days is to "mention Johnny Cash, say something about Budweiser and talk bad about Yankees and that makes you a Southerner."

Wells, whose band returns to The Empty Glass on Friday night, thinks it takes a lot more than that.

"Southern is about culture and history," he said. "These days it's been turned into some kind of cartoon joke. You've got guys who are not even from the South, throwing on a Southern accent, making a country album and selling millions."

Wells said he doesn't exactly see Fifth on the Floor as country music, just a band with some very clear country sensibilities and musical roots. "We're just one of those bands that wears its influences blatantly on its sleeve."

Fifth on the Floor write songs about broken hearts, drinking too much, hard luck and wanting to do right.

"We're a lot about justice," he said. "Everything from the maybe outdated Southern vigilante style of justice to other kinds of justice."

It's what they've seen and what they've experienced. A few months ago, Wells got locked up for a DUI in northern Louisiana.

"I was playing out solo, picking with some friends, and they promised there'd be a [designated] driver," he said.

But everyone got drunk. Wells said he thought he was good enough to drive and offered to get them home.

"There was a split highway with one road going one way and another road going the other. A big median was in the middle," he explained.

Wells ended up on the wrong road, going the wrong way. He got caught pretty quickly. Maybe to scare him, he was locked up in a state penitentiary in Benton.

"There were guys in there doing five and seven years," he said.

If that's what the judge wanted, it worked, even though Wells was only locked up for 12 hours.

"That was my Johnny Cash stint," he said.

Johnny Cash was arrested three times during the 1960s for charges, including trespassing and attempted drug smuggling. He eventually served a night in jail. Far from damaging the man in black's music career, his brush with the law became part of his legend.

Wells also got a song out of his experience: "January in Louisiana."

"It's not a biographical song," he said. "It's more of a jumping off point."

The song, he said will be on the band's next album, its third.

Fifth on the Floor's music is rough and tumble, like a stripped down Drive-By Truckers or a less sober Waylon Jennings. It plays loud, hard and honest.

Wells explained, "Ain't none of us in this band rich. We write about the struggles of the common man. It's that kind of thing that permeates what we do, but we're not a political band."

One of the band's songs, "Another Day," addresses coal-mining issues. It caught the attention of outlaw country star Shooter Jennings, who was putting together his own brand of country music.

Almost since the beginning, Jennings, the son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, has been at odds with the country music establishment, which isn't surprising given his father's trouble with it. Among other things, Jennings launched the website www.givememyxxx.com. The website is part of a movement to promote a different kind of American music and bands like Fifth on the Floor.

"It's called the XXX movement. It's kind of a play on AAA music," he said, referring to Adult Album Alternative, a radio format that often features music by indie rock performers on the fringe of mainstream pop.

Since they became acquainted, Fifth on the Floor has shown up in a couple of Jennings' music videos.

"We've got some other stuff we're maybe doing," he said and laughed. "I'm not supposed to talk about it."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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