Ben Coulter & the Delta Outlaws

October should be a big month for Ben Coulter, a Southeast Arkansas-bred Country-Bluesman who is on a quest to play at the Grand Old Opry by October 1. Coulter and his new band, the Delta Outlaws, will release a new CD in October. It will be Coulter’s first CD with his new band.

The Delta Outlaws — a few bankers and an elementary school principal from Southeast Arkansas — include drummer Brandon Hogg of Monticello, formerly Star City; harmonica player Terry Swilly of Collins, formerly Mississippi; bass player Zach Gibbins of Benton, formerly Pine Bluff; and lead guitarist Kirby Smith of Little Rock, formerly Pine Bluff.

Coulter, a 30-year-old recording artist from Maumelle who was born and raised in Montrose, discusses the new CD, growing up in Southeast Arkansas, and his quest to play at the Grand Old Opry by October 1, in a recent interview with Seark Today. A video of Ben Coulter and the Delta Outlaws performing Feel Like Goin’ Home can be viewed at the end of the interview.

Seark Today: When was the band organized?

Coulter: My band has been together close to around a year, but I’ve been performing as a solo acoustic act since 2004. Ben Coulter, the solo act has been around about seven years, but “Ben Coulter and the Delta Outlaws” are brand new.

Seark Today: What type of music do you do?

Coulter: I do what we call “Country Music…Delta Style”. It takes Traditional Country Music and infuses in a little Delta Blues. I like to say it’s “Traditional Country Music from the heart of a Delta Bluesman.” It’s Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings, with a little Son House and Muddy Waters.

Seark Today: Where do you get your inspiration?

Coulter: I get my inspiration from lots of places.  Musical inspiration comes from Merle Haggard, Cash, Waylon, Hank Williams Sr., and Son House, just to name a few.  But my big inspiration is where I’m from. As I try to make it in this business I get inspiration from my hometown, Montrose, and the surrounding areas. I know folks are really pulling for me to make it down there. It would be so awesome if I could make it. Not only for myself, but for everybody back home in Montrose, Portland, the Delta of Southeast Arkansas. When I play, I feel like I’m playin’ for them. I had someone message me the last time I played in Nashville to “show ’em how we do it in the Delta”. I think it gives folks back home a little pride to know that I sing about home so much, that I carry Southeast Arkansas with me wherever I play, especially on the big stage of Nashville. So my inspiration comes from all the folks back home. I play for them.

Seark Today: Where do you play?

Coulter: I play all over the place. I play all over Arkansas. I play in Nashville, Tennessee quite often. I began my career playing in Branson, Missouri from 2004-2006. I’ve played everywhere from Chicago, Illinois to the Louisiana Hayride In Shreveport, Louisiana. I’ve played on street corners, and in some pretty big venues. I’ll play wherever anybody will let me play.

Seark Today: How did you get started?

Coulter: I grew up listening to folks at my deer camp, Portland Reserve Hunting Club, play music. There are lots of great musicians out there. It made me want to start singing and playing. When I got my guitar I got really involved in church. I sang and preached at a lot of churches around Southeast Arkansas. I was pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Snyder, Arkansas for a few months, and co-pastor of Journey Church in Monticello, Arkansas with Jeff Noble in its beginning. I also sang a lot during my time at UAM, while being involved with the campus ministries there. All this really helped me lay the groundwork for my singing and performing career. I moved to Branson on May 1, 2004, and began my performing career there performing Wednesday through Saturday at Shorty Smalls restaurant. I played in Branson for three years, performing at Shorty Smalls, the State Park Marina, the Pasta House, the Branson Landing, and various other places around town. I would perform there from April until September then I lived, worked, and played in Fayetteville, Arkansas for the winter. I did stay in Branson from April until December though, in 2006. It was at this time I moved to Nashville.

Seark Today: How many CDs do you have out?

Coulter: I have seven out at the moment. I also have one on the way. I’ve got a new live album coming out in October. This one will have the band with me. This is the first CD with my band.

Seark Today: What’s on it?

Coulter: There will 13 or 14 tunes on the album. I will have written all but two or three. There is a mixture of Country and Blues on here. The Blues has a country flair though. A few ballads. I haven’t gotten to listen to the final tracks yet. We are still a little ways away from that. Some of these songs are on other albums, but being live and with the band it makes them different. Some songs are  Long Black Cars and Cocaine, Songwriter, That Kind of Woman, Delta Blues, and others.

Seark Today: How can it be purchased?

Coulter: You will be able to purchase the album on my website, bencoulteronline,  or at my live shows.

Seark Today: I understand you’re on a quest to play at the Grand Ole Opry by October, tell me about that.

Coulter: I am. Last October I was thinking about where I want to be with my career in a year. I kept coming back to the Opry. To me, playing the Opry is as good as it gets and should be the ultimate goal for any country music artist. I decided I would blog daily about my quest at road to the opry.  I got this idea from the movie, Julie and Julia, where the girl blogs about her cooking journey. At the moment I’m getting close to 30 days left in the countdown. The Opry has my music, information, etc., so the only thing I can do is hope they call and invite me to play. I have thought many times how stupid it was to put a date on this quest, but I try to stay positive. I wanted to make it public on what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be by October 1 of this year. If I don’t make it, I’m not giving up, because I believe I’m knocking on the door right now. With some big shows in Nashville, some great reviews, a big story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and other things it’s just a matter of time before it happens. It’d be great if it was before October 1, but if not, I’m not giving up.

Seark Today: Tell me about growing up in Southeast Arkansas?

Coulter: I can’t think of anywhere better in the world to grow up. It’s almost like everybody from my hometown and the surrounding towns are like family. I loved the cotton fields and the railroad tracks down home. I talk about it all the time in my music. I miss home. It seems life is more laid back down there. I grew up in Montrose and went to school at Montrose Academy and Hamburg High School. My dad died when I was 11 years old, and from then on it was my mom and me. Even though my dad died when I was young, both he and my mom have played a HUGE part in who I am today. I have four brothers and sisters, but they are all older than me. I grew up hunting, fishing, and playing sports,  just like every kid back home. I worked on the farm some, but I spent most of my teenage years working at my grandpa’s grocery store in Portland, Arkansas. Life down there taught me so much. The biggest thing though is how to treat people. I learned down there the meaning of friendship. Old, young, black, or white, everyone treats you like family down there. It’s something I’ve carried with me on my travels.

Seark Today: What effect did that have on your choice of career and your creative process?

Coulter: It had a HUGE effect. A lot of my songs talk about cotton fields, railroad tracks, and small town Delta life. There are some songs where I mention landmarks from back home. Some of my songs also have the train rhythm. Trains run through Montrose about every 30 minutes. I guess it’s how that train rhythm come so natural to me. I didn’t really appreciate the music of the Delta, the Delta Blues, until I had moved to Branson. It was rather that I realized Delta Blues was part of who I am, being from the Delta. I then decided to try to take Traditional Country like Haggard and Cash that I grew up on, and mix it with the music of the Delta, and from the Delta, the Delta Blues.

Seark Today: Where can people see you perform during the next few months?

Coulter: I’m all over the place. I’m all over Arkansas, and in Texas, Mississippi, and Nashville. The best place to find out where I am is to go to bencoulteronline. I play a lot of solo acoustic acts still, along with shows with my band.

Seark Today: What has been the highlight of your career, so far?

Coulter: That’s a tough one. The big show in Nashville in May would be right up there. The Democrat-Gazette doing a feature on me would be up there. The first night I ever played in Branson would be another. But in this business it’s like a roller coaster. There are so many ups and downs. The ups go away so fast. So, I guess the highlight would be when I’m playing, and I’m on top of my game. I feel like I’m sounding good, the crowd is into every word, and they are singing along to my original songs. There is nothing more satisfying, no matter if it’s at a big show in Nashville or at a deer camp In South Arkansas. That makes it worth it all.

Seark Today: What has been the low point?

Coulter: Another tough one. There are so many lows with this business. Moving home from Nashville was a low. Places that don’t want to book you, that’s a low point. But any night I go out and nobody is at the show or I feel like I bombed it, it’s the only low point that matters. There are nights where I feel like giving up, and I wonder why this music chose me. When I’m standing on that Opry stage though, all the low points will be worth it.

Seark Today: What is your long-term goal?

Coulter: The ultimate goal is to be a Legend, to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame. I also want to one day be able to build a music facility in my hometown of Montrose.  Those are my goals. I want to make a difference. I want my music, and me, to make people’s lives a little better. I want my music, in someway, to help out the Delta. This is so much more than just playing music. I’ve finally come to realize that, and it’s made me a better singer, songwriter, and person. If I can touch people’s lives then all the rest will come.