B.B. Palmer wants to bring the sitar on the road.

Bernard Palmer is the namesake of B.B. Palmer, a band that has called Opelika and Lee County home for most of its’ life. Palmer himself grew up on the west side of Mobile Bay before moving to the area after high school. Now, he’s heading across the state to Demopolis, where his longtime musical partner Josh McKenzie resides with wife, Birmingham native and musician Taylor Hunnicutt. They all typically tour together, as their bands are interwoven and it makes things easy.

Bernard played around Auburn and Opelika for years–first in cover bands, then in bluegrass bands, the in psychedelic bands. All of those–and his foray into religions that were new to him shaped the band’s new ongoing project, Krishna Country, an EP that finds a way to combine Eastern sounds with the twang that was always familiar to an Alabama native like Palmer.

The band is getting back out to play some dates this summer, and Hunnicutt will join.

  • 6.5 – Locust Alley – Natchez, Miss.
  • 7.2 – Sidetracks Music Hall – Huntsville, Ala.
  • 7.3 – Standard Deluxe – Waverly, Ala. (opening for North Mississippi All-Stars)
  • 7.4 – Smith Lake Park Festival – Cullman, Ala.
  • 7.5 – Avondale Brewing Co. – Birmingham, Ala.

Palmer and I spoke about the band’s beginnings and the path that led him to this new sound.

How did B.B. Palmer begin?

B.B. Palmer first started around 2014, but we didn’t do anything for a couple of years. It was initially a five-piece band; we had a fiddle and a pedal steel then, and I guess it was more of a singer-songwriter type of band. They left after a year and a half or so–we were just cutting our teeth at that point. Josh McKenzie [guitarist] joined around 2015, and that’s when we pivoted. A year after he joined, we put out the B.B. Palmer EP. That was the first release.

Josh has been with me the whole time. We’ve gone through a couple of rhythm sections since then, as bands do. Lee County’s Finest came out in 2019–the full length–and now here are.

How did you first get into Indian music influences, and how did you combine that with country music the way that you have?

It’s pretty surreal. A lot of otherworldly things happened that made that happen, and some people might believe; others may not. That just depends on who you are.

Two and a half years ago, I found a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. I don’t remember where or when; I just found a copy of it somewhere. Part of me thinks that maybe it materialized, but part of me thinks that I probably just came across it at some point. The Bhagavad Gita is one of the main scriptures of the Vedas, filled with 25,000 mantras and scripture writings from India that go back 6,000 plus years. Some of the oldest holy text in the world. I found the Bhagavad Gita–I started reading it–and I fell into a deep connection with it. I’m still wrapping my head around it. I started exploring avenues of Asana practice and meditation and mantras and Kriya yoga and some of the ancient techniques.

Through the Bhagavad Gita, I found other great holy texts like The Holy Sciene by Sri Yukteswar, a great guru of his time. I got into the Bible again, which was weird because I had been put off of it from being raised Catholic. The whole thing with Catholicism–the way I saw it–was fear. “If you don’t do this, you go to hell. If you don’t do that, you go to hell.” But with the Vedas, it wasn’t like that. It was, “Take this knowledge and see God, not by reading, but by doing this. Here are the paths you can take.”

Naturally, what I do with my music, is whatever is happening in my life at the time–that’s what my music reflects. That’s where I am at that point in time. I got into Raga, which is Hindustani classical music; it’s the folk music of India. The great Raga players–like Ravi Shankar–who is probably the most known from the time that he spent working with The Beatles. I started looking at how that worked. Over there, it’s a much deeper thing than American music. It connects with the divine. It’s older. It’s ancient.

I thought, “It’d be cool to bring in Indian instruments and combine it with what we’re doing right now.” I heard the sarods and I heard the sitars and I heard the tablas, and thought this is just Eastern twang to me. It might go well with Western country music or psychedelic rock and roll; whatever we’re doing.

I put the word out. I told the band. And first thing we had to do was find someone that could play sitar or sarod in Alabama. Someone who can not only play those instruments, but also someone that could play them in the Western form of music. Luckily, my drummer found Davis Little. He’s with Little Raine Band and also a great musician. I had known Davis since I was 16 or 17–I met him in Auburn. He was into the Vedas before I had any idea what that was. He found a sitar six or seven months before we were supposed to go into the studio. My drummer reconnected him with me and I brought him in and we worked the songs out. He’s gonna help us with the remainder of these songs, too.

You’ve been rolling these out one-by-one. Is that a product of the times? Do you think that’s how you’ll release music going forward rather than all at once?

It’s a little bit of both. And some of it is the financial restraints on a project that is this ambitious. By providence of God, pretty much everyone has donated their time for free. JP Molpus at Seven Bridges Studio in Montgomery–which has become our home studio now–helped track it all pro bono. So did a lot of the session players, and of course, my core band.

So it’s partly a financial thing. But it’s partly because it’s so different than anything we’ve done in the past. We didn’t want to just put a whole EP in front of people’s face and say, “Swallow that.” Let’s just do it one song at a time; then we’ll put the whole EP out, hopefully by the fall.

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