Photo by Lucy Wimmer (C’20)
By Anna Mann
Isaac Sligh (C’18) sits outside the Ralston Listening Room, legs crossed under the table, his step-grandfather’s Air Force-issued bomber jacket on the chair behind him. He’s worked here since his freshman year at Sewanee. In fact, he recalls that during his first few months, nervous about the beginning of college and all the change it entailed, he would introduce himself by inviting people to hang out with him there.
With a long musical background, Sligh came to the University ready to start his own band. He quickly fulfilled his wish later in the semester, starting a mostly acoustic band called Big Foot Stick with some friends. However, although they enjoyed working smaller events like Arm and Trout at the Green House, by sophomore year, Sligh felt ready to begin a more serious band.
After talking with a work friend, Reece Jamison (C’19), at a Fiji party his junior year, the boys commenced planning for their next band. Soon to become The Thumping Richards, they enlisted the help of other Ralston Room musicians to get the band off to a good start. The newly minted troupe hosted a few gigs at fraternity parties, where Sligh states they had a great time but little equipment and even less knowledge about the inner workings of a band.
Nevertheless, things changed after winter break of that year, when Sligh articulates that he practiced electric guitar every day for three weeks. He says that after having played for ten years, he improved impressively during that time in his ability to perform by melody improvisation.
After getting together after the break, Sligh, Jamison, Joseph Butler (C’14), Fiona Charnow (C’20), and Owen Pearson (C’20) felt ready to perform regularly. Now a staple at any University event or fraternity party, The Thumping Richards have made a name for themselves outside Sewanee’s campus as well by briefly going on tour in Chattanooga.
Still, Sligh says that the University remains his favorite venue, stating, “The best thing about playing with a band at Sewanee is that you’re up on stage feeling great about playing good music and there are people in the audience enjoying that you’re playing good music. You care about them because they’re your friends and you’re part of a community. There’s a really nice warm vibe you get on stage; you really can’t recreate that in other places.”
Sligh encourages all musicians to start a band, claiming that it helped him grow both as a person and as an artist, even more than his music theory classes. Although he enjoyed the new perspective they offered, he found the structure a bit stifling.
Nevertheless, he found new ways to think about songs he’d always enjoyed, suggesting that “it was honestly a lot like taking geology. You know when you walk around and see all these beautiful formations you can see the beauty in them and appreciate them aesthetically. But when you find out how they were formed, it changes how you walk into a building or look at a mountain.”
Even before these classes or starting a band, Sligh had an extensive musical background, beginning with his father’s own guitar playing. Described as a “soulful” man, Sligh’s father played songs from singer-songwriters in the 60s and 70s. Growing up, his family lived in an apartment complex in Waco, Texas.
Sligh remembers the block parties his parents used to host. “I always knew everything was safe and okay when music was on. My earliest really joyful memory was having a little CD player out by the grill and everybody listening to music and putting on different things.”
He describes these moments growing up as “pure innocent joy.” Unsurprisingly, the gentle influence of his father caused Sligh to begin his own musical career around the age of twelve when his parents purchased him his first guitar. From then on, he began teaching himself, for the most part learning songs by trial and error.
Most strikingly though, Sligh began record collecting in high school. He explains that these days, searching for music seems like a lost art, saying, “There’s something about really finding something nobody else knows about and feeling that you’re one of the only people in the world that knows about it. It’s totally different than Spotify suggesting it to a bunch of people.”
His fascination with records began at a young age after his grandmother gave him some of her collection. After this, he found employment at a shop called Chad’s Records, located in downtown Chattanooga, where the owner would allow him to work a couple of hours for trade. On top of this, he soon began to search bookstores, garage sales, and estate sales, to pick up clues about the best underground places selling vinyl.
“Once I got a tip that there was this place called Charlie’s Tires,” Sligh recalls. “It had supposedly a ton of records, but you had to go talk to [the owner] Charlie. If you get him on a good day, he’ll let you go down to his basement where he has about 300,000 records.”
Sligh recalls digging for hours amongst the unorganized stacks, finding hundreds of records to add to his collection. He argues that, these days, the excitement of music hunting has been dulled by technology. He loves “the feeling of going through a basement of tens-of-thousands of records that people cherished and spent good money on and then threw away. It’s kind of an island of misfit toys sort of thing.”
Nevertheless, Sligh asserts that he enjoys all sorts of music and would never deign to judge someone on their tastes. As for why he performs? “I don’t do it for the money,” Sligh admits, “it’s just nice to make people happy. That’s really why I like playing. I’m very grateful for everyone here and this place.”