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Daddy Plays Guitar

©️ Josh Weichman

In my Mountain Brook preschool classroom, there are many pieces of art adorning the walls. Most of them are done by my students — splattered paint on construction paper, or genial stick figures smiling from above. These are carefully crafted masterpieces by 3 and 4 year olds.  

But one of them is different.  

Everett had brought it to school so proudly.  

“My daddy made this pretty rainbow!” she said. The bubbling girl was especially excited about the little pink bow with two red hearts right in the center of the picture. So I hung it up for her, and that was that. 

I don’t know Everett’s dad very well. The newly implemented Covid-19 procedures at the school don’t allow parents to enter the building. When he and I manage to speak in passing, it mostly pertains to snacks and daily naptime routines. On the surface, he’s just a dad. Some days, Everett mentions things about him playing music.

What I didn’t know is that Everett’s dad, Browan Lollar, is a talented visual artist, and the guitarist for St. Paul and The Broken Bones — the Birmingham based soul band that’s opened for Hall & Oates and the Rolling Stones, performed on David Letterman and accumulated over 900,000 monthly listeners just on Spotify. And while there are bumps in the road for every success story, this musical dad has been particularly resilient in the midst of a global health crisis. 

Lollar never had to second guess his career aspirations. 

“It was always kind of easy for me because I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” Lollar said. “The hard part was actually making it happen.”  

©️ Josh Weichman

His early exposure to his dad’s church quartet was enough to inspire him to pick up a mandolin he’d soon swap out for a guitar. (The rock influence from sneak-watching MTV and VH1 would come later; the raciest thing Lollar’s minister father allowed him to listen to then was Dion DiMucci’s 1961 song “The Wanderer” which references chest tattoos.) 

Propelled by late 80s rock and pop music from the likes of Guns N’ Roses and Metallica, the Muscle Shoals native took his musical talents to FAME studios where he landed a job and opened doors to work with Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit. He was only 23 years old when he played his first tour with them. 

But it wasn’t long before Lollar was pushing 30 and seeking something new. He released a solo project, an EP titled “For the Givers and the Takers” in 2012, played guitar with band Azure Ray, and toured with Maria Taylor — a venture that would prove to be especially valuable for Lollar. 

During this 2011 tour, Lollar met his future wife, Alison, as well as his future bandmate, bassist Jesse Phillips. Despite being in separate bands at the time, the two bonded over Phillips’ admiration for Lollar’s Italian leather boots, as well as his impressive track record. 

“I could tell right away that he was a pretty badass guitarist and sort of made a mental note that if I ever needed a guitar player in the future, he would be the person I would call,” Phillips said.  

Phillips made good on that thought after he and friend Paul Janeway began the songwriting project that would later become St. Paul and The Broken Bones. None of them thought it would amount to much, but when the music was finally mixed a month later, Lollar saw potential. 

“I listened to ‘Broken Bones and Pocket Change’ four times in a row when I got the file. And I wasn’t listening to my parts, I was listening to Paul’s voice,” Lollar said. “And I turned to Alison and said, ‘I think this is really good.’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, it sounds great.’ And I said, ‘No…I think it’s really good. I think there’s something real to this.’” 

And the fans agreed. 

©️ Josh Weichman

St. Paul and the Broken Bones has experienced immense success already, selling out the Alabama Theatre, charting on the Billboard 200, and performing international tours — the most recent of which was interrupted by the impending pandemic. 

The band performed a show in Florida on March 7, just days before the original shutdown. Since then, they’ve played a few socially-distanced outdoor concerts in Texas and North Carolina, but nothing of their original caliber. With eight musicians on stage, it’s difficult enough to keep the band members from crowding one another.  

These days, Lollar has traded his late night tours for early morning work; his guitar pick for a paint roller. During the day, he paints houses with a friend for his sanity, he says, as well as a little extra cash. He records and creates art in the evenings. 

But it hasn’t been all bad. 

“We’ve definitely liked having him home, but on the flip side of it, I wish he was doing what he loves too,” said Alison Lollar, Lollar’s wife of six years. 

These days, Lollar makes breakfast for Everett every morning. They eat together. He drops her off at school with a green llama lunch box full of apples and peanut butter, (a treat they both enjoy; Lollar himself has been known to travel to shows overseas with extra jars of Peter Pan in his suitcase.) 

He reads to her. He watches “The Mandalorian” with his wife. The three of them collaborate on art projects. And they’re grateful for these extra moments. 

“This is really the longest time he’s ever been home in [Everett’s] whole life, so she’s really gotten to know him which is really good,” Alison said. 

When he’s not drawing pink and purple elephants for his daughter, Lollar’s making art for himself — yet another skill he possesses.  

He often uses India ink on wood or canvas to create his vibrant, abstract paintings. Two of them hang on the wall behind the bar at Helen, a new restaurant on 2nd Avenue North in Birmingham. Others serve as album covers — for St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and for artists like Jason Isbell. These covers decorate the walls in Lollar’s basement where, for now, he does his evening recordings for the band. 

But Lollar plans to be back on the road as soon as April. 

“Once all this passes, then it’ll be right back to it and it’s strange. It’ll be hard because Everett’s older now, and it’ll be hard to explain to her that this is what Daddy does. This is his job,” he said. 

When the time comes, Lollar will have plenty of illustrations to help break things down for her: Photos of a younger Everett hanging out on the tour bus in California. Photos of her bundled up at a show in Tuscaloosa. Stories of her toddler self (with earplugs in) dancing during the band’s soundcheck. Stories of a pregnant Alison attending Elton John’s Oscar party where the band once performed.  

And though at age 3 the littlest Lollar is better traveled than many adults, the pretty rainbow on our classroom wall seems to be her favorite sight of all; because to her, Browan Lollar is just Dad. 

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Made By Students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham