Heath Green is one of Birmingham’s hardest working musicians. He’s 43 now. He’s a dad. His roots are deep in Alabama — he graduated from Pelham High School in 1992. Mastodon’s Brent Hinds was in his class; they still talk regularly. He’s been playing live gigs in the Magic City for more than 20 years, and his music career all began with Mudpie, a band that included his current drummer, Jason Lucia.
“I met up with [Mudpie] through friends, and we just started playing,” Green said of his first foray into rock and roll. “Then we moved in together. And from there, I just started jumping bands.”
Mudpie hung it up in 1998, and Green moved on to acoustic shows. There were other bands, but nothing panned out.
“People are more honest with their music now than they were then,” Green said of the evolution of the Birmingham scene from the time that he entered it in the mid-’90s to now. “Back then, everyone was trying to sound like something else from a different city. You had a bunch of bands that sounded the same and were trying to do the same thing. Now you have a lot more originality; a more diverse sense of music. The pay hasn’t changed, which I’ve never understood at all. Beer prices have gone up and everything else has gone up, but the pay for bands has stayed the same for at least 20 years.”
Heath Green and the Star Makers stayed around for a while; a band which had a rotating cast of really talented musicians that didn’t need to spend a lot of time on rehearsal. It was there that he began playing a lot of shows with trombonist Chad Fisher and it was that collaboration that led to their next project, FisherGreen. They recorded an album and got a little traction, but they quickly drifted apart.
“I don’t know how that happened,” Green said of FisherGreen’s disbandment. “I don’t even know if I’d really say that it’s broken up. Family, money, things like that started being involved. We were losing some of the band members; it was a six- or seven-piece band, and if you didn’t have enough people that were going to constantly play, it becomes difficult. I had some tunes, and I didn’t know if they would work with that band.”
As gathering that band grew to be more difficult, Green began gravitating to something new, and Fisher had found some fill-in work with another local band that eventually led to a full-time gig. They had become two different bands; for Green, an edgier blues-rock creation he’d call Heath Green and the Makeshifters that would garner label support from Alive, the label that released the first record by Birmingham’s Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, There is a Bomb in Gilead; for Fisher, a brassier, more natural fit in St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Like many amicable band splits, it worked out pretty well for everyone involved.
It wasn’t about control, and it wasn’t about creative differences.
“It was just mine,” Green said of creating Heath Green and the Makeshifters. “I knew exactly what I wanted this to be and the way that I wanted it to sound, and I didn’t think that FisherGreen would be able to do that. It was too heavy. It was too tight and too loose at the same time.”
In the in-between, Green and Fisher played as The Martyrs, “out of necessity.” It was usually a three-piece, and it paid the bills with minimal rehearsal.
“While I was doing that and some other solo stuff, these Makeshifters songs just came to me,” said Green. “I was playing out with Jody Nelson acoustically, and we started grabbing other people to turn it into a band, and it just kind of clicked.”
They brought on Lucia and Greg Slamen and the timing finally worked.
“Eight [of the songs] came to me all at once,” Green said. “I had held onto them for maybe a year or so — developing them, playing around acoustically. And when I got with the guys, they put their touch on them and they took off.”
Bains connected the band to his former label.
“We played Lee’s wedding,” Green said. “We had recorded those songs a month or two before, and at his wedding, we gave him a disc of it and he liked it. He sent it over to Patrick at Alive. By the time Patrick got done listening to it, he called us. He had called us after he had heard three songs. We negotiated for a couple of weeks and that was it.”
Alive Records picked the band up and they didn’t want to change anything about the eight songs Green had already cut; they just wanted to add a few more tracks. Two of those were older songs that Green brought out of the archives; the third was written later was named for another band from Alabama, Greenhill’s Secret Sisters.
“I was with Jason Lucia and Trey McLemore (also a former member of Mudpie), and we were opening for them in Waverly at Standard Deluxe,” Green. said. “We were supposed to have a bass player and it didn’t work out, so it was just us as a three-piece and we were kind of doing it unrehearsed, but it worked out okay. That song was all about that night — being nervous and then getting a little sick, and then when they started singing, all the other sickness and creepiness just went away, because they were amazing. They have an amazing thing that they do.”
“When I had my second kid a couple of years ago, I stopped playing out solo as much, Green said. “I tried to write new songs, but then I also tried to do some serious day work that took up a lot of my time. The want was to get signed, have some money saved and hit the road. All of that happened except the money saved part [laughs]. I miss playing the four or five nights in town [a week], but I’m hoping to replace that with tours.”
Don’t confuse the new sound with a new man, and don’t infer that the older version of this man is a different one.
“”I think if you’ve listened or if you’ve watched me play over the years, you won’t see a difference,” he said. “The only difference will maybe be the style or the loudness of it. I think I’ve always been me. It’s hard for me to pretend to be anyone else. This is the way I’ve always sang. I do what I like.”
Heath Green and the Makeshifters release their eponymous debut on Friday. They’ll celebrate at Seasick Records at 6 p.m., followed by a show at Syndicate Lounge. The show at Syndicate begins at 9 p.m. and also features The Brook and the Bluff, Jordy Searcy and Rock Eupora. Tickets are $5.