Former preacher finds calling as folk singer-songwriter
By JARED BOYD
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — In the midst of an otherwise eerily still Theodore neighborhood, Alabama singer-songwriter Abe Partridge sits at a dining room table. With one hand, he nibbles on steamed blue crab, a delicacy coveted by his wife, Cathy, a Maryland native who swears by the dish.
With his other hand, the musician points across the room to a wall covered with records, memorabilia from his career, hanging guitars and artwork.
“That’s Son House,” Partridge says of one framed print. “He’s one of the guys who made me really want to do what I’m doing.”
“He was a Baptist preacher (like Abe),” Cathy interjects.
Partridge leans back in his wooden seat, resting his hands on his family’s warm-colored paisley tablecloth, in a contemplative manner.
“Now, when I play my songs, I have the same kinda mindset I had, back when I was waving handkerchiefs or walking to the back of pews and screamin’ at folks. It was about something that I really believed in. Now, I just do it in song.”
Abraham Partridge was raised in Mobile, before leaving home to begin theology school at 17. He says he was in search of truth.
Visiting church communities of all varieties, he landed in neighboring Florida at Pensacola Christian College, a school for ministers of the Independent Fundamental Baptist denomination. What drew him, he says, is the certainty with which the pastors in the organization spoke.
“When you’re in that kind of belief structure, everything is certainty. There is no doubt. Doubt is sin,” he said.
“There’s nothing that I can say I was really proud of,” he said of his preaching career. “For a long time, for many years, I had lots of regrets.”
With no skills and a theology degree, Abe went to an Air Force recruiter who told him he’d have to get down to 200 pounds in order to enlist. Abe asked for help from his younger brother, a police officer, to shed 40 pounds within two months.
He joined a military avionics program, serving tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.Today, he continues to serve as a reservist.
In a period of transition from Kentucky to Mobile, he started writing songs, drawing from a passion he cultivated in secret as a college student. At the time, Abe says, he was forced to avoid any popular American music, save for recordings done prior to the rock n’ roll era of the 1950s and ’60s.
“Elvis Presley was like the ‘anti-Christ’. But I could go before Elvis and find all this cool stuff.”
In private, Partridge studied roots musicians such as Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson, Stanley Brothers and Roscoe Holcome.
“It was heart music,” he says.
He came across an advertisement for a songwriter’s competition in Gulf Shores. Having only played a couple open mics, he entered, performed and received a standing ovation. Following the show, a Nashville producer approached him and asked him to cut a record. Two months later, they were in the studio working on what became Partridge’s debut, “White Trash Lipstick”.
A year later, Partridge and producer Shawn Byrne teamed up again to create “Cotton Fields and Blood for Days”, his debut on the Baldwin County based label Skate Mountain Records.
Both records are laced with Partridge’s distinct, bluesy growl, lo-fi technique and deep, lyrical appeal.
“I try to write from a real place and perform from a real place. I never fell for polished music. I never did. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, if I feel like it was choreographed or planned, I just don’t dig it.”