Even the best bands come and go but the Carpenter Ants have been around – with virtually the same lineup – for 25 years. The Ants have defied the odds and outlasted most of their peers for a number of reasons. First and foremost, after more than 2,000 performances, regardless of the occasion, the band never fails to have a good time – and that feeling is contagious.
Having evolved into WV’s premiere rhythm & blues group, the Ants – guitarist Michael Lipton, drummer Jupiter Little, bassist Ted Harrison and vocalist/saxophonist Charlie Tee – have quietly amassed a resume that rivals many national groups.
The group’s fans include famed singer/songwriter/producer Don Dixon (who produced the Ants’ last three releases), the Rev. Jesse Jackson (who enlisted the band for a barnstorming, 8-city tour prior to the 2004 presidential election, a Labor Day rally that drew 75,000 people and a march in Atlanta that featured Stevie Wonder), “Mountain Stage” host Larry Groce, who often sits in with the band; and a host of veteran players (see below).
Thanks to Lipton’s nearly three decade-long association with the internationally syndicated radio show “Mountain Stage” (as both house guitarist and engineering assistant), a long and varied list of players have sat in at after-show jams for sets that ping-pong from rock ‘n’ roll and blues to country and gospel. The list includes Radney Foster, Bill Lloyd, Don Dixon, Rodney Crowell, Robyn Hitchcock, Taj Mahal, the late Luther Allison, English rock legend Kevin Coyne, Bill Kirchen, Curtis Stigers, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Howard Levy, ex-Replacement Slim Dunlap, Marshall Crenshaw, John Mooney and Chip “Wild Thing” Taylor.
The group’s trademark sound — rich, soulful harmonies, stinging solos and a rock-solid rhythm section — captures that rare, loose-but-tight feel, and has won the band international as well as regional fans. The Ants have twice traveled to Moscow. The trips found the group performing at a variety of venues including the 3,500-seat Russia Concert Hall, the city’s most prestigious room, a Letterman-styled TV show with a national audience of 100 million (!!), funky clubs and gaudy casinos. The band has also opened show for the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Holmes Brothers, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Gov’t Mule, Delbert McClinton, Paul Thorn and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and, in 2008, was asked to perform on the NPR show “Whad’Ya Know?” The Ants have performed twice on “Mountain Stage.”
With an arsenal of classic and forgotten American music, the Ants wail through classic R&B, country-swamp and gospel-soul with equal conviction. A few years back, the band caught the ear of famed singer/songwriter/producer/rock ‘n’ roller Don Dixon. The upshot was the band’s second record, the all-gospel Picnic With the Lord, featuring Hammond B-3 master Winston Walls. In 2003, Dixon signed on to produce the group’s third effort, Ants In Your Pants. Along the way, an EP with outtakes from the Ants in Your Pants session, a couple of live tracks and a dance remix of the band’s paean to midgets, “Rise Up, Little People,” was released in Nov. 2004. “Ants in Your Pants” received its release in Nov. 2005.
Since then, the band has contributed a pair of tracks to a gospel/shag compilation, and a song to the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame’s first release which paid tribute to WV songwriter Blind Alfred Reed – and earned five stars from “Mojo” Magazine.
The band is now readying the release of “Ants & Uncles,” recorded at Wayne Moss’ legendary Cinderella Studio outside of Nashville. Bill Kirchen became the “fifth ant” for the project.