The Cavalier Crooks on Southern rock tradition and Tombstone Bullets

Categories: CD Release
Cavalier Crooks 2.jpg
Ellie Niemeyer
On their new album Tombstone Bullets, The Cavalier Crooks have produced an album that grabs hold with dusty, writhing fingers, and won't let go. It's rare to find a band that manages to wholly inhabit a different degree than the masses, and even rarer to find one that makes music in that place that's enjoyable.

Production and genre-labeling aside, Tombstone Bullets reeks of a band who longs for a return to the South, thrust in '70s rock, almost reminiscent of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous.

Band members:
Jeff Boone - drums, vocals
Josh Warner - guitar, vocals
Quinn Larson - bass, vocals

The Cavalier Crooks have a real Southern roots-rock sound. How does a band from Minnesota come to deciding, "This is the kind of music we love."?

Jeff: We all just love that kind of music, especially the blues. I think it's where all our influences, and the stuff we like, ended up overlapping so it makes sense to do that. We all love other kinds of music as well, but this is where all three of us get excited about the same thing. For me, a lot of it started with Zeppelin, Clapton, and the British blues stuff from the sixties and seventies, and then looking into what influenced them and finding some real gems. Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Lightnin' Hopkins...I sometimes find it odd that we get labeled Southern rock, because I think we ended up playing very American sounding music via the Brits.

Honestly, growing up I listened to a lot of Christian music -- most of it bad -- along with the rock music everyone our age was into at the time- Nirvana, Weezer -- you know, back when they played rock and roll on the radio.  I grew up in Grand Rapids, MN back in the olden days when we couldn't find music on the internet, so I pretty much had whatever was on the radio or my friends would turn me on to. One of my drum teachers gave me some Zeppelin and The Who, because of Bonzo and Keith Moon. I still remember hearing the intro to "When the Levee Breaks" for the first time. That got me hooked on Zeppelin, which led me straight on to the blues.

Josh: I loved Led Zeppelin growing up. I used to listen to them all the time, and try to figure out how they were able to come up with all of these different sounds and diversity in their music. Once I started doing the research on what Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones did as studio musicians, and what kind of music Robert Plant and John Bonham were playing before Zeppelin, it all made sense to me. That had a really big influence on how I approached music from then on. 

It was more of a goal to have a great musical amalgamation that was your own, than to do what was hot at the moment or copy someone/something else. So I started listening to a lot of different kinds of music and enjoying delta/Texas blues, folk, rock 'n' roll, and so on. What's influenced me most recently, I would say, is probably bluegrass and old/new country music, as well as a dose of The Band. Partially because even if modern country music sounds too commercial, the musicians playing those instruments and the guitar lines they play are still WAY better then most of whats going on in rock 'n' roll. Plus, if you don't know country music and you don't know blues music, how can you play rock 'n' roll? That's just my opinion, of course. But I love our band's sound, I really do. I like to think that it is just the beginning of the sounds that I started chasing after 17 yrs ago. I'm not that old, I just started young.

There has been a bit of a resurgence in Southern rock recently. What do you think of this? What has the reception in the Cities been like to this particular genre?

Jeff: Southern rock has always been kind of a blue collar, every-man sort of music and I think the state of the economy, politics and the corporate stranglehold on everything has people thinking those kinds of thoughts again. Even beyond the lyrics, music carries something in it that speaks and I think that voice is resonating with a lot of people right now.  

As far as the reception in the Twin Cities, I really think people will get into anything if the artist is genuinely into it. Obviously, The 4onthefloor have shown that there is an audience for bluesy rock and roll here. Additionally, The Black Keys and all the Jack White projects have gotten people's ears tuned into that vibe again.  Really, the Twin Cities has a strong history of rootsy music going back to Dylan's days in Dinkytown.  Bands like the Jayhawks, Hayley Bonar, Son Volt, Red House Records and all their stuff, while it's not exactly the same as what we do, that shows that this community embraces that old school American music aesthetic pretty strongly.  

Josh: It's interesting that it's called "Southern rock" to me. I think The Black Keys have had a big influence recently on people being interested in that dirty, unpolished, and brash sound again. They and Jack White's various projects along with his Third Man Record label are what is "hip" right now. It seems like every decade there is some shift in the musical spectrum and now, especially with whats going on economically/politically/locally, I think people want something that they know is real. The Twin Cities are no exception in this case. I think that is a huge reason why The 4onthefloor are doing well right now. You can go to their show and hear simple music that kicks really hard -- pun intended -- and watch Gabriel Douglas and those boys put on an intense show. People want that, and I think we as a band have been able to tap into that. It's brash, in your face rock n' roll that's rooted in the soils of the Delta and Midwest.

How did you guys come to working with Gabriel Douglas on "Tombstone Bullets"? How did his contribution influence the song?

Jeff: From the time we first started playing, we had people saying "You guys HAVE to play with The 4onthefloor." While that hasn't happened yet, we have some mutual friends who got us in touch with Gabe. Quinn called him up and asked if he'd do a guest spot on the record and he said yes.   

Josh: We had gone to a 4onthefloor show, and got to talking with Gabriel D there. After that, I found out that he was a huge fan of the Farewell Circuit, which is a band that my really good friend Danny O'Brien is in, so I had a connection. We contacted him via e-mail or Facebook, I don't remember which, and asked if he would be interested in being on the record. He said yes. We didn't have a specific song in mind for him to be on but we knew we had 2-3 choices that he'd be interested in.

"Tombstone Bullets" came into the picture because of re-writing the lyrics. I had struggled with lyrics on for quite some time. Then during the recording process we decided that we needed an actual song instead of a cool guitar thing separated by rhythmic interludes with mediocre lyrics over it. So I went home and re-wrote the lyrics out having been inspired by a book of blues lyrics that my wife bought for me on my birthday. That book is full of inspiration. I believe it was a song written by Willie Dixon called "I'm Ready" and the line is "I got an axe handle pistol, on a graveyard frame. That shoots tombstone bullets, wearin' balls and chain. I'm drinkin' TNT, I'm smokin' Dynamite. I hope some screwball start a fight." Fantastic lyrics. It inspired me, and I think Gabe too. His contribution flavored the song perfectly. He picks up where I leave off and builds it really nicely to the end. I had already recorded the whole song with the harmonies and we replaced the second verse part of the song with him. He adds a little more ooomphf to it and its just a perfect song because of it.

Quinn: I'll chime in here, and clarify a few details. Most of what Josh said is correct, but Gabe and I had seen each other at other shows and met on a few occasions, so were acquaintances. He's good friends with quite a few of my good friends, so we had that connection. I saw him at Twin Town one afternoon last fall, and just threw it out there. He said he'd love to collaborate and we went from there. Gabe's a really busy dude, between all his various projects, and it was super gracious of him to do this for us. We couldn't be happier with how it came out. I'd also like to give a shout out to Kari Gray from Farewell Continental, who sang harmonies on a song called "Place your Bets." It's another of the highlights of the record for us. We just had a ton of great support from other musicians in the scene here.

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