The Chatham County Line mandolin player and vocalist opens up about playing overseas — and where he likes to hang here in North Carolina.
As told to Addie Ladner
Over the past few weeks, Chatham County Line has played at venues across Europe, including in Belgium, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Now, band members John Teer, Dave Wilson and Greg Readling are en route back to the States just in time for That Music Fest in Durham.
Mandolin player and vocalist Teer started his path to music somewhat begrudgingly: his mother started him on the violin with the Suzuki Method at age three. “Honestly, I hated doing it in the beginning. But over time I began to appreciate it. Now, I’m glad she pushed me,” says Teer, who’s originally from Shelby.
Teer quit lessons in middle school on the condition that he stay in the orchestra, which is where he gleaned skills on other stringed instruments like the viola, cello and upright bass. He moved to Raleigh in 5th grade and, following high school, the life of a music man called. “I started playing with Dave and Greg, who were living on Boylan Avenue at this place called the Blue House. It was a crash pad for local musicians,” says Teer. “We’d play so late into the night.” He found himself listening to tape of their band, which at the time was known as Stillhouse, on the way to meet with the admissions department at Appalachian State University — and decided to change course. “You do what makes you happy, at that moment playing music was making me happy. I bypassed schooling and haven’t looked back.”
By 1999, the band evolved from Stillhouse into Chatham County Line. Over the years, CCL has produced nearly 20 records, including Autumn, Sharing the Covers, and Winter Stories, a collaboration with Judy Collins and Norwegian singer-songwriter Jonas Fjeld. (Fun fact: CCL and Jonas Fjeld released a live album back in 2007 called Amerikabesøk and it reached #2 on Norwegian pop charts, right behind Amy Winehouse. CCL also has two gold records with Jonas Fjeld in Norway.)
After two years hanging stateside, we caught up with Teer to talk their Euro Tour, North Carolina’s rich music scene and summer music.
How does it feel to be going abroad again after a 2-year absence?
I am so pumped! Those two years were really difficult for a lot of bands, we didn’t tour. The last time we were in Europe in 2020, we had gone overseas to play at the Americana awards in the UK. We played at the event before and some of the venues around town, we did a few shows with Judy Collins, and even made a record with her, called Winter Stories. We played at the Oslo Opera House, probably the greatest place I’ve ever played. It was incredible, PBS broadcasted it on some of the northern affiliates. They still show it. It was a little unfortunate because when it ended, it was such a happy moment — and then Covid hit.
Would you say that was a career highlight?
What’s it like playing in Europe versus in the United States?
The crowds there are so respectful. A lot of time in the Netherlands, they’re respectful and quiet, more reserved. They’ll clap, but we’re used to the American crowds being more rambunctious. They’re really attentive listening and you think, are we playing alright? But then after the show, they swam the merch table, buy everything they can, and and you realize they even came from countries surrounding the area.
What’s your favorite North Carolina music venue to play?
That’s tough because we love our home state! Probably would say Haw River Ballroom, we perform our CCL Electric Holiday Tour there most every year. We love the people there. Cats Cradle is grand. Being from Shelby, the Don Gibson Theater.
Is it different to play a venue, versus being there as a spectator?
Gosh, it’s been almost two years since I’ve gone to see shows. “I was inspired by going to see shows at The Cradle or The Brewery back in the day. It’s an amazing feeling when you finally get the chance to play there. North Carolina is just filled with great venues, especially the Triangle even with Durham’s DPAC and Chapel Hill’s Local 506.
When you’re in town, where do you like to hang?
When I am in town, I sort of hibernate, but SchoolKids Records is an institution. Steven Judge is a great guy. He’s so helpful and supportive of the band. CupAJoe for coffee and other institutions like Mitch’s Tavern, the PR and Char-Grill. As long as those stay, I’m good. I’m an avid biker so I love to bike around on our beautiful greenway trails and check out the city. I’ll head to Durham and Hillsborough and Chapel Hill.
What type of music do you listen to?
A ton of old school, Hoyt Axton, he wrote ”Never Been to Spain.” He has a really cool record called Joy to the World, and I love the song California Women. Lowell George is my guitar inspiration, though Clarence White is my favorite guitar player of all time. Also Buck Owens. I’m a super huge George Jones and Tammy Wynette fan. I always wanted to sing, but never had a great voice, and I developed a better voice from listening to and singing along with tons of George Jones records.. I started driving around Raleigh with a boom box and George Jones CDs and cassettes and I’d try to sing like him. In fact, I was working at Ruby Tuesday and was the only person that would sing ”Happy Birthday.” It was cheesy but I’d really get into and it was a chance for me to sing live, the whole place would get quiet. I was enamored with him and he helped develop my confidence to sing more freerer.
How many instruments can you play?
Maybe six or so? Mostly string instruments.
We’re getting excited about That Music Fest. Where else can we catch CCL this summer?
Yes we’re stoked to play! It’s going to be such a great festival. So many good acts are playing, like Delta Rae —their drummer, Mike McKee, and I used to work at a music store together way back when called Burt Music. Harold Burt, who owned the store and started Cary High School Band, was an awesome human being and I’m forever grateful to him. Can’t wait to see Kate Rhudy and Watchouse. We actually took them with us overseas on our Tightrope Tour and they opened the shows for us, it was just Andrew and Emily and they crushed it. It’s been amazing to see them take off over the years. They’re the source, the real deal. Other than that, CCL will be playing some festivals and shows throughout the country and we’re hoping to get back in the studio this summer to record a new album.
Any North Carolina shows you plan to watch this summer?
Alison Krauss and Robert Plant at Koka Booth. And checking out some local acts around the Triangle area.
Songs on your summer playlist, go!
Ha-that’s a good question. Maybe a few of these:
The entire Nashville West album
“California Women” by Hoyt Axton
“As Long As I Have You” by Garnet Mimms
“Empty Pages” by Traffic
The Band’s The Brown Album
“The Swimming Song” by Loudon Wainwright III
“Who Does She Hope To Be” by Sonny Sharrock
“I Don’t Want To Play House” by Tammy Wynette
Ladies Choice album by Bill Anderson
The new album by Pete Doherty and Frédéric Lo, The Fantasy Life of Poetry and Crime. Discovered it while we were in Germany and can’t stop listening to it. It’s my new favorite.
Listen to John Teer’s Summer Playlist here!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.