Feelin’ alright with Will Turpin and The Way: The ultimate concert guide for the Collective Soul bassist’s solo band
Collective Soul founding member Will Turpin belongs in front of an audience. When the bassist appeared on stage at the first annual Hogs, Hotrods & Harleys festival in McDonough, Georgia, with solo project Will Turpin and The Way, fans were treated to a melodic performance focused on piano and guitar pop-rock.
In a twist for Collective Soul fans, Turpin remained behind the keyboards — the first instrument he mastered — all night, barring the one-song encore of Collective Soul’s “Heavy.” As a frontman, the rocker was gracious, acknowledging the audience after each song. Turpin’s humility was evidenced when he introduced each member of the five-piece band.
The lineup consisted of Jason Fowler [guitar and vocals], Mark Wilson [bass and backing vocals] and Scott “super inconspicuous” Davidson [drums]. The band logo — stylized block letters of WT&TW — were visible on Davidson’s kick drum. Calvin Kelley, an auxiliary member of the band who attended high school with Turpin, supplied percussion. Not a fly-by-night side project for the musician, the guys are committed to the music and being a real, working band.
Only a few miles away from the musician’s birthplace in Stockbridge, the intimate 75-minute outdoor show was an ideal setting for fans wishing to relax under the stars. Turpin opted for a vibey mood. Gone were the crunching electric guitars and alternative rock of Collective Soul. Turpin’s band was well-rehearsed and tight, especially Fowler and Wilson. The guitarist and co-writer of all five new compositions sang fine lead vocals on two songs and sported a cool-looking Taylor T5 guitar that alternated at the drop of a hat as an acoustic or electric.
Wilson’s patented rock star persona was on full display when he jumped on Davidson’s drum riser during Fowler’s solos on the upbeat numbers. The guitarist was in on the fun, too, repeatedly twirling himself into a frenzy while simultaneously shredding. On the laid back tunes, the pair tended to support Turpin with driving harmonies.
Breaking down the setlist, only two Collective Soul selections were performed — “Heavy” and Turpin’s debut keyboard interpretation of “The World I Know” — and those arrived after the midway point. Ironically, the band was a bit tentative during the first verse of “Heavy”, flubbing a minor vocal line. Both career-making records known by nearly everyone in the crowd, it was a bold move not to rely on more past glories.
Turpin opened the proceedings with a then-unreleased song, the ironically titled, Steely Dan groove-ish “One and Done” [Serengeti Drivers, 2018]. Five additional tunes from the archives, which sound nothing like Turpin’s previous masters — a good thing for any musician worth his salt — were sprinkled throughout the evening. There was no booing, but Turpin repeatedly felt obligated to virtually apologize for playing so many unheard cuts since McDonough was only the second show where they tackled them. The new songs consistently rocked harder than The Lighthouse material.
Before kicking off each unreleased cut, Turpin offered revealing behind the music commentary. “On and On” [Serengeti Drivers] was “a laidback one about love and how it’s all around us. And you know what, love continues on long after we’re dead and gone.” Buoyed by Fowler’s acoustic runs and recurring on-key whistling from Turpin, “On and On” seems tailor-made for a TV show soundtrack. Backstage, the musician confessed, “‘On and On’ is the one radio’s gonna start playing.”
“Let It Go,” an outtake from the Serengeti Drivers sessions, is a straight ahead rocker that caught the crowd off guard but earned their full support. Fowler began playing acoustic licks, reverted to electric by the chorus, and delivered a soaring lead vocal to boot with Turpin on harmonies.
“Free to Mend” was the final Fowler vocal showcase. Although Fowler composed it, Turpin offered a preface — “It’s about going through troubled times and then realizing that it’s okay that you’re now free to mend.” With obvious shades paralleling Turpin’s other band, “Free to Mend” contained the evening’s first extended guitar solo which persuaded the audience to finally stand up and voice their approval.
Nearing Dave Matthews Band territory, “Belong” [Serengeti Drivers] found Turpin inquiring of his audience, “Do you wanna rock? It’s about being right where you are, being happy in the now. Tomorrow’s awesome, yesterday’s okay, but today is where it’s at.” An up-tempo call and response number featuring a meaty bass line, “Belong” was the only time that lead vocals were shared by Fowler and Turpin, buddies since childhood.
“Stones Under Rushing Water” was a NEEDTOBREATHE cover. Dedicated to his family, Turpin revealed that they enjoy listening to music together. “This is one of their favorites, and they suggested that we try it here,” said Turpin. “It’s about always appreciating today.” Folks could be seen swaying back and forth to the musicians’ gentle melody. Turpin later shared with me, “Sometimes I’m scared about playing laidback tunes. But when I get onstage, that’s all I wanna do. People dig it, even when you sing a cappella. I added ‘Stones Under Rushing Water’ on the fly.”
His first solo release, the 2011 EP The Lighthouse, was aired in its entirety. When he arrived at “Her Name,” the rocker half-jokingly admitted, “Perhaps you’ve never heard this one, either.” None of the band appears on the EP, so hearing the tracks embellished by Fowler’s fretwork was illuminating.
Deserving of an honorable mention is “60 Seconds”, indicative of a Michelle Branch, wake up and face the world like spirit and written for The Lighthouse ahead of its counterparts in 2007. Revealing his theme for the night, Turpin chuckled and said, “It’s about having fun — for 60 seconds.” Even more commercial-sounding is “My Star,” which had folks on their feet in front of the stage.
Turpin’s hesitant but haunting cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” was an unexpected treat. Certainly not a tune that lends itself to a live interpretation, Paul McCartney originally recorded a string section and orchestra without any traditional band accompaniment.
Exemplifying respect for his classic rock forefathers, Turpin dipped into Traffic’s extraordinary catalog for “Feelin’ Alright,” a hit for Joe Cocker which gave The Way plenty of room to breathe and improvise. Turpin actually “started doing it at a Collective Soul sound check. Sometimes it would just be me and the drummer [Cheney Brannon]. I’d go around to every instrument and play a bit.” “Feelin’ Alright” served its function well as the penultimate song — screams erupted from the crowd demanding an encore.
Leaving everyone on the edge of their seats for what seemed like an eternity, Turpin finally relented with “Heavy” [aka “It Falls on Me, It Brings Me Down”], Collective Soul’s enduring 1999 hit single. Urged to strap on Wilson’s bass, Turpin rocked out as Wilson jumped offstage and joined his family. An extremely jovial, overweight, and intoxicated rough neck — of course not an attractive girl— kept dancing in front of the stage, prompting Turpin to holler, “Henry County’s own professional dancer is in the house!”
Turpin confirmed to me, “I would actually prefer not to play any bass at my shows. But it doesn’t really matter. I’m cool with it. The other day when we were recording in the studio, Mark asked me, ‘Don’t you ever feel like you wanna grab the bass?’ I’m like, ‘No.’ If he wasn’t that good, I would have a problem with it. But Mark is top notch.”
Turpin is receptive to the idea of distributing Will Turpin and The Way concerts for download — “We’re gonna record our live shows and just throw them out there for free. That’s what I want to do, anyway. My manager may have other ideas,” he chuckled. Let’s hope the multi-faceted artist does get around to dropping his band’s live music. Turpin is on the verge of combustion, and his debut full-length album, Serengeti Drivers , is ample confirmation.
Setlist: Will Turpin and The Way, Hogs, Hotrods, and Harleys Festival, Alexander Park, McDonough, Georgia, October 13, 2012
- “One and Done” [Serengeti Drivers, 2018]
- “Sanity” [The Lighthouse EP, 2011]
- “Sailor” [The Lighthouse, 2011]
- “On and On” [Serengeti Drivers, 2018]
- “Eleanor Rigby” [Beatles cover, unreleased]
- “60 Seconds” [The Lighthouse, 2011]
- “Let It Go” [unreleased outtake from the Serengeti Drivers sessions]
- “Free to Mend” [written by Jason Fowler; Letters from the Inside, 2014]
- “Her Name” [The Lighthouse, 2011]
- ‘The World I Know” [Collective Soul’s self-titled 1995 LP]
- “Belong” [Serengeti Drivers, 2018]
- “Stones Under Rushing Water” [NEEDTOBREATHE cover song, unreleased]
- “My Star” [The Lighthouse, 2011]
- “Feelin’ Alright” [written by Dave Mason of Traffic, Joe Cocker cover, unreleased]
- “Heavy” [Collective Soul, Dosage, 1999]
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