The Hippo


May 31, 2020








The Cadillac Three

The Cadillac Three with Ryan Brooks Kelly

When: Wednesday, July 16, at 9 p.m.
Where: Thirsty Moose Taphouse, 21 Congress St., Portsmouth
Tickets: $20 at

That little ol’ band from Nashville
The Cadillac Three motors into Thirsty Moose

By Michael Witthaus

 After spending the last couple of years opening for acts like Eric Church, Keith Urban and Jake Owen, The Cadillac Three is on the rise. Pretty soon, winning a radio contest may be the only way to catch TC3, as fans call them, in an intimate room like the Thirsty Moose Taphouse in Portsmouth, where they’re playing July 16. 

It’s best not to listen to the Nashville trio’s eponymous debut while driving. To quote an old-school Southern rock band, that’s flirting with disaster — or at least a speeding ticket. 
When Kelby Ray is asked who’s going to pay all those fines, he just laughs. “Not us! In the fine print there’s a disclaimer, somewhere on that album.” 
With songs like “Turn It On,” “I’m Rockin” and “Days of Gold,” TC3 knows only one speed — breakneck. 
“Makes you want to crack a beer and pour a shot,” agreed Ray, who plays bass and guitar. “That’s pretty much our whole thing.”
TC3 began in high school, four Nashville natives who couldn’t get enough of Skynyrd, Hank Jr., Tom Petty and Pearl Jam, though not necessarily in that order. They made a record as American Bang; when their guitar player left, the others carried on as a trio — singer/guitarist Jaren Johnston, drummer Neil Mason and Ray. 
“We could have found someone to fill in, but he wouldn’t have been from high school,” said Ray. “We’ve had this dynamic for so many years.”
To maintain a big sound with one less member, Ray built a unique hybrid guitar, retrofitting a lap steel with a bass pickup tuned an octave lower. 
“I split my signal into a guitar and a bass amp,” he said. “I called Jaren and said, ‘I think I figured out our bass problem.’ People see three dudes and it’s loud as hell, but a few songs in they say, ‘Where’s the bass coming from?’”
Calling TC3 a country band seems like semantics. The band opened for ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd on its first tour, and later this summer it’ll share a festival stage with Metallica. 
“We like to call ourselves country fuzz, kind of a mixture between southern rock and country,” said Ray. “We were all grunge kids and grew up in Nashville. We kind of chameleoned towards the rock thing.”
Earlier this year, the band performed its single “The South” on the TV drama Nashville — Ray is a fan. 
“I’m the only one in the band who watches it, it’s my guilty pleasure show,” he said. “I like that they use a lot of the clubs that are actually in town — they keep it pretty true …  there is a little bit of pettiness and Hollywood-ness in Nashville, but it’s a lot more laid back than what you see on the show.” 
Along with success as a band, TC3 has contributed to other country hits. Johnston co-wrote “You Gonna Fly” with Keith Urban, Tim McGraw’s “Southern Girl” and “Beachin’” for Jake Owen. All charted in the Top Five. The band isn’t interested in recording other people’s songs, however. A second album nearing completion is 100 percent TC3, according to Ray. 
“Nobody sends us a song and says, ‘Hey you think you might want to record this?’ If we ever did that, it would be like the red-headed stepchild, even if it were a good song. We wouldn’t ever really love it because it wouldn’t be one of our kids.”  
As seen in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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