Langhorne, Penn., native Sean Scolnick and Alabama aren’t strangers. Touring for nearly 20 years under the hometown-inspired stage name Langhorne Slim, Scolnick was actually just in Alabama in August for his third trip to the Billy Reid Shindig in Florence. He played the Wilson Park stage on Friday, Aug. 28 alongside Rayland Baxter and Jessie Baylin and Shoals natives like Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers.
“Billy does a great job of making that happen – bringing art and food and music together into a cool little town for one weekend,” Scolnick said. “I don’t know that Florence needs uplifting or not, but when I’m there, it feels like it has a very positive impact on the city. I would hope that everyone there feels the same way.”
He’s spent years touring the Southeast, and he’s made a few stops at now-defunct Birmingham club the BottleTree Café. Then, he was backed by his band the War Eagles. The name’s connection to the state of Alabama is something of which he was unaware, but it was an accident he embraced.
“I loved that people connected to it when we would come through — I certainly didn’t fight that,” Scolnick said of the confusion.
Now the band is called The Law, something that Scolnick says is symbolic of his youthful desire to have a posse, a “gang,” a band of brothers. But that name evolved as members of the War Eagles departed.
“The War Eagles, for me, perhaps stems from a connection that someone else had and I didn’t know it,” Scolnick said. “That was an old friend and manager for some years named Dolph Ramseur who runs Ramseur Records – he works with the Avett Brothers and put out many of the first Avett Brothers records. We were driving around one day in Concord, N.C., and I’ve always been drawn to what I would call “Southernisms,” I suppose — some of the lingo from the South. I had a connection toward that. We were driving and he’s telling a story and a motorcycle drives by and he says, ‘War Eagle.’ And I say, ‘What the hell is a War Eagle?’”
“And I could be misremembering it, but it was him or a friend as a kid and when they would see motorcycles – it was ‘punch-bug’ type of stuff. They thought motorcycles were cool and they’d call them ‘War Eagle.’ It was a contest to see who would call it out. That connected with me and when I’d see anything that I thought was badass or cool, I started referring to it as ‘War Eagles.’ So it could be a cool car or motorcycle or just a scenario and I thought, ‘That’d be a great name to call our group.’ I was Langhorne Slim because I had started solo. The band didn’t have a proper name or identity. So I decided to come up with a name for the boys and we thought ‘War Eagles’ was cool.
“Years ago, we had an opportunity to play on David Letterman and he mentioned it. He came out to thank the band and shake our hands and he was probably one of the first people to make me aware that War Eagle was something that I wasn’t aware of, so I’ll always appreciate that connection.”
What’s in a name? “Langhorne Slim” connects Scolnick to his deepest roots, and “The Law” connects him to the most recent incarnation of his band, one that released album The Spirit Moves on Dualtone this year. The record is Slim’s first with the label, his first in three years and his first completely sober.
“I realized when I was 15 years old and started drinking Yuenglings in my high school sweetheart’s basement that a change was going to have to come,” Slim says of overcoming addiction. “But it took a lot of years for that change to come.”
20 years and half a dozen records later, Slim has arguably his biggest hit, “Strangers.” Along the way, he’s been backed by Seth Avett, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, John McCauley of Deer Tick and others. His peers have known his name all along, but he’s begun to reach a much larger audience.
“Life becomes discouraging sometimes, but you keep on living it because it’s better than the alternative,” said Slim. “Music didn’t occur to me as a career option when I was a kid – or even a hobby. It was and continues to be the only thing I know how to do and it happens whether I want it to or not. Any great love or great passion can bring you as much immense joy as it can sorrow. I suppose as you get older, you try to learn how to dance more gracefully with it.”
At the beginning of his career, Scolnick dubbed himself “Langhorne Slim” in the tradition of a blues musician citing his hometown, as he played open mic nights, house parties and in front of whatever other audiences would listen.
Scolnick and Slim — the names are interchangeable. “People often ask at shows what’s my real name — and it’s a fair question,” Scolnick said. “But all names are made up. To me, Langhorne, at this point, seems as real as my actual birth name. I feel connected to it.”
Langhorne Slim and the Law headline the first of 2015’s Vulcan AfterTunes at Vulcan Park and Museum. The Wild Reeds open. Music begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, September 20. Tickets are $15 for non-Members, $8 for members, $8 for children 5-12 and free for children under four years old. For more information, go to visitvulcan.com.