Brian Diller, circa 1989

The PopCulteer
September 8, 2023

When I first got involved in Charleston’s music scene back in the late 1980s it was vibrant, colorful, surging with creativity and there was one guy who was pretty much the head of the table. Brian Diller and his band, The Ride, were Charleston’s kings of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Before I started Radio Free Charleston I knew who Brian was. Everybody in town knew the name, whether they were into music or not. I met Brian at the legendary Charleston Playhouse, and I was struck by the fact that, despite all the success and local acclaim, he was a nice, humble, down-to-Earth guy who was genuinely grateful that people liked his music. We’ve been friends ever since.

Rudy and Brian, June 2010

His music was requested often on the old broadcast version of RFC, and around the time of his “farewell” show at the Playhouse, before he disbanded The Ride and made his way to Nashville, he happily agreed to come into the commercial production room at WVNS/WCHS Radio and record his song, “Hey Mister Auctioneer.” We aired it about nine hours after it was recorded back in January, 1990. It was a great way to wish him well on his new adventures.

When the broadcast RFC ended, and with Brian in Nashville, we lost touch until 2009, when we reconnected through the wonders of Facebook. Brian sent me some archival video for the video version of Radio Free Charleston, and in 2010 I was lucky enough to record Brian and a reunited Ride at Haddad Riverfront Park during FestivALL. This footage wound up on our seven-part RFC FestivALL 2010 series.

Just a couple of days ago, Brian released a new collection of songs spanning his 45 years making music.  Dear Boy is available on CD and Vinyl, and I played a couple of tracks from it on this week’s episode of Radio Free Charleston.

I’ve scheduled an extra replay of this week’s RFC Friday at 9 PM,  plus you can hear it at Noon and Midnight Saturday onThe AIR.

Again, thanks to the modern miracle of Facebook, I did a brief interview with Brian about the new CD and LP, and here it is…

PopCult: At the risk of making us both feel old, how long have you been making music?

Brian Diller: I have been playing professionally for 45 years. I got my first gig when I was 18 years old at a club called Cheers, which is now Bar 101. I was scared to death, but the show must’ve gone well because they asked me to play another again the following week. My first real band was the Toasters (with my dear friend Sandy Sowell,) which formed the following year, in 1979. A couple of years later I formed Stubby Dill. After we folded, I then played in a band called The Daily Planet. I then went back to playing solo shows for about a year. In 1984, I became friends with Greg Wegmann. (The Weg!) We began writing and performing together as a duo. Within a few months we gathered our close friends (Dave Pearcy, Jeff Wooley, Steve Burgess and Jim Kranz) and formed Brian Diller and The Ride. We played together for 5 years until Steve and I moved to Nashville in 1990.

Brian Diller & The Ride

Brian and Eliska

PC: Tell me a little bit about “Dear Boy.” How long have you been planning this release?

BD: We started planning the album release a little over 8 months ago, but some of these songs date back to 1988. It’s a mix of Ride Band music and solo material that I wrote while living in Nashville. Over the years, I have had many, many requests to release the music. Thanks to the encouragement and unbelievable organizational skills of my wife, Eliska, the album has finally become a realization.

PC: What can your long-time Charleston fans expect on “Dear Boy?”

BD: I think that longtime listeners will be pleased to hear that almost half of the material is from Brian Diller and The Ride. The rest of the songs were written and recorded in my home studio. After I moved to Nashville, I made a conscious effort to stretch myself as a songwriter, experimenting with different genres. I developed a more melodic style that allowed me more freedom to work with different tempos and lyric content. I feel the album shows my growth and maturity as a writer and performer. Hopefully, listeners will enjoy the variety and mix of the material as well. My wife helped me edit the content almost daily for 8 months. We are both exceptionally pleased with the result. In essence, I consider this a thank you gift to everyone who supported my music over the years.

PC: What do you feel is your most personal song on the album?

BD: “The Secret Chord”. I’ve wrestled with depression much of my life. Often depression results in isolation. In hindsight, I have found the best way I can deal with my depression is to reach out and connect with others. The lyrics are all about the need for connection and harmony and the strength we gain from making these connections.

PC: And which is the most fun for you?

BD: “Understanding Jane,” the only cover on the album. The Ride Band recorded it live in the studio, and it really captures the joy we experienced working together. It brings back countless wonderful memories of nights spent collectively playing our hearts out. This energy in the song really represents the bond between the band and our audience. Because no matter how much joy we gave to the audience on any given night, we received that same joy back tenfold from them. Every show was truly a communal event, where the lines between the performer and audience disappeared.

PC: I know you have a few obstacles in your way, but when can we see you on stage again in Charleston?

BD: We are already in discussions about a series of acoustic and full band shows within the next few months. I am really looking forward to playing again. Over the past 2 years, I have faced considerable health challenges. I underwent two full knee replacements and in February of this year, I had a serious abdominal surgery. Two and a half weeks later, I suffered a heart attack. Thankfully,I am on the mend and I feel happier and healthier than I have been since I was a young man. I can’t wait to come home and play!

Way back in the Stubby Dill days.

PC: Is this really the first LP you’ve put out on vinyl? How is that possible?

BD: Yes, it really is! The only other vinyl cut The Ride band released was “Don’t Stop at Anything” from the First Steps benefit album in 1988. The song became a regional hit and dramatically expanded our audience throughout the mid Atlantic region. Based on the airplay the song received, we were being asked to play in Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, Columbus and other major markets. The only formal commercial release The Ride band ever put out was a cassette in 1986 called “Trouble In Town.” I grew up in the era of vinyl, where there was something both comforting and exciting about the ritual of placing a needle on the grove of a new record and hearing it for the very first time. At the same time you are listening to the music, you’re pouring over the album cover artwork and liner notes for clues about the magic contained inside. To me, releasing this collectible vinyl makes everything come full circle. From the inception of this project, we always planned on offering it on vinyl.

PC: What might we expect in the future? Now that you’ve released this career retrospective, do you plan to treat us to some new songs?

BD: The great thing about releasing a collection is it gives you an opportunity to clean your slate and begin a new project. My goal is to continue to write and start performing again on a regular basis. I’ve got a number of new songs that have never been recorded or performed in public and I would like those to see the light of day. I am really looking forward to reconnecting with my audience again and continuing the dialogue we have had for the past 45 years. I may not be able to jump as high as I used to or play 5 hour marathon sets, but whenever I do perform I will give it every ounce of energy and commitment I have. I can not express the amount of gratitude I feel for the opportunity to have grown up in Charleston. The lifelong friends I made there are one of the cornerstones upon which I built my music career. I am very excited to share the album with everyone and to bring the music to life on stage!

And that’s our quick interview with Brian Diller on the release of his new album, Dear Boy. Dear Boy is available on CD and Vinyl, and you can purchase downloads of the individual songs (and more) at his Bandcamp page.  When Brian and I find ourselves in the same state in the near future, the plan is to hook up and do a long-form radio interview for RFC, hopefully in advance of his Charleston shows.

It’s always great to catch up with an old buddy from the Charleston Playhouse days, and it’s very cool that Brian’s music is finally making it into the hands of his fans, who have been eagerly awaiting this day for a long time.

And that is this week’s PopCulteer. Remember to check this blog every day for fresh content, and to listen to The AIR , our internet radio station, which you ought to be able to find elsewhere on this page.