Charlie Overbey may be a lifelong Californian, but his songs are steeped in the timeless traditions of the American South. After years of touring the world supporting acts ranging from David Allan Coe and Blackberry Smoke to Social Distortion and Motorhead, Overbey slowly amassed a collection of introspective original songs that transcend the endless rock & roll party, taking a stark, undeniably honest look at some of life’s most gritty moments. The result is Charlie Overbey’’s new LP, Broken Arrow.
Coined as ” The Punk Rock Spy In The House Of Honky Tonk” Charlie’s new album Broken Arrow is a triumphant collection of road-hardened alt-country tunes born of Overbey’s upbringing in what he calls “the school and church of Johnny Cash,” Broken Arrow features guest appearances from The Mastersons (who also play in Steve Earle’s band The Dukes), Miranda Lee Richards (who sings on duet single “Slip Away”) and Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers, and was produced by Ted Hutt who recently won a Grammy for his work with Old Crow Medicine Show, and has helmed multiple albums by Lucero, The Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys and many more.
“I’ve never worked with anybody like Ted,” Overbey says, reflecting on the sessions. “This is the first time I’ve ever let go and trusted somebody else as a partner in my songs. He really pulled some stuff out of me that I had not planned on delivering. Honestly, these songs can be hard for me to sing—they come from a deep, real and sometimes dark place.”
Self-aware and introspective without relying on played-out tropes of love and loss, Overbey’s songwriting is genuine, fearless and visceral. Authentic, reverb-drenched ‘70s-channeling album opener “Slip Away” gets right at the heart of life’s darkness, chronicling the heart-wrenching suicide of a young girl. Accompanied by wailing pedal steel and the haunting harmonies of Miranda Lee Richards, the song sets a tone of somber acceptance in the face of mortality.
“The Ballad of Eddie Spaghetti”—featuring a guest appearance from its namesake—also addresses mortality, though from a different perspective, confronting Spaghetti’s recent struggles with cancer. While the refrain, “If I die at 47, if I die before my time / Will they drag me up to heaven or deliver me to Hell in my prime” might read as a last will & testament, the soaring vocals and upbeat tempo elevate it to an awe-inspiring, fist-pumping battle cry. As Overbey sees it, “You gotta step up and kick life’s ass sometimes.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Overbey was exposed to country music early and often. It wasn’t something he sought out on his own—his father owned a 1947 Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar, and almost every time it was played, out spilled a Johnny Cash song. Overbey recalls these times fondly and admits they shaped his musical growth, though it took years of punk-rock rebellion before he’d come to appreciate the genre’s influence on him. “When you’re raised, and it’s all around you,” he says, “it’s the last thing you want to be a part of.”
Overbey’s first success in the music industry came when his cowpunk outfit Custom Made Scare landed a deal with Side One Dummy Records in 1998. But before the band’s debut album dropped, Overbey went on the run from the law for months, finally turning himself in and spending a year in prison. The very same week he was released, the band hit the road immediately, and toured heavily into the new millennium alongside seminal punk acts such as Suicidal Tendencies, Social Distortion, Agent Orange, Zeke and REO Speedealer.
A side project of Overbey’s called Charlie & The Valentine Killers also toured in the late 2000s with David Allan Coe and Lemmy’s side outfit The Headcat. “It was still days of angst,” Overbey says, but the country-leaning project’s sound served as an important precursor to his current solo work backed by the Broken Arrows.
Looking ahead to the March 2018 release of Broken Arrow, Overbey is gearing up to hit the road with a vengeance for the first time in years. He and the band are already working on songs for a follow-up record that will draw from the same rich vein as Broken Arrow. Overbey isn’t one for idle hands—when he isn’t playing or writing, Charlie has become a well-known name in the fashion world with his one-of-a-kind, hand-shaped Lone Hawk Hats, for devotees in the Americana scene, including the camps of Blackberry Smoke, Miranda Lambert, Lucero, the Foo Fighters, Dwight Yoakam, Cage The Elephant, Kaleo, and Miley Cyrus. Lone Hawk Hats were even the focus point in a recent Stella McCartney campaign.
It’s a craft Overbey taught himself by trial and error, ultimately carrying with it the same authenticity and attention to detail you’ll find in his songwriting. They are available at several high-end locations, including he and his lady’s brick-and-mortar shop Honeywood Vintage / Lone Hawk Hats on ultra hip York Blvd in Highland Park, Los Angeles.
As the album title suggests, an existential darkness permeates Broken Arrow. It is the work of a road-savvy rock & roll veteran who sees the world as it is, fully grasping the jagged pain of life. But this darkness isn’t a dead end—Overbey’s songs are shot through with enough hard-fought resilience, determination and optimism to remind listeners the only way out is forward, and that the wild ride of life is a mysterious and beautiful gift.
Charlie Overbey – Broken Arrow