Seen over the FX Network from 2008 - 2014, the biker drama Sons of Anarchy amassed a loyal audience. Integral to the series’ oeuvre was the music: key songs reimagined; emerging artists showcased and lyrics and music written expressly for the show, including the 2009 Emmy-nominated theme song, “This Life,” and the 2015 Emmy-nominated “Come Join the Murder.”
The musical conduit on the show was Bob Thiele, Jr., a songwriter, musician and Sons of Anarchy’s music director who assembled a remarkable house band called The Forest Rangers. Now, Thiele continues on the band for Land, Ho! featuring artists Audra Mae, Battle Me, Amos Lee, Alison Mosshart, Billy Valentine and the actress/vocalist and one of the show’s leads, Katey Sagal. Among the key musicians are steel guitarist and mandolin ace Greg Leisz, bassist Davey Faragher, drummer Matt Chamberlain and keyboardist and string arranger John Philip Shenale. Thiele collaborated on the songs with longtime friends and colleagues Tonio K and Dillon O’Brian with Dave Way producing the project. “We all truly appreciate each other, and I think that’s pretty evident on the record,” notes Thiele.
Thanks to the television show, The Forest Rangers have a built-in audience for their music and funded the record project through a PledgeMusic campaign. “We sold millions of downloads of the songs from the show through iTunes and Amazon. If you go to YouTube, there are multiple songs from the show with millions of views. As a music supervisor, I know how essential it is for artist and writers to get songs on TV shows. It’s not just about the money, it’s about the exposure,” says Thiele.
Artists heard on the show, like White Buffalo and Noah Gunderson also gained significant career traction. Audra Mae was signed as a songwriter to Warner-Chappell Music, where Thiele discovered her. When he needed a vocalist to sing the Bob Dylan classic, “Forever Young,” on Sons of Anarchy, he reached out. “This was an opportunity to create a grand slam, to find these voices that could help the narrative on the show and the song,” Thiele recalls. “Audra Mae was an indie artist, getting 20 or 30 hits a day on social media. The day after the show aired she started getting 30,000 hits a day. Television is beyond powerful.”
The 11 songs on Land, Ho! span a range of genres from Americana to bluesy roots rock to epic soulful ballads. With a stunning string arrangement courtesy of John Philip Shenale, the song “I’m Alive” is an emotional touchstone as Thiele evokes an intimate wistfulness in his vocal performance. “I never sang any of the songs on the show,” he says. “‘I’m Alive’ is probably the first song I wrote for the record that I could sing. Tonio K wrote most of the lyric but I had the chorus. I didn’t know what the chorus meant, but maybe life and survival: We can’t really feel the emotional pain that we went through five years ago. Maybe that is one of the gifts of our existence.”
Thiele’s father, Bob Thiele Sr., a songwriter who very famously co-wrote the classic song “It’s a Wonderful World,” was a noted record executive and producer. “I had the good fortune of growing up around music and being exposed to so much––it was never ending,” says Thiele, who has had many songs recorded in his career as a writer.
While The Forest Rangers came together for a concert in Los Angeles, Thiele doesn’t envision a full tour. “We enjoy it for the company––but not when it’s an uphill struggle to do it. Maybe we will do a couple of local shows or maybe a Christmas show. We do a great version of chestnuts roasting on an open fire...”
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By Dan Kimpel