“A rock band that plays country music.”
This was the way the Stillwater, Oklahoma-based Red Dirt band Chad Sullins and the Last Call Coalition were described for years. And it was only apt, because it’s also a good way to describe Red Dirt music in general. And even though the outfit never rose to the same fame as some of their contemporaries such as Cross Canadian Ragweed or Jason Boland and the Stragglers, those who knew of the Last Call Coalition were supremely loyal and thankful for their music, and followed Chad Sullins into his solo career after the band finally called it quits.
Those same fans are now mourning as word has come down that Chad Sullins has passed away. “It is with a heavy heart to let you know Chad Sullins left us today around 2 pm. Torn Aortic valve. He left us with some great music and memories,” a solemn message reads on his social media page, posted late Sunday evening, June 27th.
A love for music was expressed in Chad Sullins from an early age. His mother gave him a record player and a John Cougar Mellencamp album, and Sullins wore it out. His early influences also included Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, Motley Crue, Keith Whitley and others. But when Chad Sullins was 16-years-old, his first taste of playing music with others was in a punk band. He would carry that same energy and attitude with him later in his musical career.
Sullins played in various rock and cover bands for nearly seven years before taking some time off from music. Driving an 18-wheeler, he had a lot of time to ponder lyrics and songwriting on his long hauls. His time off from music affirmed to Chad that he needed music in his life, and a divorce told him that music should be the country roots of his upbringing. So in January of 2007, Sullins took the plunge in Stillwater, where the Red Dirt sound that spoke to both his country and rock roots drew him in, and soon the Last Call Coalition was commissioned behind him.
Chad Sullins and the Last Call Coalition were always about putting their struggles to song, and a brutal assessment at their prospects. Their 2009 debut album was called Uphill Battle—being honest about their odds. The title to their 2011 followup was Incommunicado, with a small radio tower off in the distance on the cover, symbolizing that despite all of their hard work and sweat, radio wasn’t playing them, and their signal in the musicscape was faint.
Nonetheless, Chad Sullins with lead guitarist Josh Rutz, drummer Jeremy Clark, and bassist Jerry Stanley persevered, playing some 200 shows a year for multiple years, and Incommunicado finally saw them achieving some success, even some radio play on regional stations in the Red Dirt and Texas market. Even when things started looking up, the stance of Chad Sullins was to stay fiercely independent, and not allow the music to be corrupted by financial concerns.
The hard touring and clawing for success drove the spirit behind the band’s 2015 album Wake Up Call, and by October of that year, the band had broken up. Still, Chad Sullins soldiered on though, releasing a solo album in 2014 called Wicked Spell, and another in 2016 called Songs To Drink Alone To.
Though it may not be related to the issue that took his life, in 2014 Chad Sullins collapsed with heart issues just before taking the stage, and was admitted to the Oklahoma Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City. Multiple benefits and fundraisers were organized for him.
Chad Sullins continued to play regularly in Stillwater and beyond, even up to his death. “He played and hung with his friends at the farm yesterday, had two gigs this weekend, and I guess that was fitting,” says author Josh Crutchmer of the book Red Dirt – Roots Music Born in Oklahoma, Raised in Texas. “Like most red dirt artists he never got his due and he was okay with that, it didn’t stop him from writing another song.”
Chad Sullins didn’t do it for the money, he did it for the music, and never stopped, using adversity as fuel and a muse, and leaving a strong mark on the Red Dirt scene that won’t soon be forgotten.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
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Some information for this story comes from Nashville Music Guide and Last.fm.
“A rock band that plays country music.”