With the 2018 release of their second album, Lucky 13, and an increasingly prolific 2019 touring schedule, Shannon Rae and 100 Proof are reaching an ever-growing audience with their unique brand of country rock. At the heart of the band’s music and live set are a collection of thoroughly memorable original songs written by the band’s two songwriters, lead singer Rae and keyboard player Dave Polich.
Their show connects meaningfully with a range of audiences, as their original songs showcase Rae and Polich’s ability to masterfully utilize the evocative storytelling and effective song structures that have been at the heart of fifty years of country rock and roughly a century of American country music. In a manner that both perfectly complements the songwriting while creating an equally innovative and enjoyable experience, Shannon Rae and 100 Proof produce a country-rock sound that leans in a hard and heavy direction, helping make their music especially danceable and robust. At the center of the music is Rae’s life-affirming persona as a stage presence and perspective as a writer, giving the music a genuinely inspirational quality and remarkable ability to resonate with the audience.
Rae recently spoke with Rock Cellar over the phone from her home in Orange County, sharing her experience of forming Shannon Rae and 100 Proof and recording the album that became Lucky 13. Rae had been honing her craft as a singer and performer in a variety of cover and tribute bands throughout southern California. It was on that circuit Rae connected with Polich, and they realized they shared a personal passion for writing country songs and a professional goal of getting them heard.
“We actually started working together in, I believe it was the end of 2014.” Rae said of collaborating with Polich. “And we wrote all of 2015. He had songs. I had songs. He had songs that needed lyrics. We didn’t really look into it as being a band at first. We were just going to go after doing some demos and maybe getting a publishing deal. But the songs kept getting better. We ended up with a fourteen-song album. He said, ‘Let’s put this album out.’ I said, ‘I think we should.’”
Rae’s self-titled album was released in 2016, featuring as backing musicians the players that quickly coalesced into the initial lineup of Shannon Rae and 100 Proof. Rae and Polich, the latter whose credits include working with Michael Jackson as Keyboard Sound Manager on 2009’s “This Is It” project, initially enlisted other musicians from Rae’s most recent band from the tribute circuit. When recounting how the current lineup of 100 Proof solidified, Rae beamed of her band mates, “I met guitarist and musical director Rick Gagliano at NAMM. I had heard about him so many times. I said, ‘I think you should join my band.’ He said, ‘I’m not really a country guy.’ I said, ‘You need to listen to our music. It’s country rock.’ He did and he joined. What a blessing that was. Then we got Ted Mentry to have a second guitar. It’s just been a great ride from there. Some band members have changed over the years. But it’s just gotten better and better with people that really believe in it. Like Rick Thibodeau, our bass player, joined. He’s just been a high-energy, great band member to have onstage. He totally drives me with his energy. Now we have Julie Pusch, an amazing fiddle player. Our current drummer, Toby Scarbrough, hails from Texas. He brings that country feeling to the foundation of the band. They are definitely 100 Proof.”
For the second album, Lucky 13, Rae and Polich began individually and collectively writing songs more acutely conceived to showcase the strengths of the aforementioned lineup of Shannon Rae and 100 Proof. The opening track, “Get Lucky”, in addition to serving as the album’s music video, provides a fitting introduction to the signature 100 Proof sound. Of writing the song, Rae reminisced, “Dave wrote the music for that song. I would say that I am more of a lyricist, actually. I do come up with melody lines. But, Dave and I, he writes on his own. I write on my own. He gives me music and I write lyrics to it. We were almost finished with the album, actually, because we had enough songs. He said, ‘I think I have a really good one.’ The minute I heard it, I heard ‘Get Lucky’ in my head. And it just came. ‘Get Lucky’ is a powerful, positive message. It’s not a love song or about dating or anything like that. It’s about stepping out of your box and getting out there. The lyrics are all positive messages about the power of positive thinking.”
Of producing the video, Rae continued, “I had a concept for the video the minute I heard it as well. We took it to the studio and got our director, Mark Putnam. And he was on the same page. It turned out exactly the way that I envisioned it in my head. That was great.” The video for “Get Lucky” has been shown on television internationally, including shows on the Heartland Network and Family Channel.
Another of the standout tracks on Lucky 13 is “Daddy’s Girl”, written in honor of Rae’s late father. Rae’s biggest influences include Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, and said influence is most strongly felt here. While Rae hardly shies away from the painful realities of losing a loving parent, she effectively expresses her love as a country rock anthem in the Laurel Canyon vein. The resulting song ends up being not only one of the most universal expressions on Lucky 13, but also a particularly dance-and-smile-inducing piece on an album of crowd pleasers.
Rae revealed of writing the song, “My Dad passed away a couple of years ago. Dave actually had a melody for that song the year before. We were going over songs. He said, ‘Well, I have this song.’ At that time it was called, ‘Comin’ Back Girl’. I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. I like the melody’. He said, ‘If you want to write new lyrics, take it and see if you can come up with something’. I took it home for about three or four months and nothing came. After my Dad passed away, within a month, all of the lyrics poured out of me in a very short time. For a year after my father died, I could not get through that song without crying. It was really tough. But when I sing it now, I know that he’s smiling down on me and he’s very proud of that song.”
While singing “Daddy’s Girl” is an emotional experience for Rae, the song on Lucky 13 that’s most likely to draw tears of joy from impassioned country music fans is the album’s closer, “Country is a State of Mind”. Rae was so captivated by the song that she went out of her way to make room for it on Lucky 13. Rae explained, “Dave wrote that song. He wrote that song one hundred percent. We had twenty songs that we were considering for this album. We got to a point where we said, ‘This is too many. Let’s save some for another album.’ We were picking them, and once we got done, I said, ‘That’s thirteen songs.’ Dave said, ‘That’s not good.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? I was born on Halloween. Thirteen is my lucky number. Let’s go for it. Lucky 13! Then he calls me and says, ‘I have another one.’ I said, ‘I love Lucky 13!’ He said, ‘Then let’s just pick one and push it to the next album. Because I think it’s really good.’ Then when I heard, ‘Country is a State of Mind’, I said, ‘That is cool.’ Because I think no matter where you live, country is definitely a state of mind. We can all appreciate country music and the feel of it. That song is very touching. A lot of people have expressed what a favorite of theirs that is.”
In the relatively short time that Shannon Rae and 100 Proof have been playing gigs throughout Southern California, Rae said her favorite experiences have included opening for Wynonna Judd, The Marshall Tucker Band and Patty Smyth from the band Scandal. Shannon Rae and 100 Proof also regularly open for The Eagles’ tribute, The Long Run, which they are doing again on March 1st at The Canyon at The Rose in Pasadena.
Rae shared of her enthusiasm, “We work quite a bit opening for an Eagles tribute called The Long Run. We open for them quite a bit. That is a great, great opportunity for us. I love playing with them. Because it’s a great match up. We always promote it as ‘Classic country rock meets modern country rock’. It puts my music in front of a lot of people. It’s a very similar genre. It’s nice to put some new music in front of people that they might not have heard had I not been there that night.”
Two dates that had just been announced at press time are March 30th at the Roundup Country Music Festival in Santa Susana (visit https://www.roundupcmf.com/ for more information) and April 6th at the Cocopah Casino in Yuma, Arizona. Shannon Rae and 100 Proof will also be appearing April 13th at The Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival and on June 7th at the new Canyon Club in Montclair opening for Wilson Phillips.
To turn yourself on to Shannon Rae and 100 Proof, go to https://www.shannonrae.com for more information on these and other soon-to-be-announced tour dates. Shannon Rae is on Twitter @ShannonRae100, Instagram @shannonraeand100proof and Facebook at facebook.com/shannonraeand100proof/.