Chris Stapleton takes a rock ‘n’ roll turn from SteelDrivers to Jompson Brothers
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As beautifully rock ‘n’ roll as The Jompson Brothers sound — a catch-all of swampy blues, Bron-Y-Aur stomp and Rolling Stones at the height of their gritty “Exile”-era decadence — singer Chris Stapleton is almost apologetic about his musical pedigree.
Sure, he looks the part of a wild and woolly rock ‘n’ roll frontman, like the crazed hillbilly cousin of one of the tender young lads in Fleet Foxes, but he cut his teeth on bluegrass as co-founder of The SteelDrivers. And he’s just wrapped up a deal to record a couple of country albums with Universal, he told The Daily Times this week.
“A lot of the rock ‘n’ roll credibility comes from the other guys in the band,” Jompson said this week with a chuckle. “I probably come from more of a country background than a lot of those guys. I’ve been to some Aerosmith concerts; Steven Tyler is one of my favorite singers. But I’ve never been to a Zeppelin show or anything like that.
“But that’s the beautiful thing about this band. The other guys all have their own influences. Greg (McKee, guitarist) and J.T. (Cure on bass), they’re huge, huge rock ‘n’ roll historians, almost. They know a bunch of music.”
It says more about Stapleton’s plethora of talent than it does his grassroots background that the band, which performs this weekend at “The Shed” at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson in Maryville, has emerged in the past year as a hot new addition to the Southern rock genre.
The SteelDrivers emerged on Rounder Records in 2008 as a bluegrass band spilling over with talent. Before Stapleton left in the spring of 2010, the band was nominated for a Grammy, and the group’s self-titled debut made a dent on the Billboard Hot Country Albums chart, rising to No. 57.
Along the way, Stapleton was making a name for himself as a respectable country songwriter. He co-wrote the singles “Never Wanted Nothing More” for Kenny Chesney, “Swing” for Trace Adkins, “Your Man” for Josh Turner, “Come Back Song” for Darius Rucker and “Keep on Lovin’ You” for Steel Magnolia.
“I’ve been a songwriter for almost a decade now professionally, so I can write with purpose and almost on cue,” he said. “I can write songs for a country market, but when I write songs for the band, it’s with everybody else. We get together once a week to write; sometimes we do nothing, and sometimes we come up with three or four different things that find their way into songs.”
Although leaving The SteelDrivers intending to focus on family and songwriting, Stapleton wound up turning a side project he’d started with McKee into a full-time new band. Although the two started out jamming late at night, eventually adding Cure and drummer Bard McNamee to the mix, the Jompson Brothers were already taking shape by the time Stapleton left The SteelDrivers.
“They were kind of going on simultaneously,” Stapleton said. “We just didn’t really know what it was going to turn out as. It wound up being a lot heavier than what we thought it was going to be. We started out playing old stuff, and we found out where we were really having fun was doing this rough-based, heavier rock ‘n’ roll thing. So that’s what we wound up doing and playing.”
By September 2010, the Brothers had earned enough of a reputation that the band was invited by the Zac Brown Band to perform on that year’s Sailing Southern Ground Cruise. About the same time, the group’s debut record was released, drawing comparisons to the Drive-By Truckers and Gov’t Mule. Over the past year, the Jompson Brothers have shared the stage with everyone from the North Mississippi Allstars to Darius Rucker to The Felice Brothers.
“There’s nothing like being in a room with a bunch of people really into heavier rock,” he said. “It moves people in a different way than bluegrass or country or even a singer-songwriter show. People get excited, and it’s a very tangible thing. You can just feel it.
“And it’s meant to be that way. It appeals to that primal caveman thing in each of us. It’s meant for that, and it’s why rock ‘n’ roll exists, at least for me.”